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When Is A Bee Not A Bee? (And Other Confusions About Male Identity)

In Monty Python’s ‘Fish Licence’ sketch, John Cleese accidentally cuts his pet bee, Eric, in half. This leads him to ask if  a bee can be said to be, or not to be, an entire bee when half the bee is not a bee due to some ancient injury?” In other words, since Eric appears to be only half a physical bee, Cleese queries whether Eric can be said to actually be a bee at all. (Still with us? – Ed.) But why should Eric be considered not an actual bee? Just because his physical appearance is altered from what society conceives to be that of a regular bee, it should not mean he is any less of a bee.  Which leads to the question; what gives the identity of ‘bee’? Is it the ideals and images that have been built up in society over history, that have determined what it is that gives us our identity?

On reflection of society, many of our ideas are subconsciously formed from impressions we have gained from our environment – cultural influences, social influences and media influences. We are in a world constantly surrounded by images, opinions and directives on how we should live our lives. It is therefore no wonder we feel more pressure than ever to conform to certain roles and live up to perceived societal standards. These roles and standards are unconsciously internalised and incorporated into the inner workings of our psyches, thus becoming a guide to how we should act and appear; they form our identity and what we perceive to be the ‘self’. Therefore, poor Eric, who is already feeling blue about only having half a body, may also face ridicule from the bee community since he is not conforming to what is deemed as being normal for a bee.

Let us turn for a moment to this painting. On first glance what do you see? A pipe. But Magritte states that it is not a pipe. The logical mind is whirring; ‘of course it is a pipe, I can see it’s a pipe!’ Maybe the same could be said of a picture of a man. If someone said to you ‘man’ what mental portrait would you paint? What makes up your image of ‘man’? Someone tall, dark and handsome with a muscular physique and a glint in his eye? Someone who doesn’t ‘do’ feelings and is probably pretty nifty at both Kung Fu and DIY? What Magritte is doing with this painting is getting the observer to question knowledge that has been acquired of what makes a pipe a pipe in our understanding. Most would argue it is the appearance. Others would state it is the way it works. Whatever conclusion the observer comes to, Magritte is correct. It is not a pipe. It is a painting of a pipe.
For young men there is of course the role of ‘being masculine.’  But what is ‘being masculine’, exactly? According to The Health Promotion Agency, for young men being masculine is “being dismissive of their emotional pain”. Whatever the root cause of this pain, studies have found that by withholding certain feelings and emotions young men can believe they are expressing an important aspect of their masculinity. This aspect being that men do not need support from others. But what if a man does need support? The varying forms of mental distress can creep up on you, engulfing you in a misty cloud from which you can see no way out. If men seek support, does this make them less masculine, in the same way that Eric was less of a bee after he had been cruelly bisected? The writer Cyril Connelly once stated: “We are all serving a life sentence in the dungeon of the self.”  But the self need not be your dungeon; if you believe you do not need support, then you will remain trapped in this dungeon. Do not shy away from your internal issues, thinking you are showing great resolve in remaining ‘strong and silent’ because that is what is ‘expected’ of you as a man.  This is utter nonsense.  Asking for help is an act of bravery, not a sign of weakness. Know you are not alone and that CALM is there. CALM will listen and CALM will help.


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