Having written about women, and how important it is for us to have other women in our lives, it is with great pleasure that I once again step outside my world to dive into the other dark continent- the world of men, and how important men are to each other.
Men need other men- they need each others company. Men offer each other something that women can never give them – an implicit and embodied knowledge about being a man and all that it means and may come to mean. Yes, men provide something for each other that women are not a part of. And cannot be. Consider for example, D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” – and the scene between the men when they fight each other, only to end up embracing each other in recognition: men argue, fight, disagree, and the more they do this the closer to each other they feel. Conflict and aggression, and the ability to work it out with each other, to survive each other in relation to each other, is part of the equation of masculinity. It is part of the way that men establish intimacy with each other. Men need to consort with their own kind, in implicit understanding, connection and validation. Men recognize each other in a million different ways that are specific to being a man: Gendered embodied knowledge that is implicitly known.
Yes, men need other men. The essence of all that is masculine requires the input of other masculinities. Not because women are not important, but because they are different and validate men through their difference. Men gift each other with identification – the implicit knowledge that comes from embodying the same developmental experiences which go on to shape expectations and visions of manhood. Take men’s identification with their penis- consider what a lifetime of being able (and needing to) see your genitalia and hold it in your hands might do to establish that member of your anatomy as a crucial part of your identity, something that physically represents your sexuality, desire, sameness and difference. Women, on the other hand, grow up shrouding their sexuality, not being aware of it or what it looks like unless they go looking for it (and this is not so easy to do!). There is no reason for a woman to touch herself other than pleasure, and that takes women and their relation to their genitalia in a whole other direction- that of sexuality and societal prohibition. You may laugh as you read this but consider the psychological impact of it. For men, the connection to their genitalia is encouraged and culturally approved. That member of their anatomy becomes not only an identifying characteristic (it’s a boy!), but a physical part of their sense of self that embodies and shapes much of their identity and what is to come. Men are literally out there in the open, and amongst other men, from the very beginning. Perhaps this is why the comparison of size and “whose is bigger” often translates into what it means to be a man and conceptions of strength, vitality, stamina and power. Turns out size matters – but not in the way that is joked about.
Men need male friends, peers, mentors, role models. They need other men to participate in male rituals like contact sports, drinking, fighting, competing, sweat lodges, and all male groups. They need to play together, be competitive with each other and work out their aggression together. Identification, validation, support and creativity all stem out of such male to male experiences.
Men also have a need to be intimate with each other, the kind of intimacy that stems from knowing the same developmental experiences and physical sensations, the kind that does not instill fear but recognition.
Intimacy between men turns out to be a most important aspect of their identities and a source of creativity. There is a hunger in men for other men and a need to turn to each other for sustenance and definition, for company on the quest for defining and embodying masculinity.
The connection between men is primal and elemental. It is based on their shared anatomy and the way that it gives body to their subjectivity and individual notions and elaborations of masculinity and what it means to be a man. There is an implicit understanding- at a physical level- of what being a man is all about, and women cannot share in this. Much the same way that men cannot provide women with the kind of identification or validation that comes from knowing, from the inside, what something feels like.
First published on Dr. Ceccoli’s blog, Out of My Mind, on November 11, 2013.