In Dominance-Based Masculine Culture, We Are Encouraged to Have Contempt for Those in Pain
In our bullying, dominance-based man box culture, we have not simply learned how to turn away from other’s pain. In dominance culture, we are encouraged to have contempt for those in pain, making the turning away easy. This effectively creates a culture-wide disruption of masculine empathy and compassion.
Dominance-based man box culture is based on a narrow set of rules for being a man. Boys who fail to conform are bullied and brutalized until the get back in the box. The rules enforce ideas like “Don’t show your emotions.” “Always be tough.” “Never ask for help” and so on.
A young boy who falls and hurts himself on the playground must never cry. If he does, he is told “man up” or asked “what are you, a girl?” In this way, emotional distress associated with pain is punished, made fun of, condemned daily in young boys lives.
Boys being conditioned into man box culture learn not only to hide their own pain or emotional distress but to police and punish it in other boys. Eventually, any distress is associated with being less, female or weak. Meanwhile, they are also trained to dominate.
Success in domination requires we bully displays of emotional distress out of others. “What are you going to do, cry?” Boys are trained to not simply look away from distress, but to actually instill displays of distress in others, to make other boys fail in man box culture, to dominate girls and women.
Man box culture drives our American cult of the individual. It underpins our “I got mine, you get yours” politics which views those who rely on our social safety net as contemptible, even as dominance culture trains men into acts of predatory capitalism by which those lives are destroyed. All of this conditions men to admire and respond to authoritarian leaders.
Authoritarians resonate for boys and men who themselves have been traumatized by man box culture into creating displays of emotional distress in others for their own masculine validation. They see this as strength. This trauma informed conditioning is at the root of white nationalism, sexual assault, racism and more.
Author and activist Bell Hooks writes “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
To buy into man box culture, men must deny our powerful capacity to change, heal, and create authentic connection. Organizations like @mankindproject, @HUMENorg, @_evryman and others are powerful sources of healing and connection. I do this work. It has changed my life.
Men and women deserve better than our bullying culture of dominance-based masculinity which churns out broken men who go to the sadistic well of brutality and domination as their sole source of validation. The cost we pay as a society is catastrophic. If we are to end this generational cycle of abuse and violence, we must instead teach our boys the power of human connection. We must also rediscover this for ourselves as men.
So, to any man out there, I offer this invitation. When you are ready to come in from the cold, there are men waiting to welcome you to the work we all need to do. It’s a matter of giving up our rage, forgiving ourselves for not knowing sooner, and choosing connection.
Want to learn more about how our domination-based man box culture destroys men and women’s lives? Get your copy of The Little #MeToo Book for Men. “First see the culture, then change the culture.”