Submitted for publication to: The Good Men Project 9/29/16
How To Be A Real Manly Man by Cliff Mazer, Ph.D.
I am a certified sex therapist who purposely de-emphasizes sexual behavior and sexual performance in my clinical practice. Instead I prefer to explore issues of sexual identity and self-esteem with my male clients as well as how their behavior interfaces with basic evolutionary principles (see Evolutionary Principle at end of article). In a previous Manly Man blog (captaincliff.wordpress.com) I discuss the downsides of living in a phallocentric society. Phallocentric is just a big word referring to those cultures that oversubscribe to stereotypical masculine principles. Simply put I mean societies that for various reason(s) worship male genitalia otherwise known colloquially as the “dick”. In the same blog I cite Ancient Rome as a good example of a phallocentric society, one which was technologically advanced yet strangely obsessed with it’s own sexual vigor and political fortune. The Roman Empire wanted both qualities to last forever and even coined the latin term “Imperium sine fine” which roughly translates to “Power without end”. Paradoxically, their fear of losing power or control may have also helped create a hidden or “shadow” aspect within their collective psyche characterized by considerable insecurity and rampant superstition. i.e., penis sculptures and phallic amulets strewn about everywhere for good luck or to ward off the “evil eye”.
Our modern world and the United States in particular also emphasizes the male genitals and it’s numerous symbolic and sociological meanings, i.e.. power, authority, masculinity, virility, strength, etc. White men currently carry both the privilege and the lion share of the burden of being the dominant stakeholders in our competitive patriarchy and capitalistic society. Well, what’s so burdensome about occupying such an elite niche and governing socioeconomic status you might ask? It’s more about the concomitant psychological weight it brings with it in the form of an ever-present “performance anxiety” and pressure for men to succeed, to be the biggest and best, and then to flaunt their success, superiority and sometimes even their actual shlongs like angry or insecure alpha male chimpanzees. If such a crude or vulgar description sounds exaggerated or hyperbolic think for a moment about Anthony Weiner or Donald Trump and consider ……if the Bruno Maglia size 12 shoe fits then you must NOT acquit. Word.
It’s not surprising that in times of stress and emotional turmoil human beings need to feel good about themselves and carry with them a supporting belief that they’ve been relatively fortunate in life, or what in Vegas they might call skillfully lucky. When I use colloquial terms like fortunate or lucky I mean to say that men need to feel that as a result of their actions and agency they’ve been able to survive, adapt, and adequately surf lifes’ many challenges as opposed to drowning or fighting a constant riptide of failure (think poor Prometheus). Similarly men want to maintain a positive self-concept and see themselves as successful actors and heroic figures rather than insignificant specks floating in a vast swirling ocean of bad situations, lousy relationships and repeated misfortune. Put another way, like Ossysseus of Homeric fame we want to feel that the Gods are smiling down upon us or at the very least that they’re NOT in cahoots against us. What could be worse than becoming convinced that one’s chosen deity or gaggle of God and Goddess beings as in the Roman or Greek pantheon are either sitting around on Mt. Olympus gossiping about you or actively conspiring to bring about your demise or death? I don’t know about you but to me that would be extremely anxiety provoking and very likely lead to any of a dozen different mental disorders.
Furthermore, even when the seas are calm and things are going smoothly in life (which is almost never) men want and need to experience the hardwired warrior-hunter-gatherer adrenaline rush of ACCOMPLISHMENT. Sure, sex in it’s multiple masculine forms feels real good but it’s not quite the same thing as breaking in a wild mustang (either the horse or the snazzy sports car) or reeling in a humongous world record sized tuna like in “Old Man and the Sea”. Human males not only are programmed to mate and procreate but also have an irresistible need to at least occasionally belt a home run, bowl an big noisy strike, or at least parallel park the family station wagon or minivan like a champ. In the case of more “gatherer” type men (such as myself) the instinctual drive is to collect every known Ron Popeil Seen On TV “set it and forget it” invention, collectible Chia Pet at CVS, baseball card, Original Star Trek episode on VCR and super rare coin or postage stamp in the stamp and coin universe. Hunting and gathering not only makes men feel better but I would speculate it reconfirms our primal sense of masculinity on some very deep unconscious level. When it goes too far, of course, it’s just called hoarding. Trust me….I know.
Neuroscience suggests that the brain seeks continual stimulation in the form of crucial neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins. The opposite state to a high functioning fully engaged man is a static sedentary depressed male or one who is crippled by anxiety and caught in a self-created web of unhealthy behavior and unproductive compulsions. Although clearly pathological, snorting mounds of cocaine or crystal meth are in some strange ways also understandable yet misguided attempts to reignite or reinvigorate ones core masculinity or inner caveman, particularly when the brain’s intrinsic pilot light/ignition switch (like a man’s outdoor barbecue grill) has stopped working. I say pathological because all that highly addictive drugs or dopaminergic stimulants like crack cocaine or methamphetamines end up doing is turning the hapless user into a pimple faced and toothless drug addict who needs to rob your house and steal your big flat screen TV so that he/she can buy more drugs. Richard Pryor the stand-up comedian spoke directly about his own misguided notions of masculinity, depression, self-esteem, and hubris when he LITERALLY lit himself on fire while smoking crack cocaine. The central point about toxic masculinity and its drain on the male psyche doesn’t get much more graphic than that.
The quintessential healthy “manly man” feeling I am referring to above is one more closely associated with what a person experiences when achieving a tangible personal goal, intrinsic reward or self defined reinforcement resulting from having done what’s often called a “job well done”. In the process of reconnecting to our ancient hunter-gatherer heritage we become increasingly motivated, confident, focused, and energetic. It’s a bit like taking the ADHD medication Adderall but sourced more in some forgotten primal desire to hunt, capture, consume and then “savor” something extra delicious (like Andrew Zimmern does on his show Bizarre Foods). Such a deep multi-sensory experience of satisfaction rather than say the momentary excitement that one gets from getting an A on a high school Geometry exam goes far to stoke the “fire in the belly” of the contemporary caveman….altho acing the math test is still a pretty good thing too. Due to evolution, our genetic make-up and our current status as the biggest baddest apex predator on the planet, Homo Erectus (us) may very well have a built-in biological based need/imperative to win, “score”, succeed, make a touchdown, or at least conquer something or someone every so often. I’m pretty sure the testosterone thing also plays a big role. Overall, women enjoy achieving success just as much but appear to have a much lesser need to sink a sharp spear or musket ball into an opponents chest to ratify their existence, re-confirm their gender identity or increase their overall self worth.
Thus, every time Cro-Magnon man actually did manage to kill “two birds with one stone” or hook a really really big fish something went off in his bushy haired head like the sound of a slot machine hitting payola in Vegas. Even in the Old Testament it appears God (Yahweh) enjoyed having the proto-patriarchal Israelites cheer, woop it up and exult big time after beating the crap out of their Holy Land competitors. All that “smiting and smoting” not only gave proof of their divinely inspired success, fealty and faith, but it also probably just felt damn good kicking Philistine ass and “winning” a hard fought biblical battle. So why do guys need to succeed at all cost or “win” so very badly? Who knows. What IS clear, however, is that it totally and completely sucks to lose as any gambler would admit and every elementary school kid knows from playing dodgeball, kickball or baseball in P.E. class. Getting the “I participated” ribbon every year on Field Day just doesn’t cut it for many males and is basically the equivalent to receiving the “Biggest Loser” or “Slowest Runner” award. Let me repeat. In general, guys want to be warrior heroes somewhere/somehow in their personal lives and they also want to see themselves as successfully providing safety, security, and sustenance (like a gold medal hunter gatherer) for themselves and their loved ones. In fact, they live in fear of being “losers”, “cucks”, “goats”, or poor providers. Proof positive: ladies, ask your mate or best male friend what day your birthday or anniversary is and he will probably hesitate because he has to try pretty hard to remember. Then ask him for a specific example of when he was bullied by a bigger kid in public, struck out with the bases loaded or completely missed the slow rolling rubber ball for a called strike in kickball as a little kid and he will remember it like it was yesterday. Along with Pearl Harbor THESE are the actual days and dates that “live in infamy” in his masculine mind.
Much like a guy claiming final victory in the popular board game Risk, akin to taking over the world like Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun or putting out the last sore loser in Monopoly, gaining a sense of mastery and control (which often involves succeeding over others) triggers some selective pleasure center in our lizard man brain. Whether it is purchasing a 1.3 billion dollar winning lottery ticket or getting the free bagel with every dozen bought at the local delicatessen, men seek out and “hunt” for feel good manly moments, personal successes, and fortunate circumstances that he can then claim for his own….and later post to his unrestricted Facebook page… or maybe that’s just me. In other words it’s not all that abnormal for a man to want to climb Mt. Everest or something else big, tall or treacherous and then firmly plant a flag at the top even if it almost kills him or causes him to have his fingers hacked off surgically due to gangrene. This may again have something to do with the feel good endorphins in the brain, some “risky gene” in our DNA or a bio-behavioral adaptation passed down from our brutish but extremely plucky caveman ancestors. All things equal and cultural norms notwithstanding, men care more about their personal achievements in life including specific acts of courage undertaken (or endured) than they do about having sex. This is even more true if they associate their heroism rightly or wrongly with somehow having bettered the lives of his loved ones. Obsessing about one’s penis size and spending money on worthless and scientifically unproven products in an vain attempt to grow a bigger penis is a sad example of how core masculine values can become skewed, objectified and diminished in a sex and genital focused culture. I say better to stick to the Chia Pets…at least they are cool and really do grow.
So like it or not men are a competitive lot and a carnivorous species that enjoys winning. Without a big win or a few timely successes many men become despairing, depressed, bitter, lethargic and all around miserable human beings. Look at the average Chicago Cubs fan (until this year) or Atlanta Braves season ticket holders. Something important is missing in a losing sports fan’s life that can only be cured with a pennant win. Over time masculine vitality, free testosterone and essential manly man lifeforce has drained from his increasingly sedentary, diabetic and morbidly obese body. At this point, screaming obscenities, personally insulting players and eating a shit ton of junk food at the game is the very best he can do. This particular kind of ill-tempered Bleacher Bum whether they realize it or not really wants to bring down a charging buffalo or crack the skull of a nosey Neanderthal attempting to make it with his daughter or hot looking cave dwelling wife but all he can do is sit by and idly watch the opposing team round the bases over and over and then “cuck dance” in the dugout. No wonder many disgruntled sports fans settle for getting plastered on warm beer and fighting other angry drunks and losing team depressed guys. They, like other seemingly more successful men like Donald Trump and Anthony Weiner are essentially stuck in psychological adolescence comparing their hands, their feet, their Monopoly properties and of course their penis size. They haven’t learned to expand their fundamental definition of masculinity and have failed to embrace the deeper and far more mature meaning of the expression, “Buddy, It’s not the meat, it’s the motion”.
November 3, 2016 Addendum: Last night the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. It’s as if the entire city of Chicago has taken Viagra. They finally got their manly man MOJO back.
Tony Soprano’s Penis Dream: https://youtu.be/apkoUIBj91w
Maria Muldour: It Aint the Meat, It’s the Motion
The Evolutionary Principle is a largely psychological doctrine formulated by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss which roughly states that when a species is removed from the habitat in which it evolved or that habitat changes significantly within a brief period (evolutionarily speaking), the species will develop maladaptive or outright pathological behavior.
Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a sex therapist and Clinical Psychologist living in Atlanta, Georgia. He has three grown manly man sons and loves everything Pirate. Contact: 404-932-7193