Doing Dumb Stuff to Prove Manhood
When David Wexler’s wife asked him to hold her purse for a moment he was suddenly filled with shame, seeing his masculinity at risk:
Loaded down with shopping bags, my wife asked me to grab her purse and carry it across the plaza. That’s all. Yet even though I knew I was being stupid, I couldn’t do it. The 15 seconds being seen carrying a purse were beyond my capacities as a card-carrying male…
Shame may be the least understood dimension of men’s inner experience — by both men themselves and the people who live with them.
Shame-o-phobia is what therapist, David Wexler calls the sort of thing that leaves men questioning their manhood over stupid stuff. Like The Freezing Water Test:
Men were asked to hold one of their hands in freezing water. One group was told the test would measure their male sex hormones and physical fitness. A second group was told the test would measure their levels of female sex hormones and their ability to bond with children. A third group got no explanation.
Guess who held their hands in painfully freezing water the longest. Yep! That group also felt greater performance expectation and showed greater cardiovascular reactivity.
When it comes to doing dumb, or even downright evil, stuff to prove manhood, the list goes on. Drinking too much, drinking and driving, driving recklessly, bullying or harassing or joining a gang rape, for instance, all to impress other so-called men.
It made me think of a movie called “Tough Guise” which shows how men so often take on a “guise” to look tough that protects them from looking feminine or weak and that keeps them from being called: gay, fag, sissy, or girl.
It all seems stupid to me. But I can also see that a lot of men are self-conscious about looking and feeling feminine.
Why do so many of us do dumb or even violent, hurtful things to prove our manhood? Is manhood the same thing as being stupid and hurtful?
Seems to me that manhood should be about having the courage to resist peer pressure that leaves us harming ourselves and others. Men’s studies professor, Michael Kimmel says manhood is about “honor, integrity, respect and doing the right thing despite the costs.” I agree with him.
Shame-O-Phobia answers a lot of questions I had and opened up my mind to understanding the “under the surface” aspects of male thinking. Maybe it can help others, too.
Alex is a student of mine who gave me permission to post this from a paper he wrote.