Five Important Things Women Don’t Know About Men

 It’s true, men are complicated and confusing. Noah Brand clears up five common misconceptions.

The title is, to be fair, an overgeneralization. These things are not universally true of all men, and there definitely are women out there who know and understand some or all of them. By and large, though, these are five areas where communication between the two most popular genders tends to break down on grounds of incomprehension. Women, this might help explain a few things.

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1. We are starved for compliments.

There’s an old rule men learn about flirting with women: if a woman’s pretty, don’t expect to impress her by telling her so. People have been telling her that every single day since puberty, and it no longer even registers as anything other than background noise.

On the other hand, most men have never been told they’re pretty. Or attractive at all. We’re supposed to derive value from our success and careers, not our looks, and there is an overwhelming cultural narrative that we are the wanter, not the wanted, the pursuer, not the pursued, the desiring, not the desirable.

Tell a man (other than Ryan Gosling) that he’s pretty, and you will have his undivided attention. You may well be the first person ever to say that to him. Do not assume that an attractive man knows he’s attractive. The opposite is probably the case.

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2. We are not more shallow than women are.

Sure, some guys only go for women who look like magazine advertisements. Some women do the same thing with guys. But when most women get together with their trusted friends and talk about men, there’s a rich diversity of attraction that gets talked about. They’ll talk about a guy’s sexy voice, or the way he holds them in his sleep, or the look on his face when he’s passionate about something, or the lines of his hands. When they do talk about the face and the body, it’s not all sharp cheekbones and ripped abs, there’s all kinds of types that different women find attractive for their own reasons.

And yet there’s a stereotype that men don’t do the exact same thing. Believe me, we do. When actual grown-up men get together and talk girls, there’s an awful lot of “I love the way she tells the truth, just straight-out with no bullshit.” and “It’s the freckles. I cannot resist her freckles.” and “When she giggles a certain way I just want to jump her right there.”

Oh, we do dig the physical aspects, too, very much so, but again, it’s not about the women in magazines and commercials. Grown men can tell the difference between an airbrushed plastic image designed by a marketing department, and a real live woman. We have a very wide range of tastes and types in terms of what we find sexy in a woman, and anyone who tells you different is probably trying to sell you something.

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3. There’s a reason for that emotional repression.

I’m often surprised by how little most women know about the experience of being a teenage boy. It really shouldn’t be surprising; there’s almost no realistic depictions in media of teenagers of any gender. I mean, when was the last time you saw a teenage girl on TV or in a movie acting like teenage girls act in real life?

Short version: testosterone is a hell of a drug. Those who’ve taken it as adults as part of a gender transition tend to report intense cravings for physical catharsis, flashes of inexplicable rage, and similar effects. And that’s taking it on purpose, knowing that it’s a drug, with an adult level of brain development and emotional maturity. Now imagine that happening to you without warning when you’re thirteen and have no idea what’s going on.

Almost every adult man walking around spent at least part of his adolescence dealing with sourceless, purposeless anger and a desire for violent catharsis. It’s like having a little devil on your shoulder constantly making the same unhelpful suggestion.

“I don’t know how I’m going to deal with this test Friday, I can’t cope.”

“Have you considered… VIOLENCE?”

“Shut up, shoulder devil, nobody asked you. Hmmm, what do I want for lunch…”

“Have you considered… VIOLENCE?”

“Shoulder devil that is NOT EVEN A FOOD.”

And so on. We spend years learning that our immediate emotional responses to things are absolutely not to be trusted. The first response to an emotional impulse must be to ignore it and repress it, just for safety. The men who didn’t learn that reflex? They’re the ones with criminal records for assault.

Once we mature out of adolescence, the hormones calm down and we’re fine, but at that point the cultural conditioning has been drilled in beyond repair, a million repetitions of “man up” and “crying is for girls” and on and on and on. What was a safety precaution in high school becomes a socially mandated norm, and that’s why, over the course of my life, I’ve shed more tears over the “Marseillaise” scene in Casablanca than I have over my mother’s death. (Though to be fair, I’ve seen Casablanca probably twenty times, and my mother’s only died once.)

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4. We are sick of being success objects.

This is one of those things most men don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about. It’s a nameless pain, an unspoken discontent that eats away at far too many men. Just as women too often feel defined solely by their looks and their dress size, so too are men taught that our worth as human beings comes from our career, our bank balance, our success.

All those gold-digger jokes, all those lines about “So what if he’s short—he can stand on his wallet”… we know on a deep level that they’re not jokes. Those lines about how the job of a husband and father is keeping the bills paid—we understand those. We know that our attractiveness, our worth, our contribution to our families is all about how much money we can make. And it’s exhausting.

Some guys get resentful, thinking that even their loved ones just see them as a walking wallet. Some guys get tired, feeling like no matter what they make, it’ll never be good enough. Some guys spend their whole lives ashamed, having had it beaten into them that they’re only worth what they’ve got in the bank, and taking poverty or financial reversals as a deep personal failure. It eats away at us daily in a thousand little microaggressions, all the ways we’re made to feel Not Good Enough, when what they mean is Not Rich Enough.

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5. Yes, we actually do need to adjust ourselves like that.

This one’s less of a major emotional issue, but seriously, enough with the jokes about how weird and gross it is. The equipment shifts around, it changes shape and size, it chafes, and it is very very sensitive. When it gets uncomfortable, it gets very uncomfortable indeed, so cut us a little slack, could you?

 

Photo—NeilsPhotography/Flickr

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About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

Comments

  1. Dear Noah. I truly appreciate what you have written. Thank you for this insight into men. Made me really think and smile in appreciation of the men I have known and how shocked some were when I told them they were beautiful/handsome. I also smiled when I read the description of who you are. Nicely done. Shared on my Twitter and Facebook accounts and I am looking forward to my friends commenting on it.

  2. Well if White Men (the ones in power) granted equal rights to minorities including women then it would be different wouldn’t it? If there are 124 million white women in this country then they should be the most represented and have the largest margin of opportunity by the current ideology. Men are just as superficial as women sometimes worse just about different things so that’s a case by case.

    • why did you just get so defensive? i don’t think there was any blame in this article at all. and your argument is kind of tough to follow

    • Mmm.. I guess you missed the point of the article. It talks about peer pressure and meeting standards but there’s no hint about any political POV. Your answer is full of it, tough.

    • White Man says:

      Done!
      As a white man, I grant women and minorites equal rights!

  3. Noah, A friend of mine (woman) drew my attention to this. Generally a lot of favourable comment on the ensuing FB discussion, but dispute of Point 3. I joined late, and added this:

    “Regarding his 3rd para: “There’s a reason for that emotional repression.”

    My quibble is – and it’s a big one – Repression of ‘male energy’ starts a lot earlier than the teen years, and is learned from adults via direct messages (often enforced with violence) – mainly from dads or the nearest surrogate male role model.
    Either I was abnormal, or I experienced the norm: no sudden or even gradual buildup of desire-to-be-violent due to testoserone. NONE.
    What this guy was saying I was like: “Huh? *What*!?”

    Male violence, in my opinion, stems from a sense of being powerless – and that stems from a life-long disempowerment by parents and society – the suppression of our natural masculinity – and more importantly the suppression or more precisely the utter absence of any messages of happy self-acceptance of masculinity. Instead (and I generalise) we learn to feel ashamed both of our strengths (gusto, creativity, messiness, curiosity, etc) and our ‘weaknesses’ (empathy, sadness, delicacy, grace, love of kittens, vulnerability, tears).
    Any violence as teens might better be attributed to the desire to assert SOMETHING into this confusing social landscape. “Where’s the REAL me? I’m becoming a man – but fuck it I’ve no idea what that really is!!”

    The men I know who actively engage with this change, and ‘pay it forward’ to the next generation via initiation retreats and school talk – they do give teen boys a real sense of the answers they seek. Saves a lot of skinned knuckles and court appearances and occasionally funerals.

    I’d like to see him rewrite point 3.”

    (The men I refer to work here in South East Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) . I’ve attended dozens of events here over the years. They’re a good mob. LOT of respect for women and the feminine even as we reclaim and celebrate the masculine. Comfortably aligned with the equivalent women’s network.)

    Cheers, Ged.M

    • Yes! A voice of reason. That didn’t sit well with me either, but the rest of the article is fantastic. I really enjoyed this. Thanks:)

  4. Suzana Alves says:

    The “There’s a reason for that emotional repression” is scary. I do not think I want to live with someone that has so much urge to be violence. Someone 3x my strength and sexually attracted to me… and that violent. No. Never again. But I get that is the norm now. That breaks my heart though.

    The “We are sick of being success objects” is also weird. Most women are very open about how much their bfs/husbands matter to them, and it is most of the times not about his money at all. Most women work and want a man that will put emotional effort and will also take care of the house and the kids. So no, it is not all about how much money you make.

    I will be sure to compliment my male family members more from now on. And no, men in general are still much more shallow than women, sorry lol. And hypocritical as well – they do not want the hairy pits and legs while having it themselves.

    • You obviously came into this with your opinions pre-decided, unable (more importantly unWILLING) to modify them, or even see them challenged. You not only took the time to argue against this, but you used it as an excuse to strengthen your conviction that your misconceptions are correct and unassailable. That alone frightens me more than any of the pointless urges I was forced to repress. It breaks my heart that you would be unquestioningly trusted to raise any boy unlucky enough to share a home with you.

      Sleeping with the enemy? Try being raised by her.

      • Suzana Alves says:

        Let me see if I got your points.
        Yes, of course I came with many opinions. Everyone who is an adult have their formed opinions, that can change or not. Now about modifying them… sure I could, I just don’t see any reason to do so, at least not with this article or your comment.
        What opinions (“misconceptions” as you said) you believe “should” be modified – in your opinion? On the violence matter, he said it all. On the “value because of money” I see things differently in the real world. I am sorry if men will believe the lies they love to tell themselves, or take the minority as a majority, but they are wrong. And on the shallow part, that is also clear and obvious. I am still to see a guy who will accept a woman as hairy as him and who puts as little effort into her looks as he does. Maybe less than 1% will, but that is not the general rule.
        Now that you believe that makes me some kind of “enemy” of males, that is funny actually. But maybe you were just too sensitive that day, so I won’t judge. By the way, just out of curiosity: raising a girl would be fine, you believe? Because you only mentioned boys and all… I mean, just so if I ever get to adopt a child I know the best gender for me not to become their enemy or anything like that. ;)

  5. Well.. thank you!
    It seems weird that I truly din’t know all of the things written in this article, as in I felt I should have known them… Thank you for the honesty!

  6. Bluecat says:

    Yeah, testosterone, that’s the reason. All the guys that beat & abused their girlfriends or vandalized the neighbors’ houses & cars were just helplessly poisoned by the natural hormones every single male has. I’ve known some calm, trustworthy males that had the exact same hormones as the ones who were abusive, dangerous idiots. The thing that separates them, barring mental illness or substance problems, is a moral character with a respect for themselves & others & grow up to be responsible & worthy gentlemen. What a crock to blame all your problems & the trail of destruction you leave on natural body chemicals. Same goes for the lack of emotion. Some people just don’t have compassion/empathy for others, nor do they care about anyone but themselves. Those are the cheaters & ones that don’t ever commit to a relationship.

    • Hey dude, literally everything you do is based on horomones and stuff in your head, regardless, I tend to believe that every negative show is caused by an inner hurt or fear of hurt. it just gets twisted and distorted the more time it spends sick. And I’d much rather that everyone “bad” was just everyone “sick” because you can make sick well again, but you can’t turn a 0 into a 1.

  7. You really did yourself a disservice by leading with this:

    “On the other hand, most men have never been told they’re pretty. Or attractive at all. We’re supposed to derive value from our success and careers, not our looks.”

    Cry me a river. I wish I was judged on something as meaningful and within my control.

    • Hey Kelly-

      I can tell you’re hurting- that’s what you’re trying to communicate. You need compassion for the pain you’ve been under for a long time, same as almost every woman. The ones who fail to give you that compassion fail to do so because they too are in pain.

      When you say “as meaningful and within my control”, there’s a little bit of misunderstanding of many men’s perspectives. Noah is proving right now that he doesn’t care about success so much- he wished it didn’t define him. That isn’t meaningful to him, and it may be partially under his control, but it requires so much work- why should love and acceptance need that much work? Just as how many women wished their looks didn’t define them, and that’s not meaningful to them. But the grass is always greener. I can relate to seeing a beautiful woman, or man, walking down the street and wishing so hard I could be like that. To have people fawning over me. Of course, it would get boring in a week and threatening after years, as you’ve probably experienced. But all this situation proves is that men crave acceptance and love. Women crave acceptance and love. We all do. I hope you get the acceptance and love you need too.

      Thanks for hearing me out.

  8. oblomov7 says:

    The emotional repression isn’t always about violence. I recall being teased in junior high school that every time I put my hands in my pockets (an ordinary habit for an awkward teenager), I was “playing with myself,” as it were. Needless to say, this stopped me from putting my hands in my pockets, or talking about anything even remotely emotional, like my family problems or whatever.

    • ” I recall being teased in junior high school that every time I put my hands in my pockets (an ordinary habit for an awkward teenager), I was “playing with myself,” as it were.”
      Ahahahaha! :D Life was really hard, I see! :P

      But really, you are being super totally sarcastic when you say that was such a big, BIG emotional repression that you even stopped talking about family problems, right? Right? Come on dude.

  9. Robbie Knight says:

    I loved this article and it addressed one of my anxieties as a woman, because most of the statements I’ve heard from emen in my life concerning femala attractiveness made the search image of desireability sound very narrow. Singles ads, (which I haven’t read for decades, lucky me) are very narrow. There seems in our culture to be ONE kind of body type men like and if you aren’t one of the demi-goddess 5% who naturally HAVE it, you’re out of luck. You’ll always be treated like a side dish, when you do manage to get the attention of a guy you like at all. This was my complex for a long, long time and I carried a tremendous amount of anxiety and resentment around with it.

    I wish I had read and believed this at a much younger age, or been stronger in the face of all the criticisms and insults I was privy to. But EVEN SO, the truth you describe in this article won out. My boyfriend now genuinely likes the way I look; he never lets me forget the fact. And I never let him forget how hot HE is.

    This article, and some of the comments, led me to a better understanding of just how the pain we inflict on each other comes back at us. At some point in these arguments, somebody always has to “pull a Gandhi” and send up a white flag, end the blaming, end the hurt.

    Breaking the cycle is the toughest part. But articles like this one really help.

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