The last century has been a tumultuous ride for men. Our self-identity has changed substantially from that of our forefathers. This is not a bad thing, after all equality of genders is important, but it is challenging to understand how we can be a man in the modern age.
What I am discussing here is not gender identity. Obviously, there are females that exhibit masculine tendencies and behaviours and vice-versa. There always has been. So, let us first understand that I am discussing biological imperatives that drive the majority of humans with a Y chromosome.
Someone said to me recently that the world is being encouraged to become increasingly feminine. I’m not sure I agree with that, but I understand why they felt that way. In a lot of cases the typical markers of being masculine are not appreciated. We are consistently encouraged to be less aggressive and less decisive which is at direct conflict with our biological imperative.
Scientifically speaking, humanity has two sections of brain the primitive and modern. The primitive controls those instinctive reactions we have, such as our fight or flight response or that feeling we get when we know someone or something is watching us. The modern brain deals with the more complex cognitive functions. Essentially what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The ability to assess information and make a decision that may be instinctually irrational.
There is a disconnect between how, as men, we feel we should instinctually behave and how we know society will expect us to behave. This is not to say that our instincts should rule our behaviour, but we need to understand how these cognitive processes work so we do not have internal conflict as a result.
Men do need an outlet for some of our instinctual behaviours. Usually this manifests as something like participation in full contact sports or other physical pursuits to channel that energy. Some men do not channel that energy in a positive way and suffer from all sorts of mental issues as a result. We were not designed to be sedentary day in day out, we were designed to be active to survive. As we ignore this biological imperative, we continue to suffer.
There is an obvious correlation between men in advanced nations with primarily sedentary lifestyles suffering an increased rate of depression. In a society where you are required to be physically active to achieve survival goals, you don’t have time to be depressed.
What is one to do then, as a man in modern society? Typically, modern society is not geared towards supporting male biological imperatives. Our male ancestors hunted and fought for survival, they were physically fit and able. We are not descended from sedentary people, so why are we primarily sedentary now?
To make positive changes firstly, you have to make lifestyle changes that support channelling of that masculinity. Secondly, having a supportive partner that understands and enjoys you being a man. Thirdly, understanding the limitations and advantages of being male and appreciating the differences in human biology that has such an impact on our mental wellbeing.
As a personal example, when I joined the Army we were put through ‘focused-aggression training’. This did not mean losing your shit in an anger fuelled rage. Rather this was using that inherent aggression to charge a target with bayonets and attack. Yes, this is a specific example but it serves to highlight the use of such physical training in channelling aggression in a manner not harmful to others. Other than the poor targets.
It is true that being male in modern society appears to be a lot easier in theory than it is in practice. All of our struggles will be unique, but the mental instincts that drive us are the same.