“Boy, it’s time for you to die!” proclaims an indigenous Chief flanked by tribal elders dressed in their ritualistic garb, about to address an American boy whom they found lost in the jungle and raised. (From the film ‘The Emerald Forest’, based upon a true story.) An unspoken tragedy of our times is that it is extremely unlikely that a teenager will hear the words of the Chief, and then be mentored into manhood by elders. Instead, it is likely that the instruments of mass media will deliver a deathblow to the emotional maturity of many American males – “You don’t have to die as a boy. There’s no need for you to face the challenges of emotional maturation.”
A beer commercial depicts a male and a female, seemingly a couple, watching television. The male answers his cell phone, with an expression of concern, accompanied by a simple “Okay”. He turns to the female explaining that his friend Bobby needs to vent. The female is immediately ready to sacrifice their time together, encouraging him to go support his friend. In the next scene he is toting a twelve pack of beer, high-fiving Bobby who is opening the door to his apartment, as both men exclaim, “Let’s vent!” Next, both men are seen drinking beer and watching a football game. The male’s phone rings and he answers the call, saying, “Yes Honey, Bobby is still venting”, with a look of triumph cast in Bobby’s direction.
This commercial is loaded with invitations to males to remain boys. Teenage boys typically separate from their mothers by withholding information or lying about a wide range of topics varying from their sexuality to shenanigans they know would engender maternal disapproval. The commercial condones males lying to their female partners. It also advocates exploiting the female’s sensitivity to someone’s need for emotional support. Permission is granted to the male in the advertisement to feel no remorse of guilt regarding his deception. But rather, he is encouraged to celebrate the success of his caper.
We are not talking about males being innately damaged. The suggestion is that male maturation may be significantly sabotaged by a culture encouraging boys to remain boys. But why, why would a culture embark upon such a devastating enterprise?
We can only speculate.
*It may be easier to market products to a gender impaired such that it becomes very difficult to access a depth and range of feeling. Such disability makes it quite challenging to inwardly draw a deep sense of self-esteem, self-trust, self-empowerment and a capacity to develop close relationships with others. The alternative is to employ fabricated substitutes of genuine personal value, such as making material acquisitions, which become banners of importance.
*Another possibility is that immature males who are unable to hold a large vision of sustainable change significantly inhibit socio-economic change. Can it be that those who hold economic power understand that emotionally disabled males will remain impotent to transform and reform a socio-economic and political system?
*Of course, some level of collusion from the opposite gender will be required in order to keep males in an adolescent holding pattern. In my Counseling work with women, I have found that a vast majority of women have been willing to be needed in lieu of being loved. In the absence of solid emotional maturity, the males in their lives need them for domestic and emotional guidance. Within such a relationship, women serve in an advisory capacity regarding proper attire, how to celebrate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, effective parenting, social plans, dietary needs, medical attention and household expenditures. Ultimately, the relationship is only guided by the female’s expectations and needs, and with a little mindfulness, she may become aware that she is attempting to have a significant relationship alone. And if it remains the only map she has of relating to males, she likely continues to live with emptiness and loneliness.
My research regarding the cultural messages sent to males about being a man revealed a startling and dangerous perspective and just how distorted social standards of manhood may have gotten. The following list represents characteristics of Psychopaths as described by Robert Hare in his book, ‘Without Conscience’:
1) Psychopaths suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feeling.
2) Psychopaths have an ongoing and excessive need for excitement – they long to live in the fast lane or on the edge where the action is.
3) Psychopaths are often witty and articulate. They can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and can tell unlikely and convincing stories that cast them in a good light.
4) Psychopaths often come across as arrogant, shameless and domineering.
5) Psychopaths seem unable to get into the skin or to walk in the shoes of others, except in a purely intellectual sense.
6) Psychopaths lack of remorse and guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalize their behavior and to shrug off personal responsibility for actions that cause shock and disappointment for family, friends, associates and others who have played by the rules.
7) Psychopaths are adept at being deceitful and manipulative.
8) Psychopaths do not weigh the pros and cons of their actions. They do not consider the possible injurious consequences their actions may have upon others.
It is not being suggested that all males are psychopaths. The danger is that the above characteristics have too much in common with alleged ‘real man’ traits endorsed by the culture. As long as the culture promotes these as a hallmark of manhood, we will continue to distort the souls and hearts of males. Our cultural story of adult men is in desperate need of expansion, allowing men to feel, imagine, dream and love.
One of the most disturbing and saddest of my clinical experiences is to receive a man in my office who feels deeply inadequate as a man because he does not muster an adequate amount of exaggerated bravado to meet the cultural standards of manhood. And one of the most rewarding experiences is to witness that man work to claim the right to feel all the vulnerability associated with living with an open heart, dare to make choices from that heart and find the courage to have his own values define his manhood, withstanding the cultural call to some caricature of what it means to be a man.