There has been extensive discourse, commentary, literature, cinematic portrayals, discussions, and debates revolving around the concept of the 'Male Ego.' The mere mention of this term often garners significant attention and provokes controversy. So, why revisit it? Despite the copious discussions and attempts to reach conclusions and understanding, it appears that our understanding remains incomplete. We continue to see the male ego influencing many of our friends and loved ones. Men often remain oblivious to its sway over their decision-making, while individuals of other genders attempt to navigate around it without causing harm.
Do individuals genuinely succumb to the male ego, making the lives of those around them miserable, or is the entire concept merely an exaggerated societal construct? If women face stereotypes and scrutiny, such as being questioned about whether they are experiencing 'that time of the month,' whenever they deviate slightly from societal expectations, should similar scrutiny be directed at men when they propose something seemingly absurd?
Numerous questions, concerns, and discussions continue to emerge when one delves into the infamous male ego. How fragile is it in reality? What constitutes male entitlement? How does the male ego impact relationships? What steps can men take to ensure that their ego doesn't disrupt their daily lives or interfere with their jobs and relationships? When men grapple with their own egos and the complexities of their thoughts, how can women provide support? All of these questions and more warrant further exploration.
Is the male ego a social construct? Is it overhyped?
In today's world, men often encounter a pervasive expectation that they must assume the role of decision-makers within their families. This belief takes root early in life, as boys are taught from a young age to be responsible for their sisters and the overall well-being of their families. Men are frequently assumed to possess a comprehensive knowledge base, ranging from practical skills like fixing a fan to addressing broader issues such as national governance. When seeking advice or opinions, it's almost second nature to turn to their male counterparts.
The way boys are raised to assume responsibility for their families can contribute to the development of an inflated ego as they mature into adults. The same boy who was tasked with looking after his sister may grow into an adult who feels compelled to assert authority over every aspect of family life, including finances, parenting, and even social interactions.
Sigmund Freud proposed that the 'male ego' not only reflects an individual's self-concept but is also shaped by cultural definitions of masculinity and societal expectations regarding how men should think and behave. Consequently, men's identities are significantly influenced by social pressures and norms.
It is important for men to recognize that these notions are, in fact, constructs of society. They do not represent individual choices or values but are deeply ingrained beliefs that have persisted for generations, embedded in the minds of young individuals. Society establishes a framework that conveys to men that they hold genuine power and are expected to exhibit strength and resilience in confronting and managing any situation.
When society consistently treats individuals or a particular gender in a way that elevates them above others, it's inevitable that a sense of entitlement develops. Male entitlement can be described as an exaggerated belief in one's own abilities and importance, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, and feeling responsible for making everything happen.
Men are often socialized and raised to downplay their own emotions. They are expected to embody traits like protectiveness, control, decisiveness, strength, responsibility, breadwinning, and resilience. With a focus on these emotions linked to responsibility and toughness, they tend to suppress their own vulnerability. They may forget that they, too, have the right to express emotions and be fragile, as these qualities are often portrayed as weaknesses for men. A minor setback can easily deflate an inflated ego and sense of entitlement that are the results of this societal conditioning.
Historically, society has ingrained the belief that men are the providers, while women are designated as nurturers. These roles may have originated as a way for early humans to organize their lives, with men hunting due to their physical strength while women stayed behind. However, in today's world, men no longer need to go hunting, as women are fully capable of performing those tasks.
Consequently, many men have come to terms with the idea of women having equal participation in the workforce. According to a study by the University of Bath in the UK, husbands experience the least stress when their wives make up about 40% of the household income. They tend to become stressed when they are entirely dependent on their wives' earnings. This study, conducted over 15 years with 6,000 American heterosexual couples, revealed that men are less happy when their status as the primary earner is threatened.
How fragile is it?
The aforementioned study serves as a compelling illustration of just how delicate the male ego can be. It's a common belief that male ego often arises from a sense of superiority, but this isn't always the case. In fact, at times, this ego can emerge from a complex interplay between feelings of superiority and inferiority.
The constant expectation of being a strong and intelligent figure in any situation can lead to feelings of inadequacy. This complex emotional state can sometimes cause men to react in ways that others find challenging to comprehend.
Sigmund Freud posited that "while a girl might aspire to grow up to resemble her mother in certain aspects, a boy strives to emulate his mother—to earn her pride." Thus, a man not only bears the responsibility of proving himself in the eyes of his parents but also in the eyes of society. This results in an emotional pressure cooker that becomes intricate and challenging to fathom.
A healthy ego is undoubtedly crucial in society, as it signifies confidence and courage. However, this ego can occasionally overstep its bounds. Men tend to be quite literal in their interpretations, and they often take words at face value more than women. In contrast, women tend to place a greater emphasis on understanding and communicating feelings.
For instance, if you assign a task to your partner and, by the end of the day, they haven't completed it, expressing your frustration by labeling them as "irresponsible" may have unintended consequences. While you may have meant it merely as a critique of their actions on that specific task, your partner might interpret it as an accusation of overall incapability when it comes to everyday responsibilities. This miscommunication can wound their ego and lead to misunderstandings.
Ego and relationships
The challenge of communicating effectively, combined with the sensitivity of the male ego, can often lead to casualties in relationships. The responsibility of understanding and managing the male ego frequently falls on the partner, creating an imbalance in the relationship and resulting in conflicts.
As mentioned earlier, women are typically more emotionally oriented, while men tend to be more literal in their communication. When men interact with their peers, they often prefer demonstrating their expectations rather than explicitly discussing them. An example of this can be seen in the dynamic between two male friends who were roommates, whom we'll call Roommate A and Roommate B.
In one instance, Roommate A asked Roommate B to clean up their shared living space because he wanted to make a good impression on a guest. However, Roommate B didn't fulfill this request, and in the end, Roommate A had to clean the house just before the guest's arrival, narrowly avoiding an embarrassing situation. A similar situation occurred again a few weeks later, but this time, Roommate A decided to take more direct action. He gathered all of Roommate B's belongings that were strewn around and jokingly threatened to burn them, as he had mentioned earlier that he would do so if the premises were not cleaned. Surprisingly, during the third encounter, Roommate B did clean up the house. What can we glean from this? Men sometimes grasp things better through actions than words. (Just kidding about burning their stuff!)
In a romantic relationship, it's often the case that women end up taking on the responsibility of cleaning and managing the household, potentially reinforcing gender roles. However, it's essential to challenge these traditional dynamics. As a partner, you hold a significant place in his life, and continually labeling him as irresponsible can harm his ego. Instead of merely telling him, consider showing him through actions or finding a collaborative approach to shared responsibilities. Sometimes, a little humor or direct action can go a long way in promoting understanding and harmony in the relationship.
What to do?
Dealing with the male ego presents a two-sided solution. While it's often women who bear the brunt of managing this delicate aspect of their partner's personality, my first piece of advice is quite straightforward: don't. Understand that you are not responsible for this behavior, and you shouldn't be burdened with it. If you find yourself in a relationship where your partner's ego-driven behavior is causing problems, I recommend starting with open communication.
Be a skilled communicator, and try to help your partner see how their actions are affecting the relationship. Ask for their perspective and what they believe can be done to improve things. Even after having this conversation, if the issue persists, then, as previously mentioned, consider using actions to convey your message rather than relying solely on words.
The more prominent side of the solution lies with the men themselves. Men, take a moment to introspect; try to see yourself from the perspective of others. Reflect on situations where you could have handled things differently. Seek guidance from your loved ones. Be receptive to feedback, embrace vulnerability, and be open to expressing your emotions. It's perfectly acceptable to show your emotional side; don't let societal norms hold you back. Be the catalyst for change; after all, it begins with you.
The male ego is a product of societal conditioning that repeatedly reinforces the idea that men possess unmatched power and capability. When this confidence in a man's ability to handle any situation reaches a point where he starts viewing his peers and others as inferior and incapable of achieving the same level of success, it gives rise to the complex male ego.
This complex emotion is not only detrimental to others but can also be damaging to men themselves. Ultimately, it can lead to isolation, where one begins to feel detached from others, perceiving themselves as complex and beyond the reach of many. The darker consequence of this path is loneliness. Recognizing this intricate emotion and keeping it in check is crucial and necessary for healthy relationships and personal well-being.
Written by: Aakanksha Bajpai
Edited by: Aniket Joshi