Men Talk Articles - Oct/Nov 2013
Understanding Men: Listening to What Men Don't Say
© 2013 Nelson E. Otto
We hear a lot that men aren't in touch with their feelings or don't express their feelings. We also hear that men don't have anything to complain about, that they have it good, that if men have issues, why don't we hear about them? In this paper I want to explore the connection between feelings and issues that encourage or discourage the expression of feelings, plus identify and define issues and some of the benefits and implications of increased awareness.
What is a feeling? A felt emotion in response to a physical or mental event or action. Any affective state of consciousness, such as that resulting from emotions, sentiments or desires. Examples: pain, sadness, joy, happiness, worry, stress, deprivation.
An issue? A point of discussion, debate or dispute. A matter of wide public concern in which there is a clear pattern.
Events and feelings are the basis of issues. A gender issue is an event, situation or condition relative to the other gender which results in one gender being favored over the other. It results in pain or hurt that requires change or action. Examples are receiving less pay for the same work or suffering more work related injuries. One can come to an awareness of a gender issue through intellectual awareness or emotional awareness. If it starts from emotional awareness--something doesn't feel right--one then has to reflect on what's causing this feeling, which brings in the intellectual component.
If a gender issue starts from intellectual awareness and there are no feelings, it basically remains inert. Feelings are an essential component of a gender issue if it is to have any impact and strength. If there's work to be done, you have to be in touch with your emotions. In the case of men not being in touch with feelings or not being able to express them, it knocks out an essential leg of an issue. It may not come into awareness or there may be no strength to go with awareness. Denying that men have issues is to deny that they have feelings or should express their feelings.
If an inequity exists and there are no feelings one might be prompted to ask why not? There could be some balancing inequity making it seem as fair from an overall standpoint.
The pain or cost of an inequity can also come out in other less than healthy ways. The point of these opening thoughts is to show that there is a relationship between feelings and gender issues. Is there a connection between why men don't express their feelings and why we don't hear very much about men's issues? Hopefully this paper will start a dialogue from which we all can benefit from some new perspectives and approaches.
What are the factors that impact men's feelings? Warren Farrell in Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say suggests that there are powerful reasons why men have difficulty revealing real vulnerabilities; personal, social, political and biological forces combine to play a part.
Beyond feelings and issues is the requirement for reliable, unbiased data and a willingness to honestly take it in. We need to hear the whole story with equal depth and breadth from both men and women. Unreliable and biased information can create myths. An example is men not doing their share of the housework. A more comprehensive term, family and household work, would also include tasks that men more often do, such as home improvement and repair, lawn care, and vehicle maintenance. How an issue is framed has a direct connection to its outcome. Hearing men's perspectives as well as women's will help both men and women to appreciate, understand and love each other more.
Data can be interpreted in different ways and the legitimacy of an interpretation can't be proved. When enough information is accumulated, one has to look for patterns. It is also true that seeing one pattern can make it more difficult to see other patterns. Feminism's exclusive focus on women has resulted in trivializing or ignoring men's problems, making them more difficult to see, recognize, and acknowledge.
When the data is limited or pres
nted from perspectives that have an agenda behind them, secular myths are formed which function in similar ways to religious myths, conferring meaning and purpose on those who spread them. We need to move beyond the myths to a reality that respects the rights of both men and women to be heard.
Let's look at some examples of issues and the feelings that one would expect to go with them. Longevity is an one very obvious issue. Men live on average 5 years less than women. Here are some possible responses from men:
- I don't think about it
- It's not fair
- Be tough
- It's not going to happen to me
Judging from how little is being said or done about this, feelings around this issue are not being either noticed or articulated. Why do we not ask why so little research is being done to find the reasons women live so much longer than men in our society?
Another issue is divorce. It has a big impact on boys expressing their feelings as men, when a role model is out of the home and sidelined.
Then there is abortion. If a man has had little or no say in choosing to end or continue a pregnancy, learns of it after the fact, or never learns of it, but if the child is born, he is required by law to pay child support for 18-22 years whether or not he is involved with the child.
- Being caught
- It's my child too
What happens when these feelings are denied? What could happen if they're allowed to be felt and expressed ?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN FEELINGS AREN'T EXPRESSED?
One possibility is repressed anger, which might result in the volcano effect, anger out of proportion to the incident that caused it. Often this is stimulated by feelings of powerlessness.
In Spreading Misandry, Paul Nathanson and Catherine Young cite moral damage to society as a whole when male bashing and other forms of misandry are accepted and men's speech is restricted.
They also cite the trivialization of men in the popular culture, but not the trivialization of women. They painstakingly expose how men are portrayed in movies and TV. They break this down into 5 categories: laughing at, bypassing, blaming, dehumanizing, and demonizing men. It is a double standard, denying that one segment of society is worthy of respect and common decency. This results in undermining the moral fabric of society as a whole. You can't teach children that revenge and hatred are wrong if they learn indirectly or directly that in some cases it's OK. Arguments that ignore or distort moral thinking for political expediency don't bode well for the future of our society.
Misandry has an effect on free speech. "Political correctness" denies men the power to speak and to express their feelings and issues. If free speech is limited to the few, it is meaningless in a democracy. We should ask, who has the most to gain from the restriction?
Some advocates of this type of political correctness state a need for sensitivity, which sounds like a good thing. When pressed, however, they invariably argue for sensitivity to some groups and not to others, selective sensitivity! It is not politically correct for men to complain, and it is not traditionally OK for men to complain--a double bind.
Another result of men not expressing their feelings and stating their issues but hearing women do it, is anger towards men. Remember, a gender issue is one in which one gender has it better and the other has it worse on a particular issue. Hearing only one side, women's, particularly if men are regularly blamed for that issue, can result in anger towards men. If we heard men's feelings and issues as well, we would be much closer to understanding each other and less prone to anger. Feminism points out the dark side of men and the light side of women. It ignores the dark side of women and the light side of men. Hearing only one side of the gender debate has resulted in government subsidized women's programs, studies, commissions, etc, but none for men. This can be described as discrimination against men. Men have to speak up, and we have to be willing to hear them.
Since the beginning of the women's movement the suicide rate for women has decreased by approximately 1/3, but has increased 15% for men. Unexpressed feelings can be deadly.
Traditionally, success has been important for men--for being attractive as a mate, for self esteem, etc. Success comes with a price. Getting the job done often requires setting aside your own feelings.
Not asking for help when one really needs help is another male characteristic and a way in which feelings aren't expressed. A facade of strength is really a weakness. Again, unexpressed feelings are unhealthy.
According to Nathanson and Young, the full humanity of men has been dangerously undermined by stereotypes based on ignorance and prejudice. This happens when men are silenced and conclusions drawn that are not based on serious in-depth study. This can be observed in much of popular culture, books, TV, movies, greeting cards, etc. It also has resulted in two tenets of gender studies: men are the chosen scapegoats, responsible for all evil, while women are victims and responsible for all good. Is this dualistic worldview an oversimplification? Surely it distorts reality. Men have been silenced and dehumanized and find it very difficult to establish a distinctive and valuable collective identity that's publicly acknowledged.
Unrecognized feelings and pain can build up and tick like a bomb inside, waiting to explode or to build pressure and spread into other negative behavior or diseases. Men's ability to downplay pain and weakness has been considered by some to be a factor in a shorter lifespan.
Boys are pushed out of the expressive mode. Both boys and girls up to ages 4 or 5 are at ease in what one researcher calls the expressive-affiliative mode. Studies show that boys are subtly or forcibly pushed out of it after that age but girls are allowed to stay in that mode.
These are some of the results of unexpressed feelings and issues.
NEXT WE WANT TO LOOK AT WHAT KEEPS MEN FROM EXPRESSING THEIR FEELINGS AND STATING THEIR ISSUES.
Performance correlates with self worth and relational attractiveness. For many men, self worth and relational needs are screened through performance. This is a very vulnerable position to be in. Self worth and relational needs should not be based on how well he performs. Men and boys need social connections as much as women and girls. Performance should not take the place of connection. Expressing feelings is essential in connection.
Expressing weakness gets a negative label. Warren Farrell in Why Men Are the Way They Are states that little makes a man more vulnerable than being seen as whining. Acknowledging the helpless and blaming side is being very vulnerable. Often men express only acceptable feelings. In an interview with Krista Tippett on "On Being," Bene' Brown said in her study she found that the perception of weakness in men is very shaming. She heard over and over, my wife or girlfriend say be afraid, share your vulnerability, but the truth is, they can't stomach it. If I do this it permanently changes the dynamics of the relationship. When Brene' Brown shared this with women, they said it's true. I want men to be open and to have intimacy, but I don't want them to go there.
A man fears an angry response to his expression of feelings. We may push and encourage men to express their feelings, but when they do we call it backlash or sexism. Just listen without arguing; this tends to result in closeness and understanding.
Laughing at or belittling a man when he expresses a feeling or issue is a sure way to keep him from doing more of it.
Men tend to have a limited number of confidants. Men are socialized to turn only to their wives for emotional support, but they are also expected to be tough and strong for women. How do you do this?! Women are socialized to turn to their husbands, women friends, parents and children. When men have something personal they need to talk about, they have (far) fewer people with whom to express their feelings. This is not what one talks about with work colleagues.
Political Correctness requires the suppression of feeling. The powers that be(political, social) set the standards. Not only do they discourage free speech and expression of feelings, they sanction such discouragement. Even finding money for a politically incorrect project that identifies the existence of a major problem and open it up for discussion can be very difficult.
Many men are unwilling to acknowledge that men have a serious problem because it is tantamount to acknowledging that they're not in control of their lives.
Researchers are not trained to look for men's issues. Feminists say that gender research is not adequate for the needs of women unless researchers are trained to ask the right questions. They are looking for "their" answer, a guarantee that men's concerns will not be heard. Even the term gender studies in most cases refers exclusively to women; again men will not be noticed or heard.
Many men are afraid to protest when men are depicted in demeaning ways in the popular media for fear of losing respect from their female colleagues, wives or daughters, plus they fear threatening their own identity as liberals.
Free speech can be stifled through laws or behavior codes. One example - taking seriously only the problems of girls and not acknowledging the problems of boys.
Men feel gagged, though they may not articulate it because they feel gagged.
Women frequently value success over expression of feelings when they choose a mate. Choosing a partner is one way we express values. Choosing successful men rather than men who express their feelings sends a strong message to men. Success often requires suppression of one's own feelings.
Acknowledging or staying with a feeling can be troublesome. If its denied or if you run from it, the feeling won't get out. It will be buried, buried alive. That energy has to go somewhere and it can be very damaging, to the self and to others. How can you run from your feelings? You refuse to talk about it, get sick, have an accident, bully, confuse, suddenly remember a phone call you have to make--or almost anything to avoid directly facing the question.
If a man fears having affection and sex withdrawn he will hold back feelings that will jeopardize these things.
Dismissing traditional history as all about men, instead of developing men's studies that question men's traditional roles as women's studies does for women, also inhibits men.
Men do not want to risk a woman's rejection. If a men senses that his agreement is sought without regard to his feelings, he will be less likely to express those feelings, depending upon how much he needs the woman's approval.
Men have a biological instinct to protect females. This means hearing her needs and putting his aside, even to the point of attacking or putting down men who speak up for men. It is very hard to listen to anything we don't want to hear. Men don't want to be called a woman hater, a label some women give if men speak up for men. Also, they want to keep the peace at home. Some men fear that disagreeing with their wives will cause too much trouble and so hold their feelings in.
When either sex holds back feelings, it is often because they don't feel safe in expressing them. Staying in the cave is safer.
Clubs where men could meet and talk about things such as Elks, Rotarians, etc., are no longer only for men. These "safe" places are no longer available. Indeed, some sociologists conclude that a big reason why men love sports so much is because it is one of the few activities where they feel alive and strong. The Encyclopedia of Associations lists more than 20 women's organizations for every one for men.
When male bashing is seen as funny and female bashing sexist, men have to be silent while women can speak up and protest. Feminism has made it unacceptable to exploit negative stereotypes of women but acceptable to exploit negative stereotypes of men.
All too often both men and women authors in the popular culture are womanist in tone, and don't give voice to men's feelings.
Depression in men is seen as shameful, to himself, his family and friends and even mental health professionals. Strong forces keep men from admitting and sharing their problems. Our culture has more respect for the walking wounded, those denying their difficulties, than we have for those who admit their condition and seek help. We don't want men to be emotional or vulnerable; that's being a wimp!
Parents can inhibit expression of feelings. Jeanne Block in her research found that both mothers and fathers treated their sons and daughters differently. They encouraged boys to control their emotions and developed a tendency to punish boys. They encouraged girls to be introspective. These same parents saw themselves unequivocally as treating their sons and daughters alike. Block saw a vast discrepancy between the parents' report of even-handed treatment and their actual behavior; they were not aware of the way they were socializing their children. Terrance Real in I Don't Want to Talk About It puts it this way, "if traditional socialization takes aim at girl's voices, it takes aim at boy's hearts."
Australian anthropologist, Bob Connell, concludes that sociological terms like gender role acquisition don't show the emotional experience of the roles being pushed in male role socialization. In his research he found a profound impetus toward violence. The rituals by which boys are taught to conform are often unpleasant. The pressure to accept the male role comes in the form of labels: "wimp," "Mama's boy," "pussy." He states "no boy he knows has escaped the experience of such ridicule." Real says "The trauma inherent in a boy's socialization results in diminished connection to his mother, diminished connection to aspects of the self and diminished connection to others--the loss of the relational."
IF MEN EXPRESSED THEIR FEELINGS AND STATED THEIR ISSUES -WHAT WOULD HAPPEN? LET'S LOOK AT SOME OF THE POTENTIAL POSITIVE OUTCOMES.
It would empower both men and women and have the potential to deepen the love between intimate partners.
When men know they have a safe environment for their feelings, they will see women as an ally rather than opponent.
Women will begin to see men in a new way rather than as a stereotype.
A man's mid-life crisis can be seen as a positive event in which he gets more in touch with his feelings and empowers him to make choices.
Men who are not constraining their feelings either intentionally or subconsciously are much more likely to be open, relaxed and free.
Men will suffer less from stress related "illnesses," such as heart disease, alcoholism, workaholism, violent behavior, and failures in intimacy. When people regularly express their feelings, their immune system perks up and they require less medical care.
Men's comfort with expressing feelings would empower studying men and their issues with equal depth and breadth as those of women. In the past 30 years we have increasingly focused on the needs of women and girls and done virtually nothing about the needs of men and boys. Why is this? Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young in Legalizing Misandry point out that one sure sign of danger at any time and in any place is when a segment in society is considered unworthy of attention. No wonder more boys than girls face a future of apathy and drop out of school and that more young and old men commit suicide. No large scale study has ever been done to find out why. They attribute this to the current women-centered worldview. Conventional wisdom has it that men have all the power and are therefore immune from harm.
Nathanson and Young go on. Some people fervently believe that hatred toward men should be regarded as a legitimate exception to the general rule opposing hatred towards all groups, believing men are collectively guilty and deserve collective punishment. The entertainment that society consumes reveals notions about the way things are, the prevalent worldview. Scholars need to expose these notions which have become so familiar and thus escape notice.
WHAT ARE SOME FACTORS THAT KEEP US FROM CARING ABOUT MEN AND ADDRESSING THEIR CONCERNS?
In efforts to be even-handed, we downplay the role of men. Referring to the firefighters who risked and lost their lives on 9-ll-0l as firefighters without noticing that all were men, neuters the message, or routinely referring to the "men and women" who fought for their country without mentioning the high percentage who are men.
Many feminists act as if men are incapable of being damaged; therefore anything goes. They don't own up to the truth that men, too, can be seriously damaged.
Many experts in gender studies don't see a need to study anything about men except how they create problems for women or sexual minorities. Some say, my plate is full, I don't have time for it. This is basically a priority statement. They are unwilling to expand horizons.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ENCOURAGE MEN TO EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS AND STATE THEIR ISSUES?
Really try to listen to and understand men. Men who feel truly understood are often the first to have the personal security necessary to change.
Strengthen our ability to handle criticism. Hearing criticism(feelings) is difficult; it could mean losing men's love. Learning to better handle criticism has the effect of strengthening their love.
Encourage single sex groups. Boys' socialization to protect and perform for girls inhibits them from expressing feelings of vulnerability when girls are present.
Develop emotional mentors. Many men don't know how to get in touch with their feelings. Men may need emotional mentors just as women may need business mentors. Once in touch with his feelings, a man needs to express them. For this he needs an accepting, safe environment.
Support and encourage participation in men's groups. A benefit to men of learning to get in touch with and expressing feelings includes developing listening skills, a process that often takes place in men's groups. Wives and children will be grateful, too.
Explore root causes of presented problems. Many men when presenting a problem like a bodily complaint, drinking, trouble at work or marital problems are treated for these symptoms without looking deeper for underlying causes. These underlying causes need to be addressed to help men to understand their feelings.
Set up men's studies programs in equal numbers as women's studies programs, with equal funding. For every commission on the status of women there should be a commission on the status of men. True equality begins with equality of inquiry, in depth, breadth, and selection of the topic. Their issues are by definition different, but when women change, men will be impacted and vice versa. Anything less than equality in programs and funding leads to an unrealistic view of the way things are. Anything can sound convincing if one is selective about what's presented and only one side is heard.
In this paper I've tried to show how men's feelings and issues are connected, the consequences of men not expressing their feelings and stating their issues, some of the influences that keep men from expressing their feelings and issues, potential ways we could all benefit if they were better able to do this, name some of the factors that keep us from caring about men, and what can be done to encourage men to express their feelings and state their issues.
Each reason that keeps men from expressing feelings presents an opportunity for change. Will men ever be as good as women in getting in touch with and expressing their feelings and issues? Maybe not, we evolved differently. Almost certainly, we can improve if men and women work together in this. We see what happens when polarization takes over in the political process. Polarization doesn't serve the interests of most men and women in gender "politics" either. It only serves those who seek power and control above all.
As one of the men on the men's group committee at church said, we need to identify topics from several sources. Most men are cut off from their feelings to the extent that they can't identify any issues. Even if they're held in front of their face they can't see them or will deny them. Our job is to identify feelings/issues and market them and the need to express them in a way that speaks to men and women.
Why Men Are the Way They Are. Warren Farrell
Spreading Misandry. Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson
I Don't Want to Talk About it. Terrence Real
The Myth of Male Power. Warren Farrell
Legalizing Misandry. Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson
Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say. Warren Farrell
Nothing's Wrong. A Man's Guide to Managing His Feelings. David Kundtz
Brene' Brown Interview with Krista Tippett on "On Being" radio
Nelson E. Otto, April 2013