Stage 3 and the Regulation of Men’s Emotions

I have noted on various occasions that Stage 3 is somewhat authoritarian in nature. While Stage 2 is characterized by stating what masculinity should look like, Stage 3 is often characterized by providing an alternative vision of what masculinity should look like. Note: both Stage 2 and Stage 3 are equally at home stating what masculinity should look like.One way that Stage 3 regulates masculinity is through its discussion of emotions. Typically, it is claimed that men need to “get in touch” with their emotions in order to experience greater wellbeing. There is no doubt some truth to this, as being “closed off” or in denial of one’s feelings is rarely a useful strategy. However, this “demand” for emotions carries a hidden problem.

When Stage 3 states that men should get in touch with their emotions, what it is really saying is that men should get in touch with emotions that are acceptable to Stage 3. If we look at Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (above), we can see various emotions—such as anger and rage—that are routinely connected with Stage 2. In effect, Stage 3 redefines “emotions” to mean a specific set of emotions that are in line with its values. An example of this can be seen in a recent article in The Sociological Review, Are Men Getting More Emotional? Critical Sociological Perspectives on Men, Masculinities and Emotions that links “softer” with “more emotional” forms of masculinity, glossing over the fact that one could be more “emotional” via increased rage, and therefore express a “harder” masculinity.

While I am inclined to agree that a more sustainable masculinity involves greater engagement with the emotions that Stage 3 deems acceptable, it is nevertheless frustrating that this recasting of acceptable emotions is not presented more transparently. Furthermore, there is a real danger here of cognitive tyranny, where men who have no wish—or ability—to engage in the kind of emotional “performances” that Stage 3 requires of “good” people are framed as “bad,” when in fact they are merely “different.”