Orthodox Masculinity – What are little boys made of? – (Part 1)
Sex, the state of being male or female begins in the womb. You may be surprised to learn that we all start out as female; all foetal genitalia are the same and are phenotypically female. After approximately 6 to 7 weeks changes occur in some foetuses, a Y chromosome induces changes that result in the development of the testes.
We are born either female or male, determined by our genitaler. From the moment we are born, most of us are bought up by our parents in a way that confirms to the traditional or general accepted rules or beliefs that our parents have on how boys and girls should be bought up. Our parent’s views on what this looks like and what shape this takes is largely based on how they were bought up which would have been determined by their parents traditional or general accepted rules or beliefs.
“What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy-dogs tails, That’s what little boys are made of. What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice, That’s what little girls are made of.”
A popular nursery rhyme, remembered from my child hood.
Author thought to be Robert Southey (1774-1843)
On a course I attended just before lockdown we were shown a short video. The setting was a nursery, the children were at a guess around 2. The boys were dressed in “girls” clothes and the girls were dressed in “boys” clothes. The research involved the observation of Male and Female Nursery workers, who were unaware of the clothes switch, on how they interacted with the children and which toys they chose for the children to play with.
A large selection of toys were available to choose from, ranging from dolls, soft toys, puzzles, cars etc. After the observational research, the nursery workers were then interviewed. During the interviews they were made aware of the clothes switch and were surprised and shocked at how unwittingly and unconsciously each and every one of them had given the girls what they considered to be “girls” toys, dolls for example, and the boys what they considered to be “boys” toys, for example, cars and puzzles.
I am citing this as an example that demonstrates how behaviours and attitudes around gender are so very entrenched in each and every one of us and how unaware we are of this. This unconscious behaviour has an impact on how the society we live in is structured and set up which perpetuates our views, behaviours and attitudes around Gender. Or perhaps the reverse is true, we, each and every one of us mirror societies behaviour and attitude towards gender through our parenting and generally accepted rules and beliefs around Gender and this perpetuates our very entrenched views.
It’s okay for women to be emotional because it’s a Feminine Condition!!
Emotions are a Human Condition. Emotions are not a feminine condition. Who perpetuates the belief that emotions are a feminine condition? Men? Women? Or perhaps both Genders collude with this belief.
Research, literature and professional opinion, including mine based on my therapeutic work with male clients on a one to one basis and within the context of couple therapy work argues/has found that most men find it hard to have their needs/emotional needs met in relationship.
There appears to be a strong relationship between orthodox masculinity and the rejection of needs. Most men I have worked with have learnt from their fathers/role models that “real men” are able to meet their own needs, some have learnt that their needs are unimportant, some have not even considered what their needs might be. When men find themselves in a therapy room, it may be the first time they have felt able to give themselves permission to explore their needs and what they might be.
By not knowing and not being able to name what these needs are can have a detrimental effect on a man’s mental wellbeing and can cause difficulties in the relationship they have with themselves and in their intimate relationships. For example, they may withdraw or shut out their partners when the going gets tough ignoring their needs, because “real man” don’t have needs, don’t need help, can “fix” it themselves because that’s what “real men” do. As said above, this way of being and thinking is perpetuated by learnt and mirrored behaviour from; fathers, other men, society, mothers, wives and partners etc.
When a man decides to embark on a course of therapy, they are asking for help. To seek help, as explained above, for most men isn’t an easy thing to do and when they enter my room, I am aware of how vulnerable they may feel because “Real men” don’t need therapy.
Instead of seeing therapy as a courageous step, which it is, (Those who are in therapy know that it is) they are more than likely feeling ashamed at ending up in a therapy room. Some men unwittingly hide behind anger and frustration when they are feeling ashamed and vulnerable and may present in my room as very angry men. I will expand on this and explore this in further detail in part two of this article which will follow within the next week or two.