“The inner boy in a messed-up family may keep on being shamed, invaded, disappointed, and paralyzed for years and years. "I am a victim," he says, over and over; and he is. But that very identification with victimhood keeps the soul house open and available for still more invasions. Most American men today do not have enough awakened or living warriors inside to defend their soul houses. And most people, men or women, do not know what genuine outward or inward warriors would look like, or feel like.”
Gun violence in America, hyper-sexualized cultures, and violence against women throughout history are traditionally attributed to men. In more recent years these issues have specifically been examined by sociologists and psychologists in the Western world, seeking to understand the deeper influences society and the environment has on boys and men. Since the 1970’s, and particularly due to the research which is written about in Mosher and Sirkin’s (1984) “Measuring a Macho Personality Constellation,” academia and scientists from all backgrounds have sought to understand what it is that makes a manly man, manly. To understand what they are talking about, it’s important to understand the meaning that is implied behind “hypermasculine.”
Macho men have always existed. But there hasn’t always been a negative connotation with that word. Today’s society usually frowns upon what may have traditionally been considered masculine attributes. Aggression, dominance, calloused sexual attitudes towards women, and recklessness is something that we seek to remove from our culture. This is not entirely without reason. The research done regarding hypermasculine men proves that there are maladaptive and even dangerous behaviors associated with boys, adolescents, and men who measure their masculinity against standards such as risk taking, sexual escapades, and promotion of violence.
What are the greatest causes of “hypermasculinity?” Some academic studies suggest that boyhood trauma is largely responsible for the creation of this type of persona, with some reporting experiences like sexual and physical abuse (Koel, 1992; Suprikian, 2000). Yet another common thread amongst the hypermasculine were those who had grown up without a father (Blazina, 2004; Broude, 1990; Whiting & Whiting, 1975). Academics and scholars interview those who see violence as a way to solve problems, those who are sexually promiscuous, driven to danger (like drunk driving), generally more delinquent than their peers, and in trouble with the law to gain an idea and understanding of the macho man. In this way, they take a word that is meant to mean “more masculine,” and label maladaptive behavior.
However, this does a great disservice. After all, words are incredibly powerful, and our definition of the term “more masculine,” as meaning maladaptive or even dangerous is having an impact on the way we view and raise the boys of the next generation. Without a doubt the boys and men that are being interviewed are suffering men, searching for the meaning of being a man devoid of the help of the mentors, fathers, and grandfathers that have traditionally brought boys out of the cusp of boyhood and adolescence and into the role of a man.
What impact does this have in real life? Every time a little boy kisses a little girl in kindergarten, he may be labeled as “sexually deviant,” suspended from school, and shamed for what should be considered normal childhood displays of affection. When a young boy is active and disinterested in sitting for 8 hours at a desk, he may be labeled as overly aggressive and adventurous. He is seen as a problem to be solved, rather than a valuable part of our society, and on a greater level our humanity.
Consider the strengths that honing aggression, competition, and risk-taking can have. These boys, should they be given the examples of strong fathers and warriors, could develop into the protectors and emotionally capable men that we long for in our society. They could be defenders of the weak, pillars of the society we seek to build. Rather than banishing their strengths and their inner impulses to run wild and be free, to compete and succeed, why not make a place for them to succeed in?
The term hypermasculinity may indeed be a misplaced term helping contribute to the idea that the more masculine a boy is the more trouble he is. Additionally, it leads to the idea that boys who are less competitive, more emotionally expressive and cautious are exhibiting less masculine traits. They too are labeled as not truly measuring up to manhood, a manhood which our society is desperately seeking to grab hold of.
The misfit behaviors and the issues underlying these non-adaptive personality traits may be better labeled as a twisted masculinity. After all, these traits, mostly seen in fatherless and marginalized boys, are not difficult to see as misplaced and misdirected masculinity. If a boy has only other boys to look to, only matriarchal figures to attempt to figure himself out from, how can he ever truly be a man? How can he be expected to walk out whole masculinity when what he has been shown is broken?
A man’s ability to care for women and children has always been a vital part of masculinity. Dominating, sexually assaulting, or physically abusing and oppressing women are clearly not a masculine trait. A man’s physical strength is best displayed in his ability to harness it, thus violence and rage are not defined as masculine, but as childish and out of control, whether in a man or woman. Men who oppress the defenseless to gain power or control are never considered great men. That is why tyrants are not the role models we show our young boys.
Conversely, a man who cares for women and children, displaying gentleness and emotional responsiveness is a good man. A man who does not use his sexuality to abuse or control others is a good man. A man who uses his strength to defend his family, his values, or his country is a strong man. A man who controls his temper, who is not given to violent outbursts and temper tantrums is a dignified man.
It is not that men need to be weaker. Their strength can save people in times of need. It is not that young boys need to be taught to blindly conform and obey every rule. There may come a time when they have to fight authority figures for the greater good of humanity. It is not that all sexuality is evil and bad. We know that sex is so powerful it actually creates the next generation of humans and binds us together as families. It is not that there is no place for anger in masculinity. Anger at injustice and oppression can drive people to change the world for the better. It is not that we need men to be less manly, less masculine. It is that we need them to be wholly masculine.
How can we reach a generation of young men, traumatized, abused, marginalized and fatherless, and lead them to true masculinity? Is it even worthwhile? If you have a moment please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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