At a recent Melbourne Romance Writers Guild retreat, I played…
There are a lot of reasons I’m writing this article, the main one being I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed that for most of my youth I was fed a lie, a superficial ideal for defining masculinity. What to expect from men, and what is going on in their minds; which these days, I find to be mostly untrue.
I’m annoyed, because in retrospect, this lie meant I avoided a lot of really awesome guys. I limited the scope of a number of relationships. And now I am left with a few regrets.
I’m writing this because I think it’s important to have some female voices out there, just as much as it’s important for the feminist movement to have male voices in the mix as well. I’m writing this to give a voice to the men who email me seeking advice and support they cannot get in their day-to-day lives. I’m writing this, because their stories are painful, and I feel I have to say something.
I could cut this article short and simply say, ‘men have feelings too’, but I don’t think it’s enough. I want to highlight the extent to which this notion isn’t getting through, and the price both men AND women are paying as a result.
Here is a list of just some problematic areas expressed when it comes to being a man…
As a man it can be hard to talk to friends about what’s going on in your life.
Unlike women, who generally can talk for talking’s sake, many men report a need to come up with a premise to do so with their own friends – be it sport, alcohol, exercise etc. Often they say they will dance around a subject for hours before being able to say what’s actually on their mind.
Showing emotions is not welcomed.
There is a pressure to be sensitive to others emotional needs, but have little to none of your own, lest you be told to ‘suck it up’.
At the end of many relationships, people will surround a woman with support, but many men will find themselves alone.
There are many things to indicate this such as various studies and research, as well as the numerous emails in my inbox.
Women say they want a man to approach/ chase them.
But then you get stories from men who do this, only to be abused or laughed at by women – who also sometimes include their group of friends in the ridicule.
The general consensus is a man should earn more than/ support their partner.
I once went on a date with a guy where we compared notes on our dating experiences. He commented that it seemed that many of the women he’d been on dates with were mostly fishing for an ‘easier life’, and they wanted a man to provide it for them. This also steers many men away from pursuing genuine passions i.e. art, music, lower paying jobs – in order to be a future breadwinner.
Men are less likely to seek help
This includes medical help. Unfortunately, in some cases, this leads to preventable deaths by way of late/ non-detection of serious illness.
In romantic relationships, men want sex more than women.
For a man there is no such thing as an unwanted sexual experience.
Because men want it all the time, right? Wrong.
The rates of suicide are higher for men.
And men are more likely to choose less reversible options i.e. guns, vehicular suicide; rather than drug overdose or cutting like most women choose.
Women are not the only ones asked to put themselves last.
Again emotional needs are an expected low priority for men. They are also expected to do other things, for example: offer up their seat first, provide financial assistance, do laborious tasks. They are also the first expected to put their lives on the line, including ‘standing up for their women’ to the point of physical altercation.
One of my favourite examples came during a bus tour through Greece, in which the tour guide mentioned military service was still mandatory for men. One (American) woman said, “we need that in my country,” to which a man called out, “and what about the women, will you go to war if they ask you to as well?”
I don’t mention these things to say either sex has it better or worse than the other. But I do think, for the most part, there is a cone of silence when it comes to men’s issues. I believe, with time, things are getting better, but as writer Norah Vincent says:
“People see weakness in a woman and they want to help. People see weakness in a man and they want to stomp him down.”
And this makes me wonder, and it makes me regret.
Because under the umbrella of generalisations there is a sad and vicious interplay between the relationships I, and many women, have with men. I have no doubt I have at times cut off and limited male relationships because I was living and breathing the ideals mentioned above.
On the flip side, I know there have been men who have limited their relationships with me because ‘I knew too much’. They were drawn to my open and inquisitive nature, but when that extended to me asking about their dreams for themselves, or about feelings/ opinions, it was too much. It was easier to close the door than to dig deep.
And many times I have copped abuse from men in online forums, only for that same man to email me privately for advice on how to heal their broken hearts.
And it boils down to this…
For many men there are two acceptable emotions – rage and happiness. Anything else (vulnerability, fear, and sadness) is not allowed, or deemed too frightening. What I have seen, time and time again, is that it’s easier to lash out than to ask for help, and this is sad.
I do not want the men in my life to have to endure this, I do not want any future son of mine to bear it either.
But enough about men, what about women? We say we want men to be more open, to show how they feel, but are we ready to accept this in our everyday lives?
I remember running a mini survey in my university days. I showed participants images of men crying and asked what they felt when they saw a man cry. The general response was, “I feel scared, because if he’s is crying there must be something very wrong.”
To say we want men to open up is one thing, but this requires us to evolve too.
The Good Men Project, in a recent article broached the question as to whether we, as women, are able to accept emotionally intelligent men without belittling or fear. Whether we can see a man emote without deciding he is less ‘manly’.
Now, I’m not saying we should all gather around a campfire and have a big crying session together. The fact is some men genuinely don’t do the whole ‘feelings’ thing, hell, neither do a lot of women. But we can be more accountable for our own thoughts and actions when it comes to showing a little more empathy and graciousness toward each other when support is needed.
Ladies, it can be something as simple as re-evaluating the way in which you turn a man down for a date:
“In fact, we sit there and we just with one word, ‘no,’ will crush someone… We don’t have to do the part where you cross the room and you go up to a stranger that you’ve never met in the middle of a room full of people and say the first words. And those first words are so hard to say without sounding like a cheeseball or sounding like a jerk.” –source
Acknowledge, at least to yourself, that this takes a certain personal strength. If the guy isn’t being inappropriate and is simply asking you out, just say, ‘thanks, but no thanks’, if you are not interested.
“Vincent said the dates were rarely fun and that the pressure of “Ned” having to prove himself was gruelling. She was surprised that many women had no interest in a soft, vulnerable man.
“My prejudice was that the ideal man is a woman in a man’s body. And I learned, no, that’s really not. There are a lot of women out there who really want a manly man, and they want his stoicism,” she said.” –source
Being kind when it comes to dating is just one example. There are a million little ways we women can lift our game i.e. not flipping out when a man shows some weakness, or just being there at times when he feels like being more than a two-dimensional character.
Men, understand that things are changing – this article is case in point – some of us women ‘get it’. You may not have people in your life to mutually support you, but believe me that there are people in the world who can and do do this. Seek these people out, they exist. And if you’re having trouble, get help.
I’m not looking to point fingers or place blame. I’m asking both genders to re-evaluate their attitudes and expectations.
Though men and women might have innate differences, there are certain things in our lives that are universal. The need for love and support can be mutually achieved, without one person getting there at the cost of the other. But these things take work. And most importantly, they come at less of a cost than dealing with the regrets of never really having known each other.
Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.
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The below video is a trailer for ‘The Mask You Live In’ by The Representation Project. If you have a spare couple of minutes, please watch. It will make you think twice next time you hear or say the words ‘man up’…
Image credits: Yuri Samoilov, Sriniva Arka, Afghanistan Matters