I need one thing from a partner that few men have: sustained participation in an activity that helps with emotional balance. Therapy would do it, meditation would do it. Church could do it (depending on the Church), yoga could do it they were really into it. But most of these activities are dominated by women.
Men, on the other hand, tend to indulge in more overt expressions anger. This seems vaguely self evident, but you know, for numbers: in the US, men accounted for 73% of people arrested and over 80% of those arrested for violent crime. Over 90% of people convicted of homicide are male, and 98% of mass shootings are carried out by men (but not all — there have been some female mass shooters.) On a lower level, men are more likely to get into car accidents than women (with 4 out of 5 fatal accidents being caused by male drivers).
OMG — testosterone! Off with their nuts — amirite?
I am not right.
There are some other phenomena at play. For instance, while men in any social class tend to be more violent than their female counterparts, women in lower socioeconomic classes will often commit more crimes than men in higher socioeconomic classes (read here — great book, btw.) Additionally, while historically men have caused — like — all the violence, they have also had, like, all the power. It’s a studied thing that having more power leads to having less empathy for other people. It’s possible that many of the supposedly innate differences between the sexes have stemmed from a power differential. The amount of crime committed by young women has been on the rise since the 80s (aka, after the second wave feminism of the 70s.) There are many factors that could account for that, so I don’t want to imply a causal relationship there, but… something to think about.
However, it is possible men are just wired to be more violent than women. I’m willing to entertain that.
But if that’s true, they should be extra double going to yoga classes. Why is the less violent gender the one learning all the emotional self regulation?
Because women are expected to regulate the emotions of men as well as themselves. They have to sharpen their emotional regulation skillz because they’ll be regulating for two even when they’re not pregnant. This has been a thing that’s starting to get noticed in feminist circles; the concept of unpaid emotional labor that women are expected to supply. This takes many forms (and I’ve written about this before) and at its most benign looks like listening, support and empathy. However, as it becomes more noxious, women are expected to read the emotions men and proactively protect them from their own negative emotions.
In my personal life, I remember a man telling me that women should reject men’s sexual advances in a way that won’t hurt the man’s feelings. And, that sounds reasonable on first glance. However, unfortunately, honest communication of the feelings “I am not sexually attracted to you” is considered hurtful to most men. So, women are forced to not communicate their honest feelings in order to protect the man from feeling anything bad.
For me, this need to protect men from the truth of my reality if it will hurt them has extended so deeply that I have laughed off sexual assault so that I would not hurt the feelings of the man who assaulted me. At great personal cost, I should add. A few years after that, I asked someone out, and was rejected by them and that experience split me wide open. Yes, being rejected was painful, but it was nothing — nothing — compared to the pain I absorbed trying to save men from the pain of rejection. Being rejected by someone I had a crush on led to my being sad for a few months. My absorbing sexual harassment from men so they wouldn’t have to face rejection led to years of flashbacks, depression, and an inability to work in my chosen profession.
To deal with all my pain, I went to therapy. And yoga, and meditation class. I have done so much personal work, devoted years of my professional life, and thousands of dollars to — functionally — protect men from the shattering reality that I was not sexually attracted to them. But it was the truth; I wasn’t. And these men, when faced with the pain of my rejection could also learned how to handle difficult emotions but generally they choose not to.
Instead of learning how to take a rejection gracefully, men will claim women should “let them down easy.” It comes right down to that Margaret Atwood quote “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Men are so terrified of being laughed at, rejected or absorbing indignity in any way that they demand women risk physical violence so they don’t have to face the pain of rejection.
This is an unfair trade, and one that women only make because historically men have had power over us. If you need to rely on a male income for your livelihood, you have to make sure your presence improves the lived experience of your husband. Otherwise, he might kick you to the curb and you’d be fucked. Even now, with a continued disparity in earning potential, women will often manage male emotions so that a woman can be assured of material support by providing emotional value to her partner. Often, this goes beyond the conscious recognition of the men who receive it.
I remember one of my male friends was a complete wreck during his divorce. He relied on me so much emotionally after he lost the support of his wife (wanting to talk with me, wanting to cuddle with me, etc.) that I completely started to break down. I had to set some hard limits (like, not seeing him for a week) that didn’t go over very well. Our friendship was severely strained until he started seeing a dominatrix whose demands included health conscious things like getting him to quit smoking and going gluten free. What I see now, in retrospect, is that this dominatrix did a bunch of the emotional management he had received from his wife, and that I was not willing to provide. Ultimately, my friend got a new girlfriend (who he’s now married to) and stopped seeing his dom.
Yet, to this day, I’m not sure he fully understands how reliant he is on the emotional management of the women in his life even though he was completely non functional without it. I see this crop up again and again in my male friends; I see men who are only able to quit their substance problems when they get a girlfriend, or men who drift into workaholism every time they are single. So many men I know are unable to live a happy life when they don’t have a woman who stops them from feeling the negative feelings that accompany their poor life decisions. It’s notable that they often do not stop making these poor life decisions.
How do women prevent men from facing the repercussions of their decisions?
It reminds me of this Savage Love letter, by a woman thinking of divorcing her husband (spurred on by election related stuff):
The longer we go without sex, the more he drinks, and the meaner he gets about it and literally tries to force himself on me. I feel so fucking violated. … I find him absolutely repulsive when he’s drunk, like not at all connected. Oh, and he also insists on having a giant Duck Dynasty beard which I also regard as a serious turn off and we haven’t kissed in the eight years that that monster has been on his face.
What do I do? Someone needs to fuck this man so that he’s nice to be around. It used to be that I would recognize that problem, and get swirly enough to do something about it. But I just hate the way men like Trump have treated me throughout my whole life so much, that I just want to tell them all to go fuck themselves.
I think the line “Someone needs to fuck this man so he’s nice to be around,” kind of says it all. Someone who is abusive should learn the lesson no one wants to be around you when you’re like that. But, men don’t have to learn that lesson. You know who fucks me when I’m an abusive asshole?
You know who fucks me when I’m a lazy schmuck about my appearance and look like shit?
You know who thinks I’m entitled to their body despite my refusal to take responsibility for my behavior?
I was celibate for two fucking years to emotionally process all the shit that had been pushed on me. No one comforted me when I cried. No one slept in my bed. No one held me.
No one fucked me.
But clearly angry men “should” get fucked so they won’t impose their anger on other people. Why do angry men deserve sex and I don’t? Why do angry men get women devoted to their emotional caretaking?
Women will capitulate to male demands so they don’t have to experience the abusive repercussions of male anger. And, yes, this one goes both ways and I don’t want to deny the existence of men who are abused by women, or people of any gender who have been abused by anyone else of any gender. However, on a cultural level, the expectation of feminine absorption of anger is kind of a thing.
Feminists often ask the question, as many of the mass shootings in recent history have been sexually motivated, “why do so many men feel entitled to female sexuality?” Why do they feel angry, as if they have been denied something, when they don’t get to have sex with women?
I, however, would like to suggest an alternative mechanism. I think that we raise men to be angry by default. We deny them the ability to fully feel or label their emotions, which also denies them the ability to fully understand their needs. This leads to a general omnipresent anger, as they are unable to meet their own needs. However, if you give them a partner, especially if you give them a female partner, this anger will be managed. Their needs will be cared for, so they do not need to understand their own emotions because someone else will understand their emotions and attend to their needs for them.
It’s kind of a stereotype that men have trouble “expressing their feelings” but there’s some truth to that stereotype. Clinical psychiatrists have noticed that some of their male clients have trouble expressing their emotional reality, and have even given it a name “normative male alexithymia.” I’m not going to get into the cultural causes of this, but personally I believe this has a lot to do with how we raise men. I’ve noticed that when I am forced to endure male culture too long (say, working as a programmer) I also start having trouble identifying my own emotions.
Anyhow — men who don’t understand their entire emotional range are prone to anger because they can’t meet their own needs. So, their needs go unmet, and a natural response to an unmet need is anger. Much like how you get a flash of anger when you stub your toe, or when you go to cook lunch and your stove won’t turn on. If you are tired, and want to go bed, but something stops you from going to bed (say, work) you might get angry. However, for a lot of men, I think, this anger comes from their own inability to understand what they need. So, it will be like, they’re tired, but don’t understand that they’re tired, so don’t go to sleep. Then, in an emotionally depleted state, they’re highly prone to small triggers (like, the phone rings and they get pissed off.)
And, women will manage this. But, it sucks. It fucking suckkks.
I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about dating men again in a way I don’t get about dating women. And, I’ve been trying to understand that and… it’s like, this feeling like my life will be a life of perpetual drudgery or somehow permanently grey. I associate dating men with being forced to do a lot more menial tasks than I do when I date women. And, I see flashes of this when I go on dates with men. They’ll start bitching about work, say, and I’ll be expected to reflect back their emotions and process this with them. Women do this less frequently, and if they do, they tend to be appreciative of the effort I’ve put into listening to them. Men often won’t even acknowledge that I’ve done anything. They’re probably unaware that I even did.
I am terrified of becoming someone’s anger dump. I have had to work so hard to expunge all the negative shit that’s been dumped in me up to now, I can’t go and let someone just fill me up again. I can’t keep going to therapy, and yoga to allow whoever I’m dating the privilege of dumping in me.
So, when dating I look for signs that someone is doing — or willing to do — the work of managing their own emotions. But… it’s a grim situation when it comes to straight men. The only men I know who go to therapy are either gay or in a very bad place. Straight men don’t go to therapy for a tune up, like I do, or many of my female friends do. I do meet some men at my zen center, but… that’s a complicated beast. Not all forms of meditation lead to emotional awareness, and anyway, dating at the zen center is slightly frowned upon. Most men in my social circle manage their emotions with alcohol, drugs, work, women, or some combination of the above. Several of them say “maybe I should go to therapy,” but very few of them actually do.
And, they all make more money than me, so they could absolutely afford it. Ironically, many of my poorest friends are the most consistent with therapy. Maybe, because they have less power and so can’t impose their emotions on other people to process?
Fortunately, I don’t need to date men. Normative male alexia could lead to normative female lesbianism.
Postscript: So, I can’t control which of my articles go viral, but this one’s getting a lot of play and I feel like I missed out a crucial discussion point which is bugging me. I talked with my twice married friend who used to see the dom, and was like “hope you don’t mind, you’re in my blog, lolz.”
And he goes “it’s fine, but I feel like I moderate the emotions of my girlfriends more than they moderate mine.” I thought about that — it’s hard to say, because obviously male lack of awareness around this plays into it. However, I also think that single men tend to function less well single than women (in part, due to a male lack of training in healthily emotional self regulation.) Women are more likely to end their marriages than men, implying they fear being single less, and there’s evidence that men suffer more from breakups in the long term than women do. This asymmetry can give women more power when in a relationship. I think many of my male friends get more emotional moderation from the women they’re dating at the beginning of a relationship, but after an extended period of time in a relationship, the women require more labor from the men than they did at the beginning. Colloquially, we might refer to this as “snagging a man.”
This power change could also lead to increased female violence and manipulation in long term relationships. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest that women are just as likely to commit domestic violence against men as men are against women. This may be flawed (a woman hitting a much larger man, for instance, has a different tone than a man hitting a much smaller woman) but it’s also possible that a lot more men are the recipients of violence than currently recognized.
So, while I think the dynamic of men forcing women to absorb their anger is definitely a major cultural phenomenon (and, probably why this article went viral — it resonates with a lot of people) I also want to point out that there also exist other competing cultural phenomenons that I have not have highlighted.