Men (and the people who love men), let’s chat.
I think it’s time we discuss the elephant in the room, that vague specter hogging up space in many of our relationships and homes. It’s time we acknowledge the failing and figure out a way forward. Not to be too hyperbolic here, but all our lives may depend upon it.
Men, we have failed you.
We have failed you by long denying you the freedom of expression allowed in childhood, but relegated to a narrow existence of anger, hunger, horniness and/or stoicism from adolescence onward.
We have failed you by limiting the definition of masculinity.
We have failed you by constantly soothing and supporting you without setting you up with the proper tools to do the job solo.
We have failed you by applauding your arrival and existence without actually teaching you how to be whole and successful, independent of the opinions of those around you.
We have failed you because we have consistently denied your humanity … not the living, breathing part, but the messy, wild, joyful, passionate, and emotional part.
Hear me out before we light the witch-burning fires.
I am a feminist therapist. Basically, this means that the way I work with clients is by examining the different influences and factors that intersect and act upon a person’s self-concept and worldview. This includes acculturation related to gender norms, religious and ethnic identity, national affiliation, and personal history. It does not mean that I sit around calling men names and plotting for the rise of a matriarchy (although if we can draw from the experience of bonobos, I can think of much worse fates!). I spend a lot of time helping people identify their own internalized assumptions about gender and identity and help them determine what fits and what doesn’t. The work I do exposes and helps unlearn a lot of the internalized misogyny and ill-fitting ideas we all possess.
In her book The Logic of Misogyny, Kate Manne discusses the ways in which men and women are acculturated differently. Men, under a misogynistic worldview (read: almost all of Western civilization) are praised for existing. They receive applause and commendation for just showing up at most places. And if you doubt this, roll up to a playground as a solo dad and wait to hear the accolades roll in. They will. They always do.
Women are acculturated to be supportive, offering comfort, adoration, and care to those around them. This is often why we make the erroneous assumption that women are “better at relationships” or “better with feelings.” At baseline, women are no better at this stuff; we’ve just had better training.
And this where we have let you down, men. Your entire existence has been the equivalent of an emotional participation trophy, but we keep expecting you to operate in the world as the emotional equivalent of Michael Phelps. As a society we have not equipped men with the skills to self-soothe, to handle rejection, to engage in active listening, or to deal with most of the messy business of sitting with emotional upheaval and distress in yourselves and others. We have bequeathed those skills to women, to everyone’s detriment. But here’s the good part: this does not have to be the end of the story!
This month recognizes the unique challenges men face in their journey towards emotional intelligence and mental wellbeing. In that spirit, let me remind you that there is no shame in wanting to expand your horizons and develop new skills. Therapy is not just for crisis and illness; it is also for self-betterment. The therapeutic space is a place to evaluate internalized assumptions, try out new skills, and get real with another human being—free from judgment.
I invite you to give it a try. What’s the worst thing that can happen?
We’re here when you’re ready.