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Men & Relationships

Exponent article by Dr Brian Kassarr
Counseling & Psychological Services

Over the past 15 years, scholars have begun to examine the social construct of "masculinity." This has led to questioning the traditional norms of the male role, such as emphasis on competition, status, toughness, and emotional stoicism. These traditional, stereotypical views of masculinity clash with the modern-day realities of intimacy, communication, and sharing nurturing and household chores. Many traditional or stereotypical views of masculinity limit men and leave them feeling confused about how to have successful relationships.

Perhaps the most problematic tenet of the traditional masculine ideology is the emphasis on emotional stoicism. Statements like "take it like a man," "boys don't cry," and "No Fear" communicate the idea that expressing emotion equals emotional weakness. This forces men to hide fear, anxiety, pain, sadness, and self-doubt behind a façade of confidence and competence. Men are told from an early age to hide weakness and exude strength, which alienates themselves and others from the emotionally-rich parts of themselves. All too often men's feelings are expressed through anger, the most "acceptable" emotion for them to express. This limits men in their emotional expressiveness and may lead to their feelings being expressed through anger, aggression, violence, and self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse.

Traditional views of masculinity can act as an emotional straightjacket that prohibits men from expressing feelings or urges that are mistakenly seen as "feminine," such as warmth, empathy, and need. When young boys or men break this rule of masculinity, they are often teased, ridiculed, or shamed for not acting like a "man." This fear of being labeled "feminine," or the myth that sharing more vulnerable parts of themselves undermines strength and independence, often contributes to men holding back their true feelings. This can then hinder their ability to maintain intimate connections with friends, romantic partners or children, and often contributes to the "men are from Mars" stereotype.

The fear of shame and ridicule intensifies their likelihood of holding in feelings of sadness, hurt, or fear. The internalization of emotions causes men to limit their social support and puts them at risk for stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, depression, or hypertension, as well as substance abuse.

Finally, men's relationships with other men are impacted by our culture's intense homophobia. Fears of being perceived as gay or feminine often prohibit men from expressing affection and sharing intimate details with their male friends. Most men interact through sports or utilitarian activities and only share intimate feelings over a beer. This again limits males' potential for deeper friendship and minimizes their resources for social support.


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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