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David Wexler’s “Shame-O-Phobia”

David Wexler details his experience growing up in “Guy World” – a place where men are taught to act masculine in order to avoid being shamed by other men or even women—in this article that opened my eyes to the gender roles men are constricted to even in my own home and personal life. He says that most men’s self-esteem is strongly connected to their sense of masculinity and the smallest challenge to it can become an “unbearable assault”; even his wife’s request to carry her purse across a plaza seemed like an insult to his ability to be a Guy.

He also points out that men are not socialized to be particularly adept at discussing feelings and mentions that therapy can be conducive for some men to learn how to communicate their emotions effectively. As a psychology student I do agree that this method might be effective, but men may not want to go into therapy at all because even asking for help may seem like an insult to their Guy ability to handle anything that comes at them independently. Also, men may not see their lack of emotional expression as a negative quality; it may seem like just another part of being a certified Guy.

This is acknowledged and the author encourages therapists to speak to men in “Guy Talk”, which encourages viewing intimacy and sensitivity in relationships as heroism rather than weakness. I think this is a very good idea for the short term but that in the long run it still encourages gender stereotypes. This insinuates that men’s behavior should be viewed as heroic while women’s behavior is viewed as weakness, even if men and women take part in the same behavior (in this case, being emotionally intimate with another person). It may help men become closer with their partners and friends, but it is still encouraging them to view their behavior through the lens of masculinity.

“Shame-O-Phobia” did help me understand the men in my life better—my 53-year-old father, 16-year-old brother, and 22-year-old boyfriend all exhibit the symptoms of growing up in Guy World to some degree. My father is not emotionally close to anybody, not even his own wife. My brother isn’t either, and refuses to hug anybody, even his sisters. My boyfriend is somewhat more open, but only because we have been dating for three years. When we first started dating I was continually frustrated at his complete inability to express himself. He has come a long way and it has made our relationship infinitely better, while he is no less masculine. I think that teaching men to express themselves more openly would be better for everyone involved in the end. I am curious about just how many men have been raised with shame-o-phobia and want to escape. Male gender roles can be just as oppressive and damaging as the expectations placed upon females. How many men reading this have experienced Guy World themselves, and agree?



  1. tlhays says:

    Well I’m not male but, I’ve definitely witnessed this behavior with men I’ve encountered over the years whether it be in my family or just friends. My cousins believe that it’s a “must” to toughen the boys in our family to prevent future taunting from other school aged children. I feel like the boys should be able to remain in a child like state and not have to worry about being tough. I have also noticed a difference in males who were raised primarily by their mothers and those who have had their fathers around. Those who were raised by mothers I observed were more sensitive to the opposite sex or this was just a portion of their personalities. I’m not saying that those with fathers around aren’t sensitive, it’s just something I have personally experienced.

  2. rghannam says:

    Although the complexity of expression in males exceeds their sense of masculinity, I agree with both the author and you. I think that there is an unconscious ability to suppress emotion to certain matter, in regards to biology and survivability. To possess the hot potato is to occupy the signet of femininity (the purse in this scenario) and it would put you through a walk of shame. Why would anyone want to look weak? And as frivolous of a fact, is present. There isn’t much sound to what’s held in high regard, societally speaking.

  3. Stephanie Jones says:

    I can’t say firsthand what it’s like for a guy in “Guy World,” but I do agree with both you and the author. “Guy World” is so strict in its societal laws, demonstrated by the man who was unable to carry his wife’s purse for a short distance. Feminism is generally considered to have the intention of making women equal to men; however, I think there is a major component of making men equal to women as well. Consider what society dictates: women can be sensitive or aloof; women can wear pants or a dress; women can be a homemaker or work outside the home. On the contrary, men can be emotionally closed off but can’t be sensitive; men can wear pants but not have their sexuality or even their sanity questioned if they wear a dress; men can work outside the home but are considered weak if they are stay at home dads. At least in my opinion, society makes it a lot harder to be a man than it does to be a woman.

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