Both legally and socially, society imposes a multitude of restrictive “shoulds” on its individual members. The “shoulds”, developed over a long period of time, serve as a major vehicle for maintaining order. While they evolve and change, and sometimes allow for limited individual variation, they represent a powerful and ever-present influence on behavior.
One of the ways in which the “shoulds” function is by defining social roles — the what and the how of everyday but important behaviors, like being a spouse, parent, child, employee or neighbor. It has also been society’s practice, however, to further many roles by gender — a spouse is either a husband or wife; a parent, either a father or a mother; a child, either a son or a daughter — and to require particular and different kinds of behaviors, thoughts and feelings from the males and females occupying these roles.
We have heard in some detail from the women’s movement how such sex-stereotyping has limited the potential of women. More recently, men have become increasingly aware that they too are assigned limiting roles which they are expected to fulfill regardless of their individual abilities, interests, physical/emotional constitutions or needs. Men have few or no effective choices in many critical areas of life. They face injustices under the law. And typically they have been handicapped by socially defined “shoulds” in expressing themselves in other than stereotypical ways.
Society has taught us, for example, that a “real” man is strong… courageous… knowledgeable… disciplined… level headed… competitive… successful… in control …unemotional… heterosexual… sexually aggressive… sexually competent… and silent-suffering. A man is also dependent on women for satisfying relationships, for child rearing and for routine home and health maintenance like housekeeping and cooking. All of this and more, society has taught us, constitutes a man’s role privilege or burden as the case may be.
Many men, however, are no longer comfortable with the traditional male role. Emotionally adrift, they are searching for a new identity; yet they find few viable alternatives to traditional masculine behavior (and even these few are narrow and limiting).