The answer may depend on where we look to find it.
Is the answer in our biology? The human species is divided into two sex categories, male and female. These sex categories broadly align with the reproductive role of the person. Is this where we find what it is to be a man? Does a man need to father children? Does a man need the potential to father children? Is a male human being not a man if he chooses not to become a father? What if he can’t father children?
If we look for answers in the society and cultures around us we find a more confusing picture. On top of the sex categories which are defined by our biology we find the gender categories of feminine and masculine which are defined by social and cultural expectations. “Boy’s don’t cry”; “Man up!”; “Grow a pair!”; these demands are aimed at our boys and men from a very young age. Boosted competitiveness; primacy of work; fear of intimacy; fear of the feminine; a lack of emotional expression, with the exception of anger; a need to always be in control; these are some of the responses of men to the pressures of masculinity set out in our society and cultures.
As men we learn to push our emotions deep down, to hide them away and to deny that they exist. Men tend to smile less than women and to cry even less. We may behave more or less as if we either experience no emotion or that we are invulnerable to emotions. We learn to deny our vulnerability even to ourselves.
Working with a therapist can give men the opportunity to lower the mask of masculinity, to drop the pretence of fitting comfortably into the cultural “man box”, at least for the duration of the session.
In so doing men can look inside for the answer to the question, “What does it mean to me to be a man?”
This can be a freeing experience for men, as we learn that we do not need to restrict our expression of self in the ways that we may feel society demands of us. When we begin to reconnect with ourselves, our feeling and emotional being, only then can we begin to truly connect with those around us.
Working with a professional counsellor we can not only improve our relationship with ourselves but also improve our relationships with others. The positive growth we experiences within therapy can be taken out of the therapy room, also improving the lives of those around us.