Mark Greene asks, “Do some women who encourage men to be more emotional and engaged, end up losing respect for the men who do so?”
Late last night, I followed a series of tweets by GMP Editor Joanna Schroeder who was in a conversation about men and the expression of emotions.
At one point Schroeder said the following:
I’m having a hard time formulating all my issues here. It boggles my mind that we’ve been asking [men] to be more emotional and engaged, and when they become emotional and engaged we say, “That’s too much!” I mean, talk about expecting perfection. Life is growth and effort.
I went to sleep thinking about a question which haunts me on an ongoing basis. For all of us. Culturally. And that question is: Do some women who encourage men, as Joanna says, to “be more emotional and engaged” end up losing respect for the men who do so?
I admit it could take a decade or two to unpack all the implications of the phrase “be more emotional and engaged”. This request by women to men covers a vast range of relational, emotional, and functional markers. It means very different things to different people. I take it to mean, at its base, that men are 1) being asked to increase emotional communication and 2) address basic issues of fairness in how gender roles in households are organized. If the stereotypical 1950′s dad worked his job and did little to help raise the kids or clean the house, the modern man is asked to be much more engaged, and in some cases to take over the home and child rearing while wives pursue their careers.
What percentage of women are actually asking some variation on this of their men? Is this request coming out of feminist quarters, or is it a function of the breakdown of gender silos, or what exactly? They’re good questions, but regardless of the answers, I think we can all agree the trend is out there.
So, if I ended my day thinking about the tweets Joanna sent, I ran smack into the other bookend this morning—a book review by Liz Mundy of the San Francisco Chronicle. She is reviewing a novel by British author Rachel Cusk titled Aftermath: On Marriage and Seperation.
Not long ago, in an online blog of the Wall Street Journal, a wife made a confession. A high-earning editor and the breadwinner in her family, she admitted that she resents her husband for being supportive and domestically hands-on. Far from being grateful that he makes her job and family life possible by taking on the role of primary caregiver to their son, she feels burdened and jealous. While some of her objections are fair – supporting a household is scary, as men have long known – others, she acknowledged, aren’t.
Her piece is a reminder that women, like men, can be emotionally retrograde even as they are progressive and ambitious; it’s not always men who have trouble adapting to female achievement and female earning.
The same dynamic is at work in “Aftermath,” Rachel Cusk’s bleak and rather bravely unsympathetic memoir of marital dissolution. Cusk, a British novelist, sketches a scenario whereby she maneuvered her husband into the role of househusband, then scorned him for occupying it. She is not sure whom to blame for this radical inconsistency: her feminism, her parents, her schooling, or simply whatever was in the water when she was growing up.
It got me thinking, maybe this whole gender role adjustment thing is a hell of a lot harder than we know. Because it’s not just about men taking on new roles and ways of being, its about women and men unpacking the very real and conflicted emotions the reality of this can create. Its fine for a woman to wish for a husband who will stay home with the kids a support her career. But what if that woman then wakes up one morning resenting her husband for it? Now imagine how he feels.
Is there some vast emotional and sexual landscape that exists in direct conflict with the modern women’s request for men to “be more emotional and engaged?” Do some women struggle with what Mundy calls the emotionally retrograde side; yearning for a more traditional man even as they seek an egalitarian marriage?
It’s a question that begs a larger conversation.
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