November 23, 2015

Men, Boys, and Masculine Emotional Intelligence

A while back I put up a Man-Making Blog post titled, “Teaching Boys to Have Feelings? ” The question mark at the end of the title was there because I don’t believe we have to teach boys to have feelings. So many of our young men are already emotionally pressurized and what the world mostly sees is anger. What we do need to do is help our young men to develop a broad emotional vocabulary, the language of feelings, to help them get access to and understand their complex and rich emotional life.

I don’t believe we have to teach boys to have feelings . . .

In response to that post, I heard from Owen Marcus, the author of, Grow Up: A Man’s Guide to Masculine Emotional Intelligence. The current model of a man’s emotional life is called “Masculine Emotional Intelligence” or MEI. Owen feels MEI is not really masculine at all, but a feminine concept. Here’s how he explained it:

Two hundred years ago, when the men left the farm for the factory, the mothers were left to raise the kids. Women did what they had to do: they stepped up to fill the gap of not having men around. In doing so they modeled and taught both the girls and boys how to be emotional.

Without balanced masculine and feminine role models, young men took on what they were taught. That meant for a few hundred years, the definition of masculine emotional intelligence slowly moved towards the feminine. It wasn’t a conspiracy; it was simply women doing what they had to do. Today, men and women assume that the key to a man’s emotional success, and relationship bliss, comes from men mastering a feminized emotional framework.

In my twenty years of leading men’s groups, I learned the best, and possibly only way out of this, is through men teaching men about feelings. You may ask, how can men teach men about feelings when they weren’t given guidance themselves? Good question. But the truth is men do have their own brand of emotionality, and know it instinctually. When you put men in a group with other men, over time, they naturally begin teaching each other about feelings through their personal expressions and interactions. What eventually emerges is a true and decidedly more male style of emotional expression.

I believe all feelings are gender neutral. That said, when, how, what, and how intensely feelings are expressed has indeed been shaped differently by culture for men and women. Of course this is not a male/female, either/or discussion, and there is a range of emotional capacity spread across all genders/people. But in my experience of being in men’s groups and working with young guys, I do agree that with time spent together in safe venues, males do indeed cross-train each other in how to express a wider range of emotional expression than is seen in the public sphere. I’ve witnessed how, over time in group, the depth, range, spontaneity, and acceptance of feelings and intimate expressions do ramp up.

. . . as a man you are the book on manhood
for the young men around you . . .

There is one really important point to hold on to in this discussion. As our boys and young men are building their vision of the good man they want to become, they need to see emotionally literate and vulnerable adult men as role models. I believe the most powerful gift a man can give himself, his loved ones, and the young men in his world, is to develop his own brand of masculine emotional intelligence. Whether you know or even care, as a man you are the book on manhood for the young men around you. You can be sure they are watching and learning from you!

If you’re interested in learning more about Owen’s work on MEI, his company, Free to Win, offers men training in MEI and in how to start their own free men’s group. Owen is also looking for men interested in participating in an online pilot course with the theme of developing your own MEI. If you’re interested, you can contact him directly.

SHARE: If you enjoy this blog, please click the Facebook "Share" button below to support the Man-Making Facebook page! (The button is only on the MM Blog, and not in subscription posts delivered by email.)

CONTACT: Send Earl a message. I'm very interested in your thoughts on any man-making post or topic. I'm available to help bring man-making initiatives to your community or organization.

SUBSCRIBE: If you're not yet a subscriber to the Man-Making Blog, and you'd like to receive these posts by email 3-4 times a month, use this link for a free subscription.

TWEET: Send this post along to your friends or follow me on Twitter!


  1. Thanks Earl for sharing this. When we can expand our model of MEI, we can set men and consequently women free.

  2. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Not being bias on my behalf, I do believe a boy having a father figure in their life, could indeed make a significant change, for I feel I would have been much different than I am today if I would have had such.


Your response to this blog post is appreciated and welcome.