Act Like a Man
See Act Like a Lady
Barrington H. Brennen,
March 27, 2022
on, act like a man.” This is a statement said to most
growing boys, teens, and emerging adult men. It is a
loaded statement that perhaps has done more damage than
good to individuals and society. Sometimes males are
told to act like a man because they are behaving in a
way that is traditionally thought of as unmasculine.
When males are constantly exposed to such a demand, they
are being given certain messages that can impact them
throughout their lives.
What are these messages? First, boys are being raised
to keep in a box, a box of expectations. This box
includes the traditional and often false concepts and
behaviors of manhood. It is called Act-Like-a-Man Box.
When they come out of the box, they are called
“sissies.” Writer, Paul Kivel, author of “The Men’s Work
Workbooks,” identifies these messages that keep men in a
box. He writes: “Act like a man” means that real men
“yell at people, have no emotions, stand up for
themselves, don’t cry, don’t make mistakes, know about
sex, take care of people, don’t back down, push people
around, can take it.” Kivel explains further what’s in
this box. He says men are “aggressive, responsible,
mean, bullies, tough, angry, successful, strong, in
control, dominant over women.” Most, if not all of these
behaviors are considered normal for men in our society.
They force men to keep in the box. There is a high
demand to stay in the box. When boys are not tough
enough, or strong enough, we often call them names. If
someone is called a wimp or a fag, he would get into a
fight just to prove that he is in the box—tough and
Sadly, boys are pushed by adults to be tough from a very
early age. We stop hugging and kissing them as soon as
they start to walk or around ages four to five. We tell
them: “Boys don’t cry.” “Boys don’t walk on their
toes.” “Boys don’t cook.” What we are actually doing
is setting up our boys to become bullies or being
bullied. Yes, in this modern day, the 21st
century, there are boys who are still being raised this
way. Joining the pressure to remain in the
Act-Like-a-Man Box, far too many of our boys are being
shamed and blamed by their parents and those around them
more than praised and encouraged.
Men . . .
Yell at people
Have no emotions
Stand up for themselves
Don’t make mistakes
Know about sex
Take care of people
Don’t back down
Push people around
Can take it.
Men are . . .
Dominant over women.
In my 2007 article titled, “Family and Crime Reduction
in The Bahamas,” I wrote about authoritarian parents who
rule with a rod of iron and not love and forgiveness. I
stated: “In fact, one of the typical characteristics of
the authoritarian style of leadership is that of shaming
and blaming. Parents who often feel that their
authority position is being threatened usually
intentionally or unintentionally wound with their mouths
and their hands. It was all about the misuse and abuse
of power.” Shaming and blaming is one of the major
predictors for the lack of empathy in children and
adulthood. In his article, “Violence and Parenting
Education,” Paul Jay Fink states: “Some children growing
in today’s society appear to have little or no empathy
for others. They have no sense of social responsibility
and no sense of the importance of such values as
respect, courtesy, decency, and morality. The most
notable thing that leads some kids to be violent, brutal
and murderous is the lack of empathy.”
Lack of empathy, which can be precipitated by forcing
our boys to remain in the box, has been too long a
recipe for violence in our society. Unknowingly, gangs,
violent, and angry men thrive on these toxic notions of
masculinity. They can fuel their drive for revenge,
pain, murder, and taking advantage of people who seem
weaker than they are or those who did them wrong.
Nobody is born in this box. Paul Kevil writes: “It
takes years and years of enforcement, name-calling,
fights, threats, abuse, and fear to get us in and keep
us in this box. By adolescence we believe that there are
only two choices: We can be a man or a boy, a winner or
a loser, a bully or a wimp, a champ or a chump.”
If you are a pre-teen, teen, or young adult male reading
this article, here are ways you are being trained to be
a violent man. I will state them in the form of
questions as presented by Paul Kivel:
Have you ever worried you were not touch enough?
Have you ever been hit to make you stop crying?
Have you ever been called a wimp, queer, or fag?
Have you ever been told to act like a man?
Have you ever been forced to fight or been in a
fight because you felt you had to prove you were a
Have you ever seen an adult man you looked up to or
respected hit or brutalized a woman emotionally or
Have you ever been physically injured by another
Have you ever been physically injured and hid the
pain or kept it to yourself?
Were you ever sexually abused or touched in a way
you didn’t like by another person?
Have you ever stopped yourself from showing
affection, hugging, or touching another man because
of how it might look?
Have you ever been arrested or done time in prison?
Have you ever gotten so mad that you drove fast or
lost control of a vehicle?
Did you ever drink or take other drugs to cover your
feelings or hide pain?
Have you ever felt like blowing yourself away?
Have you ever hurt another person sexually, or were
you sexual with another person when that person
didn’t want to be?
Were these questions real for you? Parents, I hope you
have a better understanding how we are setting up our
boys to become violent, verbally, emotionally or
physically. I encourage you to stop shaming and blaming
your boys and start loving them. I encourage you not
to keep your boys in a box. Help them to feel
comfortable and natural to wash the dishes, sweep the
house, and study well in school.
Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family
therapist. Send your questions to
email@example.com or call 242-327-1980