The Dark Side of Women’s Requests of Progressive Men

 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.

Mundy writes:

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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More by Mark Greene:

Why Men’s Friendships Can Feel Empty

What Are You Doing To A Man When You Call Him A Good Provider?

And Then I See Him Laughing—A Father’s Message for the New Year

Touch Isolation: Insisting Boys Learn Independence Creates an Isolating Trap for Men

The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men of Touch

Boys and Self-Loathing: The Conversations That Never Took Place

Our Society’s Brutal Economic Message to Straight Men About Expressing Gender Differently: You’d Better Not…

The Lego Rebellion, Vladimir Putin and the “You Might Be Gay” Dinner Conversation

The Last Late Show With My Father

Image of Unhappy Worried Woman by Shutterstock

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene is an Emmy Award winning animator and designer. He blogs and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. There are many opportunities available to create the type of changes in society that would benefit both men and women. One thing seems clear, unilateral approaches, like that of feminism, don’t work. Their approach is reliant upon exascerbating divisions based on the selective condemnation of gender bias. What one side of the gender coin does impacts the other, for better or worse. In the new world where the unpredictably work and career are increasingly defining both men and women, flexilibilty of identity and role are essential.

    • [email protected] says:

      “unilateral approaches, like that of feminism”

      Ummm… which approach would that be? There is no single “feminist” strategy for fighting entrenched gender inequality – although lumping feminism into one narrow definition and then dismissing it certainly helps keep male supremacy in place.

      • Agreed. There is nothing unilateral about feminism. It is a wide ranging and extremely diverse ideology that runs the gamut of social and political strategies. You might as well claim that Christianity’s approaches are unilateral.

        • The only thing that’s unilateral about feminism is that they want equality without responsibility

      • Michael Rowe says:

        Lumping “men” into one narrow definition, then dismissing them, certainly keeps the “male supremacist boogeyman” in place. And it’s a stock tactic.

  2. @ ccd: I think the point you raise cuts to the core of the primary problem men have with feminism; it’s lack of consistency and habit of ignoring blatant double standards on myriad issues relative to role changes and equality. Feminism”s lack of commitment to being held accountable for these mistakes is part of the problem.
    It is devastating to tell one’s husband he should be the SAHD only to later discover that because he did exactly what you asked of him, to make this great sacrifice, that he is no longer attractive to you. All men want to know is what are the new rules and once they have been agreed upon that there will be accountability and ownership. Throwing ones hands up and saying, ” BUT I DIDN’T KNOW!” isn’t enough. If one claims to be a leader and then sets an agenda FOR CULTURE THAT LEADS TO MORE PROBLEMS, they should be held accountable. This, in turn, earns respect

    • Megan Sailsbury says:

      To both posts, I wouldn’t say it’s fair to blame feminism, which is rather diverse. Rather, this is an issue some women (and their partners) work through, regardless of -isms.

      • Megan, I agree, and thank you for your perspective here.

        There are plenty of feminists, myself and many others (some of whom are men) included, who believe that the liberation from oppressive gender roles depends on men & women working together. This entails willingness to work together and carve out time and space for compassionate dialogue to co-create a new paradigm.

        Everyone should be allowed to be a whole person. When we can do that, we can raise healthy children and create a more welcoming world for them to also explore and discover the fullness of who they are. That’s my version of feminism, anyhow. In the words of Germaine Greer, ” The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but fraternity”.

        Anytime one partner finds themselves resenting their significant other, that person has personal work to do. Ideally, that person also possesses the courage to work it out without blaming or condemning their partner, feminism or anything else.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    One big question is, SO WHAT if that woman loses respect for you when you show your true self? If she asked for you to reveal your true self and you do and she doesn’t like it, then ultimately you are much better off without her. Her respect for you isn’t really respect for you if it’s based on an illusion that you’re maintaining. No man should feel like he has to keep a woman’s respect at all costs, especially if the cost is playing a role that’s not true to who you are.

    On some level, it may not even matter WHY her feelings have changed or whether she’s being fair or not, or consistent or not. At the end of the day, someone else’s disillusionment is their problem, not yours.

    If she makes a request for you to more of a certain way, and you like it and she regrets it, then she has to deal with that. Maybe she should go off and deal with that somewhere else? It’s possible that her temporary loss of respect for you is simply one of the prices you have to pay for living an authentic life.

    • While I agree with you in spirit this is still something that is worth discussing. We often talk about how men are having trouble adjusting to a world where gender roles are no longer the same. But much less talked about is the reaction some women have when men try to be “modern men”. They often find themselves wanting someone more traditionally masculine, leaving men in an odd position.

  4. How do you have a relationship with someone who isn’t emotional and engaged?

    • I would suggest that my mother’s generation did it more often than not. In some cases it was the woman who was not emotionally engaged, in some cases the man. Men often cheated. Women withheld. Go back before birth control or further. Generational patterns were set that are still playing out.

  5. Megan Sailsbury says:

    Forgot to subscribe.

  6. One of the reasons men get so emotionally dependent, I’m going to suggest, is not because we’re emotionally fluent; it’s because we’re still very narrow about whom we can be emotionally fluent with, that so much emotional burden gets placed on our partners. Does that suggestion resonate with anyone?

    I mean, ironically, as much as I complain that ex-girlfriends can pick up a new boyfriend within a week, and it always takes me at least a year (and I know I whinge about that a lot) it means I actually am not burdened with a fear of being single in the same way as most women are – being single holds no terrors for me – I’ve been there before. So in that sense I am not emotionally dependent in terms of being clingy, but in terms of laying emotional baggage on girlfriends when I have them – I know I’m guilty; and a lot of that is because she is the only person I feel I can be open with. Area for personal development identified! :-)

    • I’m going on 5 years myself. It has taken me a very long time to recover from my last marriage but I have friends that have to line up a boyfriend before they break up with the one they have. What you’re saying has a lot of truth, at least for some.

  7. Eduardo García says:

    Interesting article, good thing I found it before tackling the subject for an article of my own. I was actually discussing this last night when thinking about what to write on. Women love to say how sensitive men are sexy, yet every time they find a sensitive man, they drop them into the Friendzone!
    Worst yet, they take that agressive go getter alpha male and change his ways. If they break up, now they have a sensitive man crying all over, blaming the fact that he became sensitive for what?

    I am not promoting the Macho man, but removing the Warrior out of the Gentleman might not be such a good idea out of the Romantic Comedies that promote the sensitive man.

    • Good article that of course only scratches the surface of the social, biological and cultural of the relations between men and women. Part of it is that we’re not far enough along in the change to see something else. Many women were raised in both a traditional home yet in the world of the feminist perspective. So on one hand they want all that but don’t realize there’s a trade off. I want what I’m comfortable with. My dad was unemotional, breadwinner etc, and I want you to Ber that until I don’t.

      Men are just the reverse. Raised the same, getting their cues from dad yet at the same time trying to learn the softer side of themselves and how to balance that expression. Truly committed feminists do more clearly state the breaking of the gender boundaries. I just think there aren’t enough of them who understand what that commitment really entails.

      In most cases I have no issue being myself. I am sensitive and a feeling man, always have been. My wife gets me for the most part but every once in awhile thinks I should be more masculine as she expects that to be. Especially around others which I find most interesting, like she’s somewhat embarrassed that I don’t be more like them. But when were alone I don’t feel that. So I say the hell with it and try to be as consistent to myself as possible. If she doesn’t like that, and doesn’t really work that out for what’s inside her then I can’t help that and we then deasl with whatever fallout remains. Really not big of a deal.

  8. I think people continue to habour the WRONG idea about feminism and what it stands for. You are thinking of the olden day feminism while the modern day feminism looks different. To help you understand, here is a qoute and a link to a great site about what modern day feminism is about.

    “Letting Him Make All the Moves vs. Doing What You Feel

    In popular culture and society, there’s this idea that even though women have made a lot of gains, they still shouldn’t be the person to initiate things in romantic or sexual relationships, particularly with men.

    Women and feminine-presenting people are supposed to be the ones to be asked out, not the askers. They aren’t supposed to pay for a first date. They aren’t supposed to propose marriage.

    Basically: Women and feminine-presenting people aren’t supposed to be active in relationships.

    And if they are, it’s seen as foreign, and they are scolded for taking the masculinity (read: power) away from their partner.

    And there’s this myth that says that feminism is the opposite of this – that women are supposed to be in charge, that the feminine is hailed as “better” – but that’s not true either.

    Feminism isn’t about female domination.

    Feminism is about people of all genders being able to do the same things that straight, cis-men can do – without facing social consequences for doing so.”
    http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/12/relationship-vs-feminist-ideals/?utm_source=Everyday+Feminism+Subscription&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=c1662bfd16-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_term=0_d19c2176ed-c1662bfd16-91525157

    My best link on the topic of what is feminism about:http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/05/why-not-say-everyday-humanism-instead-of-everyday-feminism/

    Other link: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/11/feminism-its-common-sense/?utm_source=Everyday+Feminism+Subscription&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=c1662bfd16-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_term=0_d19c2176ed-c1662bfd16-91525157

    • Mark Greene says:

      I’m only sorry that this conversation so quickly became one about feminism. Not my intention at all. Some posters are very quick to attack feminism as the source of all problems. It is neither the source of all problems nor the solution to all problems. It is a diverse and very complex network of ideas that, like any ideology, can be used to hurt or heal.

    • “olden day feminism”? Are you referring to a few decades ago when feminists were fighting for the right to vote? Or in the 70s when feminists were fighting for the right to sign a lease or a bank loan without our husband’s or father’s signature?

      Yeah, thankfully THOSE stupid feminists aren’t around anymore.

  9. [email protected] says:

    I have seen this happen in heterosexual relationships as well. The current gendered power imbalance produces both male and female identities. Women do need to confront their own sexist conditioning as well as men.

  10. I take offense with some of you overusing the word “feminism.” Why the negative connotation toward that word?
    I have always considered myself a feminist, but now have a word for the rampant inequalities women face.
    Feminists are not all nazi-feminists who burn their brasand hate all men. The word “feminist” to me means being a woman
    living in a world of degradation, patriarchy and inequality and having to march and protest against the “war on women”. If you think there isn’t a war on women, you’re not paying attention. Moving backward in our “fight” is dismaying, to say the least.

    I would have given my right leg to have a husband who was more engaged and more interested in our family and what it took to be the glue that held the family together. He was a “traditional” man of the fifties
    who thought his only role in life was to earn enough money to buy our love. He had little respect for women and their powerful, strong role in society and wouldn’t/couldn’t allow his emotional side to show, as he thought it a sign of weakness. It was easier to remain disengaged in order to remain a “man”.

    I’m hopeful, though. My sons and sons-in-law being of the younger generation and being the breadwinners
    have somehow come to the realization that family is so much more important than the almighty dollar.
    They are much more hands-on than the men of my generation and that’s a good thing.

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