The US population today can be divided into two camps. The first camp, and by far the largest camp is the “Men Should” camp. This group believes that men “Should” adhere to the age old male sex role of provide and protect and to sacrifice when needed. Men should protect women and children, men should serve others before themselves, men should focus on being of service whether it is dying in wars or working full time to support a family. We all know this group very well. Most of us are either a part of that group or have been a part at some time.
Lately there is a new group that has hit the scene. Rather than thinking men “should” they are instead focused on men “Deserve.” This group basically feels that men deserve the same rights as anyone else and that they deserve to be treated as human and to have the places where they face hardship or discrimination be brought to light and changed for the better.
These groups don’t mix well. The men deserve group is a big threat to the men should group.
When a men “deserve” proponent (we can call them “new” men) voices his or her ideas to the men “should” group (we can call them traditional men) you get fireworks. The same people who will tell you without question that they are for equality in all ways are quick to deny men these same opportunities. They do it automatically and without thought. They are like automatons who have bought the party line and will defend it vigorously even if it goes against their own values. Ask them about this and they simply don’t see it. They are under the spell of the cultural mandate that men provide and protect. It’s as if they really don’t see men as people deserving of rights and compassion.
One obvious example of this is reproductive rights. We are all familiar with the phrase “my body, my choice.” Indeed women are able to choose if they will have the baby, have an abortion, put the child up for adoption or even, in some states, drop the child off at the police station shortly after birth. Her body, her choice. But the man has no say whatsoever. He has no choice even though his body was a part of the equation. He is handcuffed to her choice no matter what he does or thinks. While the woman actually carries the fetus the endeavor obviously involves both bodies but only hers is allowed the power to decide. His body, her choice. Think of the men who want the child to be born but must endure their son or daughter being aborted. He has no choice.
This, or a similar scenario will usually bring a myriad of responses from the traditionalist “men should” group. Usually they miss the point and go on and on in shaming him about how he should have kept it in his pants thus side-stepping the issue completely. Another knee jerk response is to accuse the new man of hating women and not being a “real” man. How could he hurt women and expect something for himself? This side-step is designed to make the new men proponent defend their innocence and need to prove himself and his masculinity rather than deal with the issues at hand. The traditionalist “should” folks fail to realize that by ignoring men’s situations and hardships they are a party to a bigotry that allows women choices while denying the same to men. This is not equality in any way, shape or form. Allowing either party total power to decide in such a delicate and important decision is counterproductive. We need to find new ways to serve all involved.
But it is more than just choice the New men want for men. They also want compassion. They again see how women are treated with compassion and concern and then contrast this with the fact that men’s emotional pain is treated very differently. Not only is it ignored, it is taboo. No one wants to touch it. He is on a cultural island when it comes to his emotional pain.
How did we get this way? Why would it be that men’s pain is taboo? You see, when traditional men and women (almost everyone) expect men to provide and protect they also expect men to sacrifice for the common good. This sort of thing has been going on for centuries. Things like dying in wars, self-sacrifice on the Titanic or taking the most dangerous jobs have always gone to men because the extreme of their role is to give up their own lives for others. But guess what happens when men sacrifice? When men are slated to be those who sacrifice they are, as a consequence, seen as disposable. When a person is seen as disposable the likelihood of anyone showing them compassion goes down. Way down.
Have you ever known anyone who owned a large snake as a pet? The owners get attached to their snakes, they give them endearing names and spend time with them and make sure to care for their needs. A part of this caring is feeding them. Many of the large snakes have a diet consisting of small white mice. The snake owners go to the pet store and buy white mice to feed their pet. Do the snake owners get attached to the white mice? Do they call them endearing names and like to spend time with them. No. They know they are there to be sacrificed for their beloved pet and are simply fodder. There is little concern for their welfare and surely no compassion for them. They are just fuel. This exaggerated example gives us a glimpse of the plight of men. As men have sacrificed for centuries their emotional pain has been ignored and pathologized. Men are not viewed as having needs, they are seen as problem solvers. If and when they complain you get strong reactions. How dare that white mouse ask for compassion? Shut up and be eaten! There is a strong resistance to being attached or close to the ones who are to be sacrificed. You just never know when they will be fed to the snake.
There are plenty of reasons for anyone to be under this spell. Probably the biggest one is that our entire way of life is based on men sacrificing and ignoring the things that they “deserve.” We have gotten to this place in history because millions of men have sacrificed their lives for the good of our culture for many hundreds of years. It is one thing to offer women relief from their rigid sex roles as we have done now for 50 years. Their shift in roles is major but it does not threaten the fabric of our culture. Men ceasing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others does indeed threaten the fabric of our culture. This gets people upset without thinking.
This leaves us with a problem. A big problem.
For the last fifty years we have encouraged women to expand their original role and branch out to new avenues. Women are encouraged to enter the work force, to seek extended education, to work full time, work part time, to have children, to not have children, etc. Women’s roles have been opened up to include almost any sort of opportunity. She will usually get a “You go girl!” for whatever choice she makes. This is actually fine and this writer is happy to see his daughter get every opportunity possible. The problem starts when we see that my son gets a very different treatment. Rather than giving him accolades for any choice he makes what we see instead is consistent shaming and blaming of him unless he sticks with the provide and protect mode of his old sex role. The women get freed from their binds but the men are still chained.
These two concerns, compassion for men and choice for men fly in the face of the traditionalist standards. If men are given choice and compassion for being who they are the fear is that they will likely stop wanting to sacrifice for women, children and the culture and therefore be much less likely to jump in the icy waters. The results of that choice are obviously a threat to our culture and frighten both traditional men and women. If you give choice to the white mice they will likely choose to not be eaten, right? The very thought of choice and compassion for men gets the traditionalists upset because it silently rocks their world. If there are no more men to sacrifice what will we do? Their immediate response to their fear is to do what they have been doing for centuries, trying to control men through shame and by telling them they are simply not “good enough” men. If only these men were good enough we wouldn’t have the problems we have today. If they were “real” men they wouldn’t whine and complain like that. The successful pattern that we have seen for centuries is to just place public blame on men and most men will strive to prove they are not like those who have failed. They are good men. Translated means they are men who will be willing to sacrifice.
It is this very shaming of men as a group by telling them they are not good enough that is used so effectively by all parts of our culture to keep men in line and providing, protecting and sacrificing. When most men get the shaming message that they need to be better men they will usually ignore their own needs and try harder to be “real men.” It usually starts with the idea that there is something wrong with them and they need to improve in order to be a real man.
This leaves us in a bind. As a culture we have needed men to sacrifice in order to survive. Due to this necessity we have developed many ways to insure that men will indeed continue sacrificing. These ways are essential to our survival and are performed by almost everyone without thinking. The men will usually respond by falling in line and sacrificing without thinking. Lately more light is being shined on this process and it is becoming more and more clear that we are willing to allow women choice and compassion and great role flexibility but are unable to do the same for men. We continue to use the same shaming techniques on our men to keep them in line and in role. Let’s have a look at the ways that the culture pressures men to tow the line of their duty to sacrifice.
The Shaming of Men
A very severe example of this was in WWI in Great Britain when some young men didn’t volunteer to go to war and stayed home while their brothers were out being killed on the battlefield. There was a strategy devised to encourage them to get in the trenches. A White Feather Campaign was started that used white feathers as a symbol of cowardice and unfulfilled civic duty. A powerful shaming. Women would offer the white feather to the man who had failed to sign up to go to war in order to symbolize their contempt for him and to let them know that this was seen as his failure to be a “real” man. Thus using shame and telling men they need to be real and better men. Needless to say it was a very effective campaign.
The popular phrase of the US Marines that they are looking for a “few good men” is a another example. This is not unlike the other armed forces who have similar slogans. Whether it is “Be all you can be” or the older “Be a man and Join the Navy” we see from the armed forces a common theme of seeking out men to protect and in the process turn them into “better men.” Of course we all know that once a man joins any of the armed forces he loses all semblance of choice and you can forget about getting any compassion. He is now a white mouse that is trained to serve, and die serving if need be. The “better” man turns out to be a white mouse. This is not a new idea nor is it uncommon. We see this sort of thing around the world and it has been going on for centuries. Men are called to protect others and are asked to sacrifice their own needs and desires and even their lives and be their best as they join hierarchical organizations that are mandated to protect the rest of us. This is an excellent example of what we know as gynocentrism.(the world centers around the needs of women and the sacrifice of men) The males sacrifice for the female and the culture at large.
The shaming of men to be protectors comes in many forms both macro and micro. Imagine a husband and wife being awakened at 3:00 am by a window breaking downstairs in their home. Now imagine the husband tells her that since they are equal it is her turn to go investigate, he did it the last time. Hard to imagine? Yes. The expectation of men to be protectors is firmly in place and if they refuse they will find abundant shame coming their way. If she were to refuse to investigate she would face nothing of the sort. Who is the white mouse here?
Just as men are expected to protect, men are also expected to provide resources. When men fail to provide resources they are seen as failures. The first level is to be able to provide for your own needs. Then in order to be seen as a “successful” man he will need to supply for the needs of others. The more people he is providing for the more he is seen as successful. Being dependent is forbidden. If a man is seen as dependent he is a potent failure. How many women would choose a dependent man as their mate for life? Not very many. Women expect men to be able to provide for them, homeless men need not apply. Successful men are held in high esteem while those who are dependent are seen both as failures and also as not worthy of help. Here’s quote from Peter Marin that explains this dynamic as it impacts men:
To put it simply: men are neither supposed nor allowed to be dependent. They are expected to take care of others and themselves. And when they cannot or will not do it, then the assumption at the heart of the culture is that they are somehow less than men and therefore unworthy of help. An irony asserts itself: by being in need of help, men forfeit the right to it.
So a dependent man is not only seen as a failure he is seen as not deserving of help. This is potent shaming. Men are expected to provide and protect and when they don’t there is a large price to pay. They are seen as a white mouse, unworthy and useless.
You can contrast this with the female path to become a woman. As soon as girls get through puberty and are able to have children they are considered women. The physical change is seen as the marker for womanhood. This is very different from the path of our young men who must pass behavioral tests in order to be considered a man.
There are many other less dramatic ways that men have been kept in line. Better men of course means sacrificing your own desires while being able to serve women and children and the culture. Think of the traditional men’s clubs. What did they do? They were service organizations that focused on serving others. The Lions Club motto is “We Serve” and the Rotary Club is “Service Above Self.” These mottos help us in seeing how males have been socialized and have evolved for eons to place service above self with the goal of providing for others who are in need. In other words, “die on the battlefield, it’s your job” or “work full time, it’s your obligation.”
One place one might hope to be populated with a new way of thinking about masculinity and less likely to shame men into being providers and protectors might be our psychological professionals. Surely they would have an awareness beyond the men “should” mentality. They would encourage men to be allowed choice and compassion. Sadly, this is not the case. I spent a year and a half on the mailing list of the American Psychological Association’s Division 51 for the study of Men and Masculinity and got quite a surprise. You might expect this group to be at the forefront of knowing men’s uniqueness, men’s needs, men’s wants and their many differences from women that make men unique. However, what you find is a group that sees masculinity as a problem, in fact they see it as the very cause of our culture’s difficulties and rather than see men’s uniqueness they instead blame masculinity and hold men responsible for the state of our culture. The prevailing assumption is that men need to change in order for things to improve. Much of what they pursue is related to men “Should” ideas like men should stop violence against women, men should stop rape, men should stop sexual assault, etc. All of these are fine but notice that they all have a common theme. Rather than being about the uniqueness of men it is instead about men needing to take action in order to protect women. Rather than be about men’s uniqueness it is about what men “should” be doing. Clearly Division 51 is aligned with the traditional “men should” group. The obvious irony here is that as they push for men to protect women they are simply proliferating the traditional male sex role of provide and protect. (a role they publicly abhor) Their actions are no different than the old alpha male who kept other males in line and demanded they sacrifice for women. These academes are simply another expression of the old alpha demanding men to provide and protect and shaming those who won’t or don’t. (note: APA Div 51 the study of Men and Masculinity supports the CMNI described in this post on male bashing research)
Our male legislators have a similar focus. Their focus is also gynocentric and is readily seen in the legislation they have produced that focuses on the needs of women and ignores the needs of men. So yes, more men are in power but the real question is who do those in power serve? The answer is that when it comes to mental health and victim services they obviously serve women and children and see other men as needing to fend for themselves. We have an abundance of government programs for women and almost none for men. Once again, the needs of men are ignored while the need of women are the focus. Women have needs, men are white mice. Misandry and gynocentrism are flooding our cultural landscape and no one notices.
You can see the white mouse theory clearly if you observe the actions of our legislators over the last 50 years. There has been a clamboring of effort to focus on how women are left out of the top 1% of this and that. Not enough women in the boardroom, not enough women in the CEO’s of Fortune 500 compainies, not enough women in higher education etc etc. You are surely familar with all of these efforts. But think for just a moment about the opposite. While it is surely true that women are not equally represented at the corporate leadership levels it is also equally true that they are not represented at the other extreme. The white mouse realm. They are acutely under-represented in the homeless, the trash collectors, acutely under-represented in death at war, acutely under-represented in the ranks of the retarded and also under-represented in the victims of violence. But these are the homes of our white mice. There is almost no focus on these mice at the bottom. Very few people care and resources and legislation for those difficulties are few and far between. If we are going to help women get into the boardroom it is only fair that we help men escape from homelessness. If we are going to help women get jobs as CEO’s of furturne 500 compainies then we need to help men who are at the bottom of the barrell. To only focus on one side is just another face of the “men should” gynocentric theme that we have been discussing.
You can probably see that traditional men are well represented in just about every sphere from sports to lawmakers and even academes and researchers. Most have a similar message: men need to improve themselves (often with the unspoken para message that their improvement will help them support, provide and protect for women and children.)
With a history like this it is easy to see how these “new” men who are asking for the needs of men to be addressed are automatically seen as being a threat and a big problem. This may be the first time in history that men are actually voicing their own needs rather than focusing on the needs of others. Traditionally men have been focused exclusively on the needs of others but now some men are starting to speak up for themselves. As can be expected, their efforts are being met with ridicule and shaming but these new men have grown immune to these shaming tactics. They are the white mice who have escaped from the jaws of the snake and shaming them simply won’t work any more. These men are starting to tell other men and the chorus is growing. The kindling is dry and abundant with so many men in our culture who have undergone hateful treatment from such places as the family courts, domestic violence industry and many others.
It’s time we started listening to these men and working together on bringing a fair balance to a system out of whack. In order to hear them out we will need true humanitarians who can hear both sides without the knee jerk shaming that we see all too often.
How about you? Are you ready to listen to these new men?
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.