If we think about how we raise boys versus how we raise girls in this country, it is easy to see we teach and treat them quite differently.
That gap has left women struggling for the same opportunities men have always had. For years women had to create and learn the tools they hadn’t been given. Looking at men, while it seems society lavished them with opportunity, it has long neglected to give them tools as well.
Don’t get me wrong, men have received the bulk of attention and resources of our culture, but they haven’t been given tools. They haven’t been given a broad set of diverse skills for success. They have been given weapons, blunt ones, and taught to use them to conquer their way to the life they desire.
To take what they want.
To never accept no.
To push through pain, fear, and loss.
These blunt tools do one of two things throughout their lives. They stay blunt, allowing males only a singular way forward, by force, by strength. To be used over and over, regardless of the nature of the environment. To be stopped only when interacting with a stronger or more significant weapon.
Or those blunt tools become sharp. Honed and shaped through tutelage, attention, and focus into deadly and precise instruments which become incredibly proficient at their assigned task. A more surgical type of success with no fewer victims.
As with all things, this binary description does not describe all men, but rather the narrative taught to boys for as long as we can remember. Those boys who learned otherwise had to be strong enough to resist these narratives, or been fortunate enough to be taught by somebody to reject them.
This narrative gets taught and shared often and in unexpected ways as children; like a game of telephone with lasting consequences. I remember being in high school and asking a friend of mine if he used one hand or two hands to open a girls bra. And I’ll never forget how he responded.
I just rip it.
I was horrified. It seemed violent. Wholly unnecessary. Definitely, something I wasn’t ever going to be able to do. But that same mindset is used to approach so many experiences as boys get older. If you’re not sure how something should be done, go in with all available force.
We use war metaphors to describe the way we should play sports and we use sports metaphors to describe the way we should do business. So is it any wonder we see an excessive and unacceptable level of aggression from men in business?
Where are the less violent and more insightful metaphors?
You might occasionally hear somebody refer to a certain scenario as a “chess match” but that’s as far as the metaphor goes. I have never heard somebody say:
Looks like we’ll have to go Queen to H4 on this one.
Oh, yea we’ve got a real Albin Countergambit on our hands.
No of course not. And for the record, I had to look both of those moves up and I still don’t know what they mean. We talk about our opponents being “down for the count” which means somebody got punched so hard they can’t get up. Our masculine language is hyper-masculine. And our traditionally feminine language? It is, of course, an insult.
The most obvious of course is how we call weak men pussies. Which, as an article from the Huffington Post last year points out, really makes no sense.
Our language is arguably our most important tool as human beings. Our ability to communicate, to say what we think and feel and to be understood is invaluable. But for one to say what they think and feel one must first understand their own thoughts and emotions. And that is not something traditionally rewarded for men. We were not encouraged to be reflective or introspective as boys.
Facebook’s original motto was “Move fast and break things.” They certainly did. Perhaps they would have been better off with a motto like “Move as fast as you can after giving careful and deliberate consideration to the ramifications of your actions to the millions of people who are in the process of becoming incredibly addicted to what you make.”
Definitely not as catchy.
We were taught to be men of action, not men of thought or emotion. The word emotional became pejorative when discussing males. There was only a handful of archetypal character attributes celebrated for males: Courage, strength, honesty, loyalty, etc.
When you are taught to plow ahead at all costs you end up absorbing all costs, in ways you cannot immediately understand. It is no different than the other ways in which we treat men as disposable.
We have taught our men to become soldiers, to become killers, and peacekeepers, but we have not taught them how to transition out of those roles once their service is over.
We encourage athletes to do “battle” on the gridiron and completely ignore their health concerns once their contracts are up.
We have also done little to hold ourselves accountable for walking out on wives, children, and familial responsibilities. In those cases, we dispose of ourselves.
To be a man is to inhabit extremes. And for the vast majority of us, the extremes are not where life happens. It happens in the middle, between success and failure, between where we’ve been and where we’re going.
But that is not where we are taught to operate.
Boys are taught to be heard, to speak up, to be understood, to share their point of view, to be confident and loud. Those behaviors don’t drive home a mutual understanding. Boys aren’t learning how to listen and they certainly aren’t being rewarded for their compassion.
Boys are taught to be providers, yet they are not taught how to be provided for. How to receive and to grieve. How to be patient and show gratitude. How to accept a secondary role.
We do not teach men to be caretakers, to be emotionally sensitive to their partners and children. I’ve heard fathers mention they are “watching” or “babysitting” their kids that weekend. You are not merely watching or babysitting, you are, or should be, taking care of, nurturing, spending time with your child.
We do not give our boys the emotional freedom to explore their feelings, and we don’t give them the language to do so. We test for IQ but not EQ.
Could the suicide rate for men be 4x higher because they do not feel they have the ability to solve their problems? Could it be because the mental and emotional health of men is something that makes us uncomfortable?
Whether or not there is a crisis for men right now really doesn’t change the simple fact that men need help. And that means it is OK to need help in the first place. Men should be encouraged to be more expressive, communicative, and honest about what they are going through and who they are becoming.
Only then will we learn to choose and use tools over weapons, and to use those tools to better our world.
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