Dr. Gary J. Oliver

Dr. Oliver has over 30 years experience in individual, premarital, marital and family counseling and for the past 20 years he has had an extensive nationwide teaching ministry with Promise Keepers and The American Association of Christian Counselors. read bio

Six Myths About Men

During the past several years, I've worked with hundreds of men who have shared their stories with me. In talking with them I collected a list of stereotypes—myths of masculinity—that they felt governed or at least greatly influenced their development. Though the list of myths exceeds fifty , the different myths fit into six main categories.

Myth 1: Men are Big, Brave, and Strong
Myth 2: Men Aren't Emotional and Don't Express Affection
Myth 3: Men Aren't Weak, They Don't Break Down, They Don't Cry
Myth 4: Men Are Great Lovers and Have an Insatiable Appetite for Sex
Myth 5: A Man's Value Is Determined By What He Does and How Much He Earns
Myth 6: Men Are the Opposite of Women

Myth 1: Men are Big, Brave, and Strong

A delightful example of this prototypical male is seen in Beauty and the Beast, the Academy Award-winning Walt Disney movie. The beautiful Belle is a smart, sensitive, and verbal woman. In the nearby town lives a vain specimen of masculinity, Gaston, who believes he is God's gift to the world, especially women of the world. He has the intelligence of a Cro-Magnon man and the sensitivity of a manila envelope. In the local tavern the village men extol Gaston's strength and athleticism: he fights, bites, wrestles, and has "biceps to spare." Gaston grandly accepts their praises and adds a few more.

I'm not so unrealistic as to say that size and strength aren't important. I was one of those guys who signed up for the Charles Atlas course. Then my friends told me about the Joe Weider course guaranteed to give you a Weider Body. We all signed up for that one, too.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and strong, but size and strength are not the determining characteristic of masculinity. I've worked with males who were paragons of physical strength but who were relationally and emotionally preadolescent. While they spent hours every week pumping iron, their mental and emotional muscles atrophied.

Though physical strength and aggressiveness were the male traits that had traditionally selected men out for two activities, (1) hunting, fishing, and farming, and (2) face-to-face combat, society has experienced major changes in the past one hundred years. Today physical strength is relatively obsolete as an important male role requirement. How many jobs can you think of that you would associate with money, power, and status that require exceptional physical strength?

Men are also expected to be brave. They should be willing to spend their lives for their country, to go down with the ship. To admit insecurity, doubts, or fear is to be other than a real man. So what do we do with the fear that all of us experience? The same thing we learned to do with most of our other emotions: stuff, repress, suppress, deny, or ignore them.

Myth 2: Men Aren't Emotional and Don't Express Affection

The myth is false. Men are emotional. The problem is that most men don't understand their emotions and they have not learned healthy and appropriate ways to express them (though they do express feelings in various ways). But contrary to the opinions of some women I've worked with, all men haven't had emotional bypass surgery. Their emotions may seem in hibernation, but they are there.

Numerous exceptions exist to the stereotypical emotionally bound male. These exceptions suggest that, rather than being something inherent in all males, the difficulty in emotional awareness and expressiveness is more a function of social rather than biological influences. After all, women too sometimes find it difficult to reveal their feelings.

Men and women do differ in how they verbally express love, anger, and other emotions. Many men do act as if they've graduated from the Marcel Marceau school of verbal expression. However, this difference isn't because women are naturally "emotional" and men are naturally "rational" or, as one woman put it, "because women are naturally open and men are naturally emotionally brain-dead."

Many of the differences in the ways men and women express emotions are the result of cultural traditions and expectations. Women are expected, encouraged, and even required to reveal certain emotions, and men are expected and required to deny or suppress them. Research shows that men generally express their feelings much less than women do. In fact, that's part of the old male caricature. It's partly true. But there's a reason for it. It's called cultural expectations.

Many men have told me that learning their emotional language is like learning a foreign language. When some men do begin to be more open and vulnerable with the women in their lives they may get a mixed message. One is a positive message of affirmation, "I'm glad you are opening up and sharing your concerns with me. Knowing your weaknesses as well as your strengths helps me feel closer to you." The other message can be more negative and come out of fear. "I guess I'm glad he's opening up, but when I see his weaknesses I get concerned that he may not be strong enough to take care of me and the kids."

It doesn't matter if it is verbal or nonverbal. Most men are quick to pick up this second message. If they do, it is highly unlikely that they will interpret it as a legitimate fear that can be understood and talked through. They are much more likely to interpret it as their feared rejection, and it may be a long time before they risk being vulnerable again.

Myth 3: Men Aren't Weak, They Don't Break Down, They Don't Cry

Men don't reach out for help. Men can do it on their own. This third myth is clearly related to the first two, yet it deserves special mention. Tears are a sign of weakness to most men. Perhaps you even completed the sentence "Real men…" with the words "don't cry."

The issue with this myth is that men should cry. I'm not suggesting that they mark of a true man is to weep uncontrollably at television commercials. However, based on what we read in Scripture real men should have the ability to shed tears at appropriate times. It's not a matter of having to cry. It's more a matter of being secure enough and aware of your emotions that when you experience tragic, painful, or devastating situations, you have the ability to shed some tears.

At the end of the 1992 football season, Mike Ditka was fired as head coach of the Chicago Bears. At his press conference he expressed genuine emotion and shed a few tears. No one laughed at him or called him a "girly man." In fact, most of the men I talked with could relate to his pain and respected his appropriate expression of emotion.

Myth 4: Men Are Great Lovers and Have an Insatiable Appetite for Sex

During one adult Sunday school class I divided the students into male and female groups and asked them to come up with a list of three things they could do to communicate with their spouse. Although they were intentionally being somewhat humorous, the women's group came up with the following list: #1 Sex, #2 Sex, and #3 Sex.

On one hand, it really is funny, and the entire group had a good laugh. On the other hand, this particular myth has devastating consequences for men. It has placed men under expectations so unrealistic that no one can live up to them. I've talked with countless men in their fifties who were depressed and discouraged because of their decreasing ability to "perform."

This myth has kept men prisoners of internally imposed pressures. The myth is that men of all ages are like they were at age nineteen. The only thing they really want in a relationship with a woman is "it." Take a look at heroes like Magic Johnson whose sexual promiscuity led to AIDS, Warren Beatty who according to the media has slept with most of Hollywood, and the current world record holder, that paragon of virility and masculinity, Wilt Chamberlain, who recently claimed 20,000 scores. Oh, oh, oh, what a guy!

It is true that there are some men whose emotional, mental, and physical development becomes arrested at age nineteen. Certainly men are different from women in the value they place on their perceived need for sex. However, the vast majority of men I have surveyed and worked with don't claim to be great lovers, nor do they have an insatiable appetite for sex. (However, a few of the older ones wish they still did.) For many men this places enormous pressure on them and can create a performance anxiety that can cripple their ability to function sexually.

Not only does this myth cause men to place unrealistic expectations on themselves, it also keeps them from developing healthy attitudes about sex. Sex becomes reduced to performance, and the person is lost. It has led to a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to be a sexual man.

As women buy into this myth it causes them to place unhealthy, unnecessary, and unfair expectations on their husbands. They look at their husbands through the "all men ever want is one thing" grid. I've talked with many men whose sincere attempts at trying to be more "romantic" were misinterpreted by their wives as just another guise to get them in the sack. Because men carry the major responsibility in the role of love, they also carry a greater burden of failure.

Myth 5: A Man's Value Is Determined By What He Does and How Much He Earns

Work is necessary for survival. If we're fortunate, it will also give us some pleasure in doing it or at least in a job well done. However, for many men, unlike women, work tends to serve a third purpose. It defines their masculinity. It is the yardstick by which they measure if they are a success or a failure. Many actually believe their worth is measured by their job status.

When I first met Rob and Gail in my waiting room they seemed like a pleasant couple. As soon as Rob sat down in my office he said, "I've got to be honest with you, Dr. Oliver. I'm not sure why we're here." Gail immediately jumped in, "And that's the problem!"

As Rob and Gail began their story, I realized that it was similar to ones I'd heard hundreds of time before. It's a common scenario. The man starts out by being committed to work and then becomes consumed by his job. Since real men work hard, the more he does the more successful he feels.

As far as he is concerned the marriage is great. His wife tried to let him know there are problems, but his denial is so strong that her concerns and complaints may not even register with him. Or he writes it off to "she feels this way every month."

The wife will often ask the husband to go with her to talk with the pastor or a marriage counselor but he reasons, "Why should I? Everything is fine." So the wife has an affair, leaves, builds her own wall, or looks for her children to give her the validation and affection she needs and deserves. That may work until the last child leaves home, but once the nest is empty, once the kids are gone, there is nothing left to fill the void. The fact of their relational bankruptcy becomes unavoidable.

Although Gail did not go to the extremes of some women, she decided she could not have any kind of emotional relationship with Rob. "He's functionally incapable of an emotional relationship," she told herself. So she poured herself into her children, her music and her friends; meanwhile she and Rob drifted further apart. When they came to see me they functioned as married singles.

Few things are more important to a man's pride, his identity, and his sense of value and worth, and his manhood than work. That's why many men become addicted to their work; they become workaholics. There's a difference between loving what you do and having a passion for your work, and being a workaholic. If you can set your work down, let it go at the end of the day and not ruminate about it throughout the weekend, you aren't addicted to it.

Any addiction, even to work, serves to keep you separate from other people in meaningful kinds of ways, serves to keep you separate from yourself, and limits your ability to hear the voice of your heavenly Father. The problem isn't work. Work is necessary. Work is important. The problem is that many of us have allowed what we do to define our significance and to be the basis for our security. Work is inadequate on both counts.

Myth 6: Men Are the Opposite of Women

I decided to save one of the most subtle yet devastating myths for last. This myth says that men are the opposite of women. Not just a little different. They are totally different—polar opposites. You may say, "Yes, that's true. 'Opposites attract,' you know. We can't understand women because they are just the opposite of us. Right?" Wrong! But many believe the myth. When we focus primarily on our differences to the exclusion of our similarities, we set ourselves up for the divisive and antagonistic good-guy/ bad-gal (or bad-gal/good-guy) mentality. Seeing each gender as totally opposite can lead to some unfortunate stereotypical distortions.

Some view men as the problem. Women are wonderful, men are jerks. They define all men as driven, irresponsible, sexually oriented (or fixated), and potentially lethal individuals who crave power, privilege, and orgasm. The flip-side of this extreme looks at women as being not only different, but wrong. They are the problem. Their differences are seen as deficiencies and weaknesses. They are inflexible, irresponsible, emotionally chaotic, interpersonally driven individuals who seek reciprocity, equality, and their kind of intimacy.

Taken with Permission from Real Men Have Feelings Too by Gary Oliver.

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