In his book, The Mask of Masculinity, Lewis Howe notes that the three most destructive words for men are “Be a man.”
Those words imply a certain kind of behaviour, a specific attitude, and a way of life that is to be lived if a male person is to be considered a real man. Howe began to question the masks he was required to wear when he had obtained wealth and fame and was still feeling lonely and unfullfilled.
Among other things, Lewis Howe realized he was not allowing himself to feel, and he definitely was not expressing emotions. He was reaping the benefits of being a best-selling author and his relationship with a longtime girlfriend had ended. He toured, signing copies of his book...and he was alone. It was at that point Lewis Howe selected the title for his book and proceeded to research the topic. He read material read by psychologists, interviewed many men – and also women. He checked the statistics.
He discovered that in his country, U.S.A., nearly 88 per cent of all homicides are committed by men, and that men are six times more likely to commit suicide than women. They are less likely to seek help and are half as likely to simply see a doctor. Males underperform in school compared to females and are more prone to bouts of anger and unprovoked aggression. Howe states that researchers, educators, and psychologists have connected these issues to misguided notions of masculinity.
The various types of masks worn – with some worn interchangeably – are The Stoic Mask, The Athlete Mask, The Material Mask, The Sexual Mask, The Aggressive Mask, The Joker Mask, The Invincible Mask, The Know-It-All Mask, and the Alpha Mask. The names given to these masks give a good, strong clue as to what they are.
The Alpha Mask isn't as clear but if you think of a world made up of alphas and betas - winners and losers - it is made evident. When you understand that betas are women and the alpha must be the one in control it is understandable as to how and why spousal abuse occurs and/or marriages end. Most young men today realize being controlling is not in their best interests.
Still, society has a way to go. This becomes evident as we look at the long list of famous men who are now in deep trouble because of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Testosterone is not the culprit. Professor C. A. Robarcheck notes that there is no evidence between testosterone and aggressive behaviour. Whether the aggression is of a physical or sexual nature the problem comes about in the way we are raising our boys.
Whether pertaining to bullies or boys who gravitate toward gang membership, aggression isn't born, it is raised in societies where aggression is deemed acceptable or even encouraged. In those same societies, honest emotions are not seen as acceptable. A three-year-old is told, “Big boys don't cry,” and a young lad hears the words, “Be a man.” Unfortunately, those few words can be very limiting and very destructive.
The best gift a man can give himself is to do a serious read of Howe's book, The Mask of Masculinity. It will put the “real” into being a man.
Shirley Hallee’s column appears weekly in the Amherst News.