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Notes and observations: changing concepts of manhood.

We know more about women than we know about men ...

During the past 25 years, more books have been written about female psychology, female sensibilities, and the mysteries of the female body than have appeared in print ever. Many men are calling for equal scrutiny. Clearing defining manhood, they say, will dispense with the old "macho" misconceptions while helping men arrive at a level of true equality between the sexes where both sexes will be rated by their individual values: not unisex, but each period of his or her particular powers.

How men are taught to behave like men ...

The schoolboy returns from class with a bloody nose, clothes soiled and scratches on his face. The mother reprimands him for getting into a fight. The father criticizes him for running away and not finishing the fight. Mostly, the father is exasperated because his son has come home crying. Men don't cry; it's a subtle implication the child will never forget.

What is manly courage? Why aren't females held to such a standard?

Is courage a trait that comes naturally? Don't we all have instinctive fears? The degree with which we can sublimate our fears and manage to summon defiance is the test of how much courage we can muster. Therefore, isn't courage a form of defiance, a bolstering of will against a natural flow of fear and the need to run away?

Since there is no phrase to describe a standard which is applied to females that could measure courage, their sense of identity is not disturbed. Men usually interpret everything in terms of manhood; a woman can retreat from a threat of danger and be considered prudent. A woman will never lose her sense of individuality because she chooses to avoid violence.

It is natural for the male child to identify with his mother ...

To reach maturity, the dependent male baby must eventually detach himself from his first love, the mother, in order to reach maturity and independence. The female infant encounters no such complexity. She can remain the dependent female forever.

The male, however, must go through a complex and complicated change of identity. He separates himself completely from mother (in a metamorphosis more dramatic than a caterpillar becoming a butterfly) and learn to reject everything "feminine" about his childhood.

For many who cling tenaciously to their past, critics have used the term "Mama's boy." Others who have made the attempt to change, but not successfully, endure a lifelong struggle to prove themselves not a woman.

Work and manhood should not necessarily be equated ...

Men are judged and defined by work and the kind of work in which they are engaged. Nothing else (even sexual impotence) can brand a male's position in male society as the occupation he follows.

Too often hairdressers, fashion designers, poets or painters are considered effeminate men. A man who loves to cook has his problems (although the highest-priced chefs are males who have proven themselves above suspicion).

The manly occupations: soldier, sailor, truck driver, roofer, construction worker, prize fighter, professional sportsplayer, astronaut, policeman, and other endeavors that require muscle.

Welfare and chronic unemployment, while not overtly derided, often raises questions of one's manliness. A woman can spend her lifetime engaged in nonwork activities (if she can afford the luxury) and not be branded.

A recently revealed statistic: The leading cause of suicide among men has been attributed to failure in the workplace or business.

Retirement is a form of agony for many men ...

Many men spend their middle-age life daydreaming about the pleasures of retirement. When the day of "triumph" arrives, however, the blessing is mixed with feelings of psychic castration.

After a few months of relaxation and much awaited relief, the reality of diminished manhood sets in. Family members' attitudes become resentful, or pitying.

"He's become a child," the wife complains. "Follows me around all day. Can't wait for his meals to be ready, just overflows with complaints and criticism." The many activities of his working day are gone, and, by society's standards, the retiree has become less of a man. Male pride loses its glow; self-pity too often takes its place.

Retirement age, when first established by Germany's Social Security laws during Chancellor Bismarck's administration, was set at 65 years of age. It has no realistic relationship to modern actuarial tables.

Men who approach retirement age in the 1990's may still be energetic and very worried about "fading" masculinity. They become highly susceptible to the slights and insults of forced retirement. At age 80, not an unrealistic figure on today's longevity charts, men would not suffer an imaginary indignity to manhood when forced to retire.

The anatomy of depression...

Because old symbols of manhood are slowly disappearing or changing, male helplessness leaves a vacuum -- wide enough for the depression goblins to rush in. Depression is not a defensive maneuver like the reaction of the immune system that deals with a microbe invader. Depression is the inability of the body and mind to deal with radical change and severe feelings of hopelessness. Men are actually victims of a male-dominated society in which they can no longer play the part that dominance requires. Feelings of insecurity are overwhelming, hence the ravages of depression.

But men will eventually establish a role for themselves which will encompass a role suitable to masculine biology in consort with the essential qualities of women's needs. The male of the near future may find comfort in deeds and accomplishments appropriate to adjusting to changing social structures. If manhood is to have meaning, it will be found in a particularly unique conquest: the vanquishing of poverty, disease, social inequality, pain, and hunger.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Joseph, Ray
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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