An individual's male gender identity or female gender identity has significant impact on their well being and success in the personal life and the world. For example data from the American Cancer Society and the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics dramatically indicate the differences in cancer incidence: 485.6 white men vs. 352.0 white women (per 100,000 population) developed cancer between 1990 and 1995 (a sex ratio of 1.38); while 605.1 black men vs. 336.2 black women (per 100,000 population) developed cancer between 1990 and 1995 (a sex ration of 1.80). The cancer mortality rates are also alarming 210.1 white men vs. 140.1 white women (per 100,000 population) died from cancer between 1990 and 1995 (a sex ratio of 1.50). The cancer mortality rate for black men is 311.4 vs. 168.8 black women (a sex ratio of 1.85). These statistics vividly display that gender identity plays a significant role in health and well being.
How do boys become men and how do girls become women? The hope and focus of this paper is start a dialogue among men and their sons, daughters, and significant others, and to support men and women in improving their health and well being. This article will present a brief discussion on the topics of being male, gender, well being, and close with some of the differences between men and women and some of the hazards of being a traditional male.
"Well Being" and "being male" what do these terms mean. Being male is determined by biology at conception and manifests in a male infant with male genitals. A boy's or man's gender identity is separate from being a male (biology). A person's gender identity is not determined by their biology; biology only dictates one's role in reproduction. Being male or female is easy to see and define. Gender and gender identity is more difficult to define and harder to classify. Most social scientists tend to agree that gender is associated with social behaviors. James O'Neil a psychologist who specializes in male gender role research noted that gender role is the nonphysiological components of sex that are culturally regarded as appropriate to males or females. There is one group of scientists who use the term of interchangeably with sex and believe that women are for bearing children and referred to as essentialists. This perspective believes that biology determines or predominately influences one's gender and gender identity.
There are other schools of thought among social scientists. Another group is the nonessentialists who distinguish between sex and gender. They perceive gender as culturally determined behaviors and personality characteristics that are associated with sex, but not determined by biological sex. They report that mediation takes place through socialization and development.
The last group is the social cognitive scientists; they propose that people are socialized to consider gender as a primary piece of information about a person and that gender beliefs significantly influence subsequent interactions, relationships, and emotions. Gender is perceived as far from being solely a cognitive process and is founded on the biological differences. Gender is seen as one of the first components of the self-concept to be developed and is one of the most powerful belief systems an individual has. This column will tend to take this view that a person's gender is primarily determined by one's beliefs about being a man or woman and how they view the world being their gender. Society and biology are secondary to a man's beliefs.
For example if a boy or man had a difficult relationship with their father and he may tend to view men a being strong, competent some of the times, uncaring, harsh, and untrustworthy, he may tend to act the same way as a man. Our parents are role models for gender development and individuals will tend to model them unless they take considerable energy in defining what type of man they want to be and review their beliefs and behaviors objectively. The assistance of therapist or a training such as the Mankind Project may provide the support and feedback to see through the shadows of their experience.
Now for the concept of "well being". There are several models of "well being". For this column "well being" may be defined as the present state of being or wellness as placed on a continuum. The continuum would go from a self-perceived severely low (next to death or severely depressed) to medium (I am doing OK) to excellent (I am doing great). One approach is to assess "well being" is to look at how you are doing on addressing your life tasks. An Adlerian psychologist, Harold Mosak, proposed that an individual has five life tasks to address. The life tasks include Love (marriage, sex, family), social interest (community), work (career), self-identity (relation with self and self-concept), and relationship with the Universe (spirituality).
An individual who is successful in their career and identity but is not addressing his Love, Universe, and social interest tasks would probably result in a low sense of well being. This probably would manifest in emotional, medical, and behavioral difficulties. From my personal experience when my two or of life tasks are not being successfully addressed my ability to function is reduced and there is a decreased tendency to think clearly and take steps in life. An optimal level of functioning is addressing the life tasks in a manner that is harmonious with all aspects of life.
Some closing thoughts, I suggest that some self-reflection may be appropriate. If you choose to answer these questions you may gain some new insight:
1) Describe your father as you perceived him as a child and as you perceived him as an adult.
2) How did he manage his health and well being and are you following in his footsteps?
3) Are you successfully addressing your life tasks in a balanced and harmonious manner?
4) Describe your mother as you perceived her as a child and how you perceived her as an adult.
5) How did she manage her health and well being and are you following in her footsteps?
6) Where do you place responsibility for your well being and you identity, values, and beliefs?
For a consultation and to start the healing process, Call 224-577-5308 or text 224-577-5308 for an appointment. Dr. Lawrence Todryk is a licensed psychologist who received his doctorate in clinical psychology and a certificate in substance abuse counseling from Adler School of Professional Psychology. He is in private practice at Grayslake Counseling Center, Integrative Psychological Services, Inc.