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’.”


If men really do have problems, who or what causes them?

One of the aims of the 3rd National Conference for Men and Boys is to highlight the problems that men and boys face and bring together people who have solutions to some of those problems—as our short promotional video above highlights.

When we first came up with the idea of bringing people who think differently about men and boys together , we had to ask ourselves —what is the common thread that will unite all of these people.

We knew we couldn’t unite people around the causes of men’s problems, because there were too many conflicting views on what those causes are.

And we knew we would struggle to unite people around solutions, because the solutions people favour tend to differ depending on how they define the problem.

And so we simply decided to unite people around the facts that men had clear, measurable, undeniable  problems in terms of men’s health, male suicide rates, boys’ educational outcomes, fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives  and the amount of crime and violence involving men as victims and perpetrators.

And if people were concerned about those problems and interested in addressing them then, then we wanted them to come along to the National Conference for Men and Boys and start talking with other people about these important issues. This basic principle still underpins this year’s event and we’d love to see you there so do please click here to buy your tickets today if you want to get involved with this year’s conference.

As hosts of the conference it isn’t our role to enforce an opinion on what causes men’s problems and what the solutions are — what we attempt to do is ensure a mix of views are represented so all delegates can benefit from hearing a range of different perspectives. In doing this we encounter two dominant voices of dissent:

  • The pro-feminist voice that says the conference is too anti-feminist and doesn’t focus on the problems men and masculinity and the patriarchy causes
  • The anti-feminist voice that says the conference is too pro-feminist and doesn’t  focus on the problems that women, feminism and the matriarchal women’s movement causes

It is said that nobody is smart enough to be wrong all of the time so there is probably some truth in the fact that men, women, masculinity, feminism, the patriarchy and the women’s movement do play some role in the problems that men and boys face.

There are no doubt other causes too — pro-feminism and anti-feminism are far from the only perspectives in town — there are a whole host of other non-feminist perspectives that we welcome to the conference too.

One thing that is certain is this—when we start to look at all men and boys’ problems as a whole there is a clear domino effect between these problems.

If a father is not involved in his son’s life—whatever the cause of that fatherlessness—research suggests that his son will be more likely to struggle at school—if he gets poor results in school he is more likely to suffer poor health and live a shorter life—if he is excluded from school then he is at greater risk of offending and more likely to commit suicide—fatherless boys are also more likely to grow up in poverty, which increase their risk of premature death, suicide, poor education, crime and violence.

In fact you can take just about any issue that men and boys face and start to join the dots in this way and when you start to see the bigger picture you begin to gain new insights that go beyond your normal way of thinking about the problems that men and boys face.

So if you want to think differently about these problems, it doesn’t matter what your perspective is—if you are committed to making a difference for men and boys then you are very welcome to come along to the Third National Conference for Men and Boys this year.

To make get you book your place and come along to conference then please  click here to buy your tickets now.