Image for A Big Week for Boy-Men

*Pic: of Caroline Wilson ... Image from HERE

Pic: Eddie McGuire by Flying Cloud, Flickr, HERE

We have to get more light into the messed up world of manhood, writes Steve Biddulph

It’s been a big week for defective masculinity.  The Eddie McGuire affair, almost put out - but then petrol-bombed by a truly odious Sam Newman - was a small window into a very large problem of men who are not psychologically mature. 

This problem ranges so widely - from the Lindt Cafe tragedy, to the murder of Jo Cox in Yorkshire, the nightmare ascendance of Donald Trump, the fear that drives America’s endless problem with guns, and right back to violence in our homes.
The problem created by “boy-men” - fully grown men in large bodies, and sometimes in powerful positions, yet with the emotional development of three year-olds - begs for proper understanding.  This small, yet resistant rump of damaged males have so much capacity to do harm that we cannot ignore them any more. 

In studying the raising of healthy boys, we’ve learned to focus on two key things.  Firstly, boys and men are usually larger and have about 30% more muscle mass than women and girls their age.  And it’s likely that males are more hormonally primed than most females, for rapid, defensive reaction.  Boys have a gender-leaning to act first, think later.  So they have to be taught to be safe.  In word, and in deed. 

The second is that boys have to be raised with empathy - loved and played with when small, and never hit or harmed, and this has to come from both mums, and dads.  Especially dads who themselves are emotionally literate.  Man enough to show grief, fear, vulnerability, and so bounce back and not need the crutches of alcohol or bullying others,  to get through their day.  Boys raised this way can let in the sorrows of others - can feel for the frightened, and have a wish to protect and care for their fellow human beings. 

And they are strong enough to do so.

Fathers are the key - since more than anyone else in a boy’s world, they show how masculinity is done.  They have to stand beside mothers and be very clear with sons - don’t ever use intimidation or violence, to hurt or frighten those less strong than yourself. 

In fact, don’t do it to anyone, unless its a life-threatening situation. 

Treat women and girls with respect.  But more than anything else, they just have to be around.  Absent, busy, or occasional dads wound their sons, leaving their masculinity hollowed out and easily colonized by bogus ideas of what makes a man. 

Emotional literacy has to combine with clear thought.  A big part of disciplining children is not about scaring them or making them feel ashamed, but helping them to think. Grown men need to think better too. 

A slogan is not a reason.  What happens on tour doesn’t stay on tour - not if it causes harm, or is against the law.  Don’t make things up.  Denigrating someone, then calling it a joke, is a lie. 

If all your mates think you are right, that doesn’t mean you are right. 

An apology made under duress is not an apology at all. 

It needs understanding to dawn, for one very important reason.  If you just don’t get it, if you don’t let in a wash of healing shame, as you listen and hear the consequences of what you’ve done - then it will be certain to happen to you again. 

We’re not interested in you feeling bad, in fact, its a distraction.  We want to know - have you understood the problem.  Sit in a women’s shelter at the weekend, and see the mothers barely out of their teens with frightened children, clutching pathetically packed bags, coming in through the high mesh gates. 

That’s what misogyny does. 

To change things, with men we need to replace sanctimoniousness with understanding.  Boys turning into men, and lacking sufficient good role models are in a bad place. In a panic, they look about for how to “do manhood”. 

They seize on one of the common male “masks” that they see around them, clamp it to their face, and may wear it for their whole life.  In this country, there are five standard masks that describe 70% of men.

The tough guy -  essential in rough neighbourhoods, it simply involves looking like you would do harm if messed with. The cool dude - a variant that puts more emphasis on clothes, looks, fast cars, success with women.  The fun guy!  A much loved figure in Australian manhood - easy to spot, his name almost always ends with “ie”.  Warnie.  Hughesie.

The fun guys concern psychologists the most, the pressure to be upbeat and everyone’s friend removes the option of sharing sorrow.  This is the man most likely to be an alcoholic or a suicide. 

There are a couple more masks - the hard working go-getter.  Prominent in the Liberal Party.  Wedded to the myth that we can make it on our own. 

And finally - the SNAG.  Because, yes, sensitivity and woman-friendliness can be a confidence trick as well. Unless it comes from authentic caring, and commitment.  Taking off the masks may be the biggest and most freeing step a man can ever take. 

It usually takes a crisis, but it is happening more and more.

A man whose mask has past its use-by date is open to change.  All across the world, men are opening up,  having honest conversations, finding that being vulnerable, far from being the end of them, is actually the beginning. 

When we can be wrong, unsure and own up to that, we can learn, and grow.  And we can be close to women, children, and each other.  In that, lies the saving of the world. 


*Steve Biddulph, above is a psychologist specializing in raising boys, and men’s mental health. He has been active for 30 years. His books including, The New Manhood, are in four million homes. He is an Adjunct Prof. of Psychology. His Facebook page is:

• Gordon Bradbury in Comments: Good article Mr Biddulph. And I agree entirely. Everyday I witness men behaving badly. Men in positions of power, trust and authority. Being a father to 2 young men (and having very limited parenting skills myself), I am acutely aware of the broken dysfunctional “system” in which families operate. Parenting as a real skill is completely ignored (save by a few people such as Mr Biddulph). Communication and relationship skills are also completely ignored in our education system. Emotional intelligence? What’s that? If we think the current generation of male leaders are bad just wait 20 years. The cult of the ego-driven male has only just begun! The one ray of hope is that social media and the growing power of women will head this disaster off before its too late. There are very few men who seem able or willing to call the problem.

• Bob Hawkins in Comments: When I was a mid-teenage lower-working-class lad, I was given two brief bits of advice from my parents, who probably were shyly doing their best at modern-day (early 1950s) sex education. As if she were confiding a secret, Mum whispered: “Son, always treat every girl as if she was a lady.” Never another word from her on the subject. About the same time, with Mum not around, Dad said: “Son, never go further than she’ll let you.” He said no more. At the time, it sounded like a contradiction. More than 60 years on, I thank both those poorly educated people for their wisdom. Thanks Mum, thanks Dad. At least I had a pretty good idea about what was right and what was wrong. Must be why I ended up in the Far East as a virgin soldier.

• Rossi in Comments: What can we expect from “sports people” when cynical adults have made a lucrative industry (and religion) out of what are essentially children’s games of playing with inflated balls?  Maintaining the complete suspension of credibility undermines any integrity they might show.  It’s not in their interests for the players and audience members to actually grow up - in a world of bread and circuses.