As a woman, I first began to realise that something was amiss with male identity perceptions when I began counselling training in 2001.
Sitting in a personal development group with only two men present (one was a trainer, one was a student) I asked the males how they felt about being men in a predominantly female environment. The trainee had no answer – but the trainer said: “well…I don’t really consider myself to be a man as such in this setting – we are just all people and we are all different”. That answer got me pondering and was the start of my own research into male identity issues in the UK.
Fourteen years on, in what I would call a “post-feminist” society, I see evidence on a regular basis of men who seem to feel that they need to apologise for being male, and who definitely feel intimidated by some of the powerful females in the workplace. For my MA in Integrative Counselling (2008) my dissertation was called “Exploring Male Identity in a Therapeutic Setting.” The focus group that I set up produced some interesting data:
“I have come up against some extremely competent females who have made me…embarrassed about my…maleness being so weak in comparison…”
“…manager who has got phenomenal…intelligence, capacity, empathy, sense of self, kind of blows me away – I really admire and respect her – and feel very small in comparison”
“I am absolutely convinced that I have been bullied…as a man…I think sometimes people wear their sexuality as an attacking armour”
Bazzano (2007) talks about “the emasculation of men in contemporary psychotherapy” and this is something that my research appeared to confirm.
There was a time when society celebrated the differences between male and female. After all, it is difference that sparks off inspiration, difference that attracts, difference that inspires. Now we seem to be in a fearful hermetically sealed capsule where we are so afraid of the “thought police” that we dare not come out with any “sexist” statements.
A retired teacher explained to me recently how the need to conform is hard wired in children from the start. He observed over 30 years of teaching that certain patterns are always reproduced. Asked to draw a picture of a house, a child routinely would come up with a square, windows in the four corners, door in the middle, smoke coming out of a central chimney, a line for the sky and a sun that looks like a spider to one side. Such a house does not really exist anywhere – but it is none the less reproduced continually.
Anyone who suggests an idea that does not fit in with the normal status quo is always suspect – and scientists and inventors in the past often had a very hard time of it.
We now live in an age where it is fashionable in the West to slate the male – and to exalt the female – and to hint that for a strong woman, a man can be superfluous to requirements.
Speaking personally, I celebrate the differences between male and female, and appreciate the mysterious attraction that exists for me in male to female encounters. It does not need to be analysed – but I am so glad that it is there at all in the first place. Even gay men  admit quite openly to finding women attractive – just not in a sexual way – but the “oppositeness” is still present.
The dilemma remains, whether men will end up by apologising for their existence or not, as women demand and demonstrate increasingly the need for their independence and autonomy?
What should the male response be? I suggest that men need to find and play to their natural strengths – that is, to be men…and to resist the subtle pressure to become “tamed and manageable” for the women in their lives – whether at work or at play.
Jennie Cummings-Knight, MA, MBACP, PGCE, FHEA
 Exploring Male Identity in a Therapeutic Setting, Cummings-Knight, J (2008) York St John University