In all the ways decorating can feel feminine, men can feel inadequate.
Guys, have you ever been invited by your Mom, sister, or wife to help decorate a Christmas tree, or hang lights outside your home, or really to decorate anything at all, and felt a sense of unease or hesitation towards the task?
Did they make fun of your hesitation by saying “I don’t know why guys don’t like it, what’s the big deal?” And if so did you resent it? Maybe you had the same feeling when your sister—in the same way—made fun of you and your Dad for not hugging goodbye whenever you parted for extended periods and instead shook hands. Maybe you were uncertain as to why it was such a big deal, or whether you wanted to decorate or hug—maybe you wondered if you actually did want to—but I bet you were certain of the intensity of your resistance to it regardless: It definitely was a big deal.
Maybe you felt safe in the partial participation of buying and retrieving a tree because you would provide the money and/or the physical strength and skill of knot tying needed to lift and secure the tree onto the car, but once home faced with all those colorful little ornaments—even the word sounds feminine—including maybe some red and purple or the soft shades of pastels—your unease turned to a frozenness and then to a retreat towards something a little more comfortable, like watching football on TV or even the not-so-comfortable but still more comfortable task of shoveling snow.
You think you could still be helpful outside shoveling snow, but for the love of God don’t make me suspend a Virgin Mary or an angel from a tree. Don’t make me hang a purple or gold colored glass ball with a fragile little wire onto the brittle leaves of a dying tree. Don’t make me wrap two, three or four complementary colored streamers or ribbons around a tree in a criss-crossing pattern or two pairs of perfectly parallel lines. For the love of God don’t make me tie a bow.
You think, “don’t make me do what women do.” You know that’s who will be at the section of the store that carries the extra ornament hooks you need. Before you realized you were five short you thought your discomfort was almost over, but at least your wife is coming, it won’t be that bad. But then as it’s time to leave she realizes she can’t go because, fill-in-the-blank.
You have to go alone and you know all those women will see you and you wonder what they will think about you, but maybe if you get in and out quickly no one will notice, as long as they have enough hooks, or as long as you can find them, but what if they don’t or you can’t and you have to ask for help? What if the closest employee is a man—at least he has to be there for his job—but what will he think about you? Why are you here shopping for decoration supplies? Are you feminine? Are you a man?
You wish you didn’t have to go there. You wish you didn’t have to go to that store or that section but mostly you wish you didn’t have to touch those feelings. They’re the feelings of inadequacy that inevitably come with the belief in the idea that you’re not a man if you exhibit feminine characteristics.
The masculine and feminine divide is at least partially just a reminder of the need for balance between the two categories. The balance shouldn’t necessarily exist between men and women or even within one man or one woman, rather the balance can only exist across the totality of the world. The balance manifests—and can only be maintained, from top to bottom—if we allow ourselves the freedom to be whatever we are. By policing and restricting behaviors we ensure an imbalance as those policed suppress their natural inclinations. As we suppress a true part of ourselves pain is created within and eventually expressed outward against the police and non-police alike, where still more pain is experienced.
For any women reading this it should be obvious that it doesn’t help to make light of how big of a deal it is for us to decorate, or to hug, or to do anything that is associated with the feminine. Part of the reason it’s a big deal is because we can’t even talk about the problem and if we can’t talk about it we definitely can’t understand it and if we can’t understand it we can’t address it. If you as a woman notice our hesitation to be feminine what we need is not to have our fear of inadequacy dismissed, but to have it acknowledged as real and to be supported as men and as people regardless of whether we display feminine behaviors or not. Besides, if you really want to advocate for the value of something you’re better off being serious about why you value it, rather than making a joke about it.
So men, the next time someone invites you to decorate, and it won’t necessarily be a woman like in the exaggerated example above, but the next time you’re invited to decorate or do anything that is associated with the feminine, be aware and if you notice any resistance remember it’s based in the false belief that the masculine and the feminine are like oil and water: they can’t mix within a person, only between persons. You’re a man and you’re a person no matter what ratio of oil-to-water you contain.