How Gender Roles Trap Men

The Empathy Gap: Masculinity and the Courage to Change

Directed by Thomas Keith (2015)

Film Review

This documentary asserts our culture traps men in a stereotypical gender role, just as it does women. Stereotypical masculinity requires contemporary men not to express feelings (except anger), not to show empathy or vulnerability, to control and dominate (with violence if necessary), to excel at athletics, to degrade women, and to accumulate material possessions.

Research indicates boys tend to be open about expressing feelings until age 14, when they become terrified of being labeled “faggots” or “wusses” if they are at all open with emotions or feelings of vulnerability.

Contemporary society also socializes men to have little interest (outside the sexual arena*) in the experiences of women. Our culture typically portrays women as incompetent, unreliable, and emotional. Most of this socialization occurs very early in life via the media.

The filmmakers share vignettes five-year-old children of both sexes consistently choosing boy dolls as “smarter” and girl dolls “as nicer.”

According to Keith, Donald Trump, more than any other contemporary male figure personifies this stereotypical masculinity. The latter carefully cultivates an image of being tough, distant, and demeaning to women. As part of this script he nearly always addresses conflict with aggression and rarely displays any emotions other than anger.

Sadly little has changed in fifty years. A comparison of the idiocies broadcast by right wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Erick Erikson reveals little difference between their personna and that of the fictional Archie Bunker in the 1970s TV series All in the Family.

Research shows men in groups are more likely to exhibit toxic masculinity than men on their own.


*In my experience, most men aren’t very interested in women’s sexuality, either.

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free at Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

What are Men Thinking about Women?

With or Without You: What are Men Thinking about Women

Directed by Tom Sands and Ramsay S James (2012)

Film Review

In this highly amusing documentary, the filmmakers ask random men on the street a series of questions about women. They intersperse their answers with so-called “experts”* who have made a life study of male-female relationships.

The overall impression I took away is that men feel a strong expectation to talk about women in terms of their booties, boobs and legs. However most of the men in the film (including the so-called experts) share a strong expectation for women to fulfill deep-seated emotional needs and feel angry and bitter when women fail to do so.

Aside from some really bizarre and convoluted pronouncements, a few of the experts came out with some really valuable insights:

• Human courtship is contaminated by a range of political and sociological factors (I was disappointed the film failed to explore some of these.).
• A man who doesn’t fully know and accept himself is unlikely to have a successful relationship with a woman.
• A man who doesn’t know and accept his feminine side (so-called “feminine” traits such as empathy, nurturing, instinct and intuition) is unlikely to be successful in love.
• Men’s anger towards women nearly always stems from unresolved conflict within themselves or towards their mothers.


*Psychologists, psychotherapists, a sex therapist, a tantric master and an Anglican priest.