A word on man-feelings.
This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about men:
We can’t really pretend any longer that male self-development isn’t central and crucial to building a feminist culture. Women can march and protest all they want; rape is not going to stop until men stop raping people.
That said, I think we have a very bent understanding of how male self-development works. We’re very good, as feminists, at critiquing and calling out problematic behavior. We are way less good at actually facilitating self-actualized, healthy men. And without doing the latter, the former isn’t going to work.
This is a potentially contentious issue, because as the article says, I don’t think we can expect women to do that work. I think we men need to do it ourselves.
But we still have friendships with women, and relationships with women. We still get into dialog with the feminist community as men, and we still have to live in this culture with women.
There are going to be times, guys, where you don’t feel emotionally nurtured or supported in conversation with women or with feminists. Where you feel like a bad person, or like a dirty person, or like you’ve done something wrong but you don’t know what. You’ve probably already had these feelings multiple times.
I’m here to tell you: you’re not a bad person. There’s no such thing as a “bad person”. There are helpful (to yourself or others) things you do, and there are hurtful (to yourself or others) things you do. That’s it. There isn’t some rotten thing at your core making you bad. You’re worthwhile, and you matter.
But when you have those feelings, it’s going to be really easy to get pulled into a spiral of shame and negative emotion. To want to either argue with, or seek acceptance and support from, the person you’re disagreeing with, the person that made you feel that way. You’re going to reach out, to grasp, to cry plaintively “why me?” I’ve done this more than once.
I think we need to start understanding, especially as cishet men in this culture, that our source of emotional support is not going to come from those interactions. We may feel rejected occasionally, as feminist carve out their own space apart from men and male pressures in conversation. And it’s okay to feel rejected; we’re not obligated to be thrilled about this or to deny our feelings. But running back to the same conversations that made us feel that way, and demanding that those people salve our emotions, is a losing game. You may have discovered this already — it’s only going to result in you getting hurt more.
This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with those feminist conversations. It simply means they’re not for you; that they don’t exist to be a source of emotional support for you. And that’s okay.
I don’t know if we, as men, have put a lot of time into recognizing and seeking out our own proper sources of emotional support. I notice that a lot of men just sort of seem to externalize their emotions all over the place, and then get upset when they don’t receive help. Maybe we should seek help in more specific, targeted ways.
Your emotions and identity are precious. This is why, in some ways, the #masculinitysofragile hashtag is bullshit — because being criticized for being fragile is one of the tools of patriarchal culture and toxic masculinity. There is nothing wrong with being fragile sometimes. Everyone is fragile sometimes.
But we shouldn’t be surprised that when we react to our own fragility and need for support by shoving our feelings up in the face of someone who doesn’t want to deal with them, we don’t get the best and most supportive reactions back. We just wind getting hurt more.
I definitely have women friends in my life that provide amazing emotional support to me, and I do my best to provide the same back. But these women ARE my friends — they’ve proven over and over again that they’re down for that exchange; that they enjoy and want the process of building a support network as humans. They show up, and have consistent compassion for my feelings, and I do everything I can to show up for them too. They’re not random people on the internet.
I think, though, that we sometimes seek support and approval from women in general because we’ve been taught to believe that women get to decide our social worth in this culture. Patriarchy’s taught us that whether or not women like us, and whether or not we’re attractive to women, is the arbiter of our value as men. “Well, he can’t get laid” is a locker room insult from high school onwards.
And even our most compassionate female friends aren’t always prepared to deal with our male issues — either they’re just exhausted, or they don’t understand because their lives have been different from ours.
This is why I agree with the article — I think building coalitions of men, men we can turn to for discussion and emotional support, is super crucial. I often find myself automatically reaching out for my women friends when I’m having an emotional trial of some kind — maybe due to this received idea that women are nurturing, or just because some of my longest and closest friendships have been with women.
But I find that if I make a purposeful effort to reach out to other men when I feel this way, and to be vulnerable, the results can be really powerful. Partially, again, because they can understand my experience in ways that women just can’t.
I think it’s important, here, to avoid walling ourselves off from each other inside separate silos. I value most some of the conversations I have with women and non-binary folks, or conversations where all genders can come together to create a space of shared humanity. That’s not always possible, but whenever it happens I learn so much about myself and about other people. I think having friends who are women has shaped and changed my life. I recommend it.
But we need to understand, as men, that throwing ourselves repeatedly into situations where we’ve been hurt, looking for emotional acceptance or approval, is not the solution to our problem. If we know we’re actually there to listen and seek understanding, great. But if we’re just there because we’re wounded and we want to make ourselves feel better — we deserve better than that. If we’re seeking empathy, we should connect with those likely to be in a position to be empathetic. It’s better for everyone.
Understanding this in a moment of pain, though, can be VERY difficult. It can be like turning around a freight train. We often want to IMMEDIATELY fix the issue; to confront whoever it was that made us feel hurt or alienated and heal the wound instantly. But we need to learn to stop and think — is this going to get me what I want? Is it going to get them what they want? If we learn that kind of self-control, I think it could transform our lives and the lives of those around us. The decision to disengage can be a powerful one and can save untold hours of time and emotional strain.
Not everyone has to like you. Not everyone has to approve of you. And not everyone is obligated to act like they do. But that doesn’t mean your emotional needs aren’t important — it just means that you need to find the best place to get them met.
And remember — you can always talk to me.
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