This lesson will challenge you to consider how you perceive, what you believe, and how you feel about the bodies of males and females as well as your own body in the context of your interactions and relationships with males and females. Keep in mind that this lesson is addressing the body alone, separate from personality and behaviors.
Male Gender Concept
To begin with, I invite you to notice what you perceive and believe about the bodies of other males and to observe the feelings—positive and negative—your perceptions and beliefs bring up. As you do this, try to look beyond attraction on the one hand and disgust on the other hand. Instead, try to observe your responses to a wide variety of males. Sometimes men with SSA get focused on a really narrow group of males and ignore everyone else. So try to notice everyone.
As you make your observations, consider the aspects of men’s bodies described below. Notice whether there are stories you tell yourself about each aspect. Stories could include beliefs about what men’s bodies are supposed to be like and what makes a man’s body masculine or unmasculine, desirable or undesirable. Stories might give meaning to body traits. For example, stories can give meaning to being fat or thin, young or old, muscular or skinny, hairy or smooth. Once you identify the stories, then notice the feelings—sexual and otherwise—that come up from all these different stories.
- Attractiveness. Notice what is attractive to you and what is not attractive to you. Try to be specific. Notice what you are drawn to or turned off by. Consider the face, the upper body, mid-body, or lower body. Which features are important and which are not? What feelings do different features bring up? Also, notice what you believe other people—both male and female—think is attractive in men.
- Physique. Notice your perceptions of the shape, proportions, and size of men’s bodies. And notice your stories and emotional reactions toward men with different physiques. What does a man’s physique mean about him? What do you believe others think about men’s physiques?
- Athleticism. Observe the degree to which you pay attention to men’s athletic abilities, physical strength, coordination, or stamina. And again, notice the stories you tell about all of this. Also, what stories do you believe other men and women tell about athleticism in men?
- Age. Observe your responses to males at different stages in their life. Notice the different stories and feelings that come up around different ages. Which ages are sexualized and which are not? Other than sexual feelings, what other kinds of feelings might age bring up?
- Fetishized traits. A fetish is a trait, situation, or object that is not sexual in and of itself but that has become sexualized. For example, some heterosexual men become sexually attracted to particular types of female clothing and can’t become sexually aroused unless their girlfriend wears that clothing. Observe whether you are strongly drawn to very specific physical traits or body parts in other males. Or you might be drawn to specific types of clothing.
Self-concept in a Male Context
Now I invite you to notice what you perceive and believe about your own body when you are with other males and to observe the feelings those perceptions and beliefs bring up. If you tend to avoid situations where you will be with other males, you might need to consciously create those situations in order to learn from them. It may be even more helpful if you can do this with a variety of different types and ages of men.
Consider each of the aspects of your body described below, noticing the perceptions, beliefs, and feelings that come up about each aspect. Notice how you compare your body with other men’s bodies. Pay attention to what you believe your own body traits mean about you. And also notice how you think other males perceive your body and what they think and feel about it.
- Attractiveness. Notice how you feel about your own physical attractiveness when you’re around other males. You might consider both how attractive you feel and whether you sense other men are attracted to you. Notice whether there are specific aspects of yourself that you believe are more or less attractive.
- Physique. Observe the stories you tell about the shape, proportions, and size of your body. What do those stories mean about you, and how do those stories make you feel?
- Athleticism. What do you believe about your athletic abilities, physical strength, coordination, and stamina when you are in the presence of other men? What do your stories mean about you as a man, and how does that feel?
- Age. Observe how you feel about your own age when you are in the presence of men of different ages.
- Fetishized traits. If you notice that you are attracted to any fetishized traits in other men, observe how you respond to those same traits or body parts in yourself.
Female Gender Concept
Now let’s shift gears. In this section, notice what you perceive and believe about the bodies of females and observe the feelings—positive and negative—your perceptions and beliefs bring up. If you haven’t paid much attention to female bodies previously, I invite you to do so just to see what you notice about your responses. Try to observe how you respond to a wide variety of females. So, just like with males, try to notice everyone—not just girls you think you should be attracted to.
As you make your observations, consider the list below of responses men have had toward women’s bodies. Notice your own responses. You may respond differently to different women or to different aspects of the same woman. Pay special attention to the beliefs or stories that come up about different female physical attributes. And of course, notice the feelings you experience in relation to these stories. Here are some of the words men with SSA might use to describe their responses to women’s bodies:
Self-concept in a Female Context
Finally, I invite you to notice what you perceive and believe about your own body when you are in the presence of females and to observe the feelings those perceptions and thoughts bring up. Try to observe your responses in the presence of different types and ages of females. Also observe how you think females perceive your body and what they think and feel about it. How do you think they judge your body?
As you make your observations, consider the potential responses listed below, keeping in mind that your own responses could actually be very different from what’s on this list. Notice the beliefs or stories that support your responses. For example, if you perceive your body as being sexy when you’re around women, what is your story about what makes your body sexy? Or if you think your body is irrelevant when you are with women, notice what makes you believe your body is irrelevant. Consider these potential perceptions and beliefs about your body:
Take the concepts presented in this lesson to a deeper level in your life through action. Consider the ideas below, then come up with an activity that will stretch you. The main purpose of this lesson is to increase awareness.
We will be exploring additional topics related to gender concept and self-concept later in the curriculum. In those lessons you will be invited to refer back to what you discovered through the six lessons in this series. So it is very important that you journal your thoughts about these concepts for future reference.
Finally, I recommend that you do NOT use the idea of exploring your perceptions, beliefs, and feelings about men’s and women’s bodies as an excuse to go online and look at men’s and women’s bodies. Just notice your responses to people in the real world and in mainstream media, such as movies and TV.
- Journal all of the perceptions, stories, and feelings you observe as part of this lesson. (Be sure to do this activity, even if you also do other activities.)
- Be on the lookout for evidence of other people’s self-concepts and gender concepts regarding the body. You may notice these in real-life conversations, in the media, or just by observing people’s behavior and body language. Notice how their concepts are similar to and different from your own. And notice what feelings your awareness of their concepts bring up in you. Journal about this.
- Discuss your self-concept and gender concept related to the body with someone whose ideas you value. Share your own perceptions, stories, and feelings and invite them to share theirs.
Ideas for Groups
- Invite group members to journal their perceptions, beliefs, and feelings related to self-concept and male gender concept about the body. Then invite them to share what they’ve journaled with each other in group. Once members have shared, invite more conversation about their beliefs regarding what various male physical traits mean. For example, you could ask:
- What does it mean about a man if he is physically coordinated or athletic versus being uncoordinated and unathletic?
- What meaning does a man’s weight have for you? (E.g., if he is fat or thin)
- What stories do you tell yourself about men based on their stature and physique? (E.g., if a man is stocky, slight, broad shouldered, tall, short.)
- What stories do you tell yourself about age regarding masculinity?
Draw attention to the commonalities and the differences in the meanings they assign these various traits. Be very conscious not to create situations in which men are likely to feel shame about what they believe or feel.
- Invite group members to write down on a large paper or whiteboard a list of all the words they used in their descriptions of their own and other men’s bodies. Once the list is compiled, invite group members to share reactions they have to any of the words on the list. These reactions might be based on shame, admiration, envy, lust, etc. You could repeat the process with a list of words they used in their descriptions of women’s bodies.
(Men with lengthy experience regarding this topic)
- Notice any insights that come to you regarding the concepts presented in this lesson and share them back go GWX. If your thoughts require more than 400 works, send an email to email@example.com.
- Develop an individual or group activity for this lesson. Try it out to see if it works. Then share it with GWX.
Sharing our life experiences is a powerful way to more deeply integrate what we learn. You are invited to share your experience with this lesson with anyone close to you whom you trust. And you are especially invited to share your experience back to the GWX community by writing a post of up to 400 words.
If you have something longer to share, such as a group process protocol or some additional reading, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org