Whether you like it or not we are all a part of someone else’s story. Each of us has our own stories that describe our habits and beliefs. However, we are also players in much a bigger and wider set of stories. These stories come from our culture and they determine many of our habits and beliefs. We have some control about which of our own stories we buy into but the bigger ones are more out of our control. That’s because they are so pervasive we don’t even realise that they exist.
These stories don’t exist in our conscious awareness but in our unconscious. We may disagree with the idea of them but our language and actions belie this. One of those stories says that men cannot control themselves. It says that they are not fully responsible for their actions. The suggestion is that men’s urges, desires and needs are stronger than women’s. This then leads to a false belief that they are not fully in control of their actions.
If we want to change the story around men and their inability to control themselves then we need to start by changing the stories we tell boys and men about what it means to be a man. As Frederik Douglas said:
“It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”
Old Story: Men are unable to control themselves and aren’t 100% responsible for their actions.
New Story: With responsibility comes control, and men are capable of both.
Here are three explanations for why this story exists:
1. Our words create our world
How we respond to children’s behaviour is largely determined by their gender. Studies have shown how much more tolerant parents are to boys displaying aggressive behaviour than girls. Hidden in the words we use is meaning that defines how we see and act in the world.
If you consider the language we use with boys you can see the conditioning starts at a young age.
“Boys will be boys”
“He can’t help himself”
“It’s a phase”
“He’s a bad boy”
These are all phrases we use to describe our boys (and our men) in response to them behaving in certain ways. This is not to say we don’t have phraseology that limits girls. The key differentiating factor is what we use these phrases in response to.
We describe boys as boisterous whereas girls are moody and aggressive. The former suggests tolerance whereas the latter suggests judgement of something unacceptable. One is unconsciously encouraged and the other denied.
The difference in language prepares children for the fact that we tolerate behaviour based on gender. Boys learn that their gender allows them greater freedom to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. Like any child, you push and you push and you push in order to learn what you can get away with. You notice the behaviour of other boys and men as it’s modelled to you. As a result, the cast becomes set and the boys simply grow into it.
It’s important for us to become more aware of our language and how it limits and excuses boys behaviour. Be aware of the unconscious stories we are passing on to our children of what is acceptable and what is not.
2. Peer culture that doesn’t challenge behaviour
In the sports world, there is a belief that men cannot control poor behaviour and as a result, it’s rarely challenged as fundamentally as it could. To control the behaviour would be to lessen the fluency and talent on show. This is a belief that’s perpetuated since a young age and, when unchallenged, moves from the sports field into everyday life.
The modelling of this behaviour by sports stars, TV stars, politicians shows boys what is acceptable. Uncontrollable behaviour on the pitch easily transfers to the bars and the bedroom.
Control and responsibility are closely linked. The more someone believes they are not in full control of their actions, due to something out of their control, then the responsibility they take for those actions decreases. This behaviour is then copied within peer groups. Staying in favour in a peer group is very important for men and will drive much of their behaviour as they seek to please others.
With little or no consequence from their peers, bad behaviour becomes normalised. It then takes great awareness and strength to step out of the bubble of that behaviour and believe that anything else is possible.
One of the positive outcomes from the #metoo campaign was men challenging each other to call out bad behaviour from their peers. It’s hard to be the one lone voice challenging the crowd. Therefore, it’s important to stand side by side with men when we see it done. It’s in community that this story will change, not isolation. The more men model the new behaviour and validate each other for it, the sooner we can start to change the story.
3. Inability to manage emotions leads to inability to manage self
Studies have shown that early on in a boys development (during infancy) they are just as capable of recognising and displaying emotion as girls. It’s at around four years old that things start to change. Boys begin to learn that displaying emotions is now less acceptable. They learn not to cry and express any emotion that isn’t consistent with being the boy they have learned is acceptable.
These emotions don’t just disappear though and go underground creating a pressure cooker effect. As a result, emotions explode out in a way that appears uncontrollable, and in some ways they are. When the pressure gets intense enough something has to give. This often occurs in the form of rage and violence.
This inability to regulate and control their emotions prepares men to believe they are unable to control themselves. They don’t learn the necessary skills to regulate and manage their emotions in the same way they learn not to regulate and manage their actions. Without emotional intelligence “I want to” becomes “I have to”. Men then believe the action is unavoidable when it is not.
We have to start encouraging boys to embrace emotions which are paramount in the development of healthy relationships. Help them to name and describe their emotions is a good start. This will enable them to manage their emotions and find a safe outlet for them.
The acts of men are steeped in the belief that they are not fully in control. However, I propose a new story. This story says that with responsibility comes control and men are fully capable of both.
Man Up: Boys, Men and Breaking the Male Rules* by Rebecca Asher
Stories of Men Series
This article is second in the Stories of Men series. In this series, I want to share the alternative stories about men that we rarely hear. I want to share stories of men that will inspire and not shame our boys and men.
This is not to challenge the legitimacy of some of the old stories. The purpose of this series is to promote a more mature expression of men and masculinity. An expression that we rarely see modelled in today’s world. It’s my desire to share these stories so we can begin to rewrite what it means for each man, to be a man.
More articles in this series are detailed below:
I hope this post was helpful. What’s your experience of masculine power? How have you been able to lovingly express it? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. For regular content like this just fill in the box below.
To your success
* Please Note: The Inspiring Men Project is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This helps to offset the costs of running and maintaining this site.