Men afraid of women?
It seems like an oxymoron to use the words “men” and “fear” in the same sentence. It’s pretty clear that women are afraid of men and with good reason. Men’s fears of women are more underground, hidden from women and from themselves. Men have done such a good job of hiding their fears and vulnerabilities that even their mothers and lovers don’t how scared they are. Although hidden, these fears are one of the most powerful and pervasive shapers of men’s interior lives and their relationships with women.
Some of men’s fears of women in intimate relationships include:
- Men are afraid of being dominated or controlled by women. The most insulting thing that one man can call another is “pussy-whipped,” suggesting that he is controlled by women, or more precisely, controlled by his need for women.
- Men are afraid of being entrapped by women. Men are socialized to believe that women try to trap men into committed relationships that benefit only women and are detrimental to any man.
- Men are afraid of being exposed as inadequate with women; financially, sexually, emotionally and interpersonally inadequate.
- Men are afraid of being abandoned by women, and not able to take care of themselves without a woman.
If men have all the power, how do they end up afraid of women?
The answer lies in the very beginnings of life. Although things are changing, it is still largely true that children are raised primarily by women.
Long ago, this polarization was largely due to the physical limitations placed on women by gestation and lactation. Yet even as those biological realities diminish in importance, many heterosexual couples remain polarized in a mutually dissatisfactory division of household roles that results in a great deal of resentment on both sides. The ways in which this role polarization has limited women’s lives have long been recognized, but we are also increasingly recognizing the parallel limitations on the lives of men.
Having women provide most of the early nurturing means that boys earliest experiences of intense pleasure, emotional attachment and identification are likely to be with a woman and not a man. In many ways, men yearn for that perfect love for the rest of their lives and resent women for not returning to them what we primitively believe that only women have the power to bestow. This creates a hierarchal vulnerability in heterosexual relationships. Men more readily experience that primitive longing and dependency with women, who can shatter their adult sense of competence and ability to feel OK.
The boy’s task of maturing into manhood is, therefore, in some ways more complicated than his sisters. For a boy, growing into manhood means forsaking his earliest intimate relationship in order to identify with a far more mysterious and powerful figure, his father. His father offers the reward of power and agency in the world in exchange for separation, and in many cases, repudiation of his mother, and by extension, all women. It is made very clear to the young man that any lingering identification with his mother or other women will be a significant obstacle to his entry into the world of men. You can’t be a momma’s boy and a man.
Our culture makes it, in many ways, an impossible conflict for the young man, to simultaneously honor his yearning for the nurturing emotional experiences he experienced with his mother and on some level he believes are available only in relationship with women, and at the same time gain entry to the world or power and privilege offered by his gender. For many men, their compromise is to keep their yearnings for emotional fullness and intimacy well hidden from their brothers who would mock them, hidden from their partners who might abandon them, and hidden from themselves. They move instead to secure their place in the world of men by posturing and insisting that they do not need any woman.
When fathers are emotionally present and engaged in their son’s lives, it can spare them this forced choice. The young man is potentially free to make his way to manhood by integrating the best he can take from both his parents. So, dads, if you want your son to grow up not afraid of women, all you have to do is show up!
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