Evolving Women, Collapsing Men
If you chanced upon this month’s issue of Psychology Today, you may have seen the headline “Why Young Men Are Falling Behind”. Some of the statistics and hypotheses are alarmingly relevant to men AND women as we continue to face being thrown overboard by the tottering complexity of heterosexual relationships as we continue to evolve.
From the article: “Among recent college graduates, women earn 97% of what their male peers earn.” (This is in stark contrast to the figure of 78% for American females overall). Also, 60% of undergraduates today are female and women earned 61% of all graduate degrees in 2013. Women’s wages are rising faster than men’s and, in addition to these successes for women, men are backsliding not only in education but in physical and mental health indicators. Suicide and accidental death due to substance abuse rates for middle aged men are increasing as are the ubiquitous compulsions toward pornography and gaming.
The gap has closed gents and we must tip our hats to the hard work of our counterparts. They have earned it. But what does this mean for men? From the article, “It may be that while many males openly welcome the progress of women, deep down, beyond even their own awareness, they can’t help interpreting it as their own failure.” Indeed, one study showed that women’s success in heterosexual relationships negatively affected the self-esteem of male partners.
In an age where the notion of gender itself is questioned or even targeted as a construct and where roles have been significantly depolarized, those of us who identify as men are discovering new complexities that are arising for the first time in history. We appear to be collapsing in a time when the healthy aspects of masculinity- a sense of agency, courage and fierce resolve- are needed most.
We are struggling to access our valor in addressing the double bind of being asked to be masculine and feminine all at once and yet this is our task if we are to survive long enough to manifest and serve in ways that meet the complexity of our times. No doubt, it’s a tough time for us and our first task is to address our shame with resolve. According to the article, in a recent survey of young men, what bothers them more than anything else these days is fear they will not be successful or worthy enough to their partners. We can speculate all we want about what happened to us and why but at the bottom in our guts we know it is shame. We are hiding out, quietly enraged with none other than ourselves.
How to begin to address male shame?
· Talk about it. Shame thrives in secrecy. Find other people and get it out in the open. This can be done in groups, dyads or with a professional counselor.
· Face it. Get to know what shame and the feeling of collapse looks like experientially. What happens in your body? Shame is uncomfortable but it is workable.
· Slow the process down. Experiment with the polarity of observing the collapse into shame and alternatively standing tall and refusing to collapse. Allow for anger!
· Commit. Make a commitment to the journey of working on yourself… this challenge builds both masculine self esteem and compassion for shortcomings.
Reward. Take small steps in areas where you know you can succeed. Acknowledge yourself. We are worthy of this heroic journey