Men, like women, have the right to feel safe. So what if you made an agreement to have each other’s backs?
I wrote an article a few months ago where I described hearing noises in the middle of the night and expecting my husband to go check them out. It sparked a lively discussion and has been referenced by commenters on other articles as well. To clarify, my point was not that men should risk their lives for women, but that women’s expectations can change. Men don’t have to live under the burden of those expectations if they don’t want to.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in a neighborhood where child molester and serial killer, Arthur Gary Bishop, was known to visit. He had family members who lived nearby, apparently. Instead of learning to “say no to drugs,” I grew up learning secret family code words and never walking anywhere alone. My formative years were steeped in fear.
Bishop was eventually captured, but my fears didn’t subside as I aged. Instead, they amplified. As an adult I’ve been stalked and groped. A man I didn’t know once knocked on every apartment door in my complex trying to locate me; another man broke into my apartment and sat at my kitchen table waiting for me. The day I brought my first baby home from the hospital was the same day they discovered Elizabeth Smart had been taken from her bed in the middle of the night, not far from where I grew up. A man just the other day commented on one of my articles with a hashtag that read: #breakherjaw.
I am more afraid of the dark than anyone I know. I have always longed for the fearless-superhero, knight-in-shining-armor stereotype to be true.
And yet, I’m not a little girl anymore. In fact, I’m a mother to four little boys – boys who will one day feel pressure to be someone else’s knight-in-shining-armor, to check out that noise in the middle of the night. Despite my ever-present fears, I know that boys and men get scared too; and men, like women, have the right to feel safe.
So what are they supposed to do? Women like me want men to be fearless, but fears keep them safe.
Although this seems to be a no-win situation, the solution is not as elusive as it appears. Let’s imagine for a minute that you’re a man asleep in bed. Your wife hears something that frightens her and she leans over to wake you up with wide eyes and a pounding heart. You sit together for a minute and hear it again. What do you do?
You have a few choices:
- You could fulfill your “manly duty” and go check it out, risking yourself while your wife cowers in bed.
- You could cower in your bed while your wife risks herself to check it out.
- Or, you could look at her and say something like, “You’re right, there’s definitely something making a noise out there, let’s figure out what to do,” and then discuss your options.
As scared as I am of the dark, my first choice is still option three. This type of interaction is respectful. It invites your wife into a partnership and communicates that you value her as an equal. As someone who panics a lot, I can tell you there’s nothing that soothes me as quickly as hearing someone say, “We can figure this out.” One brief phrase that communicates respect, responsibility and reassurance.
If my husband were writing this article, he might tell you he would rather risk his own safety than see his family at risk. I can appreciate that because I feel the same way. There’s nothing worse than worrying about someone you love—which is why I would prefer to face a challenge with my husband than watch helplessly from the sidelines.
In my home, it’s possible that, together, we would formulate a plan for my husband to check out the noise while I check on the children, a logical choice since he’s twice my size. The point is that we would make the plan together, as partners, as equals, as a team. No assumptions would be made, no expectations set just because he’s a man.
Life happens, of course, and we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond to them. When men and women handle dangerous or stressful situations together, without making assumptions based on gender, it allows both people to act out of choice, rather than obligation, and it breeds respect for both.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.