12 January, 2015
GIVING MEN AND BOYS EMOTIONAL FREEDOM
When it comes to Men and Boys, we have it all wrong. Men and Boys receive a steady diet of subliminal mixed messages about masculinity, parental roles and responsibilities, and the rules of engagement for courtship and marriage through mainstream media, films, television situation comedies and literature. Women and girls receive that same steady diet. As a result, there is this unsubstantiated notion floating around that Men and Boys do not have the same range of emotions as Women and Girls – that they are emotionless automatons. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Our Sons emerge from the womb they are equipped with the same set of emotions and the same level of sensitivity. They are joyful, compassionate, loving, enthusiastic, and insatiably curious souls. At some point during their journey from childhood to manhood, Our Sons are told explicitly and implicitly to be strong and that it is not “manly” to show their emotions. Specifically, Our Sons are told: “Boys and men don’t cry.” . And when boys and Men seem not to show any emotion, we accuse them of being insensitive and uncaring We are wrongfully penalizing Men and Boys for being human when they are not allowed to express their vulnerability. We are stripping them of their humanity. Let’s give Men and Boys the emotional freedom they so desperately need and want.
When Our Sons reach manhood they are told: “A real man does this! A real man does that!” While society tells boys and men how to be a man, society is not telling girls and women how to be a woman. No one is telling girls and women: “A real women does this! A real woman does that!” We seem to be so obsessed with telling Men what they ought to do and what they are not doing. Hardly anyone is telling Men, “Your presence completes me as a person. Your presence completes our family – our community. You have value. You are loved. You are needed.” We also seem so consumed about what a Man is supposed to give. The conversation always seems to be about: “A man is supposed to give this. A man is supposed to give that.” When it comes to Men, the conversation generally seems to be about “taking” – what we can and should take from him. Men are expected to provide safety and support. But when is the last time a man heard someone tell him: “Hey, I’ve got your back! You can count on me to protect and support you!” Men need to feel safe and supported, too!
So, what happens to a Man who is constantly bombarded with mixed signals about his role as a Man and a Father; badgered about what he ought to be doing and what he is not doing; and not expected to show any emotions even when he is drowning in grief and pain? His spirit breaks and his soul shatters. Self-doubt, low self-esteem, and stress overtake him. He feels empty . . . isolated . . . powerless. He may plunge into the deep abyss of depression. Or becomes emotionally disengaged. He may self-medicate his emotional pain with food, alcohol or drugs. His physical and mental health suffers. Is it any wonder that there is an alarmingly rising incidence of strokes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and diabetes? Should we find it surprising that some Men who have “given their all” only to discover that “giving their all” is just not enough, commit suicide as a means of escaping the abuse and madness that surrounds them?
Is that we want? Do want Men and Boys walking around in our communities who are emotionally disengaged and self-medicating? Is it really fair to ask Men and Boys to surrender their freedom of emotional expression? Why are we asking Men and Boys to give up their humanity?
It is imperative that we create – with all deliberate speed -- a space and place for Men where can they cry, shout, laugh, and articulate their emotional pain without fear of having their manhood called into question. In 2015, let’s work together to give Men and Boys the emotional freedom they need – the same level of emotional freedom that Women and Girls enjoy.
Diane A. Sears is the USA Coordinator for International Men’s Day (www.imd-global.org); Chair of the USA 2012-2022 International Men’s Day Ten Year Plan; member of the University Council for Fatherhood and Men’s Studies at Akamai University (www.akamaiuniversity.us), Managing Editor of IN SEARCH OF FATHERHOOD®, a quarterly international Fatherhood and Men’s Issues Journal; and author of a Fatherhood book – In Search Of Fatherhood®--Transcending Boundaries (www.amazon.com).
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