REAL MEN: FALSE AND TRUE MASCULINITY

                                                    CC Men’s Center eNews

                                                            October 2006


Joe Ehrmann, former professional football player turned priest and volunteer high

school football coach, says our culture teaches boys the wrong messages about

being a man. "False masculinity," as he calls it, says you are a real man if you

succeed based on athletic ability, sexual conquest, and economic success -- in other words, more victories, notches on the belt and making more money than other guys.


Rather, Ehrmann says, there should be only two criteria for being a man.

“Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships. It

ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved.”

According to Ehrmann, "the second criterion – the only other criterion for

masculinity – is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of

purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants, and

desires."


In the end, believes Ehrmann, "(Life is) gonna come down to this: What kind of

father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or

teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you?

What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships.”

(For more about Ehrmann, read "The Season of Life," by Jeffrey Marx)


How do we help boys succeed in these terms? Here are 5 tips:

1. Teach boys to celebrate others' successes as well as their own.

Take pleasure in others' triumphs rather than focusing on how the other person's

success makes you feel like a loser. If they've won the game and you've lost, that

means applauding them for their good play; it means not making it about you, your

failing, or your bad luck. Learning how to absorb disappointments helps build

resilience, a quality that serves us well in the face of life's challenges.


2. Praise passion and effort as much as results.

Everybody loves a winner; however, boys who are appreciated for showing passion

and giving their all will develop a stronger internal sense of self than being

celebrated for the A's they get in school or the trophies they win on the playing

field. Those external measures of success can disappear in an instant, leaving many

boys feeling unworthy. This means modeling to boys our own pleasure in the

journey, not just the outcome.


3. Model the importance of caring friendships, especially with other males.

Many men don't have close male friends. The message that gives boys is that only

relationships with women, and in particular, a spouse, really matter.

Joe Ehrmann tells his football players that his job is to love his players and their

job is to love each other. He has his players make sure no teammate is sitting alone in the lunchroom. The capacity to love and be loved is one of the stronger

predictors of happiness in life, according to the latest research by Chris Peterson,

PhD, a leading voice in the field of positive psychology.


4. Involve boys in a cause that is bigger than their own achievements.

That can mean, on the most immediate level, making sure our sons contribute to the household by washing dishes and taking out the trash, even when they say they

don't have time for it because of the really important things like homework, other

activities and time with friends.


In a larger context, this could include participating in service projects, religious

organizations, or other community activities that seek to contribute something to

the world. This teaches boys it's not all about them and their successes, and

promotes the primacy of connections with and concern for the well being of others.


5. Remember that boys are fully human. Help them express their full selves.

It's human to be afraid, to cry when sad or hurt, to be scared of falling short,

especially if it's about something you really want. Hear boys out about their

challenges as well as their triumphs, their fears as well as their joys. See the

movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" to see how NOT to do it!


Because false masculinity fosters a "win at any cost" mentality, it often leads to

boys cutting off from certain feelings because that would reveal weakness and

might get in the way of winning. In the end, it causes them to keep people at a

distance and it prevents them from getting help where they are struggling or

empathizing with others' struggles. That's a ticket for isolation, loneliness and a

host of stress-related illnesses. In this respect the single-minded focus on winning, ironically, ultimately leads to defeat, not victory.


In particular, boys who learn to talk through their anger rather than stuffing it or

blasting it at others are likely to be more successful and happier in their lives

(study by George Valliant, MD, as reported in his book, "Aging Well.")


BONUS TIP: All roads are built on empathy

All of the above tips draw on a quality that Ehrmann considers absolutely essential: empathy. He believes we need to teach boys to really understand the feelings and viewpoints of others if they are successfully to follow the two guideposts for becoming a man: valuing relationships and seeking justice in the world.


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