Male Psychology Counselling
As the song goes, “Look what we've done to the old mother tongue, it's a crime the way we've misused it”; and, seemingly, regardless of the arena in which we speak, whether that be sex, health, drugs, or ways of life, it can be tough to plough through the thick dough that is the English language.
Now, whether or not you agree with the earnest brilliance of Eric Bogle, who humorously highlights the fluidity of language and how drastically it can change over the years, he does suggest that we’ve strangled, mangled, frangled and abused language too.
Whilst I reckon he has a point, our language must grow, develop, and evolve just like people, society, and cultures do. Besides, blending and compounding words is fun and lets us be more expressive. However, can our “harmless” language actually be harmful?
Language is powerful and can be used to shape the world itself; it is used to inform and misinform, to rally crowds (for good and bad), to promote equality and inequality, incite violence or advance peace, start wars or overthrow empires, to think about others in a certain way; the list of the powerful results of language and how we act on it is huge. Therefore politically correct speech has its place as it can help to inform, rally and promote for the better. However, sometimes, some terms get overlooked or ignored.
Have you noticed the numerous clever slang words starting with “man-” (e.g., man-bag, man-cave, manscaping, respectively defined as a male purse, sanctuary, body-hair trimming) that have being doing the rounds a while now? Indeed numerous such words have been repeated and impacted on society so much that they have become legitimate words in various dictionaries (e.g., manspreading) and are often used to apply humour to many maddening and malicious situations like men talking or walking or being sick or, like, you know, sitting.
The trick goes like this: get an already accepted word, “cleverly” add or incorporate the prefix “man-” and bingo you have a new blended word that reflects poorly on men. Typically, these words suggest that the man in question is being impolite, offensive, aggressive, sexist, vain, weak, childish, or whatever.
Unfortunately, the misandry associated with these words is often overlooked. It seems to me that many blended words can dismiss and undermine many men for being male; it’s as if men are being slammed or ridiculed just for being male—now that is my preferred definition of “manslamming”.
Shape of Words to Come
Whilst I generally shy away from anything political, especially when we are told what “correctness” is, I do appreciate that words shape how we see our world; this in turn shapes us. The behaviourists call this Rule Governed Behaviour whereby the rules we or others make about things influences how we respond to these things. So if we hear of or believe a thing to be negative we are more likely to feel negative about that thing. Indeed, sometimes when we hear a thing enough times we’ll start believing it; the sad and common example is if you tell someone enough times that they are stupid or worthless they’ll believe it and then see their world from a “stupid me” or “worthless me” point of view.
It’s peculiar how society accepts derogatory language against a certain cohort of society (in this case men) and would denounce such language if it was designed and used for another cohort?
Consider any of the “man-” words above or any other “man-” words you might know. Ok. Would it be acceptable or nice to replace “man-” with a different word that refers to someone’s religious beliefs, sexuality, country of origin, etc. I suspect not: It might even be illegal (good! that’s not the “equality” I want to see). But it seems to be acceptable to “mansparage” (my makey-uppy-word—definition: the art of using socially acceptable sexist, belittling, and/or abusive language against men to control how they sit, walk, talk, seek help, or exist).
Using such blended words can demoralize or dismiss a man’s physical or emotional needs and his attempts to seek help and talk about whatever is getting him down. It can also diminish his ability to connect with others and therefore get social support. These words can compound his misery, his negative feelings about himself, and can be abusive and controlling. Seriously, if you couldn’t reach out to someone without being rejected or mocked when you have the sniffles would you feel safe to reach out when you are feeling depressed? And without anyone to reach out to, we are alone and unsupported, alone and vulnerable, alone trying to find a personal understanding of our own struggles.
Sadly, whilst most of these “fun” words are derogatory or scornfully mocking of men, they can also undermine and minimise the difficulties we face and jeopardise our attempts in overcoming and addressing problems.
Overall, the “man-” message is clearly unfair: apparently, if we are to believe what is commonly said, we are a group of childish, self-pitying, whiny weaklings (Mantrum, Manbaby, Manflu) who are aggressive, anti-social, patronising bullies who can’t sit, (Manspreading), walk, (Manslamming), or talk correctly (Manterupting, Mandermining), can’t possibly have wholesome and platonic male friends (Mancrush, Man-date), and can just about manage to wait outside the shops staring dopily into space until the missus comes back and tells us what to do (Manstanding). Even single-tasking is deemed beyond us sometimes; likewise serious issues which are considered a female domain like anorexia (Manorexia) and anxiety (Manxiety) and opening up about feelings and, God forbid, getting emotional (Mangina, Manopause). Such “man-” words are harmful; they shut down debate or conversation, are belittling, derisive, polarising, and sexist, and their overuse and incorrect use conceals when someone really is being aggressive, dismissive, creepy, or patronising. How’s that for Mansplaining?
However, seeing as a trend exists for blending words based on aspects of manhood, let's change words fairly. Nicely. Why not use “men-” words to acknowledge the good things about men? Let’s use language to unite, to open conversation and debate, and to promote equality, relationships and health. Let’s recognise the menthusiastic, menterprising, menlightening, mentertaining, menthralling, and menchanting nature of many of our men. Let them speak, share feelings, thoughts, and opinions without any pejorative “man-” word responses that could close communication. Let’s put men into mental health.
Ivan Kennedy Counselling Carlow & Kilkenny