|"Men must be able to explore all their feelings – including aggression and violence – in therapy without being judged if they are to move towards positive change, argues Manu Bazzano"|
I was really pleased to read Manu Bazzano’s article ‘Reconstructing masculinity’ in the February issue of Therapy Today as it skilfully articulated what I have sensed, as the mother of three sons and a therapist who enjoys working with men.
I realised when my boys were very young that being a male person was not going to be comfortable in today’s world, and I don’t believe it has improved for them as they have got older. During their primary school years the issue seemed largely to be one of containing and curtailing their physical energy. I was not a popular mother because I encouraged that rambunctiousness that could cause noise, dirt and chaos. I could be accused of perpetrating the stereotype by mothering my sons in a way that facilitated their negative masculine traits, but it simply felt like there was no understanding of what boys need.
Once into secondary school and puberty the energy changed and seemed to go underground. That need for secretness that Manu cites possibly stems from this time when a lot of the interests of young men may seem inexpressible. Outwardly having to conform to an education system that gives little opportunity for personal diversity at a time of what should be exciting physical change seems to me potentially cruel. One of my sons and many of my male clients have simply not been suited to this type of learning environment and have been very damaged by the loss of self-esteem that comes from repeated failure. I think this is particularly true for boys, though girls can suffer too, and I believe that there needs to be a recognition of this if masculinity is to be rediscovered in all its glory.
Add into the equation all the potential stressors and temptations of our 21st century society and it is no wonder that young men lose their way. Much of the help that is available points them in the direction of conforming to societal norms. As a woman I want my menfolk and my clients to be free to express the totality of their being. Women can be justifiably afraid of men’s anger, but my sense is that equally significant is the fear men feel at their own deepest emotions. They know how they lose control when the red mist comes down; they know they have moments when they could fulfil their murderous rage; they know they have the physical power to carry it through. This must be terrifying to the part of them that wants to be a ‘knight of good conscience’. Not surprising, then, that men choose to be naive women-pleasers or the polar opposite. But does the knight of good conscience have to be the dumb fool conforming to consensus? I appreciate Manu’s view that we need to rise above gender bias and I would like to think that it is possible to have a dialogue about what it means to be masculine that includes women, who also need to explore what it means to be feminine.