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  • Jason McCarty

Shell of a Man

I recently read some articles for therapists addressing the needs of men in counselling. This is an area I have been thinking about for quite some time now but it extends past the counselling office. I am concerned that as a group of species, men are lost. Society has neglected the needs of men. For the past 30 years, society has been trying to make men into women. Some would feel that the world has been all about men and there is never any lack of focus on men’s needs, and although this was truer in the past, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. Men have been shamed for being men, and no longer know what it looks like to be a man or even what it looks like to treat a woman.

Movements are necessary for healthy social change, but the problem with movements is that they are extreme. Nothing really moves unless there is extreme pressure. The movement of liberating women was extremely important and necessary for our contemporary times and for the role of women moving forward in a free world. There is still movement to be made in equality for women, but that does not mean that men should be ignored until that time.

When I say men have been ignored or that men have a hard time feeling grounded in their masculinity, it is more than being at the top of a company, getting advertising to put women all over their magazines, or get to watch sports all afternoon. This is the very problem – men are operating in a society that sets them up to be shells of their former selves. Instead of adventure, they get bored and overworked in an outfit that is practically strangling them. Instead of respecting their lovers and winning their hearts, they can only stand on the sidelines of pornography and watch excitedly. Instead of an activity that brings about the warrior in them or playing their own sport, they sit and live through others.

There is no movement that is looking out for the healthy growth of men. As a counsellor, I hardly see any books or movements in this area. Again, we can argue that psychology was invented by white men and has been describing only what they need for decades, but that still doesn’t change that times are always changing and looking specifically at men’s issues as unnecessary. Because of this, men are lost, hurting their own partners and children, and finding themselves more anxious, depressed, and addicted.

We have asked men to be sensitive and caring. Women think they want this but in the end they get frustrated that they don’t know their partner’s heart. They want more from him. It isn’t because men just don’t like to share their feelings (what we seem to think is the case) it is because men are not allowed to actualize their heart, their passion, their sense of adventure. Men are also not to act chivalrous with women any longer as it supposedly oppresses women. I read somewhere that this has led to more violence toward women because there is no overriding value anymore on how women should be treated by men. As well, they no longer act like men to win a woman’s heart, they act like her best friend. Following this process, the woman eventually feels bored by the man because she realizes she wants a man and not another girlfriend who listens well. This all may sound old-fashioned and for the sake of this short article it is oversimplified, but I do believe there are truths in here for us to look at in helping men move along in our current times.

As well, many men are usually raised by women – whether it is their mothers or day-care providers – while their fathers are at work. Not to worship hunter/gatherer times too much, but men no longer go out with their fathers at an early age to watch and learn. Most boys never go see what their Dad is like at work, out there in the real world. They don’t get to see their father’s struggle, learn, make mistakes, and keep going. This is so helpful for a child’s self-efficacy (the belief in one’s abilities). For some boys, they at least get to see their mothers live life, which is better than nothing, but boys need to be out there in the world with their fathers to develop healthy self-efficacy.

Lastly, in counselling, we have failed men by trying to help them be more like women. There are certainly truths to feeling one’s emotions and understanding them, but men need to talk about it differently. We use a lot of feminine language. There is nothing wrong with feminine language in and of itself but with men needs to be balanced with masculine language (no matter one’s sexual orientation). I also believe it just looks differently for men. The process of counselling has been dominated by women and I hope there starts to be more changes in understanding what men need in therapy, but more so in contemporary life. Instead of “taking turns” we need to be meeting the needs of all human beings.

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