What Does it Mean to Be a Man?
Having great amounts of money, accomplishments, and conquests is, in itself, not enough. There is this idealization which portrays real men as having luxury cars, state-of–the–art electronics, expensive clothes, and taking women out on the fanciest dates. In short, this is the sum of a “perfect” man. This is what we see in advertisements. However, in real life many “successful” men have trouble relating to women, they find it hard to spark attraction and develop relationships. A consequence, perhaps, of being afraid of stepping outside pre-established roles, or of repressing their desires and emotions.
Should men act in a certain way and women in another, according to preordained behavioural patterns? Is masculinity a universal concept? Is there some sort of biological basis for this notion, or is it conditioned socially through mandates? And finally, what is the connection between how we behave and the attention we get from women?
It cannot be denied that men are born with certain traits that differentiate them from women. Hormonally, our bodies are loaded with ten times more testosterone than a woman’s body, which makes us, for the most part, stronger, more aggressive and of a more robust build. We also have a tendency to run more risks, and are less prone to feel empathy. In general, a man’s behaviour is 80% governed by the left hemisphere of his brain, responsible for rational thinking. This is why men tend to be colder and more calculating. Women’s behaviour depends predominantly on the right hemisphere, where emotional processes take place. Hence the common saying that women are more emotional. They also have four times as many connections between their left and right hemisphere. This allows them to tackle a great amount of problems simultaneously.
However, in the last generations many aspects of masculinity have entered a crisis, creating thus a void, perhaps on account of the absence of father figures, the growing presence of women in the workplace, the boom of a feminized pop culture, the lack of conventional career paths, etc. No wonder we are one of the most hedonistic and stimuli-thirsty generations in the history of human kind. There is a need to compensate for an identity crisis that has resulted in men lacking clear roles and clear aims; men who feel ill at ease with the world around them, and who follow wishes other than their own. The result: men with low self-esteem and poor knowledge of themselves, oblivious of what originates the pain and emotional distress that afflicts them.
The Development of Masculinity
If we look at the matter from a psychological point of view, we find different theories describing the emotional struggle a man has to go through in order to define his masculinity, and emotionally dissociate from his attachment to his mother, building thus his self-assurance and self-care. This dissociation is carried out ―subconsciously― through life experiences which drive a man to emotional and sexual independence.
The number of life experiences that make up that process is insurmountable, and the process takes a different form in every man. Some of the most frequent experiences have to do with achieving professional success, earning money, traveling around the world, making friends with other men, coordinating or participating in social projects, playing in a band, interacting with women, speaking in public, practicing a competitive sport, learning to drive, and so on. However, an experience may be highly relevant for the emotional development of one man, and meaningless to another. In many cases this depends on how great a challenge this experience presents.
Those unable to experience or overcome these sort of situations will find it hard to act as independent individuals:
They allow us to be creative and protective. The men who supress those traits are those who tend to complain about women making the wrong choices and always choosing to date “assholes” (instead of choosing them).The difference between these two kinds of men is that the alleged “assholes” are not searching for the woman’s approval, and they are more in touch with their own desires. They don’t continually guide their behaviour by what women say they want (regardless of their wish being positive or negative) and, in fact, they ultimately exhibit greater masculinity in their identities. This masculine energy is what sparks interest in women.
Emotional independence in different cultures
Now, the process towards emotional independence is carried out differently in every culture, even though it is a process that can be observed everywhere in the world. In countries such as Japan, young men have to go through an excessive amount of schooling in order to validate their male identity. In some regions of Africa, manhood is asserted through hunting, while in many western countries it is asserted by wealth or professional success. Therefore, the break in the mother-son bond and the assertion of manhood differ from place to place. Even if men’s psychological development as a concept is universal. This is closely related to the socioeconomic structure of each country, and the kind of men it requires to function. Countries constantly facing military threats will require brave, strong warriors. The same happens in countries which rely on hunting as a means of subsistence.
In countries where military conflicts are rare, warriors and strong hunters will be of little use, rather, what is needed is men who know how to earn money, manage businesses or innovate in the fields of science and culture.
So, if in every culture there’s a different way of establishing and developing emotional independence. What motive can we find for the loss of identity many men have gone through in recent times? Cultural relativism does not fully account for this phenomenon, because if so, men could adapt to the customs of each place and then move on.
What is the Origin of this Problem?
In 1950, in any Western country, having a good job was enough to prove you were a successful, independent man. Whether you liked your job or not was irrelevant, and generally having it was in itself enough to win a woman over, more so if you owned a car. At the same time, women used to be more tolerant regarding certain habits men had. Since it was men who brought money to the household.
Women’s struggle for their rights to study, work and develop professionally completely changed this panorama. Nowadays, many women are economically independent, and there are marriages in which the woman is the main provider.
These days, an ordinary job is not enough to make a man independent and define his identity. Many men hate their jobs and only keep the job because of the economic security it provides. Every day they perform jobs which don’t assert their masculinity. At the same time, they interact with women who earn more money than they do, and who usually have a lower level of tolerance than that of most women in the 50s.
This results in a generation of men who are employed but cannot quite find what defines their masculinity; men who have low self-esteems and suffer emotional issues; men incapable of getting dates and who are obsessed with sex and pornography. They are economically independent, but emotionally they are akin to children.
Unable to assert their identity, they are governed by their emotions and whims, and are truly oblivious as to their own real desires. They are individuals who have always been told what to do, what the safest choice is; emotionally unstable men, who blame others for their own feelings and actions.
These are men who fill the void they feel with food or material belongings such as luxury cars ―nothing more than toys to impress others. Their personalities have been moulded by an upbringing which abounded in material possessions (toys, presents, technology, etc.) but lacked in affection. This gives us men and women who are highly evolved intellectually, but highly insecure emotionally.
The way the societies have evolved, men ―like in the days of yore― no longer appear to be necessary. That is why they have been forced to define masculinity anew. Is Justin Bieber the best example there can be for future generations?
It is important, therefore, to understand that in our time, a new concept of emotional independence is being defined. All along the history of humankind, men always had a clearer view of what their purpose entailed. Nowadays, men are no longer required as hunters or warriors, and in many cases not even as wealth providers. So what can define us as men? How do we achieve our emotional independence?
A Problem, an Opportunity
Our generation has to find a new way. We have to find our own passions; to rediscover our values, our strength, and our sexuality; set the course of our own lives, and to face the challenges along the way. To this end, there is no single formula, but rather a whole span of possibilities from which you can choose according to your inclinations. You can travel around the world, build an enterprise, help children in need, or save whales in the Pacific Ocean. By this I don’t mean to say we can all be Heads of State if we follow our dreams; that struggle to understand and conquer our dreams is the key to defining our own masculinity.
Thus, we constitute ourselves as emotionally independent beings through our actions; by making decisions as grown men. Psychologically, it is from these actions that the value of our masculinity stems.
This process might not be easy, and we might lack the mechanisms to define ourselves completely. Paving our own paths requires work, courage, skill, and a strong will with which to tackle the obstacles that arise. This attitude does’t abound in our days, but it is what all our predecessors relied on to define their identities.