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Gender and Counseling
The past few years have seen significant advances in the field of counseling. Psychologists and psychiatrists have gained a better understanding of the human psyche. Based on their insights, they have been able to identify new problems and propose more effective methods of treatment.
Many of the problems identified affect the mental health and role of men in society. This is a significant advance, since men's problems have previously been ignored. However, despite such advances, many men are still reluctant to seek help for their mental of psychological problems.
The first part of this paper examines the various gender roles that have been assigned to men in American society. It studies how, through a process of socialization, men are required to acquire several key characteristics that are defined as "masculine," such as aggression, competitiveness and the ability to restrain their emotions.
The next part then examines how these roles and characteristics are incompatible with many aspects of daily life. First, the traits of individualism and aggression are generally at odds with the new work ethic in many companies, which stresses teamwork and cooperation. Second, the general reluctance of men to express their emotions and accept intimacy is incompatible with building healthy relationships with friends as well as mates/loved ones. Finally, the narrow definition of the father as a breadwinner severely narrows the familial role of many men.
These incompatibilities generate a tremendous amount of conflict within many men. However, the same "masculine" traits that are incompatible with work and family also make many men reluctant to seek therapy.
In the last part, the paper looks at solutions for addressing this male dilemma. By helping men create new definitions of masculinity, this paper hopes to contribute to a more effective therapy strategies that address the growing needs of men.
Feminist theorists have recognized how American society has clearly prescribed roles for women. Women have traditionally been assigned to supportive functions, such as mothering and domestic duties. Even as women entered the workforce, they were still generally relegated to supportive capacities, including secretarial and administrative work.
However, one little-recognized aspect of this male-female polarization is that American society assigns roles to men as well. There are very strict definitions of what traits are "masculine" or "feminine." From an early age, boys are taught to acquire these masculine traits in order to become what society defines as "men."
It is important to note that the differences between masculine and feminine traits are not a result of the biological differences between men and women. Whereas "sex" refers to a biological category, gender roles are defined in a social and cultural setting. Therefore, definitions of what constitutes masculine or feminine traits or behavior differ and continue to change, depending on factors like culture, nationality or time period.
This polarization is evident in daily life interactions, such as language. Studies of linguistic variations between men and women show that men are generally more direct and aggressive in their speech. Female speech is supposedly more polite, as women use more adjectives, interjections and conversational tag, and display a greater sensitivity. These differences, however, are a result of socialized gender roles (Eckert 1989).
Shunning the feminine
One of the earliest gender behaviors young boys learn is a negative behavior - turning away from his mother. Since women and mothers generally provide primary care in American society, a young child's sense of self typically develops in relation to the mother (Meth 1990).
Nancy Chodorow identifies an Oedipal triangle wherein the nature of child/mother attachment is different for boys and girls. Chodorow observes that most girls remain more closely attached to their mother, resulting in a bond that is socially acceptable and even socially desirable (Chodorow, cited in Meth 1990).
In contrast, Chodorow observes that boys experience this attachment and separation "in more unpredictable, discontinuous shifts" (cited in Meth 1990: 9). Unlike girls who are expected to stay close to their mothers, boys are expected to show an early strength by being able to stand on their own. In fact, even a young boy who expresses a reluctance to be away from their primary caregiver are pejoratively called "mama's boy."
This is a critical difference that contributes to later gender struggles within the individual. This early differentiation between boys and girls is an indication of how gender roles are ingrained long before children are socialized outside the family.
Even as the boy grows older, definitions of masculinity many not yet be clear. However, the shunning of the mother is expressed in a more general shunning of traits that are associated with femininity. For most boys, being male means rejecting things or traits that are associated with girls.
Like the shunning of the mother, this process happens early. Studies on boys as young as three or four years old are able to select toys and games that are considered masculine. In contrast, girls the same age had a less rigid sense of what was considered appropriate masculine and feminine behavior (Meth 1990).
This constant adherence to masculine traits and roles continue throughout a man's life. They are expressed in different ways, according to different contexts. One constant, however, remains. Throughout their lives, men are expected to "act like men." The flipside to this dictum, however, is that men are not supposed to behave in ways that are considered feminine.
Masculinity in a work setting
The traditional business structure that characterizes most Fortune 500 companies was adopted from military hierarchy after World War II.
The lack of women in the military and the association with war thus resulted in a strong masculine culture in the business world.
Leaders were equated with military generals, who were traditionally viewed as direct, decisive and highly individualistic. For decades after the war, Connell writes, "commercial capitalism calls on a calculative masculinity...Their combination, competitiveness, in institutionalized in 'business' and becomes a central...in the new form of hegemonic masculinity" (Connell 1987:156).
Since the immediate post-war work setting was populated by men, more men than women were thus required to adapt to this new work ethic. Many of the traits positively associated with masculinity were thus a result of a rigid work structure that was patterned after the military hierarchy.
Robert Pasick has identified three key masculine traits that have been instilled into boys through the process of socialization and applied to the work setting. First, men are expected to be competitive. Young boys are expected to "win at all costs." Later, this win-lose framework becomes central in the workplace (Pasick 1990).
Other studies support the emphasis on male competitive behavior in the work setting. Researcher Robert Kabacoff found that compared to women, men scored higher in tests measuring abilities towards strategic planning and organizational vision. Men also showed higher scores regarding tradition, strategy, restraint, delegation and persuasiveness (Kabacoff 1998).
Pasick found that men were also more rule-oriented than women. Because they are expected to be caregivers, young girls are often taught the nuances of emotional responses and of relating to others. Boys, however, are taught "the rules of the game" early, in preparation for their future role (Pasick 1990). This kind of win-oriented training is structured towards training men for the military structure of the work setting and for patriarchal society in general.
Finally, Pasick identifies the trait of "keeping score." Young boys and adolescents often express this characteristic by studying team statistics and indicators of academic performance. Teenagers and young men brag about the number of women they may have slept with or "scored." Later, this is expressed through quantifiers like sales volume, the number of clients, the number of people ranked under them and the amount of money they make (Pasick 1990).
Incompatibility of Key Masculine Traits
These three traits of competition, rule-orientedness and keeping score have been deeply ingrained through a process of socialization. However, many of these traits are incompatible with the new work setting, as well as other important areas of life. This gives rise to several internal conflicts, as prescribed male roles conflict with other basic human needs - female or male.
New Work Ethic
The entrance of women in to the workplace and the changes brought about by technology have significantly altered the workplace ethic.
First, the entry of women into management positions means that men will have to find new ways to relate to female employees. After all, many women are no longer working in supportive capacities. Instead, more and more women are colleagues and even superiors. Corollary to this, many men are charged with doing tasks that used to be completed by women.
In addition, significant changes in the corporate culture in the 1990s have eroded the effectiveness of previous aggressive, command-and-control style of management. The Information Age has ushered in new company structures that thrive on communication and teamwork. More and more, people are moving away from traditional styles of aggressive, competitive and individualistic corporate action. Instead, there is a growing emphasis on a management styles that stress flexibility, teamwork and collaborative problem…[continue]
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