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?