|Boys in our culture, as in every culture, are taught how to become men. As young men, they are taught that they constantly have to prove their masculinity and sexuality against a set of socially constructed heterosexual standards, and that they must strive to achieve the dominant, accepted form of being male.
While striving to become men they are also clearly taught to de-value women and those men, especially gay and bisexual men, who don't strive to meet the "normal" standards. They all learn very early that white heterosexual males are definitely at the top of the pecking order and are most powerful.
However, in trying to live up to these arbitrary standards, most men and particularly those men who need to work hardest at proving their masculinity live much of their lives in fear of not being able to meet the standards. Many men feel that they are never good enough, tough enough or strong enough as men. At the same time they are taught that the feelings of fear, failure vulnerability and loneliness are not acceptable for them as men, and that they have to "take it like a man" and remain strong and in control, no matter what.
As a result men generally learn to hide, suppress or disguise their fear, failure, vulnerability and loneliness. They learn not to express those "unmanly" feelings to others, or even to themselves. Along the way many men also learn not to express any of their intimate feelings or emotions. They begin to believe that it is somehow easier to deny their feelings than it is to admit to them, express them, or deal with them. Instead many men learn to respond to others by behaving in the way that is expected of men.
By learning to deny and discount their emotions and emotional needs, it then becomes difficult for many men to differentiate or identify the multitude of feelings they experience. This can create an enormous inner tension or frustration which, in turn, makes it difficult for them to respond to, or sometimes even to recognise the emotional needs of others.
When men are trying to prove their masculinity and hetero-sexuality, they live in constant competition with other men who are also trying to prove themselves. Throughout their childhood, adolescence and manhood they compete with other males for the recognition of their peers, for example:
For many men, life is nothing but a competition!
- for the best (or sometimes the worst) grades
- for sporting achievements
- for having the prettiest girl
- for having the best and most frequent sex
- for having the fastest and flashiest car
- for having the best job and highest salary
- for having the biggest house, etc., etc..
If men are constantly in competition to prove themselves to be better than other men, it means they can't trust those other men. In fact, most men learn not to trust other men, and they believe that if they expose themselves as not trying hard to meet the standards, or as being less than a man by being emotional, weak or expressing their fear, then other men will use it against them, put them down, take advantage of them and be better men than they are. This leads to a tremendous sense of isolation and aloneness for most men. In fact most men have few close male friends - friends with whom they can share their real thoughts and feelings.
The limits of men's friendship's and mateship's are also socially constructed and clearly defined. Friendships with other men are activity based - they do things together like work, sport, cars, drinking etc, but don't talk about things, certainly not things that are really important or intimate. Sometimes they are able to share their thoughts and feelings with women, but even then, for many men there can be difficulties as they may not want to expose their vulnerability to them either.
The limits of male friendships therefore help to maintain their isolation, keeping men apart so that they never really know what other men think or feel. Many men could be described as living alone in an independent, self sufficient but emotionally isolated world.