The world bombards us with destructive and confusing messages about how we should behave, what we should look like, and what emotions we are allowed to have. More often than not, these stereotypes are based on gender: those identifying as male are seem as being strong, aggressive, and unemotional while those identifying as female typified as fragile, submissive, and maudlin.
Over the past 30 years, Chrysalis has seen generations of women disputing these stereotypes. We have fought the media, taken on the sports arena, and muscled through the workplace because we know (and want to prove) these labels just aren’t true.
What we may not yet have understood is the powerful effect the male stereotypes have on men, and we often misread the characteristics that trap them. These invisible “rules” can prevent men from asking for help, showing emotion, and allowing themselves to fail, and they manipulate females to expect and accept these behaviors from the men in our lives. This has been termed the “man box” by clinicians and researchers.
In the workplace, this can be particularly challenging as we deal with peers, employees, and bosses. It can impair teamwork, hamper communication, and prevent men from reaching out to women for help, advice, or support. The effects can go further, causing what we sometimes term the “boys club” or chauvinist behavior we struggle to oblige.
It’s not a hopeless situation for women – just one of understanding. Bear in mind, not all men face these challenge and not all men are the same, but there are a few things we can know to help improve our relationships.
Some may be so out of touch with their emotions that they do not realize or understand them, so listening is important. Hearing what he says to get an understanding of how best to work with someone will help you build a trusting relationship.
For many, fathers, families, friends, and popular culture tell people from childhood to be resolute and autocratic, so criticizing or resisting compounds frustration. Asking for clarification may help you both understand reasoning behind decisions, and may help men see other options.
The American Psychological Association reports that in some cases, men use aggression and anger to mask depression. This brings new perspective to dealing with men, who may feel he has limited options when working to maintain or defend his masculinity.
There’s a difference between having understanding and compassion for the men who are trapped in the “box” but coddling or ignoring isn’t smart. But having the ability to understand how the “box” hurts us all, and working to redefine the “rules” of masculinity, as well as femininity, takes a great deal of support from each of us is the only way to bring about a culture shift.