Atypical Male

Warning: brief language

I am currently reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown. The subtitle is kind of important because it gives you an idea of what the book is about. The chapter I just finished deals with understanding and combating shame, and it’s the single most in-depth discussion of men and shame that I’ve seen in the three books of Dr. Brown’s that I’ve read.

She discusses the difference in feminine and masculine attributes that her research uncovered. While I wish I could find where in the chapter she folded in the attributes for women as a comparative tool, the section that I completed today discussed the attributes for men. The researchers identified the following: winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and pursuit of status. For the sake of comparison between the two genders, the book summarizes:

“These feminine and masculine norms are the foundation of shame triggers, and here’s why: If women want to play by the rules, they need to be sweet, thin, and pretty, stay quiet, be perfect moms and wives, and not own their power. One move outside these expectations and BAM! The shame web closes in. Men, on the other hand, need to stop feeling, start earning, put everyone in their place, and climb to the top or die trying. Push open the lid of your box to grab a breath of air, or slide that curtain back a bit to see what’s going on and BAM! Shame cuts you down to size.”

(She describes women experiencing shame as “a sticky, complex spiderweb of layered, conflicting, and competing expectations” [e.g. be perfect, but don’t look like you’re striving for perfection] and men experiencing shame as a box, where “[y]ou spend your life fighting to get out, throwing punches at the side of the box and hoping it will break … [o]r you just give up. You don’t give a shit about anything.” She goes on to explain that she imagines men being issued a shipping crate at birth labeled CAUTION: Do Not Be Perceived As Weak. As a toddler, there’s a lot more wiggle room in the box, but as men grow older, there’s less and less room in the box until it becomes suffocating.)

I took a long, hard look at those masculine attributes and compared them to myself, and realized just how atypical a man I am in some aspects. I like to win at things, but I’m not usually upset that someone else gets the glory where I don’t. That one applies to me to a degree, but it’s not something by which I define my masculinity. Anyone who knows me much at all knows that I don’t really exercise emotional control to the point of unfeeling and very often I can’t really control my emotions at all. My wife calls me her “big weepy thing.” I’ve never been much of a conventional risk-taker, although I tend to to be an emotional risk-taker. By sharing what I feel and experience on a daily basis in this blog, I make myself vulnerable to judgment and criticism from others (something I’m happy to say I’ve never yet received). I’m neither violent or domineering. I used to be an incorrigible flirt but I’ve kind of lost the knack and the need over time, and I’ve never been the party type, so “playboy” doesn’t really fit. I am far from self-reliant, but that’s part of the reason I’m in therapy. Primacy of work is becoming more of an issue the older I get. I used to not care that much about primarily identifying with my vocation or lack thereof, but nowadays it is bothersome that I’m not in a successful career or making considerably more money than I do through my disability check. I don’t think I’ve ever wished to exercise power over women or disdain for homosexuality; I’ve thought those two things to be the complete opposite of how I feel, and if that’s what it takes to be a “typical male” then I consider myself very proud not to fall into that category. Pursuit of status is an on-again, off-again itch that I occasionally feel, but ultimately it’s not really something that I obsess over.

So of the 11 attributes, I feel that I halfway hit three of them, but can’t fully relate to any of them. I guess that makes me an atypical male, according to those researchers. But I’m very okay with that. In these aspects, I’m proud of who I am and the person I’ve become, and while I’m not where I want to be in life right now, I’m okay with where I am.

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