Men should ______ . How we fill in this blank points to what ideals "we" believe men "should" live up to, and if they fail, they "should" feel shame.
How would you fill in the blank? And once you write it, how do you really feel about it?
Men should not cry. Why not - do men never feel sad?
Men should support their entire family. Wow - sounds like a lot of pressure!
Men should never be victims of assault. And if they are - then the pain of the shame is like another assault.
As Emma Watson, in her speech at the United Nations one year ago so eloquently explained, “Men don’t have the benefits of gender equality either.”
Emma – yes, she’s the actress of Harry Potter fame – gives us a few more “shoulds” to question:
Men should not ask for help with mental health issues.
Fathers should not play as active a parenting role as mothers.
Sons should not be vulnerable.
And if we really want to delve into male ideals, The Mask You Live in, a film by the makers of Miss Representation, has turned the topic into a documentary.
What stands out for me: We tell boys not to cry and then are surprised when the bottled up emotion explodes. Or implodes. In the US, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for boys and men aged 10 to 34 (CDC 2013).
"Boys are more likely to act out. They're more likely to become aggressive. Most people miss that as suppression." -William Pollack, Psychologist
"Whether it's homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when they are feeling SHAMED and humiliated or feel they would be if they didn't prove that they were real men." - James Gilligan, Psychiatrist
Earlier this month I presented my shame work at WINGS' Soaring to New Heights conference, a national conference focused on healing strategies for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The conference included a keynote panel of men who, one by one, shared their intense personal stories of having been sexually abused as children. Listening to them bravely share their struggles was inspiring. And I heard more shame-producing shoulds that they had struggled with:
Boys/Men should be strong.
Boys/Men should just 'tough it through' the pain.
Guys should always enjoy sex.
And the more complex:
Heterosexual boys should not have a physical sexual reaction when touched in a sexual way by a man.
Whatever our sexual orientation, the human body may respond with arousal when touched sexually. [If you feel ashamed or guilty because you felt sexually aroused during abuse, read the bottom of this page.]
September also saw the launch of the Bristlecone Project, with compelling portraits of male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These are stories of true courage and strength. It’s a project of 1 in 6 – an organization which takes its name from the statistic of the number of boys who are sexually abused in the US.
I’m dedicating this post to all men who are courageously speaking up about their suffering, and the trail they are blazing for other men and boys. For those who are not able or ready to speak out or don’t have a safe way to do so, I also dedicate this to you and your courage to keep going.
I also want to give a shout out to The Good Men Project - an organization focused on having the important conversations of "what it means to be a good man in the 21st century." I'm a fan.
With care and admiration,
The Shame Lady