Abstract: The author, who is a psychologist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, reflects on the issue of male potency, using as a frame of reference the experience and accounts of his male psychotherapy clients, most of whom are regarded as successful in their professional lives.
Feeling male, like feeling potent, is not innate. It is an internalised outcome that derives from cultural construction. To support this argument we have to look at the different models of masculinity and potency that have been produced throughout history and across cultures. We normally tend to assume our social reality as natural and constant but in fact it is constantly reproduced by our activity and therefore it can also be constantly changing.
Nowadays, it is necessary to inhabit new social spaces and functions in order to identify and to be identified as a man. Each man’s subjectivity is built by highlighting some traits and inhibiting others, starting from the models provided by the social environment. To be male, in current times, means: to have knowledge, to possess, to be powerful, to be important, to be proud and confident. All these characteristics have the common quality of potency.
However, this ‘hero’ that has to make successful conquests, to control his passions and feelings and with a body capable of copying with everything, very often finds some incongruities between his male internalised model and the possibilities to put it into practice. This huge contradiction is a source of conflicts within a society that demands success from everyone and a reality that increasingly restricts the possibilities of being successful. As an example of this it is worth considering job instability which is today the common and accepted pattern in the labour market.
It is very common to hear men talking about the feeling of not being male enough, moreover, they feel as if they could always be even more male. As a result the male self esteem can be lost at any time, so it is permanently at risk. Weakness and defeat are endlessly haunting them, creating a feeling of failure as a macho figure. The resulting insecurity is then resolved through arrogance, and tendencies to impulsivity, diffidence, a diminishing capacity for communication, or simply silence.
Other features are sexualization of bonds, reduction of empathy, and emotional and physical blocking. That is why some proposals that imperiously claim for a more assertive attitude are so dangerous. Their best known slogan is «youre able to do it» (or you can cope with it), which is directly in tune with the male mandate of being the hero -Superman- who is able to do everything and therefore can avoid the acknowledgement or elaboration of the above mentioned conflicts.
The male model as hero is then established as a mandate that is highly difficult to accomplish on the one hand and also difficult to ignore on the other hand. That is to say, there is a need to be the model and ignore the possibility of fragility which then comes as a shock when it arises. In such circumstances it is very common to appeal to psychodrugs as emotional or physical anaesthetics.
As a consequence, while men have the privilege of being part of dominant social groups they have to carry on with both deficit and pathology derived from maintaining that status: sudden deaths, accidents, impulsive use of violence, isolation and unbearable difficulties related with sexual potency.
In social terms, today’s men have less power, but they feel obliged to behave as if they still had it. Old models have not died, and new ones have not been born yet.
This situation renders me to think of men as a «population at risk». The feeling of risk generally produces defensive attitudes, the same ones that appear many times as a defence of privileges sustained through the patriarchal model, but that are basically identity defences instead.
Shaken by such circumstances, confused and poorly self-reflexive, men tend to entrench themselves.
The loss of power is related to the breakdown of identity. The self image of being the one who can cope with everything, makes it almost impossible to consult and to say «I cannot», not only because they feel certain specific difficulties but also because they feel underestimated and ashamed. Because of this, many men arrive at the consulting workshops sent by physicians, lawyers, friends, relatives or almost at random. Only a few come through their own decision and the feeling that it is legitimate to ask for help.
Other concepts, such as the so-called maternal instinct, have already been deconstructed in previous studies, e.g. «Critiques of the Everyday Life».
Hence, it should be possible to carry out a deeper analysis to deconstruct both the male power instinct and the male hero myth.
With these considerations in mind, I believe that the most enriching and liberating conception for todays men, is the one that confines potency as a «capacity to become».
Guillermo Augusto Vilaseca*
*Psychologist. Psicotherapyst EMDR. Social Psychologist. Psychodramatist. Member of the International Association for Studies of Men – IASOM -. Member of the «Grupo Autogestivo de Teatro Espontáneo» – GATE . Co-editor of the Revista Argentina de Psicodrama y Técnicas Grupales ( Argentine psychodrama and group technique magazine).
Guest lecturer at the Faculty of Psychology of Universidad de Buenos Aires, Universidad del Salvador and Universidad de Montevideo IPUR. Guest lecturer at the post-graduate courses of the: Bar-Ilam University, Argentine Society of Psychodrama SAP, Centro de Estudios Bioenergéticos, Centro de Investigaciones Grupales, Escuela de Teatro Espontáneo from Capivari – San Pablo – Brazil, Grupo de Estudios de Técnicas Psicodramáticas GETEP – San Pablo – Brazil and the Asociación Brasilera de Psicodrama y Sociodrama -ABPS – San Pablo – Brazil. Researcher of: a) «Dispositivos Transdisciplinarios de Supervisión; b) «La construcción de la subjetividad del varón desde la perspectiva de género: Talleres de Varones»; c) Abordaje de situaciones de crisis y cambio: «Talleres de reciclado».