In his essay “Shame-O-Phobia”, David Wexler provides a riveting account of the pressure that men face to exhibit a certain extent of masculinity in every thing they do. The social construct of masculinity depicts the ideal man, and the further one strays from that ideal the more their perceived manhood diminishes. That social construct defines masculinity as being tough, independent, unwavering and emitting little to no emotion. When men’s actions epitomize the characteristics of this ideal they gain “man points” and the opposite ensues when they stray from this ideal. This unwavering societal pressure creates an atmosphere where men struggle to display or partake in certain behaviors and actions that may be perceived as unmanly or to a greater displeasure, feminine. Wexler provides an account of an incident that occurred while vacationing with his wife in Paris. His wife asked him to carry her purse down the street but Wexler could not bring himself commit such an act that would surly undermine his masculinity. He knew how ridiculous his refusal was, but the pressure and the associated societal humiliation outweighed the commonsensical reaction to his wife’s request.
It is not often that we hear discussion, debate or outrage concerning the mental and physical effects that derive from societal pressures men encounter from the moment they come to exist. At least in my case, it would be a rare occurrence to stumble upon an Internet article or news segment seriously discussing the societal repressions and subsequent consequences that men continually struggle with. As a female, I have never critically contemplated the effect societal burdens have on men. The notion, that before a man makes a decision to engage in certain activities or behaviors he must first consider whether or not it goes against the conceived ideal masculinity and would result in the diminishment of his perceived manhood is something I have never pondered. Witnessing a man publicly display an emotion, such as crying, rarely transpires and when it does that man would be subject to intense ridicule from both men and woman. This is something I have always been aware of but it was not until I read Wexlers’ article that I gained an understanding of the complex nature behind what society expects a man to be, and furthermore, the self-imposed expectations a man exerts upon himself. Societally structured sexism is a struggle that does not escape either sex. Solutions will only arise through a widespread awareness of the problem and until then, the discussion must be centered on illuminating the existence of this serious problem and its implications. Forcing people to contemplate this issue will ensure the growth of a movement pursuing and advocating a change of our mental predispositions surrounding masculinity and manhood.