State Hermitage Museum, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia. Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

The Loneliness of Patriarchal Masculinity

Hillary McBride on Self-Silencing Scripts

State Hermitage Museum, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia. Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

This is a transcript from The Liturgists podcast, Man. The clip is included in the latest episode, Season 4 Finale.

This immediately leads me to think about men’s emotional health and well-being, and how much gets disconnected from the person when scripts like “Be a man.” come on to the scene. To back this up and give you a little bit of a developmental psychology perspective, there is a woman named Carol Gilligan who started doing research with girls about “What is moral development?” How do we make moral decisions? So much of the research, especially what was done by Kohlberg and his theory of moral development, said that people make moral decisions in a certain way and there is a hierarchy: that you are more moral if you make decisions that reflect the top tier of decision making. Whenever women were put through this grid, they would always come up short, as being morally inferior, because they did not make decisions in the way that it was represented on this grid.

Carol Gilligan started doing research with young girls. Her work is documented in a really famous psychology book called In a Different Voice. What she found was that around puberty, when girls were starting to be sexualized and their bodies were becoming something different, they were changing the way other people spoke to them. They were realizing something about themselves and what it meant to have a voice. The phenomenon of self-silencing started to show up around puberty. Girls who could retain a sense of justice and voice early on and say things like, “That’s not right. That’s not fair.”, around puberty would start to say things like, “Well, you know… right?” or “Yeah, but what do I know?” after they would something with some strength, and there would be this kind of cutting down of voice.

Whenever I talk about that research, people are really outraged, and they think, “Oh, my goodness!” But the really fascinating Gilligan’s work — and she talks about this in a book called The Birth of Pleasure — that shift of the self-silencing, of “I want to say the thing I want to say, but I can’t.” happens for boys around five [years old]. That it’s happening so young for boys, that they are learning this script of “Be a man,” and shut down and don’t show your feelings. If you’re crying, it means that you are weak and you’re like a little girl, as if that’s something bad. That shift, that I know something inside my body, I have a sense of knowing about what feels right, about what feels good, about connection, about what I need — that switch gets turned off, sometimes earlier than five, but predominantly around five.

When we talk about the injustice for women, about the scripts of femininity, one of the things I often talk about is, I think that the patriarchal construction of masculinity hurts boys and men, too. There are so many men that I see in therapy who talk about feeling like they are alone in life, because they have always been told that they can’t connect with other men, except if they are angry about sports games, or if there is a sense of violence or aggression, and that they can sometimes connect with women, but it’s threatening for their wives or their partners if they’re connecting with too many other women emotionally. So, there is this isolation, like these walls get built up to protect the narrative of masculinity, but then, inside, there is a person who just wants to be human like everybody else, but has been so cut off from all of these dimensions of the fullness and the richness of an emotional life, from sensing, from being connected to the body, and feeling, and vulnerability, that there is aloneness on the inside.

(Season 4 Finale 1:10:56)

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design.

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