Don't Emasculate Me!

I knew Lucas* to be a great guy. He is popular. Funny. Extremely bright. Totally sweet. Actively involved in civil rights and social justice work. So it was a great pleasure to see him when he stopped by my office one day at the supervised child visitation centre I was running. He asked a whole bunch of questions about the work we did there, and about dealing with the abusive men who were our clients.

“Wow, it’s quite a program you’ve got here, Bill,” he said after I gave him a tour.

“Thanks! How are things going with you?”

“Oh, not too good. My wife and I split up.”

“Oh really? I’m really sorry to hear that. That’s too bad.”

“Yeah. I just couldn’t stop beating her.”

Oh no! My draw dropped. Not Lucas!

“Yeah,” Lucas continued. “It seemed like whenever I would say something, she just kept disagreeing with me. And I knew it wasn’t right, beating her. But I just couldn’t allow her to emasculate me like that!”

I was so disappointed in Lucas.

Disappointed in him because of his violence.

Disappointed in him because he was a man who worked for social justice in public and yet was an abuser at home.

Disappointed in him because he was so worried about the idea that he could actually be emasculated by someone else’s behaviour.

I still remember the first time I heard a man use the phrase Don’t emasculate me! It was in a university class. I looked at him long and hard, trying to determine whether or not he was joking. Do people – uh, men – really say that? I asked myself. As if someone else’s behaviour could actually render us less of a man? Really? Since then I have heard many men other utter that very phrase.

According to Wikipedia, “Emasculation is the removal of the genitalia (castration) of a male, notably the penis and/or the testicles. By extension, the word has also come to mean to render a male less of a man, or to make a male feel less of a man by humiliation. This metaphorical usage of the word is much more common than the application of its literal meaning.”

Men of the world, we have a problem. Have we really reached the point where we are so quick to equate infringements (real or imagined) upon our ability to exercise power with the removal of our genitals? Because if so, we’re in big trouble. Because throughout our lives we will all experience ample humiliation. And if being humiliated is what castrates you, we will soon be a world of eunuchs.

But before we men all start worrying unduly about the future of our genitalia, here’s something for us to keep in mind: Being humiliated makes you no less of a man. No more than a woman being humiliated makes her less of a woman. And if we somehow think that the experience of humiliation hurts women less than it hurts men, I believe that we are sorely mistaken. Humiliation is humiliation. And it stinks.

What can be different for men, however, is that many of us have greater difficulty recovering from being humiliated. Too many of us believe that being humiliated threatens the very core of our identity. But this is only because for far too many men, our concept of being a man is inextricably linked to our ability to exercise power. And when that’s the case, then our sense of manhood is forever at risk. Life is fraught with situations that threaten to reduce our power.

We lose jobs. We lose relationships. We may lose our home. We may lose our family. And ultimately, as part of the dying process, we will lose our ability to control our bodily functions. Will we then somehow be less manly – even if we face the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty of a failing body with great courage and dignity?

The brutal truth about trying to maintain an identity that is largely defined by the ability to exercise power is that it is always ultimately a losing game – the outcome is predetermined and we will fail. Lucas was fighting this losing battle. And, tragically, he was taking his wife down with him.

Thank goodness she got away from him.

*(name changed)