A psychotherapist imagines what it’s like to walk in a man’s shoes.
I know being a man is challenging.
All human beings are born with wired-in core emotions: sadness, fear, anger, disgust, joy, and sexual excitement. These inborn “programs” tell us what we want and need. However, strangely, our cultural tells us that certain emotions are more acceptable than others. The cultural definition of masculinity says that men can be angry, disgusted, and sexually excited. In contrast, cultural definitions of femininity allow women to have sadness, fear, and joy.
Confining ourselves to unnatural standards is hard on both sexes. As a practicing psychotherapist, I have to imagine what my patients feel. I literally try to put myself in their minds and skin so I can have empathy. I often wonder how I would feel as a man. In this article, I share some of the pressures I imagine I’d face.
1. I’d feel a big burden to make enough money to financially support a family.
If I were a man, even the most unconventional and open-minded man, I’d still feel it was my job to support a family. I would find this extremely stressful. I would assume that my partner would want the option to stay at home and raise the children full time at least for a few years. I’d assume if I wanted to find the best partner for me, being very successful and making a large income would be most attractive to women.
If I had obstacles to “getting ahead,” or if my passions lead me to careers that did not pay a lot of money, the conflict would be distressing. If I were a man, I’d feel very torn between choosing the career that I wanted versus making sure I presented myself in the “right” way so I could find a mate.
2. I’d feel like I would have to be tough.
If I were a man, I’d feel pressure to meet a masculine ideal. Whether on television, print ads, or movies, I’d see messages that told me being manly meant being tough. Not only would I feel like I’d have to act tough in public, but I’d feel ashamed in front of myself during times I perceived myself as weak.
These are the silent rules I see:
- No crying
- No being scared
- No being emotionally moved
- No being tender about my need to receive love and care
3. I’d feel sexual pressure to always be hard and sustain an erection.
Most of us do not get an honest sexual education. We get messages of what is “normal,” and how we are supposed to be. Even though these messages are false and there is truly no right way to be “normal,” if I were a man, I’d be too scared to compare notes with other men or women. I imagine if I did not meet my ideal, I’d suffer silently and isolate myself.
4. I’d feel a secret need for comfort when I was upset that I would fear is weak.
The need for comfort when we are upset is universal and inborn for both men and women. All people need emotional safety and acceptance to thrive. If I were a man, I wouldn’t believe this. I’d think it is not OK to ask for comfort. I’d feel, if anything, that I was supposed to give comfort but only in “manly” way. I might not even know what that meant but I’d sure be watching myself to see that I wasn’t acting too “soft.”
5. I’d feel like acting angry and aggressive was an acceptable way to behave.
I think I’d feel much more justified as a man than I do as a woman to be outraged, insensitive, uncaring, insulting, aloof, and angry. As a man, I’d believe this was how I was supposed to behave. Even if I gave myself permission to be more sensitive and diplomatic, I imagine I’d always having a nagging part of me that was questioning myself and wondering if I was coming across too soft.
I find it psychologically and sociologically interesting that the core emotions are evenly split between men and women. Men are “allowed” the tough and sexual ones and women are “allowed” the tender ones. When woman act tough, they are called bitches. When men act tenderly and admit conflict, they are called “pussies.” Why should this be? Why can’t all people have all their feelings?
Most importantly, let’s acknowledge the emotional consequences for sequestering off naturally occurring emotions: Blocking core emotions leads to anxiety, shame, guilt, depression, and other symptoms. Isn’t it time we use the science of emotions to help us live more authentically and, quite frankly, realistically? Next time you judge a man or a woman for how they feel, remember that everyone has the same feelings, regardless of sex and gender.
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