Archive for May 2, 2013

The Straw Man of Masculinity

Men, in short, reflect the full range of human potential.  They are fully human in their vices, and in their virtues.

As men, we all face one thing in common.  Maintaining our dignity, as men, in the face of the straw man of masculinity. Let me explain.

Men, we are told, are cruel, warmongering, insensitive, disrespectful towards women and children.  Men cannot be trusted, are sex man, and finally, all men are rapists.

This version of masculinity, of course, is a straw man.  Yes some men, some of the time, can be like this.  The assumption though, is that all men are like this, all of the time.

From a psychological point of view, what is going on here is a core belief.  A core belief about men.  It is a view of the world, which may or may not touch base with reality.

We all have core beliefs.  Some of us feel we are ugly, or that we are bad in social situations, or that life is a struggle.  They shape the flavor of the world we experience through are senses.

Indeed, a core belief acts as a signpost for sense perception.  If we expect people to treat us as ugly, we look for their revulsion.  If we believe we are bad in social situations, we look for evidence of our ineptness.  If we believe life is a struggle, we disproportionately pay attention to the times when things are hard.

By directing our enquiry of the world, core beliefs work to reinforce themselves as ongoing fact.

In the case of the straw man of masculinity, we are caught in something more profound than an idiosyncratic unhelpful core belief.  We are faced with a society wide held belief.  A social delusion.  An institutionalized misperception and misunderstanding of reality.

This view is particularly unhelpful for men in caring roles.  Men as nurses, child care providers, social workers and therapists often rub up against the straw man most acutely.

In the face of our caring, our trustworthiness and our kindness we are treated as if we are uncaring, untrustworthy and unkind.  It is as if we are invisible.  And in a sense we are.  The other person’s attention bias means our good qualities are simply unseen.

I sometimes see this in my ongoing training in my therapeutic work.  Often I am the only man in the group, and I am subtly, left holding the straw man of masculinity.  Whatever I do to demonstrate my own qualities and failings, I am treated as if I were the straw man. Hopelessly entangled in other peoples projections.

What choices do I have in this situation?  One solution is to become a male apologist to feminism.  Go native, and be even more feminist than the feminists.  The other is to be myself, especially when I look “straw man-ish”.

The former trades authenticity for approval, the latter courts rejection for authenticity.

What we cannot do, at least on our own, is take on the straw man.  In life, the only thing we can effectively change is ourselves.  Other people’s delusions are for them to sort out.  But we should not fail to recognize them for what they are, delusions, and we need not get too entangled within them.

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