Wednesday 20 March 2019

Real Life: The curse of masculinity

Masculinity is an 'illness' that can lead to isolation, loneliness and fear. Simply put, men wrongly always pursue short-term gains ahead of long-term interests

Blame: Career coach John Fitzgerald says that it's personality, not masculinity, that can be blamed for bad behaviour. Photo: Emma Jervis
Blame: Career coach John Fitzgerald says that it's personality, not masculinity, that can be blamed for bad behaviour. Photo: Emma Jervis

Ailin Quinlan

A president begins an illicit affair with an intern at the White House. He is 25 years her senior. The affair is discovered. There is a huge fuss, which eventually dies down with only minor damage to his reputation. He is married to a beautiful and clever woman who has given up a great deal to support him in fulfiling his ambitions.

A cabinet minister is discovered to be having an affair with an actress 20 years his junior. It emerges that apart from enjoying sucking her toes, he insists on wearing the shirt of the football team he supports while they are making love.

His wife and the mother of his three children forgives him, although the disclosure of the affair by the actress costs him his career.

A male MP is found dead from asphyxiation after indulging in a perverse and dangerous form of sexual activity involving bondage and the deprivation of air during orgasm.

There's no end, in fact, to the stories of successful men whose identities have been subverted by sex, money and violence, says psychoanalytic psychotherapist Adam Jukes.

Barely a day goes by without a story of a man involved in compromising, illicit or illegal behaviour, from sex to violence or financial corruption, he observes.

These men all have one thing in common -- their masculinity -- which, in his controversial new book, 'Is There A Cure For Masculinity?', Jukes likens to an illness or personality disorder.

Disaster

"Every major non-geological disaster in history has been man-made, from climate change to the credit crunch and from warfare to genocide.

"Men's denial of vulnerability and the need to consume and acquire are intricately connected."

Masculinity, argues Jukes, is like an illness acquired in early boyhood. It is, he believes, built on a 'fault' created during the Oedipal crisis and is hugely destructive.

"It is like two sides of a divide. One side is a boy's relationship with his mother, and later the pressure not to be so deeply attached to the mother because it is seen as feminising.

"In England, for instance, we send little boys away to boarding school to get them away from their mothers and toughen them up.

"On the other side of the divide are the male attributes of potency, strength and power, personified by movie icons like Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal."

Out of this, Jukes warns, comes the eventual dismissal of what are seen as feminine attributes such as intimacy, and vulnerability, and the embrace of 'masculine' attributes such as risk-taking, gambling, drinking and male bonding -- which in turn can result in jail, divorce, alcoholism, infidelity, or the use of pornography.

"Maleness and masculinity are not the same thing. Masculinity is a psychological, socially based construct whereas maleness is a biological given," he says.

As a result, believes Jukes, masculinity is "incredibly destructive" to many men who suffer, but must never allow themselves to acknowledge, feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear.

Hence the pursuit of status, power, dominance and wealth will prevail to such an extent that men will always wrongly prioritise short-term gain, he says.

Risk

"That's why men engage in risk-taking behaviour. We think with our willies and our willies are not very intelligent!

"The reason masculinity is not fit for purpose is because men will always put short-term gain ahead of long-term interest.

"Men are the ones who gamble, who commit most of the crime, rape and murder, and who indulge in risky sex."

Much of male behaviour -- the quest for power and status, chronic sulking, workaholism, risk-taking, infidelity -- is a paradoxical defence against men's overwhelming feelings of weakness, vulnerability and humiliation, Jukes argues.

But not everyone agrees. Masculinity is not an illness acquired in boyhood -- it's just the way men are, says career consultant and author Rowan Manahan.

Men are simply "hard-wired" to be risk- takers and competitive, believes Manahan, whose job brings him into regular contact with everyone from entry-level employees to boardroom executives.

Yes, he acknowledges, masculinity often means men are less inclined to put their hand up to seek help because they don't wish to reveal their vulnerability -- but masculinity is not all bad, insists the father of two girls.

"Masculinity is also a good thing because since the dawn of time men have been wanting to make better tools or fly to the moon -- we're constantly pushing the boundaries.

"However, I'd also say that it's a bad thing because there's a lot of adrenalin and testosterone-fuelled stupidity going on every day," he says.

"We're pretty un-evolved for coping with the modern world. Men still share about 90pc of their DNA with chimps -- look at the behaviour of traders in any boardroom of any financial institution!

"It's like the volleyball scene in 'Top Gun' but without the baby oil -- all chest-thumping, high-fiving and willy-waving!

"We're cavemen in good suits.

"We all have an inner caveman; he's the voice in our head which tells us that after a long day in the office we can come home and do nothing and contribute nothing because we have completed the day's hunt."

However, maintains Jukes, this very recklessness and fear of intimacy drives many men to ruin their relationships with their families and their partners.

"The more masculine we are, the less fit we are for intimacy," he warns.

To many masculine men, he says, being a father is only about being a provider.

They do not acknowledge the need for fathers to be present, to be good role models and to be willing to teach values and boundaries.

"This leads to an enormous amount of frustration in families -- men are not good at intimacy. Intimacy is feminising and anything that is feminising is threatening to the masculine man."

However, many of the 'symptoms' attributed by Jukes to the 'illness' of masculinity can also be seen in alpha females, observes John Fitzgerald founder and MD of Harmonics Career Coaching and presenter of the RTE series 'Rising after Redundancy'.

"I have worked with both alpha males and alpha females and there can be this enormous drive which makes them workaholics, and when they are made redundant or rejected for the top job, it can result in chronic sulking."

He believes problems are caused by personality, rather than by masculinity.

"I've dealt with a lot of male and female high fliers, and they would both be very driven. I've seen a lot of female high fliers who'd also be involved in risk-taking behaviour such as infidelity, drugs, alcohol and sex.

"There are women who like to take a risk in business -- it's the high that does it for them, whether it's a cocaine high or a career high. It can be about getting away with something illicit."

Buzz

He points out that there are many wealthy women who go out and shoplift merely for the buzz, and many more who look at pornography, who risk-take, who are workaholics -- who, he believes, essentially suffer from the same symptoms that Jukes attributes to masculinity.

Happily, Jukes says, there is a cure for the negative effects of masculinity, if men would only bother to avail of it.

They have the option of talk therapy or of spending more time with their families, but they generally don't avail of it.

Education is the key, he believes.

"You have to start by educating fathers to raise their children to be non-masculine, and to value vulnerability and tenderness in little boys."

Fathers should also learn to be more intimate with their little boys, he believes.

"Many men are afraid of this because of anxieties around homosexuality, so they are far less tender and affectionate with their little boys than with their little girls."

"We must remember that the damage is done from a very early age."

'Is There a Cure For Masculinity?' by Adam E Jukes is published by Free Association Books on September 30

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