Understanding Gender Role Conflict in Men
I came from a culture where men drive trucks. What I learned as a boy was that women can drive a car, a van, a truck, or an SUV but men drive trucks. It’s not so bad because I like driving a truck, but I know that is a place that I am limited because of my beliefs. As a therapist, I talk about feelings and emotions with other men. This violates the male stereotype that men do not talk about their feelings. That can make some men uncomfortable. I had to do the work to understand that not talking about feelings was more damaging than breaking the stereotype.
When our desires and actions come into conflict with our beliefs about gender roles this is called gender role conflict. Gender role conflict occurs for men when their beliefs about what it means to be a man prevent them from acting in a certain way or lead them to feel negative for acting that way. The research suggests that there is a relationship between gender role conflict and depression, anxiety, stress,
low self-esteem, shame, and negative relationship outcomes. This means that if my desire to be a stay-at-home dad or openly display affection for my partner or cry at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” comes in comes in conflict with my beliefs, that can have some negative consequences to my well-being. This internal conflict can be expressed as anger toward family and coworkers, feeling stuck, or prolonged periods of sadness. Currently, society is trying to remove some of the gender restrictions that men and women face. Internal conflict occurs when people are saying “it is ok to be who you want to be" but your internal belief system says, "you can only do manly things."
What do we do when we experience this conflict? The first thing to do is to determine the belief that is keeping you stuck. This can be difficult because it is often covered in layers of history, socialization, and “evidence” to support that belief. Next is to recognize the negative effects of the strict gender role and the benefits of modifying that belief. Supportive people are important when trying to make a change. A therapist can help identify those unspoken roles and support change. Are there people who have already discarded these gender roles? It might be helpful to learn about their journey. Finally, you begin to live the life you were meant to live.
There is freedom in living an authentic life that is not confined by messages from our past.