Increasing gender role reversals create stressed men.
In the popular NBC drama “Parenthood,” character Joel Graham represents a growing number of American men: the stay-at-home dad whose go-getter wife brings home the bacon.
On the show, Joel is usually content building furniture in the backyard and hosting play dates for his young daughter. But, every now and then, his lawyer wife Julia makes a unilateral decision that leaves him angry and doubting himself.
It’s a natural reaction, says Jim Wysong, author of The Neutering of the American Male, a look at the psychology of confused gender roles.
“Most men are wired to be in charge; it’s part of their DNA,” Wysong says. “They come into the world with a tendency toward certain masculine characteristics, for instance, a preference for building blocks over building relationships.
“Over the past century, gender roles have blurred, leading to some women developing more masculine qualities by necessity – think World War II, when they had to take the men’s place in factories – and some men developing stronger feminine qualities, like sensitivity and compassion.
“The man’s feminine characteristics overdevelop so his psychological needs can be met by the masculine woman in his life, be it his mother or his wife.”
While everyone has both masculine and feminine qualities, problems occur when a person loses balance and is living opposite his or her core, Wysong says. The incongruence leads to stress, distress and dissatisfaction. And, increasingly, thanks to the economic tailspin, some very confused men and women.
In 2010, there were 154,000 “house dads,” a number that’s been climbing steadily since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Experts say that what began as a small trend of choice, as wives outdistanced their husbands in earnings, has become one of economic necessity in many families. The construction industry, one dominated by men, has been one of the hardest hit in the economic downturn.
How can these men tell if their emotional distress stems from psychological neutering? Wysong offers some telltale signs:
- If they have lots of friends who are girls, but no girlfriends. Feminine females will enjoy the company of a man they can talk to and feel comfortable with, but they won’t be physically attracted to him if he doesn’t possess a masculine presence. It’s a law of nature in the same way opposite poles of a magnet attract while like poles repel.
- If they’re more comfortable around women than men.Masculinity tends to be more confrontational – men will test one another, push each other. Femininity tends to avoid confrontation. Men who have developed a stronger feminine side are not comfortable with confrontation and feel threatened. They feel more supported by and less threatened by women.
- If they consistently look to others for approval. While a certain level of self-confidence is healthy and necessary for both men and women, masculinity tends to have a self-confidence that’s almost unwarranted. Masculinity remains self-confident even when they know they don’t have the answers. When that confidence is muted in men, they often doubt themselves and seek approval from others.
If you recognize yourself, Wysong says, don’t worry.
“A lot of times people worry there’s something wrong with them; they worry they’re weird,” he says. “You’re not. There are logical reasons behind it.”
With self-awareness, it’s possible to make changes to bring your male and female qualities into balance – even to choose from which to draw in different situations.
“Masculine and feminine qualities are equally important for both sexes,” Wysong says. “Problems arise when a person gets stuck living their life incongruent from their gender core.”
About Jim Wysong: Jim Wysong is a businessman, contractor and real estate investor who spent more than 30 years observing and studying psychology and human behavior through workshops, seminars and textbooks. His efforts to better understand his own emotional discomfort led to theories that have universal applications in modern society.
—Photo Clare Bean’s Photos/Flickr