Male Socialization: How it Can Destroy Lives

Jovan Belcher’s murder of Kasandra Perkins and his subsequent suicide is yet another tragic story of lethal domestic violence; man kills woman then turns gun on himself, only to leave an orphaned infant daughter. How many times are we going to hear about these tragic stories before we wake up and take an honest look into the role of male socialization in this culture?

Kevin Powell, author and activist on men’s issues, points out in his poignant article, “Man, Football and Suicide,” that Belcher was “a man living in the supersized macho world of football, a world in which many of us American males reside, be it football or not. Too many of us have been taught manhood in a way that is not healthy. Be tough, men do not cry, man up.” Football players or not, all men are exposed to the toxicity of hyper-masculine socialization.

The “real man” myth

Belcher obviously was in much pain but, as Powell states, male socialization has a way of intentionally or unwittingly “teaching that manhood has little room to express hurt, disappointment and sorrow.” Belcher is an example of how when men don’t talk it out, they’re at a greater risk of acting it out, particularly if they buy into hyper-masculine ideology such as, real man have control over their lives, even their girlfriends; real men don’t cry, they take action; real men don’t admit weakness, they suck it up and just get on with life.

It seems to me that the pain and rage in Belcher’s belly and chest, along with the mayhem of his twisted logic in his head had no place to land, no human container, because the man-code says “don’t talk about it; that’s weak.” And when men choose to not talk about what is churning in their bellies, chest, and brain, they run the risk of addictions, violence, depression, malaise, or disillusion.

In my practice at the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan, I get the privilege of working with courageous men; pioneers who break out of the old cow paths of masculinity. Through psycho-therapy programs, they are forging new ground. They are willing to explore their inner lives instead of acting out and subsequently creating chaos and pain in their lives with intimate others, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow drivers on the road.

It is my deepest hope and passion to see other men take this courageous step when life becomes painful, confusing, scary, and lonely. It is also my greatest hope and passion to see us as a society raise boys to know that they can talk about these things, share their emotions, and that doing so is a sign of their strength and humanity, not a sign of weakness. Who knows? By redefining what real masculinity means, we may be able to save other young men’s and women’s lives from being destroyed.

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