From Shame-Based Masculinity to Holistic
When I was a little boy, I was repeatedly shamed and
bullied. I was hit and hurt, and told that I was not a
"real," guy. I was put down, ridiculed, made
Being shamed regularly was an attempt to control me,
and make me feel bad about myself. The more worthless I
felt, the more the bullies and shamers could feel happy
that they accomplished their goal. It has taken years to
overcome that early shaming and bullying. Emotions I felt
went ranged from anger to fear to sadness.
Millions of boys are shamed into fitting into a
model of masculinity. They are called sissies,
wimps, wusses, momma's boys, etc. if they don't conform
to a cultural norm. In the process of conforming, boys
lose a part of themselves, and spend their lives grieving
these losses. Rather than being allowed to authentically
develop into their true selves, they are coerced into a
narrow "blueprint" of masculinity. Herb Goldberg,
in his book "The New Male," written in 1979,
says that "blueprint for masculinity is blueprint
for self-destruction." This shaming process means
that boys experience loss if they do fit in, and if they
don't fit in. It is a no-win proposition. There are
at least twenty-five messages that boys are taught.
They include the following:
- Maintain a strong image
- Prove manhood by taking risks, even if foolish
- Sexualize affection - all touch is sexual touch
- Have many sexual conquests
- Don't be a virgin
- Don't be vulnerable
- Don't cry
- Don't express fear
- Don't ask for help, guidance or directions
- Don't trust anyone
- Be disposable - be willing to die for your country
- Pretend to know even when you don't
- Act tough
- Be in control
- Dominate others
- Devalue what is "feminine" in yourself
- Be emotionally detached
- Tough it out
- Don't take care of your body
- Win at all costs
- Abuse your body
- More is better - money, sex, food, alcohol
- Objectify women
- Prove manhood
- You are what you achieve or accomplish
Boys who are close to their mothers are shamed.
There is a fear that boys will turn into women if they
are not tough enough. The losses that boys experience as
a result of this process include:
- Loss of intimate connection to mother and father
- Loss of emotional outlets - crying, showing fear
- Loss of trust in other males who betray, tease or
- Loss of the option to be gentle, nurturing, vulnerable
- Loss of the freedom to make mistakes
- Loss of internal awareness - emotional disconnection
- Loss of learning opportunities - empathy, other "feminine
- Loss of power over one's own destiny
- Loss of support
- Loss of freedom to give and receive non-sexual affection
- Loss of ability to connect non-verbally
- Loss of trusting one's own intuition
Two aspects of the grieving process are anger and
depression. Many men respond to these losses by
becoming hostile and angry. Other men become isolated,
lonely and depressed. There are many costs of the boys
and men, as well as the larger culture due to men grieving
over these losses. A few of these include:
- Violence against men, women and children
- Deaths due to foolish risk-taking
- Addictions to numb out pain
- Depression, isolation and loneliness
- Unnecessary wars
- Injuries and deaths due to men's sports - racing,
- Father absence - over 36 million children live without
- Hierarchy, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, etc.
- Unhealthy families, and unhealthy male-male and male-female
- Child abuse and neglect
- Sexual abuse against women
- Shame-based systems that are perpetuated from one
generation to the next
We must ask why there are such narrow definitions
of "real manhood" and where they came from?
Men have had to be strong for societies to survive. In
many cultures, men were previously hunters, but aren't
anymore. Men still fight and die in most of the wars. Men
are expendable and disposable. Since they are considered
stronger, they are the supposed protectors. But women now
are in the military, and in some countries, serve in combat
situations. If the man is not a protector or hunter, then
what is he? He provides food, shelter, and clothing. But
women are also providers now, so men are not the sole providers.
So, we come to the question of what makes a man a man.
It is his genetic make-up, hormones, brain development,
and body parts that make him male. Why does there have
to be an emotional component that defines him as different
My guess is that we haven't been willing to accept
the fact that little boys are masculine without having
to prove anything. To prove masculinity is to be accepted
by a group of peers or adult males as a "true male."
This is as opposed to a woman, or a pseudo-male. This proving
is based on fear, and controlled by a gender that is fearful
that it is not okay. If males feel inadequate, they will
put more pressure on younger males to prove adequacy. Shame-based
masculinity is fear-based masculinity.
The alternative to this is holistic manhood,
when the boy matures into manhood from the inside out.
This authentic process, learning about oneself, and then
loving what one learns about oneself, would make boys into
healthy, whole men. The men who achieved authentic manhood
would not be easy to manipulate, dominate, or control.
A man would know who he is, what he stands for, and what
his life is about. Such men are a threat to shame-based
systems and hierarchical structures. They would not need
to drink alcohol or drive fancy sportscars to prove manhood.
The following are the traits of healthy manhood.
- Power for and with, not over
Knowing one's purpose gives one's life meaning
and direction. Whole manhood requires commitment and goal-setting.
Real power is power for others, to help others,
and sharing power with others. It involves faith in oneself,
assertiveness, and compassion.
Passion is being alive, with vitality, energy,
sensuality, healthy sexual energy. It involves cherishing
as well as grieving, and allowing oneself to fully connect
Paternity involves helping others, children, and
animals, mentoring, and stewarding the earth.
Piety is about wonder, gratitude, reverence, humility
and spiritual connectedness.
Persistence includes endurance, resilience, responsibility,
Presence means being open, not judging, accepting
others, and paying attention.
Patience means delaying gratification, impulse
control, and being slow to anger.
Pardon means forgiveness and kindness.
Partnership includes collaboration, community
building, and negotiation and compromise.
Pliability is flexibility, openness to change,
willingness to see other points of view.
Playfulness is laughter, joy, lightheartedness.
Peacemaking includes justice-seeking, non-violent
alternatives, and mediation.
Politeness means have courtesy and manners.
Perspective is being able to see the larger picture.
If we change the "p" in paternity to "m,"
we have maternity. Then we could discuss the qualities
of healthy holistic womanhood. And guess what? Healthy
manhood and womanhood involve the same character traits.
And, believe it or not, men will not turn into women, and
women will not turn into men.
Holistic manhood and womanhood would create a culture
with less pain, less loss, and more interconnectedness.
We can teach both boys and girls these traits of emotional
and spiritual health through role-modeling and mentoring.
As we move away from shame-based and fear-based
masculinity, we will discover that boys who don't have
to prove themselves can relax more. Bullying
will decrease, as will drug abuse. There will likely be
fewer lonely and depressed men and boys, and fewer hostile
and aggressive men and boys. Since males won't need females
to prove their manhood and sexual prowess, rape and other
crimes against women will decrease considerably. Men might
live longer because they can admit that they need help
from doctors. Healthier relationships, better parenting,
and more compassion and empathy would most likely contribute
to a better society.