“There’s too much emphasis on bringing up men to be physically strong and not nearly enough on making sure they’re not emotionally stunted.”
I posted the above line on my twitter account just over a week ago and was surprised when it got an overwhelming response. Before I go any further, I’d like to make it clear that it wasn’t meant as an attack on men, nor was it my intention to suggest that all or even most men are emotionally stunted. As someone who doesn’t fit the gender stereotype of the average woman, I’d be a hypocrite to box all men into one category. My tweet was an observation on what us, society as a whole, expects from our men and how it treats those who don’t fit our perception of what a man should be. How we expect them to behave a certain way, put pressure on them to do so and yet, (and women are guilty of this too) we make allowances for their behaviour as long as they revert to type. It’s fascinating, when you think about how much the world has progressed over the years. The technology at our disposal, the progress in terms of equality for women, people of colour and the LGBT community, yet our perception of men largely remains the same.
Of course there has been some change, but it’s overwhelmingly to do with appearance and not emotional. Men are no longer afraid to take care of their appearance and more and more fathers are staying at home to look after their children while the mother of their child goes out to work and these are all positive changes. What we have neglected to do, is talk about the changes in their feelings, emotions and views.
A lovely twitter friend of mine told me to my horror, how the female headteacher at her son’s school said her son needed to ‘man up,’ if he was going to be accepted by his peers, as he was too ‘girly.’ This is a headteacher, a well educated woman who is entrusted with the care of children and teaching them right from wrong. If a woman in that position can hold such views, what does that say about us as a whole? Of course we could dismiss it as an isolated incident, but I’ve witnessed far too many conversations like this to really believe that’s the case.
It works both ways of course. As a bit of a tomboy, I was never the ‘lady’ my parents desperately wanted me to be and my decision not to have children and my refusal to seek a man in order to be happy, is a constant talking point amongst my friends and family who genuinely struggle to comprehend it. Does this make me any less of a woman? I don’t think so. But I am the exception, not the rule. Being made to feel like that would be enough to make most people in my position, change themselves in order to feel accepted. I don’t, but then I’ve always been more than a little stubborn. So if I feel this way, then certainly men who don’t fit the mould, must do as well? I suspect there’s a lot more of them, than there are women like me, it’s just not spoken about.
Relationships are where the changes become more evident. Maybe it’s a reflection on me and my choices, but as I mentioned before, I’m attracted to men who are more sensitive and who aren’t afraid to discuss their feelings and be upfront and honest. Yet, I’ve always found, and my girlfriends have also been in similar situations, where the minute we run into trouble, they find it hard to deal with and clam up. These are bright, loving and sensitive men who have previously had no problems discussing their feelings, but they struggle to handle any kind of criticism or discussion when there is a problem. The reason they’ve given has always been the same. They’re protecting themselves. The idea seems to be to protect themselves from getting hurt, yet the very act of it appears to make them unhappy. While I understand this need to put up a front more than most, I can’t help but wonder what it is they’re so afraid of. Inevitably, the relationship comes to an end due to their refusal to open up, so they can’t be protecting themselves from that. It may be that they are incapable of expressing their feelings because every step of the way, we discourage this behaviour in men.
During a recent weekend away, my friend and I spoke about this at length. He told me about a number of incidents growing up, where he was made to feel emasculated not only by men in positions of authority, but women too, because he refused to act like a ‘lad.’ This came as a surprise to me, because though I’ve seen his sensitive side on many occasions, that is not the side he chooses to show other people. He was surprisingly open, explaining how his dad would often chastise him for showing even the slightest weakness. I’d always assumed this sort of behaviour was more common among the Asian community, where there is there is a real pressure to be macho, but I’m increasingly finding it’s the same everywhere. It reminded me of the time my dad told my nephew ‘crying is for girls.’ He hasn’t said it since, I’ve made sure of it.
Another thing we see all the time is fathers who are overprotective when it comes to their little girls, knowing full well what young boys are like, because they’ve been there. And yet, the onus is on their daughters to be careful, dress better, not stay out late and stay away from boys. There is no desire to teach their sons to behave better. No attempt to consider the feelings of the girls they will date, treat appallingly, play games with and discard when they’ve served their purpose, whatever that may be. Rarely do I see boys being raised to be the men we’d want our daughters and sisters to be with. I’m as guilty as everyone else when it comes to making excuses for or trying to be understanding of men who’ve let me down, knowing without a doubt that they’d never afford me or any other woman, the same courtesy.
Only recently, I was put in a difficult position by a male friend who was confronted by someone from their past and left me to deal with it. Though the problem was his, he clammed up and told me to handle it how I saw fit. He wouldn’t take my calls and refused to discuss it further. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen with someone I’m close to and couldn’t help but compare it to how my female friends confront similar situations. Usually head on, without fear and with plenty to say. Yet we say men are the stronger sex.
In recent times, it’s hard to open a newspaper or turn on the TV without someone offering their opinion on the ‘something for nothing’ culture. We’ve all heard discussions about the resentment some people feel about ‘scroungers’ and those who are unwilling to work for money. Men are particularly vocal about this subject. Yet they don’t apply the same principle to relationships. The concept of working towards a happy relationship seems to be a novel concept to some, undoable to others and completely impossible to many. The work ethic appears to stop at the workplace and not translate to relationships, which ARE hard work.
Infuriatingly, I hear more women saying “Women are better at talking, men don’t *do* feelings.”. These are mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives. Women, who have over the decades, adapted to life in the workplace, overcome massive changes in the family dynamic, women who are single mothers, going out to work and raising a child simultaneously. Women who believe and accept that men ‘Just don’t do feelings.’ These are women who fall over themselves to congratulate dads who look after their own children. Yes, that’s right, their OWN children. Millions of women do it every single day without giving it a second thought, but for some reason, we like to congratulate men for doing their job. These women are raising men to think this is okay, it’s the norm, in fact, it’s EXPECTED of them. Am I alone in feeling absolutely, apoplectic with RAGE at the idea that men should be excused from feelings on account of their gender? Why are more men not outraged by this gross generalisation? Why aren’t they more vocal about the fact that they too are capable of evolving? I’ve met men over the years who swear blind that they’re not like the rest of them. They insist they’re different. I’m chastised for comparing them. Yet when you get past a certain point, they show themselves to be exactly like the others.The only straight man to reply to my tweet was someone who insisted “It’s how we’re designed, cavemen etc,” at which point I headbutted the wall several times, but not before asking him how many wild boar he’d speared lately to feed his family.
I refuse to accept this. We’ve all had our hearts broken at some point. How many times has it been by someone who couldn’t sit you down and explain that he’d fallen out of love with you? More often than not, they’ll be walking straight into the arms of another woman or treating you so appallingly, that you’re forced to break up with them, enabling them to walk away guilt free. All because they’re incapable of telling you how they really feel. The only exception is when they’re trying to get the girl, saying whatever it takes and what they think she wants to hear is not a problem then. Holding onto her once the novelty has worn off, is another matter. This happens every single day and we cry, complain and look the other way when it inevitably happens again. And instead of feeling angry and telling them how we feel, we put it down to men being men. Why is that? We wouldn’t accept this behaviour from women, we even tell children off for not playing nicely, so why do we excuse men? Why is there no desire to change things? It serves nobody well, least of all men who feel a pressure to keep their emotions in.
Again, I’d like to make it clear I’m not talking about all men here. I’ve known wonderful men who are more than capable of being men in the real sense. If anything, I’m furious with women. They should know better than to make excuses for their sons and husbands. Take the aptly named Robin Thicke’s mum for example. After the infamous VMAs twerking nonsense, she chose to blame 20 year old Miley Cyrus for catching her poor innocent 36 year old son unawares. Poor Robin Thicke. Let’s hope she never has to sit through the unedited version of his Blurred Lines video.
Much has rightly been said about how much gender stereotypes affect young girls. How constant comparisons to princesses and gender specific toys can condition them to behave a certain way and lead them to believe they are helpless and in need of rescuing, only good for giving birth and being mothers etc. Yet we never hear the reverse. How the lack of strong minded, independent women in the media means men find women like that increasingly difficult to cope with. How our refusal to change things hurts not only our daughters, sisters and friends, but men too. How by constantly making allowances for them, they are finding it harder to accept real women, real situations and real life.
If my nephew was to behave like that as an adult, I’d not only feel disappointed, but I’d feel I would have failed him as an aunt and an important female figure in his life. When he’s older and in a relationship, I’m never going to tell him it’s okay to run away from difficult situations, to not have respect for women. I want him to SHOW them respect by being upfront and honest with them instead of burying his head in the sand because he doesn’t *do* feelings. By seeing them as human beings in their own right and not just in relation to them. Their own person with thoughts and feelings and wants and desires of their own, not just there for what they bring to men and how they make men feel. Respecting them as individuals and caring about them and showing it if you expect them to show you. He should know that a simple sorry won’t fix things, if there even is an apology. That he must work to put things right. I will not indulge him and I will explain to him why I feel that way. It’s upto women as well as men to ensure we don’t raise a generation of emotionally stunted men whose only purpose is to be good at sport, earn a lot of money, treat women as objects and be morally bankrupt. This impacts on all our lives. You only have to look at the male dominated banking industry and government to see how true this is. As a society, we are so hard on women in every aspect of their lives and we’ve had to fight to lead our lives on our terms for as long as I can remember. To shake off labels, to fight against the system. Perhaps if the same were true of men, we wouldn’t be in this position today. Why aren’t they as keen to shake off this tag of being fickle? Bar the Fathers For Justice group who have taken extreme measures to make their point, I can’t think of many other men who are calling for a change in how men are perceived.
Women, on the other hand, are doing that every day of the week. Take Jennifer Aniston for example. All we ever see is endless articles about poor Jen-An, unable to hold down a relationship, like it’s the only thing that would validate her. Maybe the beautiful, successful and incredibly rich Jennifer Aniston doesn’t NEED a man to complete her. Maybe she’s waiting for the right man and unwilling to settle. We rarely hear the same of male celebrities. They’re always bachelors, having the time of their lives. This isn’t the only example. Just think how much tougher we are on women who walk out on their children, even though it’s rare in comparison. Somewhere along the way, we have decided to turn a blind eye to fickle men and worse, encouraged them. We expect them to be flakes. It’s the only reason I can think of that footballers are celebrated.
So let’s not only concentrate on their physical and mental development, but their emotional development too. It’s every bit as important, not to mention an attractive quality in men. Who doesn’t want a man who is as comfortable with his emotions as he is with every other side of him? A friend of mine put it quite perfectly when she said of her boyfriend, ‘My boy is sensitive when I’m down, thoughtful, hilarious and yet, he doesn’t like sport and probably wouldn’t get into a fight. In my opinion, he’s the ‘real’ man. How are you supposed to get anywhere if they can’t own their own emotions?’