Following on from my last post called the ‘Male Emotion’ this post seeks to examine what happened to men’s normal broad range of feelings. Male infants and female infants equally express the full spectrum of emotions, in fact the majority of research would recognise that male infants are more emotionally expressive then female infants. So what happened?
One way of understanding this is to explore gender socialisation and male development - what boys have learnt about manhood from other men, women, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, culture and media. The following explanation is simplistic and yet I think it holds much truth. I learnt this from Trefor Lloyd who used to work for an organisation called ‘Working with men’ but now works here – http://www.boysdevelopmentproject.org.uk/
What boys learn about manhood from other men
Boys = Young | Small |Dependant | Weak
Men = Older | Big | Independent | Strong
All boys (humans) are looking for attention, approval and acceptance and they will get it however they can. Many boys long to be seen and accepted by their peers, older boys and men, and many will go to extreme lengths for their approval.
One of the first lessons that boys learn about manhood is they have to PROVE to their peers and men that they are able to move away from ‘kids stuff’.
They have to learn to toughen up by knowing about or being involved in risky and daring activities which may include some form of initiation rite. This could include violence, sex, illegal activity and will nearly always mean a loss of play and innocence. In terms of knowing about sex – my boy is nine years old and on a weekly basis he is learning another word for sexual activity or genitalia from peers on the school playground. At this age most boys have no idea what the terminology means and yet they open up the risk of being shamed if they don’t show in some way that they know! (I encourage my son to talk to me and I explain to him what the word means…. that is if I actually know the meaning!)
The second lesson is about emotional survival where boys will very quickly realise that they will have to become adept in the ‘dark art’ of banter | slagging | cussing | put-downs | sarcasm | laughing at others failures.
This game is all about toughness and hardening up each other for battle and ultimately teaches boys to suppress any vulnerable emotion to protect themselves from shame. I will never forget finding my oldest son hiding behind a hedge holding his knee after he had fallen over trying desperately not to cry. Before school crying in front of us was okay, but he quickly learnt that it wasn’t in front of his peers - to survive he realised that he needed to hide his tears and hold onto his pain. On a daily basis within my work in secondary schools I notice boys revelling in other boys failures, mistakes and misfortunes. It is so cruel. I notice other boys naturally calling their friends ‘idiot’ and using other ‘put-downs’ and negative words – this appears to be just normal communication.
What we learn from the above is that boys emotional expression is constantly being narrowed down. By the age of 7 they learn it is not acceptable to cry in front of peers. By the age of 10 so called ‘girly’ | soft |weak feelings have to disappear including compassion, love, tenderness, empathy, joy and thoughtfulness. Often boys may compensate for this by relating to animals or finding some socially acceptable place to emote. Typically by the age of 14 – the only emotions acceptable for boys are laughter and anger. Boys at this stage can appear that they are acting in inappropriate ways like laughing at sad things or when they feel embarrassed. These boys are not intentionally being cruel , it’s just the fact that their spectrum of emotional expression is so reduced and they have few emotions to choose from.