The three ancient rules of masculinity


Psychologist Martin Seager is undertaking research on the ancient rules of masculinity in an attempt to put these rules into words. Martin, a pioneer of male psychology in the UK, is hosting a male psychology conference in 2014 and has been campaigning for several years for the British Psychological Society to approve a Male Psychology Section.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this week Martin said there are three ancient rules of masculinity which we’ve been which add up to a male script:

  • Men should be fighters and winners
  • Men should be protectors and providers
  • Men should retain mastery and control

Seager says these are shame rules which means that when a man is unable to remain control or to provide or be a winner he may sit on those feelings which can make him more vulnerable to suicide for example.

Seager shared his masculinity rules during a  BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interview about male suicide.

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There’s no greater pain than feeling you don’t measure up as a man

What’s the greatest pain a human can feel? Childbirth? Going to a Justin Bieber concert? Getting caught in your downstairs zipper?

No, apparently there is no greater pain than “feeling like you don’t measure up as a man”. The quote comes from American pastor and former professional footballer, Joe Ehrmann in a TEDx talk on masculinity (featured above).

Joe says that there are “three words that are a phrase that have become the most culturally destructive mandates in this culture” and that “if we could change these words we could change the world”.

They are “the three scariest words that every man receives in his lifetime” says Joe and the words are “be a man”.

Joe is concerned that “young boys are taught at a very early age that in order to be a man they’ve got to separate their hearts from their  heads. Boys are taught that to have emotions, to show them, to share them, to emote them—somehow those things are considered signs of masculine failure.”

He says there are”three fundamental lies” that boys are told about what it means to be a man:

  1. Athletic ability
  2. Sexual conquest
  3. Economic success

“We live in a society where all kinds of men associate their self worth with their net worth,” says Joe.  “We’ve got to figure out how do we reframe this term of what it means to be a man.”

Joe points to the condition Alexithymia, a condition that he says 80% of  American men suffer from in some form.

Alexithymia is the inability to put emotions into words and he says it’s a disorder that we condition men into.

“It comes from the fact that when were five, six years old we were told to stop with the emotions, stop with the feelings, never given permission to emote, to develop a vocabulary, to even name our feelings as well—and this is where most of the social problems begin. Because if you don’t understand your own feelings, your own emotions, you’ll never understand the feelings and emotions of another human being,” he says.

Joe also highlights what he calls the “three footprints of covert masculine depression”—isolation, drug abuse and violence.

“I don’t think there’s anything more painful than feeling like you don’t measure up as a man,” says Joe “and given the cultural definition, you’ll never have a long enough athletic career, you’ll never sleep with enough women and  or make enough money to ever fulfilled and satisfied by that. So men start to medicate the pain of not feeling man enough—alcohol, drugs, sex, materialism, pornography—whatever men need to attach to in order to feel secure about their own masculinity.

“Men aren’t raised to be relationally successful,” says Joe. “As every young boy grows up we’ve got to give them affirmations we’ve got to give them some kind of validation about all of their emotions, all of their feelings all of their humanity

“So the next time you see some young boy struggling with the tears the emotions well you think what would happen in this world if we walk up to that person and said ‘way to be a man’.”