What it Means to Be A Man
Regardless of what school of parenting one is set to follow, a parent in today’s society will encounter the same hurdles as those in previous generations, which implies that they are also at risk for the same sort of pitfalls. Even so, in an increasingly digital society marked by packed schedules, constant striving for perfection and an overabundance of “straight talk,” there is some toxic and/or macho type of phrases that parents should avoid, particularly when speaking to their boys. In doing so, perhaps we can redefine what it means to be a man.
In a recent article by Fatherly, Jeremy Brown says that in an effort to raise strong boys, parents have inadvertently created damaged men. Is this based on a tendency to apply age-old stereotypes when raising boys? Have parents fallen victim to the rigid expectations and beliefs about what a boy can be or should be? Could it be that a very specific template has been created that will, in the end, cause today’s boys to rebel against the natural parts of themselves?
With a mentality towards winning (at all costs), many parents believe that they are encouraging their boys to be strong leaders and driven young men. They might say something like, “You must win!” or “You need to win.” Without question, this teaches boys to seek value in a prize, not an actual experience. The result is narrow-minded men with a skewed understanding of value and success. Continuously focused on outcomes, boys find it difficult to be present and find joy in life’s moments. Moreover, when a male’s identity and worth is tied to a “prize,” he is more likely to experience emotional instability in both his personal and professional life.
Lead clinician Dr. Kate Balestrieri at Triune Therapy Group adds the following phrases as those to avoid:
- “Don’t be a pussy/girl/little bitch.” At the very least, this phrase produces a sort of shame about one’s feelings and perpetuates a boy’s need to one-up around women as they age and mature. What’s more is that it eradicates a boy’s natural proclivity towards expressing his feelings, as well as the ability to nurture and to be nurtured. Ultimately, boys will become paralyzed in their emotions out of a need to appear “tough” in order to be socially accepted and desired. Finally, repeated phrases such as these reinforce sexist attitudes.
- “Don’t let her…” This generates the idea that boys are in control (or should be) of women, have to usurp them at all times and are weak if they compromise.
- “Dolls are for girls.” While females spend considerable amounts of time exploring their natural ability to care and nurture, it is often implied (rather directly) that boys should not. Ultimately, if not allowed to engage in their instinctive capabilities as caregivers, boys experience an emotional distance between themselves and family. This produces long-term effects and “blind spots” in their parenting, which leaves the next generation hungry for emotional connection. In another sense, if a boy feels alienated emotionally, he is more likely to act out or check out, and may engage in infidelity and/or abuse of some kind.
Finally, Geoffrey Redick provides another twist on manliness and places more emphasis on learning to be kind in The True Rite Of Manhood, published in March 2018. “If you are a “manly” man,” he says, “you live with existential dread that all of your abilities will leave you—strength, speed and power. None of it lasts. Eventually, you will stop winning.” Redick suggests that it’s best to forget the expectations created by society in its definition of manliness in order to remember greater, more sustainable truths. Perhaps this begins with the right words.
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Posted on behalf of Triune Therapy Group