Posted 27th May 2020
From infancy, girls from Western cultures are often taught to display a large variety of positive emotions but to internalize negative emotions (such as sadness or anxiety). The western concept of what a man should be comes with other strict rules for boys. “Acting like a man” means being “allowed” to display a small palette of negative emotions (such as anger, disgust, contempt) but also being expected, to hide “feminine” emotions such as vulnerability and empathy. The learned feminine skill of expressing emotions and understanding the emotions of others facilitates close relationships with others.
With the threat of automation and the advance of AI, AI experts realise that these apparently “feminine” attributes (empathy, vulnerability, emotional regulation, support) are essential qualities for us all as they reflect our “humanness” – which robots can’t replace. The threat of AI has forced us to reconsider the traditional patriarchal model of masculinity that prevents men to be humble and vulnerable, two characteristics that can’t be automated (for the moment). Furthermore, the impact of the #MeToo movement denouncing the toxicity of hyper-masculinity as well as the affirmation of gender fluidity have both reinforced the need to deconstruct old toxic models of masculinity and to create new models.
Owen Marcus, an expert on masculine emotional intelligence, explains that men can express their emotions and display empathy as well as vulnerability so long as they feel safe and not judged. However, for many male westerners who have learned, since a young age, to “keep their emotions in check”, identifying and expressing their emotions is harder and takes longer than it does for women. Often, they display socially acceptable emotions such as anger to hide more profound feeling of loneliness and sadness. As Terry Real, the Relational Life Institute, states, “often men don’t have the vocabulary to express what they really feel”.
That is why Marcus created “men groups” where everybody who identifies as a man is invited to construct together what it means to be a man. These group sessions filter through three different phases, starting with;
1- A physical awareness: acknowledging clenched fists, tense neck and shoulders or a jittering leg. Marcus argues that, for most men, physical sensations are much easier to detect and can naturally be paired with emotions for the second phase of the process.
2- Then, individuals learn to attach an emotional interpretation to a physical sensation; I lean my body forward because I’m intrigued, my leg is jittery because I am worried about being judged, my neck is tense because I feel frustrated.
3- Finally, supportive feedback is given from other members of the community – who are encouraged to be kind. Once the man who took an “emotional dive” feels respected for it by the other men of the group, he feels safe to explore this “world of emotion” deeper.
Slowly, men learn that “opening up” and exposing their vulnerable side can be a bonding and rewarding experience.
Work environments are generally not perceived as safe environments as men and women are more likely to behave in a “socially accepted” manner that harks back to stereotypical gendered behaviours; women are expected to be helpful, caring and relational whilst men are expected to be assertive, independent and aggressive. Men and women engage in social and professional dances (roles) where many try to appear to be in control, successful and hardworking. A successful persona implies behaving in a tough, resilient, dedicated and committed manner. Those are adjectives that could describe robots.
Male meet-up groups, male sport groups and, all-male book club groups are all venues where men could feel safe to explore their masculinity without feeling judged. In these groups, they can learn to be powerful and vulnerable at the same time, Marcus calls this “assertive vulnerability”. Feeling heard and acknowledged by peers contributes to self-confidence. Newly earned confidence can motivate men to apply what they learned in these sessions to other areas of their lives (for example at home or at work).
A new generation of men, dissatisfied with the traditional concept of masculinity rejects it. These men create new models of masculinity that take into account all the complexity, ambiguity and nuances of this concept. Challenging the patriarchal status quo involves emotional, social and spiritual changes that could foster meaningful connections. Indeed, these changes can create a framework where men are allowed to access and embrace “feminine” emotions and still feel like a man.
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