shame, anger, alienation, and other hallmarks of the masculine psyche
April 4, 2016 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest [NYT]: "By the time many young men do reach college, a deep-seeded* gender stereotype has taken root that feeds into the stories they have heard about themselves as learners. Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others."

♂ Learn more about sociology professor and NOMAS spokesperson Dr. Michael Kimmel and Stony Brook University's Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.

♂ On April 1, The Mask You Live In, a 2015 documentary that "follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America's narrow definition of masculinity," was made available for streaming on Netflix. It can also be purchased or rented via the usual suspects.

♂ Also by Andrew Reiner, author of the above-the-fold NYT link: The Tracks of My Tears: One man's quest to have male crying be socially acceptable.

♂ Related, by Sandra Newman for Aeon: Man, weeping – whatever happened to the noble art of the manly cry?

* I know. I KNOW.
posted by amnesia and magnets (272 comments total) 152 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks so much for this post, all of it! I hadn't heard of The Mask You Live In and really want to show that to a young male audience.
posted by thetortoise at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2016


I was recently reading a book about an ATF agent who went undercover in one of the roughest motorcycle gangs in the USA (probably the most hypermasculine enviornment possible). He had come from a messed up family background himself and was raised mostly by his grandmother. During his undercover time, he saw these bikers do some seriously vile shit. However, during his stint his grandmother passed away, and they basically used the truth as a cover story for him to leave town to mourn. When he came back, all his biker bothers came to his house, and lined up to bear hug him and offer their condolences and love. The agent said in the book that this was one of the few times that he actually wished he was his undercover persona.

Just a thought.
posted by jonmc at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2016 [38 favorites]


See also Eyebrow McGee's fantastic comment about masculinity and development of emotional responses in boys as they become young men.
posted by lalochezia at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2016 [31 favorites]


Yeah but that's the point. Men are only allowed to show emotion in a very narrow range of contexts (while, conversely, women are allowed to show only a narrow range of emotions).
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2016 [44 favorites]


(That was to jonmc oops)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2016


Yeah but that's the point. Men are only allowed to show emotion in a very narrow range of contexts (while, conversely, women are allowed to show only a narrow range of emotions).

I'm not neccessarily disagreeing, and I'm certainly not trying to negate anybody else's experience, just offer some thoughts. It's also odd how many country and western (another hypermasculine arena) songs are about crying men, (I'm so lonesome I could Cry, See the Big Man Cry, Tear in My Beer etc).

And I guess part of the comment was also to illustrate that for all their violence, gangs are one of the few places where male-to-male affection i encouraged (in a fucked up way, granted)
posted by jonmc at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Are you surprised at my tears, sir?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:57 AM on April 4, 2016 [21 favorites]


But we socialize this vulnerability out of them.

Socialize is such a gentle term.
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2016 [65 favorites]


From the article
Even at this point in the semester, the students, some of whom had studied gender issues before, seemed blind to their own ingrained assumptions. So his response raised many eyebrows. “It’s like we’re scared,” he said, “that the natural order of things will completely collapse.”

I'm not sure I understand these last few sentences. Is the writer endorsing the idea that patriarchy is the natural order of things? Is he saying that even though they've studied gender issues they still can't see that that men crying disrupts the "natural order"? Or are people raising their eyebrows at the idea that patriarchy is the natural order?

Or am I supposed to take from it that gender norms are so ingrained, that even though they are studying gender issues, it's hard for them to fully understand how powerfully men being sensitive challenges the patriarchy--which is kind of what I assume from the rest of the article, but I am genuinely unsure.
posted by looli at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Previously (SLClickhole)
posted by Schmucko at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Even at this point in the semester, the students, some of whom had studied gender issues before, seemed blind to their own ingrained assumptions. So his response raised many eyebrows. “It’s like we’re scared,” he said, “that the natural order of things will completely collapse.”

I'm not sure I understand these last few sentences. Is the writer endorsing the idea that patriarchy is the natural order of things? Is he saying that even though they've studied gender issues they still can't see that that men crying disrupts the "natural order"? Or are people raising their eyebrows at the idea that patriarchy is the natural order?


I think it has to do with men being raised to be protectors and if the protector falls apart , everything falls apart.
posted by jonmc at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is an interesting subject, but I don't want to talk about it.
posted by clawsoon at 12:30 PM on April 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


Great post. I highly recommend The Mask You Live In (the same filmmakers also did another great one called Miss Representation, which had some of the same experts being interviewed). It's almost worth it just for Joe Ehrmann alone. Here's another good review .
posted by triggerfinger at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


And I guess part of the comment was also to illustrate that for all their violence, gangs are one of the few places where male-to-male affection i encouraged (in a fucked up way, granted)

I disagree - gang recruits do not get this kind of respect and are often shamed for their weaknesses including crying. I have a couple of acquaintances who are former gang members (now work with teens to get them to avoid that life, which is how I met them) and things like beating or killing people and not showing any emotion before or after are common rites of passage.

More to the point - gangs operate like the rest of society, in that whether or not you are allowed to show emotion is directly related to how much respect you have already earned from your peers. An example of this is sport stars - the only moment where crying is really allowed in sport is when you've retired. If you cried over similarly painful moments of your career as a younger player, your mental toughness WILL be questioned.

Thus, trust the patriarchy and the power long enough and you'll earn the right to feel emotion. Not really that much of an improvement.
posted by scrittore at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2016 [13 favorites]


And I guess part of the comment was also to illustrate that for all their violence, gangs are one of the few places where male-to-male affection i encouraged (in a fucked up way, granted)
I disagree - gang recruits do not get this kind of respect and are often shamed for their weaknesses including crying. I have a couple of acquaintances who are former gang members (now work with teens to get them to avoid that life, which is how I met them) and things like beating or killing people and not showing any emotion before or after are common rites of passage.
I think both of these observations coexist out there in reality. E.g. men in the military are conditioned to kill without feeling, and also to be incredibly emotionally attached to one another.
posted by billjings at 12:45 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I believe it's changing. But slowly.
posted by fullerine at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


At a Canadian IKEA cafeteria, I saw a boy toddler, cute curly head of hair and in a fashionable leather jacket, bump his head on a railing. He immediately cries, the way toddlers do. His European mother comes over, but what she does is crouch down, gets the toddler's attention, points her finger at the railing, dramatically slaps the metal bar several times, saying "Bad!". The boy stops bawling, the blood drains from his head and everything's fine again.

This is highly effective emotional control—because it stops the crying! The two of them can go off to order their Swedish meatballs! But it also means that patriarchal values are inculcated early. Blame others and fault things around you, and do not work on owning your anger or fear.

When I am old, and this toddler becomes a full-grown citizen, my society will still be left to wrestle with such worldviews and attitudes as those propagated on that fateful day.

Parents mean well, so I don't merely blame them, because they really are in a bind: in a world where technocratic, globalized society threatens a new order on a daily basis, values that served the parent may be obsolete: inappropriate for their offspring. But then again, isn't this hypercompetitive capitalist world precisely the incentive for communities to teach their children that aggression is not only rewarding, but necessary for survival today?

And so on.
posted by polymodus at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


His European mother comes over, but what she does is crouch down, gets the toddler's attention, points her finger at the railing, dramatically slaps the metal bar several times, saying "Bad!". The boy stops bawling, the blood drains from his head and everything's fine again.

I dunno, this strikes me as a clever bit of parenting. It's certainly better than shaming the boy into not crying, in which case I would agree that patriarchal values are being inculcated, and it's arguably better than teaching the child to "work on owning his own anger and fear," because how would that even work in practice? He hit his head on a metal bar and it hurt! Why not get mad at the bar? Haven't you ever stubbed your toe? A little bit of controlled anger can be the best medicine, and it doesn't necessarily transfer to treating people the same way.
posted by Dr. Send at 1:31 PM on April 4, 2016 [40 favorites]


Yeah, I was trying to figure out why empathizing with her child's pain, helping him direct his hurt in a cause-effect way, and staying with him until he calmed down was somehow an example of inculcating patriarchal values.

You can't really "own your anger and fear" until you've developed the ability to name what you're feeling, why you're feeling it and how you're going to self-soothe from the anger and fear. It's an ongoing process. For little kids, it seems reasonable that the first step is simply being able to grasp cause-effect and to take comfort in someone else until they realize for themselves they'll be okay.
posted by sobell at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2016 [13 favorites]


Because blaming the bar isn't teaching them cause-effect. It's doing the opposite. Think about it.

In cognitive therapy, we know that being upset is the worst time to reason about causality. What the mother could have done was attend to his emotional pain—there are ways to acknowledge it. There was no need to teach the child how to commit what we call an attribution error. This is the transmutation of anger and is the same as the first example given in the NYTimes article. And as I explained, a lot of this has to do with implicit values of the parent versus different values (or toolsets) that can be taught—as pointed out in the article, aspects of education, etc.
posted by polymodus at 1:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


we know that being upset is the worst time to reason about causality

Or try to explain and work out all the complexities of anthropomorphism to a toddler, for that matter.
posted by chambers at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Punishing inanimate objects when children are upset is terrible parenting on multiple levels and I say that as a terrible parent.
posted by GuyZero at 1:51 PM on April 4, 2016 [15 favorites]


Regardless of the quality of the parenting here, I can't see how the behavior of the parent in this example has anything to do with the gender of her child, unless we imagine her behaving differently with a girl of the same age. On its own, it's a single incident involving someone we know very little about about. This isn't exactly an ideal example of how we socialize men to handle their emotions.
posted by teponaztli at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Only a precious few — the University of Massachusetts and Simon Fraser University among them — offer ways for all men to explore their shared struggles. And these don’t exist without pushback. Talk of empowering men emotionally yields eye rolling at best, furious protest at worst — as when the Simon Fraser center was proposed, in 2012, and men and women alike challenged the need for a “safe space” for members of the dominant culture."

I'm really unhappy with the use of the term "empower" here. Becoming more vulnerable is, by definition, something where you feel like you're being disempowered. It's about giving other people the option and ammunition to hurt you. Yes, in the long run it leads to stronger, mort resilient and stable people - but that resilience exists with the understanding that you are vulnerable to other people - you are resilient not because you won't be hurt but because you have the means to recover from being hurt when you inevitably are. In contrast, empowerment is about not being vulnerable to other people, even about minimizing the effect other people can have on us. It's about making people less vulnerable, invulnerable if you will.

I feel like the use of empowerment in the context of people learning to be vulnerable to others and acknowledge all of our emotions fundamentally misses the point an sets up the sort of nasty catch-22 women are already stuck in, where we're supposed to be kind, caring, strong, powerful, invulnerable to the attacks of others... and authentic. The entire point is that while everyone might be some of the above some of the time, none of us are any of the above all of the time. Empowerment has never been useful aimed at women, and I think it's even less useful aimed at men where feelings of being powerful are so central to their damaging culture.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


Chambers makes an apt point, and if I may just reiterate:

This is the transmutation of anger and is the same as the first example given in the NYTimes article.

You had to be there to see the difference in the mother's facial expression (anger!) and the child's (pain!). That's where the disparity lies, and you had to be there to see this transpire. In the Times article they had to show a video to make the point.
posted by polymodus at 1:53 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Punishing inanimate objects when children are upset is terrible parenting on multiple levels and I say that as a terrible parent.

I mean, look how Kylo Ren turned out
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


I'm not sure if I'm qualified to comment about how to parent young men, given that I had no parents and was raised by wolves to treat women like helpless little goddesses.
posted by billjings at 1:58 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's not just a question of showing emotion - some men, are more emotional regardless of socialization, and they live through undue reprimand for it. One is expected to be unwaveringly strong in all aspects, never anxious. It inevitably leads to involuntary feminization, regardless of one's orientation. If you enjoy relations with men, you're obviously a bottom and open to misogynistic rhetoric relating to that. If you're into ladies, you're clearly homosexual and in denial. You will constantly hear the refrain of shitty comments that are commonly directed at women as justification for exclusion, ridicule, or arbitrary place-putting punishment. And always, everyone is a participant: Your mom, your dad, your friends, your romantic partners, your coworkers.

The misogyny highlights the intersectionality of this issue. The prescriptive gender norms for males are inextricably tied to the same ones that hold women down. In fact, the same denigration that is used to dis-empower women appears to be the bludgeon that is used to keep men in line.

I dislike these discussions like the NYT article in the OP, because it tends to be segregated from wider discussions on gender issues and processes of kyriarchy.
posted by constantinescharity at 1:58 PM on April 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


I've written and deleted a bunch of comments on this, but i just wanted to say...

This is important. Thank you for gathering this up. This is really important.

I'm going to be showing this to more than a couple people, and hopefully having some long conversations about it over the next few days.
posted by emptythought at 2:01 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I blame The Cure
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


What's sad is that this masculinity isn't for the benefit of men or women. I think it's for the benefit of the people who want men to suffer and die in coal mines, in factories, and in wars, or waste their short lives away working in competitive, stressful white collar jobs. I doubt we'll get the most honest article on this from an outlet like the New York Times.

It's a method of control: take away one's sense of reality, as in, the truth of an individual's inner life, and then punish them for it, and it becomes much easier to define their reality henceforth. How can people get together to assert their rights, their interests, and their values if they're punished and ostracized for expressing the truth of their inner lives, the foundation of their daily reality?

It's a form of oppression and abuse, and that abuse is sent down the hierarchy to women, then to children, then the dog, cat, mouse, etc.
posted by gehenna_lion at 2:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [64 favorites]


Regardless of the quality of the parenting here, I can't see how the behavior of the parent in this example has anything to do with the gender of her child, unless we imagine her behaving differently with a girl of the same age. On its own, it's a single incident involving someone we know very little about about. This isn't exactly an ideal example of how we socialize men to handle their emotions.

Except you could say the same about the NYTimes example. The "I'm a man!" dad in the article could have been a one-off instance, and yet was used as narrative evidence. The broader point is that patriarchal ideology reproduces itself in many ways in our daily lives, often implicitly so. I think the generality can be useful in helping to bridge the gap.

I understand the concern of lending benefit of doubt as I was merely a bystander. However, I would be surprised if the mother treated a girl toddler the same way. But here's a thing: even if toddler girls are socialized by their parents to react by blaming physical objects, I have a feeling that some theorists could still render that as a patriarchal phenomenon or consequence. Or to put it differently: further down the NYTimes article also explains that infant thru toddler boys specifically are more open to emoting and emotional interaction—it is exactly at this developmental stage where the emotional socialization of men is crucial, and on the terms of the article, the status quo is highly against allowing this process happen in healthy ways, in some respects.
posted by polymodus at 2:19 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the case of "punishing inanimate object" for a small child, I'd say that actually fits right into where they should be in their ethical development - Kohlberg style at least. Stage 1 is Obedience/Punishment; with "don't hurt others" as an ethical axiom, "punishing" the bar for hurting the child makes perfect sense. Psychologically, it serves the same purpose as when I say to various clients that thus and such a situation sucks, or hurts, or whatever - naming the situation can often bring about a sense of relief even without doing anything further because people respond as much to recognition and acknowledgement of their pain as to any ameliorating events (this can be a problem when trying to motivate people for change, but also can help set the foundation for lasting change).
posted by Deoridhe at 2:35 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I confess that I find it hard to see the relevance of the causal power of inanimate objects to a discussion of male socialisation. The parenting trick polymodus refers to is something that parents use for boys and girls (this one isn't particularly gendered in my experience), and it's mostly used to distract the child from their pain and calm them down when they are hurt. The parent's actions in this context aren't intended to be interpreted literally, nor does the child actually do so. Toddlers aren't stupid - they know perfectly well that metal bars are not intentional agents. Parents aren't stupid either - no-one is making an attribution error. It's a pantomime, not an ontology lesson.

There are all sorts of awful things about how boys get socialised, and a lot of really difficult dilemmas for their parents. I'm just struggling to see how this could possibly be one of them.
posted by langtonsant at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


>"let alone expressing it and the resulting alienation"

Woman crying in public: Fulfilling a stereotype. "Maybe her mom died or her credit card was denied."

Man crying in public: Something is seriously wrong. "Maybe he's on drugs, or violent, or crazy. Better give a *wide* berth ... Better to be safe than sorry. Maybe he's just pathetic/weak but I don't want to be near him and be pathetic or weak by association."

The enforced self-suppression of emotion is a huge part of patriarchy acting against men and against women. In the workplace, emotive behavior has consequences for men and for women. Some of men's success in this space can be chalked up to us being meticulously trained in emotional suppression since childhood. Both men and women are punished for breaking the "no crying" rule in the workplace (punished differently) but men have a whole childhood and adolescence of training in emotional suppression to prevent such displays.

I vividly remember an exchange where a manager was ready to make some concessions for a trainee who had had a death in the family and needed to leave training early but still needed to start work on time (you know, to pay the bills). The second that that trainee started to cry, the concessions started to be backpedaled in realtime. These were two women (the manager working under a domineering male supervisor) and working in a non-profit that has a warm and fuzzy outward face. Our environments need to be decoupled from masculine culture before anyone will have emotional safety.
posted by Skwirl at 3:03 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm really unhappy with the use of the term "empower" here. Becoming more vulnerable is, by definition, something where you feel like you're being disempowered. It's about giving other people the option and ammunition to hurt you. Yes, in the long run it leads to stronger, mort resilient and stable people - but that resilience exists with the understanding that you are vulnerable to other people - you are resilient not because you won't be hurt but because you have the means to recover from being hurt when you inevitably are. In contrast, empowerment is about not being vulnerable to other people, even about minimizing the effect other people can have on us. It's about making people less vulnerable, invulnerable if you will.

I'm afraid I don't understand your objection. Men are restricted and trapped by the feeling of not being able to express their own emotions, by the feeling that they are only allowed to exist on a linear spectrum of blank stoicism and violent rage. How is it not empowering to learn that there is a different way, that it's good to be honest about who one is?

Also, I feel like the story of the toddler is turning into a derail.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Whenever I forget the amazing parenting job my parents did with me, I need only remember how my dad would cry when he listened to Prokoviev, how my mother taught me to solve problems by breaking them into a series of tasks at a level in line with my capabilities, how both taught me that there is no subject that cannot be discussed, and how I have never, ever felt like I was not enough of a man, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. I'm shocked, sometimes, when I realize how crippled other men around me are by bizarre drives like a need to save face (for what?) or be seen as big and powerful protectors (just do it, except when you can't) or otherwise register all the myriad codes and dictums and gestures that make the performance of masculinity a good bit more artificial than the contour shading on a drag queen's make-up (drag queens know that they're playing a role).

But when I get frustrated and have to climb dude mountain to get to the root of some stupid thing that wouldn't be an issue if not for ten thousand years of dominator culture, I have to remember that I was lucky, and most weren't.

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2016 [29 favorites]


sonascope: how my mother taught me to solve problems by breaking them into a series of tasks at a level in line with my capabilities .... But when I get frustrated and have to climb dude mountain to get to the root of some stupid thing that wouldn't be an issue if not for ten thousand years of dominator culture

Do the problem-solving lessons from your mother help you when you have to climb dude mountain?
posted by clawsoon at 3:13 PM on April 4, 2016


Whenever these sort of threads roll around, it seems like two things get wildly exaggerated: the social acceptability of expressing anger, and the degree to which mens' emotional policing is just internal.
posted by The Gaffer at 3:16 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


Do the problem-solving lessons from your mother help you when you have to climb dude mountain?

You climb one dude at a time, instead of getting intimidated by the mountain.
posted by sonascope at 3:19 PM on April 4, 2016 [43 favorites]


I'm still working my way through these, but do any of them focus on what parents or society can do to support the next generation of boys?
posted by salvia at 3:34 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


In my experience, crying either by men or women is highly overrated as a sign of true deep emotion. I have seen too many manipulative people of either sex who could cry on cue to elicit a response from their audience, in public and personal life. I am not disputing that men are socialized to be stoic or angry, but the stereotype of the sensitive crying man as somehow more in touch with his feelings or more honest about them than the more reserved type of individual does not really ring true either. I do not find the dramatic display of emotion by either sex a real indicator of how deeply or truly that person feels.
posted by mermayd at 3:41 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


I have a family full of young men, so I'm excited to explore these articles.
I will say that my 16 year old son and his camp friends hug all the time, regardless of gender.
posted by Biblio at 4:11 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


It all goes way back, I could go on far too long. One example: A couple of centuries ago, excess sensitivity stopped careers, and even the 'wrong disease' was a problem. E.g. from WP on John Keats:

"Consumption" was not identified as a disease with a single infectious origin until 1820, and there was considerable stigma attached to the condition, as it was often associated with weakness, repressed sexual passion, or masturbation. Keats "refuses to give it a name" in his letters.....

Now one of the most beloved of all English poets, it wasn't so after his death from TB. Keats's posthumous reputation mixed the reviewers' caricature of the simplistic bumbler with the image of the hyper-sensitive genius killed by high feeling, which Shelley later portrayed.

You can go back through decades to find electronic music that has done very well in most of the Western world, but not in the US. Jarre, huge in Europe in the 70s? Nothing. What was one of the few breakthrough acts in the US? Prodigy. It's not too hard to guess why.
posted by Twang at 4:23 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Deoridhe: "I'm really unhappy with the use of the term "empower" here. Becoming more vulnerable is, by definition, something where you feel like you're being disempowered."

With respect, I think this mistakes the nature of the problem and it comes across as a little dismissive. The thing that disempowers men in this context is not the fact of emotional vulnerability (that's the human condition generally) but the social norms that forbid us from discussing that vulnerability in honest terms and without prevarication.

My experience is one of feeling completely helpless and forbidden to speak about my inner mental world. I have anxieties about my work, my friends or lack thereof. I worry about whether I'm a good enough parent. I worry about whether I make good choices or bad. I sometimes feel so completely overwhelmed by the balancing act of trying to manage family, work, friends etc and feel like I'm failing on all of them. I hate the way that middle age is slowly making my body feel and look run down. Just like women, men have all sorts of complex feelings.

Most women I know have some close friends they can talk to about these things, or they have places like MetaFilter where they feel that they can share their personal stories of vulnerability. Most men I know do not. Speaking only for myself, I find that my ability to voice my anxieties is extremely limited - my partner is the only person that I feel socially permitted to discuss these things with. Even this comment right here feels like I am breaking so many rules, even though I'm not being specific about anything.

Yes, there are no explicit rules preventing it, but even so I feel forbidden to talk about my subjective experience of the world. Just look at this thread. This is a thread that is ostensibly about male experience of the world. We're over 40 comments in and there is an almost complete absence of any male MeFites sharing a personal story about a situation where they felt emotionally vulnerable. Would you expect that to have been the case if this were a thread about women's feelings of vulnerability? Of course not - women feel permitted to talk about these topics. Men do not.

This absence of men's stories of emotional vulnerability is so striking to me that it comes across as a kind of voicelessness. I can't think of a better term than "empowering" to describe an act that gives voice to people's experiences of the world. Even if those people are men.
posted by langtonsant at 4:26 PM on April 4, 2016 [92 favorites]


I have seen too many manipulative people of either sex who could cry on cue to elicit a response from their audience, in public and personal life

I (a man) have been accused of being manipulative because I was crying during an argument - while I was actually feeling absolutely mortified by my reaction. But I think it's nearly impossible for me - and probably for most people - to read about other people's relationship issues on the internet without projecting my own experiences onto the story regardless of whether they fit, so I'm not necessarily arguing with you. (And I think that whether a person cries easily or not only reflects a limited amount of intention so I don't think it's the best proxy for overall emotional openness.)
posted by atoxyl at 4:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


Being a woman, and being "one of the guys" - I can only speak from my adult experience of men and their emotions. YMMV.

My older brother was a police officer- in that world, you are NOT supposed to have anything close to an emotion. He broke with my Dad over something stupid that led them not to speak for two years. When my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer he reached out to me to talk about it- he hadn't communicated with me in those two years either. I spent 45 minutes explaining to him that he wasn't a bad guy for keeping his family away from my dad, who had a way of picking fights no one could possibly win with him. The only emotion I got from him was that he wanted to be "seen" as a good guy- the stuff going on inside didn't matter.

His wife told me that in the 20 odd years they had been married, she had never seen him cry. During the mourning periods for my parents- what I observed bore this out. This is obviously an extreme case with extreme circumstances- but what hell on earth! To not be able to ever experience your emotions in any kind of way- even in front of the person you have joined your life to!
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 4:45 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


We're over 40 comments in and there is an almost complete absence of any male MeFites sharing a personal story about a situation where they felt emotionally vulnerable. Would you expect that to have been the case if this were a thread about women's feelings of vulnerability? Of course not - women feel permitted to talk about these topics. Men do not.

I take a huge interest in this topic and I closely follow every thread that I see that discusses it. What you said above? This is the case in every thread. It often ends up being majority women discussing these things. This is true in other spaces on the internet where these things are discussed as well.

I wonder sometimes if a lot of men even read these threads and articles to begin with and when I think about how we (society) teach men and boys to push down and ignore their inner lives from birth, I also wonder if this very thing somehow precludes them from even seeing these types of threads/articles. And it feels a little overwhelming to me, because I really wish I could help somehow but I don't know how.

I know a lot of men are open to hearing this, because I've found it when I've spoken to individual men and when I've shared articles like this on facebook and men who normally don't really interact with my other posts share the articles to their pages. Beyond that, I just end up feeling utterly helpless, and it genuinely saddens me to see how much this culture hurts men. I wish there were more I could do.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:55 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


There's a lot of internal censorship for guys to not say anything on these things.
posted by Ferreous at 4:56 PM on April 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


There's a lot of internal censorship for guys to not say anything on these things.

Well, not when sober anyway.

His wife told me that in the 20 odd years they had been married, she had never seen him cry.

I've been with my wife for almost 25 years, I can't recall a time where she's seen me cry. Hell, I can't recall a time in the last 25 years I've actually cried (not counting getting misty eyed at the end of Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan). Crying is weakness, it's failure. As my dad used to say "Stop crying or I'll really give you something to cry about!". And that's how that story goes.
posted by MikeMc at 5:14 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


My dad is a pretty centered and secure guy so far as the old masculinity goes, but I've only ever seen him cry when one of our dogs died. For Southern men, this is, I believe, acceptable.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:26 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Here's a story for you. The last time I really wept was about two years ago, when I was telling my therapist that no, I couldn't possibly tell my friends that I loved them like they were my family, because they would think I was clingy, and that I was trying to push onto them the responsibility for my happiness, and they would have no choice but to ice me out, and I would deserve it, too.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:32 PM on April 4, 2016 [26 favorites]


Even at this point in the semester, the students, some of whom had studied gender issues before, seemed blind to their own ingrained assumptions. So his response raised many eyebrows. “It’s like we’re scared,” he said, “that the natural order of things will completely collapse.”

I'm not sure I understand these last few sentences. Is the writer endorsing the idea that patriarchy is the natural order of things? Is he saying that even though they've studied gender issues they still can't see that that men crying disrupts the "natural order"? Or are people raising their eyebrows at the idea that patriarchy is the natural order?

I think it has to do with men being raised to be protectors and if the protector falls apart , everything falls apart.


This. There's a largely tacit social agreement to ignore the emotional fragility the system encourages in men. One of the ways this manifests and is reinforced is the fear that once you slip a little, the dam will burst and all the pent up grief and anger will be overwhelming and out of your control. I'm trying to remember a couple of movies that nailed this lesson home in a particularly nasty way; woman encourages man to open up, eventually he does and becomes a weepy mess, woman gets turned off, leaves man blubbering, "but I'm not done!" Message received: don't be that pathetic guy.
posted by sapere aude at 5:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is endemic to America, and how much is shared by other countries and cultures. I'd hate to think things are like this all over the world.
posted by gehenna_lion at 5:39 PM on April 4, 2016


women feel permitted to talk about these topics. Men do not.

Women feel "permitted" if by that you mean that women are expected to be tough enough to take the consequences. The consequences of emotionally vulnerable expression for women are many and varied but a sampling includes: contempt, ridicule, being ignored, being belittled, being attacked conversationally or physically, being patronized, being talked about behind our backs, being considered unstable, being considered scary or dangerous if the expression is strong and being considered petty and weak if it is moderate.

The consequences that men face that women do not are those drawn by Sqwirl above: when a man stages an emotional display, men and women alike know that something very important is happening. A man who cries or tells a personal story does not always elicit awe and reverent hushed tones, but a woman all but never does.

Other than that, it's much the same. I do not mean, of course, that there is no difference. Women taking this all difficulty in stride and allowing the world and men in particular to believe that exposure and humiliation are nothing to us, that we do not feel them as men do, is a huge and terrible difference. But please believe that women do difficult things sometimes. The fact that women do a thing does not ipso facto mean that it is easy(ier) for women. It does not mean that we have been, or feel, permitted the thing we choose to do, or that it occurred to us to wait for permission. Often it means, rather, that gendered socialization means we never expected or required ease as a precondition of trying.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:48 PM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


It's probably not an original thought, but reading LuckyMonkey21's comment about police officers got me thinking:

All the epicentres of male emotional suppression that immediately spring to mind for me - military, police, and prairie pioneers - involve guns.

And the activities that were originally promoted in the late 1800s to help men develop the attitudes they needed to be good soldiers in mass infantry armies - team sports, mostly - are secondary loops in the spiral centred on If. (Attitudes to be developed include: Male bonding; not complaining about physical pain caused by conflict; surrendering stoically after a loss; keeping your head about you even in the most difficult circumstances.)

These are all very useful attitudes to have in the moment when you're holding a gun in a conflict situation. However, it's less useful to have the entire male culture centred around getting ready for WWI.
posted by clawsoon at 5:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've mentioned before that I often show Jackson Katz' documentary Tough Guise in my classes. [link to 10 minute preview of the updated 2013 version]

Every time I show it, I expect pushback, but interestingly, the young men in my classes almost always readily acknowledge that is exactly what their experiences were growing up, and continue to be now. They are all very familiar with the swift punishment for not adhering to the masculine ideal--tough and angry. It makes me sad to think they are so pressured to conform.

This leads to terrible consequences for both the young men AND the girls and women in their lives. Katz talks about how the suppression of masculine vulnerability and emotion is directly linked to violence--against other men and against women. His argument is that violence is a male problem and that there's no real way to solve it aside from dismantling societal expectations around masculinity. Katz maintains that although relationship violence is framed as a women's issue, it is actually a men's issue.

Kate Torgovnick May: "Why is it that, when we talk about sexual violence and domestic abuse, we talk about the women involved and erase the men from the conversation? In his TED talk, violence-prevention educator Jackson Katz explains why sentences like 'Mary is a battered woman' are far more common than ones like 'John beat Mary.' The takeaway of Katz’s talk: That we have to stop thinking of violence against women as a women’s issue. He urges men to look at the various institutions in society that help produce violent behavior, and to become leaders in calling out behavior that’s entwined with violence against women."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


That's a really interesting point, queenofbithynia. I do get the impression, though, that most women have at least some safe spaces to express emotions, while most men do not. Would it be fair to say that women are mostly punished for emotional expression when they're interacting with men, or do women regularly punish each other, too?
posted by clawsoon at 6:00 PM on April 4, 2016


I can't recall a time where she's seen me cry. Hell, I can't recall a time in the last 25 years I've actually cried (not counting getting misty eyed at the end of Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan). Crying is weakness, it's failure. As my dad used to say "Stop crying or I'll really give you something to cry about!". And that's how that story goes.

Hunh. I'm a lady person and I cry about once every other year on average, just to clean the old dusty lacrimal ducts out. Not sure if that's nature or nurture, or how it intersects with patriarchy and being in a male-enriched professional field... I agree with the poster above about how crying maybe isn't the most reliable indicator of being able to access and express emotion. Or maybe I'm a cyborg.
posted by SinAesthetic at 6:05 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


In my experience, crying either by men or women is highly overrated as a sign of true deep emotion. I have seen too many manipulative people of either sex who could cry on cue to elicit a response from their audience, in public and personal life.

While people who do this exist, and this is a thing that happens, i've never ever seen trotting out the existence of(or anecdotal examples therein) of people who do-said-thing for attention or to be manipulative to add anything meaningful to the conversation.

Like, yes, i have had this experience too from time to time. But assuming that the majority of, or even many expressions of emotion are insincere is not a great way to proceed through life nor is it a decent way to engage with a conversation about people bottling up feelings?
posted by emptythought at 6:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [21 favorites]


I've only ever seen him cry when one of our dogs died. For Southern men, this is, I believe, acceptable.

I'm an easy crier, in that I have cried on airplanes (Marley & Me) and while reading books (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Ugly Cried at both of my grandparents' funeral services when I was guilted into speaking. Teared up at several friends' weddings.

But I have never helplessly wept the way I did last week when my 10-month-old puppy was hit by a truck. The hole in my heart feels boundless. Cradling that sweet, joyous girl as she fearfully slipped away... call it Southern if you must but it's just a tragedy to me.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:07 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


MikeMc - I am so sorry you can't cry. Next to a good sloppy orgasm, it is the best thing you can do for yourself. There was some study done years ago that noted that tears have whatever stuff in them that your body makes when you are sad. Crying gets it out.

It is manly as f*()**)( to cry in my book. If I get to be in charge in any way on the next go round, there should be places where adults can go and be in a big soft space (non sexually) and express whatever. Like a cat cafe, but less allergic-y.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 6:08 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's a lot of internal censorship for guys to not say anything on these things.

True, but I wonder if there's a better term than 'internal censorship'. I think it's more accurate to call it internalized censorship. I don't recall waking up one day and deciding not to be open to emotional sharing with my friends, it's something that was put on me and prevents me from, say, really participating in this thread. Like so many problematic things in our culture, it comes from and is reinforced by the prevailing culture.
posted by Tehhund at 6:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


Definitely way too deep in the middle of all this. My wife talks about how deeply wounded my emotional training must be. Here's my great example - When my dad passed when I was 8 (and he was 45), my mom and gramps came home from the hospital to break the news to my sister and I. I immediately began crying, as an eight year is wont to do. My grandfather took me by the shoulders - firmly, not harshly - and said "You have to stop crying, you're the man of the house now and need to be strong for your mother". He was a tough old New England bird and I know that he meant well, but I don't remember much out of my childhood, but that's always stuck. Must be strong, must not show weakness. I've told my wife that if I can figure out how I'm showing an emotion I don't want to show, I'll figure out how to shut it down so it can't be used against me.

Heck, I don't think it was until sometime last year that I finally could admit to my wife when I was experiencing anxiety. That's after being with her for 10 years, but it was a hell of a risk, because now she has a weapon against me.
posted by drewbage1847 at 6:11 PM on April 4, 2016 [19 favorites]


[One comment deleted. If you don't want to be in a conversation about men and how they feel pressured regarding their emotional expression, that's fine, but just skip this thread and find one that's more of interest.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:11 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's quite simple. If you look weak, other men might kill you.
posted by mobunited at 6:13 PM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


queenofbithynia: " It does not mean that we have been, or feel, permitted the thing we choose to do, or that it occurred to us to wait for permission. Often it means, rather, that gendered socialization means we never expected or required ease as a precondition of trying"

I think we're mostly agreeing? I'd maybe suggest that you're understating the consequences that follow for men when we break the rules of masculine performance, but I'm definitely not trying to say that women aren't punished in horrible ways for displaying vulnerability.

What I am trying to say is that social norms exist that permit women to voice these vulnerabilities. Those norms are extremely sexist, because women are often punished when they do so, but the act of talking about feelings is considered part and parcel of performing femininity (as I understand it). As a consequence, women are willing to disclose vulnerabilities even despite the negative consequences. No such norm exists for men, and the simple act of stating an emotional vulnerability becomes a violation of masculinity in and of itself. As a consequence, men do not express these feelings, even though it might make us better or more rounded people if we were to do so. It's not really about whether women or men are "tough enough" or anything like that, it's just that there are rules that we all follow because that's how we have been trained.
posted by langtonsant at 6:15 PM on April 4, 2016 [15 favorites]


All the epicentres of male emotional suppression that immediately spring to mind for me - military, police, and prairie pioneers - involve guns.

That's interesting. When I was trying to think of stories that relate to this post, the first one that came to mind was a young boy crying for the dead deer (? quail?) in the back seat of the car on the way back from a hunting trip, trying not to let his dad see.
posted by salvia at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


MikeMc - I am so sorry you can't cry. Next to a good sloppy orgasm, it is the best thing you can do for yourself. There was some study done years ago that noted that tears have whatever stuff in them that your body makes when you are sad. Crying gets it out.

Sometimes I think I might when nobody is around but somehow it seems like giving up. IDK what to tell you. If nothing else I learned never to castigate, denigrate or any other "ate" either of my boys for crying. If there's one thing I learned from my dad it's don't be to my boys like he was to me in that respect.
posted by MikeMc at 6:20 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


On the /r/relationships subreddit people ask for advice about their interpersonal relationships. It's mostly about crushes and cheating, but the other day a question popped up from a man who felt he'd embarrassed himself in front of his fiance and wanted to make it up to her somehow.

The story was a decade ago, as a teenager, he got a cat. He loved the shit out of this cat. You could tell--the way he described her had details and stories that could only be told by an adoring pet owner. The cat was indoor/outdoor, and sometimes would disappear for weeks at a time. But a year ago she disappeared and never returned. He told himself she would come back one day and tried not to think about it.

One evening he and his fiance began to talk about this cat. He was tired and a little drunk, and it finally hit him that the cat was gone and he would never see her again. He broke down sobbing in his fiance's arms. To an outside observer, this is completely understandable. The loss of a beloved pet is a unique and deep pain, especially a pet you grew up with. He also had a year of suppressed anxiety and grief to work out. And if you express it to anyone, surely you'd express it to the person you're going to marry.

The question was written the next morning. The guy's anguish was palpable. But he wasn't just sad about the cat--he was deeply, deeply ashamed. He said he felt pathetic. He'd humiliated himself. He was terrible at handling grief, and how dare he subject his fiance to this "sorry display". He said he wanted to die of shame.

I've been aware of the ways society pounds emotion out of men. It's something I've read about, thought about, and sympathized with for years. But I've never cried about it until that question. This guy is already dealing with the gut-wrenching grief of losing his pet, and then on top of that he's thinking he's an unmanly, worthless fool for daring to express that grief in front of the woman he loves? When I was growing up, if I was upset about something my mom used to tell me I was trying to manipulate her. That was bad, but as an adult I can look back on it and understand how that was her individual issue. These days, my relationships with my loved ones and my very identity as a woman do not feel challenged when I am upset over upsetting things. Not so for the poster--he felt that he was no longer an adult or an acceptable romantic partner because he'd lost control and expressed a totally normal human emotion in front of his fiance.

Something I've been thinking about is the way that oppressive structures hurt the participants. The underprivileged experience some mix of material, physical. and psychological damage. But the privileged are damaged too, in different, subtler ways. The violence those structures perpetuate are on their souls. They're taught to eschew connections with large swaths of fellow humans. To eschew connections within themselves. They must starve and carve away fundamental parts of their humanity. To do otherwise would mean losing their privileged status and becoming a target for the system. How can you be subjected to that and not become infected with rage? With despair?
posted by schroedinger at 6:23 PM on April 4, 2016 [61 favorites]




mobunited: It's quite simple. If you look weak, other men might kill you.

I thought about this when going through high school football hazing, and later when reading about the phalanxes of ancient Greece.

Sometimes, maybe, it's about whether other men will kill you. But it's also about whether other men can trust you to stick with them even if sticking with them means experiencing a lot of fear and physical pain. Men who were able to form groups like that conquered the world. When you talk about patriarchy and suppression of emotional expression, they're intimately tied together, because so much power has flowed, ultimately, from the physical and military dominance of that kind of group of men.

And this is still the case. The tip of the spear, the one that preserves elite power throughout the world, is still made up of groups of men like this.

(And you have the perfect username for this train of thought. :-)
posted by clawsoon at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


He said he felt pathetic. He'd humiliated himself. He was terrible at handling grief, and how dare he subject his fiance to this "sorry display". He said he wanted to die of shame.

Oh hell yeah, I know what that's like. At least that was in front of his partner.

You can almost recall, in sequence, how that shame was forced under your skin. The nights at sleepaway camp lying in your sleeping bag while the other kids laugh and say you're crying, even though you weren't until they started making fun of you for it, yet again. Getting beaten up at school and crying because you've never felt so vulnerable, and you walk down the hall past teachers who say nothing and other boys who laugh because you're a pussy.

Having no one to turn to when you're sad, ever, because all your male friends went through the same thing and they don't feel comfortable being around it. And the conversation is about how you become part of the problem, how if only you'd been lucky enough to grow up with the right environment, you might be able to handle your emotions in a healthy way. But now it's not just your problem, it's your fault, too, and you have to be twice the man to overcome it all, because you have to be willing to face up to the crushing pressure of masculinity along with the ordinary challenges of learning to cope with your emotions for the first time.

The fact is that for all people say they're OK with vulnerability, they don't seem to act like it when you're vulnerable in front of them. For all people say we need to let our men express themselves, they don't seem to be available, and why should they be, when men and women alike have to deal with the toxic fallout of masculinity all the time - on top of all the bullshit they deal with from men, we're going to expect them to patiently listen to our problems now, too?

I don't know what the solution is, but it's enough to drive a guy crazy feeling like it's up to him to solve masculinity and learn to be healthy at the same time.
posted by teponaztli at 6:53 PM on April 4, 2016 [37 favorites]


But he wasn't just sad about the cat--he was deeply, deeply ashamed. He said he felt pathetic. He'd humiliated himself.

I wholeheartedly understand.

I have an incident in my youth that caused me great amounts of shame - I asked a significant number of women out to my grade 7 dance and got shot down by every one. To make matters worse, I got chastised by the only black woman in my class in front of her friends who I didn't ask out because she thought I didn't ask her out because she was black. It was a horrible experience.

I felt worthless - I was so desperate to have someone have a crush on me the way I hopelessly had on others and in one fell swoop, I learned that nobody felt that way. I didn't have an outlet for those feelings (the friend of mine who knew told others and only amplified my shame) and so I bottled them up.

So I went to university, drank a lot, and womanized relentlessly. I was able to hide my shame from my friends using the mask of "getting laid." I acted like I was fully in control and was having all kinds of fun. Deep down - I was miserable, I hurt people I really cared about in ways that were fundamentally not who I am, and I felt so very alone. I added more shame to my original shame by trying to hide from it.

Looking back 20 years - the originating shame is one I've heard time, and time, and time again since. I was rejected. I felt humiliated. And I was not the only one. If I had any way I could connect with other boys who felt the same way, maybe I'd have saved myself and others a whole lot of chaos and pain.

Instead, it took a few years of therapy and a couple of bridging conversations about shame where I finally feel like I am not alone every time I feel shame about who I am. For those not fortunate enough to have gotten to this place, I can imagine posting to Reddit or MetaFilter about it must be the closest thing to comfort you can get, and that saddens me greatly.
posted by scrittore at 6:55 PM on April 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


This absence of men's stories of emotional vulnerability is so striking to me that it comes across as a kind of voicelessness. I can't think of a better term than "empowering" to describe an act that gives voice to people's experiences of the world. Even if those people are men.

That's a really good point and a perspective I haven't thought about. My main worry is that an over-emphasis on power as a reason for being vulnerable will lead to the sort of contradictory-thinking which causes people to "relax to increase productivity". Doing one thing for the purpose of accomplishing another, contradictory thing can lead to the performance of that first task, not the actual practice of that first task. People get really caught up in looking like we're doing the right thing and sometimes forget to actually do the right thing.

Men, obviously, know much better than I do about the internal experience of this for them, though, and I overstepped in my statement. I really appreciate your and J.K. Seazer's feedback on this.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:59 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


The consequences that men face that women do not are those drawn by Sqwirl above: when a man stages an emotional display, men and women alike know that something very important is happening.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten so I shed tears or get choked up very easily when I watch, read, or tell an emotional story, or listen to an emotional song, even if it's something slight like a Marvel movie or telling my family about a particularly nice thing somebody did. And my main feeling is concern that someone will think I'm having some drastic, overwhelming--as you say, important--emotional reaction, when I'm really just having a little feeling that happens to make my eyes water or my voice hitch. I find myself wanting to say to people who probably aren't even noticing, "It's no big deal. It happens all the time. At really dumb stuff. Really."
posted by straight at 7:04 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


The fact is that for all people say they're OK with vulnerability, they don't seem to act like it when you're vulnerable in front of them.

This is so important. I had to learn this. Just as I've had to retrain myself (and am still doing so) in adjusting my kneejerk reaction when I see women operating outside of gender norms, I've absolutely had to do the same with men and especially when they are showing any kind of vulnerability. It was a little disturbing to me when I first realized how much I almost relied upon men to be stoic and I really regret that now, even though I don't think I was even aware of it as I was doing it. I hope I never fall into that cycle of toxic reinforcement again.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:24 PM on April 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


As I've gotten older, I've gotten so I shed tears or get choked up very easily when I watch, read, or tell an emotional story, or listen to an emotional song, even if it's something slight like a Marvel movie or telling my family about a particularly nice thing somebody did.

That's interesting, because the same is true for me. I'd assumed it was changing hormones, but I'm realizing that as I wasn't menopausal or pregnant, I had nothing behind my "changing hormones" assumption. It was more just my pseudoscientific way of assuming it somehow related to my being female. But maybe it's that the passage of time makes all of us more tender.
posted by salvia at 7:30 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can empathise with a lot of this. I am a real "feeler", more on the anxious side than I would like - a failing my siblings both male and female would probably also express.

It does make me feel weak, is a source of shame and embarrassment,especially as my wife is very steady emotionally and has a well of self confidence I would love to possess (we joke that she is the "man" in our relationship).

The difference was illustrated when I shared with her a description I read from someone in an anti anxiety drug, klonopin or xanax of something, and they said, "you could see your house burning down and it wouldn't upset you one bit." I said to my wife how great that sounded, and she couldn't understand one bit, said that it sounded unhealthy.

Because, I suppose, she doesn't have that inner monologue of small house fires burning all day, every day. A percussive thrum of fear and anxiety that accompanies you, sometimes louder, sometimes softer.

The worst thing is at I've gotten older I'm actually getting worse at expressing my fears and doubts, I'm getting squeezed into this corset of masculinity I don't want, and don't remember putting on! I suppose, at heart, it comes down to the fact I feel a lot of my emotions are invalid, certainly the negative ones when I have so much to be grateful for. And I despise how the negative ones can impact the way I talk to my kids, who in fairness can wear away at your patience like carbolic acid.

This... Invalidity is only confirmed for me by the fleeting, even ephemeral nature of the feelings. My doubts and fears about my job, my relationships, my marriage, my parenting, my skills, can come and go with little external influence. A day that's objectively better, even good, may leave me with a lump in my throat and I have no idea why and become hyper sensitive to every interaction. Other days , more challenging days, are fine.

This emotional, irrational, weathervane nature of my emotional state is scary, even if I don't demonstrate and the shifts are mostly internal. It makes me feel weak, out of control, not living up to my roles as husband, father, worker etc.

And I don't really confess this to anyone, not the truth of it. I don't even know who I would tell.

It can feel like a tough gig at times, no joke.
posted by smoke at 7:35 PM on April 4, 2016 [39 favorites]


At some point in my mid-30s I turned some invisible corner and started to cry more often. Not in a noble or meaningful way like Reiner, but like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Junior, who crying in bed while pregnant, points to the ad playing on the hospital room TV and says "She was daddy's little girl!" (yes, he was pregnant, if you like peak 80's movies, by all means go rent it)

I tend to get wet-eyed at Pixar movies and the like and I do feel self-conscious about it. I'm not sure if I think a woman would "be allowed" to cry in the same situation - the complicating factor is that a movie isn't the death of your father and I always feel somewhat manipulated crying in a movie. Laughter is fine but crying is somehow not.

At the risk of being a biological essentialist (which I realize can never be a complete theory of any social action) I wonder how much testosterone affect your ability to be sad as well as to be angry and perpetually horny.
posted by GuyZero at 8:12 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Back when I was doing my Ph.D. (sometime around the time humans first tamed fire, if I recall), I struggled terribly with imposter syndrome, not that there was a term for this concept at the time. Spurred on by a "funny" observation that his wife had made, my advisor thought that it would be entertaining to present me with a set of Eeyore ears that I was supposed to wear whenever I wanted to come to him to express my anxieties about the project or my ability to complete it. Naturally I was expected to find this funny for some reason: objecting to it would imply that I couldn't take a joke.

Of course, this "joke" went around the department and I got a bit of a (perhaps justified) reputation for being the whiny grad student. As much as I felt hurt by this, I realised the smart thing to do would be to lean into it. Play along, wear the fucking ears and make the jokes at my own expense, or else the situation would go from bad to worse. After a while the intensity of that little episode died down, but the consequences of it never really went away. Some of the grad students in that department later became my colleagues and one of them in particular (also a man) spent many years negging me about the issue (a term I have only just discovered and now love), obliquely referring to the episode while acting as if he were my friend.

The lesson, delivered and enforced almost entirely by other men, is that expressing vulnerabilities in the presence of men is a stupid thing to do.

Looking back at it, I genuinely think that my advisor never realised that this was an act of public humiliation rather than a bit of friendly joking among the guys. Unlike the former colleague I referred to (a fuckwit who does this shit to everyone because it amuses him), my advisor was then and remains now someone who respects what I do and is generally a really good guy. This story paints him in a very unfair light, in fact. The Eeyore ears "joke" was an unthinking act, not a malicious one, and I'm sure he would be horrified if he realised that this has been gnawing away at me for many years.

What I find most puzzling though, is why I've spent years re-telling versions of the story as a joke. I don't tell it as a story about feeling humiliated and belittled, I tell it as an amusing self-deprecating anecdote. I usually tell it in a way that licences people to laugh at me. And I think I do it for a specific reason - I know that I'm a guy who tends to openly express my own worries, and I know that comes off weird. So what I'm doing with that story is inoculating people in case I start sounding too whiny later: "see folks, I'm not really emotionally fragile, I can take a joke, and it's totally okay to make jokes about me if I start up with that whiny crybaby shit". In truth I'm utterly humourless about my own failings as a person, but it doesn't seem like a very wise move to admit that in real life.
posted by langtonsant at 8:19 PM on April 4, 2016 [41 favorites]


In large part I blame traditional codes of masculinity for my panic disorder. The juxtaposition of the vulnerable real me and the person I believed I needed to be to be an acceptable example of a boy resulted in a whole mess of cognitive dissonance that ended up having to come out somehow. Hello, panic attacks!!

Also, I'm thankful that as we've aged my male longtime friends and I have become lots better at emotional honesty. (And thank goodness, as the ability to be vulnerable has pretty much become the dividing line between "he was a buddy in college" and "he's a close friend.") I compare this with my dad and his buddies, who are locked into old-school masculinity, and am glad -- and hopeful that it'll be even easier for my kindergartner son.
posted by Lyme Drop at 8:22 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


smoke: " corset of masculinity"

I am now regretting my choice of username.
posted by langtonsant at 8:34 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's quite simple. If you look weak, other men might kill you.

The real fear is that other people (men and women both) will laugh.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:44 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know -- being a male child who cried easily definitely gave me reasons to fear physical as well as social aggression.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


The real fear is that other people (men and women both) will laugh.

I know this gets quoted about men vs women and how and what they fear, but yes, as a child in your formative years being the sissy kid runs the very real risk of being beat up. Shit, doing lots of things runs the risk of being beat up. Socialization isn't about how adults treat each other, it's about how adults and other kids treat kids.
posted by GuyZero at 9:19 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I tend to get wet-eyed at Pixar movies and the like and I do feel self-conscious about it. I

Pixar movies don't really do it to me, but the recent FPP on Watership Down reminded me of the ending, and even though it's probably been 30 years since I read the book and saw the movie I still got choked up thinking about it.

But I feel very fortunate to have been raised from a young age to believe that showing emotion is normal and healthy, and that there's nothing wrong with crying.
posted by asterix at 9:22 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I never worried about getting beaten up as much seeing, in the moment, that people were losing respect for me. That one never goes away.

Anyway, crying isn't the only emotion that gets socialized out of men. What about telling someone you're scared? Or that you miss someone? This goes so much deeper than male tears.
posted by teponaztli at 9:29 PM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


Which isn't to say that getting beaten up isn't a major part of boys' childhoods, or at least it was for everyone I grew up with. I didn't even get beaten up as much as other kids I knew, but the threat was constantly there.
posted by teponaztli at 9:32 PM on April 4, 2016


Another story about the shittiness of the "corset of masculinity" (that is a great phrase):

My dad never fit into the He-Man Action-Hero Macho Dude archetype. One of my earliest memories is coming home from elementary school to find out one of our cats was hit by a car, then going into the backyard and seeing my dad sitting alone with the body in his lap, sobbing. I was upset about the cat, but also upset and confused by this display of emotion from A Dad. My mom wasn't crying (to this day I've never seen her cry), why was Dad? At the same time though, I felt that I was being given access to a moment that was very meaningful and sacred, and it showed me an emotional side to him that I had not seen before. He was a consistent role model for compassion, thoughtfulness, and showing normal emotional expression, and while he wasn't exactly unloading his deepest feelings on us, he regularly demonstrated sensitivity and self-awareness and inspired me to emulate him. As I got older and became more aware of traditional gender expectations, I idolized him more for providing this alternative model of masculinity. He didn't just make me a more compassionate, self-aware person, he was providing a positive base for my feminism and future relationships with men.

I mentioned in my prior comment that the men I've seen express themselves almost always seem embarrassed after the fact. It was heartbreaking when I realized my dad was this way. One of the reasons that cat story killed me is because it so closely parallels my dad's feelings about me seeing him cry over the cat. Many years later, as an adult, I brought that story up. It was in the context of a discussion about good parenting, but he was immediately uncomfortable and dismissed his behavior then as overreacting and over-emotional. A few years ago another family cat died, one he was very close to. The same thing happened: he was overwhelmed with grief, and then if you try to talk to him about it now he writes it all off as being silly and dumb.

When I've tried to tell him what a great role model he's been because of all the times he was sensitive and emotional, it becomes clear that he saw those displays as weakness. My dad has made me a better person in a thousand-and-one ways because he didn't fit into some dumbass Macho Man Randy stereotype. But I can't convince him of any of it because he grew up looking at all of his strengths through a fucked-up funhouse mirror that told him everything that makes him good and kind and a great dad are proof that he's not manly enough.

Reading everyone's experiences here--especially about how young these messages started--really drives home how long he's been living with this shit and makes me despair that he'll ever believe me. Sensitive men of the world, please know that your daughters notice your sensitivity, but they love you all the more for it.
posted by schroedinger at 9:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [44 favorites]


I think we do need to be clear that, although men and women are both punished for displaying emotions, there is a qualitative difference in how men are socially punished for signals of weakness.

Brené Brown:

>"For men, shame is not a bunch of competing, conflicting expectations. Shame is one, do not be perceived as what? Weak. I did not interview men for the first four years of my study. It wasn't until a man looked at me after a book signing, and said, 'I love what you say about shame, I'm curious why you didn't mention men.' And I said, 'I don't study men.' And he said, 'That's convenient.'

>"And I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'Because you say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and my three daughters?' I said, 'Yeah.' 'They'd rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don't tell me it's from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.'"

>"So I started interviewing men and asking questions. And what I learned is this: You show me a woman who can actually sit with a man in real vulnerability and fear, I'll show you a woman who's done incredible work."


Brené Brown's quote is a bit of a juxtaposition to schroedinger's illuminating story. I've been appreciated for my vulnerability. I thought I was doing pretty good and above average in the emotional expression department to be sure. But 2015 kicked my ass with betrayals of that kind of trust coming from a lover and then, coincidental in timing, from a onetime supportive boss/work environment. I'm no longer confident how to express myself emotionally. I feel like I'm dragging around a phantom limb.

This isn't just about humiliation or being laughed at. That was sometimes the case on the playground, but the stakes are big as adults. It's about livelihood. It's about access to intimacy. It's about wrap-around denial of human needs. Male vulnerability is a dealbreaker in average heterosexual relationships, it's a dealbreaker for workplace security, it's a signal that could lead to physical or emotional bullying and many men in this thread have attested that they were abused by parents for showing emotion. gehenna_lion hit the nail on the head, traditional high risk male occupations from coal mining to war-making were enforced by emotional suppression and that has bled into all aspects of life within the dominant culture.

I truly believe that this is a problem that we can name and unravel and I actually have a lot of hope that doing so will give us a key to alleviating many different forms of violence and social injustice.
posted by Skwirl at 11:38 PM on April 4, 2016 [23 favorites]


Whenever these threads and articles show up there is this weird one-sidedness to the whole idea of being "emotional". That to be "emotionally honest" is somehow to connect with a "true" self that consists entirely of "warm" and "good" emotions: sadness, vulnerability, crying, loss, etc.

But what about all the other emotions? Anger, hate, lust, desires for power, domination, maleficence, etc. Are these not emotions? Are these not the emotions that we do in fact need to control in order to maintain a peaceful society?

What if it was not possible to control the "bad" emotions without also controlling the "good" emotions?
posted by mary8nne at 1:43 AM on April 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


"White men in America, in North America, are the beneficiaries of the single greatest Affirmative Action program in the history of the world. It is called "The History of the World"."

—Michael Kimmel giving a talk at Dartmouth
posted by polymodus at 1:54 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the case of "punishing inanimate object" for a small child, I'd say that actually fits right into where they should be in their ethical development - Kohlberg style at least. Stage 1 is Obedience/Punishment; with "don't hurt others" as an ethical axiom, "punishing" the bar for hurting the child makes perfect sense. Psychologically, it serves the same purpose as when I say to various clients that thus and such a situation sucks, or hurts, or whatever - naming the situation can often bring about a sense of relief even without doing anything further because people respond as much to recognition and acknowledgement of their pain as to any ameliorating events (this can be a problem when trying to motivate people for change, but also can help set the foundation for lasting change).

How does it serve the same purpose, unless you tell your clients not that X is a hurtful situation, but that Y caused it and then you start castigating Y to make you client feel better? That's what the mother did, and surely that's not what you do in practice.

As for Kohlberg, the alternative interpretation under the same rules is that you have an authority figure whom the child depends on for ethical perspective, who is showing the child it is fair and just to channel their sadness into aggression (one of the points of the article), and that it's okay to arbitrarily "decide" that the bar hurt the child, while the child is still bawling. I simply sense there are some problematics with this cognitive pattern: the child learns it is okay to blunder into a thing, get hurt, and it's justified to be angry at that thing and physically take out their aggression at it, and all of this is communicated through a few seconds of roleplay that happened then and there. This is precisely the distortion of empathic processes going on that the article was talking about, happening at a young age.

I confess that I find it hard to see the relevance of the causal power of inanimate objects to a discussion of male socialisation. The parenting trick polymodus refers to is something that parents use for boys and girls (this one isn't particularly gendered in my experience), and it's mostly used to distract the child from their pain and calm them down when they are hurt. The parent's actions in this context aren't intended to be interpreted literally, nor does the child actually do so. Toddlers aren't stupid - they know perfectly well that metal bars are not intentional agents. Parents aren't stupid either - no-one is making an attribution error. It's a pantomime, not an ontology lesson.

Yes, that's likely that mother's point of view, that it was an effective trick. But let's be clear: there is an attribution error being inculcated, namely, showing the toddler it is okay to blame your social environment—for who built the bar?—for their suffering. That is the fundamental misdirection made, between internal versus external attribution, in basic psychology. And I think the appropriate question is, well, what are the long-term consequences of that? Culturally? As other commenters have made clear, not all parents think something like that is an acceptable method—but of course, I wouldn't go about telling all this stuff to the mother, because it wouldn't help her. And that's why it's complicated. In the very article is a college-aged male talking about "the natural order of things" being shaken up—and this stuff starts early, and it very much can be thought of as a folk conveying of ontological models between parent and child.
posted by polymodus at 2:46 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Whenever these threads and articles show up there is this weird one-sidedness to the whole idea of being "emotional".

...

What if it was not possible to control the "bad" emotions without also controlling the "good" emotions?


I think if these threads look one-sided, it's because we're talking about how limited the masculine experience is. Masculinity isn't lacking in anger and jealousy. I don't think any of us is talking being able to express emotions because we're not aware of our capacities for anger and harm. What we're talking about is how we, as a society, socialize men to express emotion by transmuting their feelings into something acceptable for masculinity, so that sadness becomes anger, loneliness becomes lust, vulnerability becomes a desire for power and control. Yeah, those emotions can exist on their own, but oh boy do they make great carriers and proxies.

And then we internalize it and it tears us apart because we've got no other options, and it feeds itself and grows. It's not just about how we express ourselves, it's about having it beaten into you that you're not sad, you're pissed off (better go punch the wall and swear a lot).

Getting away from that isn't a matter of control, it's a matter of release.

We're talking about the other side of emotion, the things we don't get to own about ourselves, the vulnerability, the sharing, the crying. I mean, it's not fun to know that your gut reaction, what you've learned to feel in place of something more "real," is a part of the problem, that every time you lash out you're a part of why the world isn't a peaceful place. And you want to overcome it, but every time you try there's a reminder that you're not supposed to: a reminder that respectable men have their shit together, that men always want to make a scene and make the conversation about themselves; and you see the guys who do have it together and they're doing it so much better than you are, and they know how to play it cool.

So even though people say you should feel free to let it out, you keep it to yourself, like the cool guys do, like you're supposed to.

I may have misunderstood your comment, and if so, I apologize. But really, it's so hard to express the frustration that goes in hand with having spent your whole life bound up like this. If that looks one-sided, maybe it's because that reflects how one-sided our own lived experiences tend to be. Or maybe I'm just being defensive.
posted by teponaztli at 2:50 AM on April 5, 2016 [25 favorites]


polymodus: "there is an attribution error being inculcated, namely, showing the toddler it is okay to blame your social environment—for who built the bar?—for their suffering. "

I assume that at some point you'll offer some evidence that any aspect of this parenting scenario is gendered, right? Or that the child actually makes this attribution error that you're suggesting, and thinks that a metal bar is part of their social environment? Or that that this misattribution, if it is made, has some connection to emotional honesty in adult men? You know, the topic of this thread.
posted by langtonsant at 3:15 AM on April 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


Sorry, I should not have posted that. I'm walking away from this thread I think
posted by langtonsant at 3:18 AM on April 5, 2016


There just seem to be so many simplifications in the whole story though. Firstly I think its interesting that the distinction between "experience" (ie "how limited the masculine experience is") is often equated with the "expression" of some emotion. (ie "being able to express emotions").
That is the assumption is that one cannot truely "experience" something if they are not also able to "express it". But is this valid?

The other thing that is over-looked is that ultimately when you are at work, or trying "to get shit done" someone emoting: crying, carrying on, whatever is actually a real pain in the arse. Crying people are just annoying most of the time. Its alright every now and then, sure, but you can't just have people crying whenever things don't go their way. Thus I think some kind of emotional control is necessary for a peaceful and prosperous society. The practical side of things is always overlooked in these articles.

I was also recently reading an article that suggested that "crying" is actually a rather luxurious habit. That broadly it is only the most wealthy and powerful who can indulge in such activities. Thus when a parent suggests the bawling toddler toughen up a bit an be a man, isn't it usually cause they just want to get out of the doctors, and get on with their day? It is a luxury to allow a child to cry.
posted by mary8nne at 3:23 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


teponaztli: What we're talking about is how we, as a society, socialize men to express emotion by transmuting their feelings into something acceptable for masculinity, so that sadness becomes anger ..... But really, it's so hard to express the frustration that goes in hand with having spent your whole life bound up like this.

I'm curious: Is your frustration about this in part transmuted sadness?
posted by clawsoon at 4:12 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


In my own journey through vulnerability and learning how to cry I learned I was really just a big toddler who needed constant reassurance and validation. I passed through childhood and adolescence (in my 30s) and now maybe -- maybe -- I have the emotional skill and expressive range of a woman half my age at a level that is just beginning to approach what you might call adulthood. It feels like I am simultaneously light years ahead of most of my male peers and light years behind most of my female peers. In between there is a desert and there are not many of us there. It's a lonely place. And one can be tempted to turn back.

One interesting side effect from this is that I've gotten pushback from the men in my life when I express emotional awareness at a more adult level -- like crabs in the bucket pulling the escapers back in. For example, when I talk about the ways in which I have burdened my partner with more than my share of the emotional labour of the relationship, my male friends and relatives always downplay it and tell me I'm being hard on myself. And when I spoke to a male therapist, the leader of a group for men who had been sexually abused that I was part of, and tried to unpack how I had badly hurt women in the past through unconscious expression of my masculinity, he started talking about my 'martyrdom complex' and my low self-esteem. It's true, I am being hard on myself, but that's because it's warranted and this is part of growth. If I listened to the men in my life I would never have progressed pass emotional childhood. I resolved at that point that my next therapist would be a woman.

How do you lead men through the desert? How do you show them just how far they have to go to be functioning adults while still acknowledging the very real hard work they have done in crawling their way out of the bucket? It is not good enough to praise men for doing the bare minimum of not being monsters, we should not let men be proud of themselves and stop growing at that point, but most men don't even reach that level. "Men" don't have to grow past emotional childhood because a "man", i.e. a person who embodies masculinity, is an emotional child pretty much by definition. All human adults have a responsibility to master their emotions so that they can be safe and supportive in their relationships. But all persons should strive to reach this regardless of their gender or conditioning.

I don't know how we do this but I do think that we need to encourage men to break out of the category altogether, and look towards emotional adults for guidance. Most of these will probably be women. Somehow I was blocked on this for a long time; I thought my role models had to be male, but they don't. You can take guidance from any person. We should encourage everyone to look beyond gender for a way forward.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:29 AM on April 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


crying, carrying on, whatever is actually a real pain in the arse. Crying people are just annoying most of the time. Its alright every now and then, sure, but you can't just have people crying whenever things don't go their way.

Mary8nne, you have unwittingly given voice to the very sentiment that scares men when they feel emotional; a judgmental voice casting them as defective, a burden, and most of all "weak". I would suggest, in a thread about men struggling to express emotion - where a few of us are actually screwing our courage to the sticking place and talking about this - that you consider a bit more circumspection and sensitivity around what you're saying, and how you say it.

The idea that crying is some kind of bourgeois luxury is, I'm sorry, quite ridiculous. If you're interested in reading more about the history of crying, I recommend this book. You can read the first chapter here.
posted by smoke at 4:33 AM on April 5, 2016 [31 favorites]


mary8nne: The other thing that is over-looked is that ultimately when you are at work, or trying "to get shit done" someone emoting: crying, carrying on, whatever is actually a real pain in the arse. Crying people are just annoying most of the time. Its alright every now and then, sure, but you can't just have people crying whenever things don't go their way.

This seems like an insensitive point to make, but it's one that's regularly enforced right here on Metafilter by the mods. As soon as you lose the boundaries on your emotions, and your emotions start spilling out in ways that make other MeFites uncomfortable in certain unacceptable ways, the mods rightly step in to ask you to take a break.

They're usually more sensitive about it than the average playground emotional enforcer, though. (Unless they've had to deal with Donald Trump threads all day. Then they can get a bit abrupt.)

It's something that makes preserving certain kinds of communities much easier. I'm not exactly sure why, though.
posted by clawsoon at 4:38 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


mary8nne: At what point has anyone suggested here that giving men the space and freedom and encouragement to feel their emotions translates to "people crying whenever things don't go their way"?
posted by XtinaS at 4:40 AM on April 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


Thus I think some kind of emotional control is necessary for a peaceful and prosperous society. The practical side of things is always overlooked in these articles.


Yeah, because if there's one thing that leads to peaceful and productive men in the world, it's the repression of anger, sadness, and shame until it boils over into a major health event, substance abuse, violence, sexual harassment, disengagement and disenfranchisement, or the dozens of other things that have robbed society of peace and prosperity since the beginning of time.
posted by scrittore at 4:46 AM on April 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


This was the article I mentioned about the luxury of crying:
The Luxury of Tears

[scrittore]:if there's one thing that leads to peaceful and productive men in the world, it's the repression of anger,....

I can see you meant this sardonically, but seriously how can you expect "peace" without having control of anger? There is a reason certain acts are called "crimes of passion".
posted by mary8nne at 4:59 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


but seriously how can you expect "peace" without having control of anger?

Anger is more often an acceptable emotion within the bounds of the masculine ideal. Repression of the expression of anger is not so much what this discussion is about; by the Man Code, expressing anger is okay*. Crying - unless you've earned the right and it's something Definitely Serious Enough, like someone in your family dying - is not. It's something that gets you condemned by other men.

*That's a bit of an exaggeration. The right to anger is also something you have to earn by climbing Dude Mountain; if a guy who's low on the male social ladder expresses anger, it's 50/50 whether they'll earn respect for it or whether they'll be seen as "unbalanced" the way a woman expressing anger is.
posted by clawsoon at 5:13 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Anger is more often an acceptable emotion within the bounds of the masculine idea

I certainly don't think so. The people I know that can't control their anger are the same people that cry more often. I doubt that's a coincidence.
posted by jpe at 5:32 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


do women regularly punish each other, too?

I am nobody's parent or prison guard so I don't like to characterize my considered and sincere opinions as punishment, but I do dislike the behavior of women who tell me intimate things that are not my business without getting to know me first, who behave in ways that I consider childish in expressly adult environments, and who say how they feel in place of what they think, in situations where thinking is called for (I mean really, not as a conditioned speech reflex - I have that deferential rhetorical reflex myself and as I am not proud of it, so I must forgive or ignore it in others.) I know I am not alone in any of this. A difference, though, is that the huge numbers of women like me generally repress our judgments out of unwillingness to criticize or start fights, or out of the sense that our feelings about other women's emotional display styles are nobody's business but our own. This is not great for those other women insofar as they will not immediately know they are losing other women's respect, or why, if they are not naturally observant or inquisitive.

A man who will openly laugh at or sneer at another man for his uninhibited expressions is not conditioned to stoic repression of his honest feelings the way a woman is, and for that I envy him. Though perhaps I should be thankful for the gendered inhibitions that lead me to keep my ungenerous emotions to myself.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:42 AM on April 5, 2016


The bone in the throat in that WaPo piece to me was his description of his child's smile as "beatific." Parents who canonize their children are always odd, but it brought to mind this passage from Kundera:

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!

The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!

posted by jpe at 5:51 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


A man who will openly laugh at or sneer at another man for his uninhibited expressions is not conditioned to stoic repression of his honest feelings the way a woman is, and for that I envy him. Though perhaps I should be thankful for the gendered inhibitions that lead me to keep my ungenerous emotions to myself.

I don't think this is the issue people are talking about here. The issue is that guys can't talk about their emotions even to their closest friends or partners. People they've known for decades. I had friends in high school who grew up together, spent all their time together, and talking about Real Shit just never happened.

Only once I saw it happen, it was one of my friends was stumbling drunk and he started talking about his parents getting a divorce, and he was bawling about it. It was just surreal. It was like some huge taboo was broken, and it was only broken because he was drunk. It was quickly forgotten and stricken from the friend record as if it never happened. This was among people he considered his closest friends he had spent his entire life with, probably the only people he even had to talk about it.

Emotional repression isn't about crying at work, or blabbing personal stuff to strangers. It's about not sharing serious emotions to family, friends, or anyone, really. Maybe it's the same way with women, but for the guys I've known, and even for myself, personal issues like death, dying, loss, grief, loneliness, sadness, those are private torments you can't tell anyone about, no matter how close you are to them, no matter how long you've known them. It's the sort-of stuff you take to your death bed. A private burden to carry that nobody can know about.

At best you can spend a few thousand dollars in therapy talking to someone about it. That's really all you can do as a guy, and maybe it's the same way for women, too.
posted by gehenna_lion at 6:03 AM on April 5, 2016 [17 favorites]


I can see you meant this sardonically, but seriously how can you expect "peace" without having control of anger? There is a reason certain acts are called "crimes of passion".

Being able to express your anger, sadness, disappointment on the spot with your words or to a friend or family member generally enables you to get perspective, deal with the underlying causes of that anger (which are not always the incident), and generally move on. It does not give one license or reason to commit crimes of passion every time someone angers you - in fact, it helps one avoid the building anger that is usually behind those things.
posted by scrittore at 6:04 AM on April 5, 2016 [16 favorites]


A lot of the "new masculinity" seems to come prepackaged with a certain globalist and universalist political agenda.

Men, as actual, untamed, masculine men, seem to be rather inconvenient to the progress of the global industrial complex - they form gangs and tribes, start revolutions, get in fights, break stuff. They don't always assemble obediently as managers and HR representatives prefer, as compliant little factors of production.

It's almost as though these professors and activists are really thinking "men would be so much better if they weren't really<> men ... How can we make that happen?"
posted by theorique at 6:27 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


triggerfinger: It was a little disturbing to me when I first realized how much I almost relied upon men to be stoic and I really regret that now, even though I don't think I was even aware of it as I was doing it.

More from Brené Brown:
Men are smart. They hear us asking for their vulnerability, but are also very aware that we may act scared or resentful when they show their vulnerable side. You wouldn't believe how often men tell me, "I pretend to be vulnerable, but I keep it under control," or "I give her enough to believe I'm being open because if I were totally truthful about how afraid or out of control I feel, she would judge me."
I suspect that's a way in which the pressures on men are moving closer to those on women. I know that I have certainly judged women who were truthful about how afraid or out of control they felt, and I know that many women also work very hard to play it cool in dating, to show just the right amount of vulnerability BUT NOT TOO MUCH lest they scare the man away by being "too clingy" or "crazy".

On the other hand, I have some sympathy for what jpe and mary8nne have said. Sometimes the people who don't/can't control their emotions are precisely the ones who end up being abusers, who end up committing crimes of passion and jealousy.
posted by clawsoon at 6:32 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I have some sympathy for what jpe and mary8nne have said. Sometimes the people who don't/can't control their emotions are precisely the ones who end up being abusers, who end up committing crimes of passion and jealousy.

I think we're starting to miss the point here. It's not "emotions" as some raw expression of feeling, but the private lives and experiences of men. Communicated through words and language to other people. There's a huge difference between rage, anger, "I'm losing all control!", and talking about feeling hurt by rejection or the loss of a loved one.
posted by gehenna_lion at 6:38 AM on April 5, 2016 [18 favorites]


theorique: Men, as actual, untamed, masculine men, seem to be rather inconvenient to the progress of the global industrial complex - they form gangs and tribes, start revolutions, get in fights, break stuff. They don't always assemble obediently as managers and HR representatives prefer, as compliant little factors of production.

One of the highest levels of polymorphism seen in the human genome is in the androgen receptor, which has an impact on masculine personality traits. There are hundred of variations.

And that's what you see in the human population, too: A huge amount of variation. Yeah, some men are inconvenient to the industrial complex because the like to get in fights and break stuff. But there are men on the other end of the spectrum, who are inconvenient to the industrial complex because they're too sensitive, because they cry and want to talk about feelings of sadness and vulnerability.

Don't forget those men - and all the men in between those two extremes - when you're thinking about this stuff.
posted by clawsoon at 6:40 AM on April 5, 2016 [15 favorites]


It's not "emotions" as some raw expression of feeling

But that's exactly what crying is!

I've never really felt like I couldn't express my feelings to my male (or female) friends, although it would be difficult for me to cry in front of them, I think.
posted by jpe at 6:47 AM on April 5, 2016


But there are men on the other end of the spectrum, who are inconvenient to the industrial complex because they're too sensitive, because they cry and want to talk about feelings of sadness and vulnerability.

That's a good point. I'm not sure what the endgame is for the promoters of these types of ideas (i.e. Katz and Kimmel and others), but I suspect it's for some kind of "golden mean" of appropriate emotionality among men? (For some value of "appropriate".)

How much emotionality do men want to express that they are currently not being able to express? If they are unable to express frank emotion, at appropriate times - e.g. with their wives, or among a trusted brotherhood, or at a therapist's office - I would agree that this could be a problem. Some men have emotional intelligence work to do on and for themselves.

On the other hand, is communicating raw emotions in public or at work something that men's lives are really missing? Vulnerability comes from the Latin 'vulnera', or wound, and literally means ability to be wounded. Unless you're in a explicitly protected, confidential, healing space, why would a man (or woman for that matter) want to expose himself like this?
posted by theorique at 7:19 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


as actual, untamed, masculine men,

This strikes me as a very Romanticist view of men and masculinity - Man as Noble Savage - and is essentially begging the question; just because we are discussing the extent to which "masculinity" as it is currently represented in our culture includes whacking great levels of emotional repression, it doesn't necessarily follow that our "unrepressed" masculinity would necessarily include high levels of aggression and rebellion.

they form gangs and tribes, start revolutions, get in fights, break stuff.

In other words, Somalia or Trump rallies. "Untamed" may be inconvenient for the global industrial complex in some ways, but it's also inconvenient for civilization. Furthermore, history is full of examples of "untamed, masculine men" being used by the industrial complex to further their agenda (using strikebreakers and police against labor organization, just for one.)

On top of that, I have some serious doubts about whether actual revolutionary leaders like Mao Zedong or Vladimir Lenin would count as "untamed." Actual purposeful rebellion requires brains as well as brawn and a tendency towards violence.

It's almost as though these professors and activists are really thinking "men would be so much better if they weren't really<> men ... How can we make that happen?"

This only makes sense if you assume that there's one "natural" state of masculinity, involving violence and aggression and rebelliousness. Again, begging the question.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:22 AM on April 5, 2016 [18 favorites]


Unless you're in a explicitly protected, confidential, healing space, why would a man (or woman for that matter) want to expose himself like this?

Why are you assuming that having public spaces be more open to honest expression of emotion is a bad thing? Because that's what I'm reading here - you're assuming that a hard delineation between "safe" spaces and "public" spaces is inherent to society, while many people are actually questioning whether this division is necessary or good.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:27 AM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


"If they are unable to express frank emotion, at appropriate times - e.g. with their wives, or among a trusted brotherhood, or at a therapist's office - I would agree that this could be a problem."

Thankfully, many men here have mentioned that they, or men they're close to, have trouble expressing themselves at appropriate times, so you're free to consider agreeing that this could be a problem for them.

"On the other hand, is communicating raw emotions in public or at work something that men's lives are really missing?"

At some point, this has transformed from men displaying any emotion at all to men displaying "raw" emotion in public, and I can't pinpoint where that happened. There is middle ground for expressing/feeling things between being a stone and being a walking wound. There's also middle ground between a confessional and Times Square for places to express emotions in.
posted by XtinaS at 7:39 AM on April 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


Men, as actual, untamed, masculine men, seem to be rather inconvenient to the progress of the global industrial complex - they form gangs and tribes, start revolutions, get in fights, break stuff. They don't always assemble obediently as managers and HR representatives prefer, as compliant little factors of production.

It's not men, it's certain varieties of masculinity - among other social traits.

I was just thinking the other day about the feminization of labor - women do better under the new regime because women have already been beaten down into doing double shifts and smiling when told that they'll have to wait an hour for a bathroom break, etc. It's not because of anything inherent to men or women - if anything, it's about how there's less slack in the global economy. You have elites and you have proles - no room for the middle. You can have elites, but you can't have a protected class of "masculine" workers who won't cooperate, any more than you can have a middle class with pensions and regular hours. You have to grind everyone down into the lowest form of precarity that they can be forced to accept.

Basically, it's not that men are all, like, untamed and stuff - it's that we're all being pushed further down.

I would suggest, too, that race and emotion matters - that the emotions you can express and how you can express them are contoured by race (and by class).


On the other hand, is communicating raw emotions in public or at work something that men's lives are really missing? Vulnerability comes from the Latin 'vulnera', or wound, and literally means ability to be wounded. Unless you're in a explicitly protected, confidential, healing space, why would a man (or woman for that matter) want to expose himself like this?


Emotions are inconvenient, why would men really want to express them" is pretty much the reasoning that got us here in the first place. It's not an answer to the question of masculinity and emotion.

It also seems to suggest that women are doing something wrong, since we're not saying "why does anyone express emotion in public? we should all shut our yaps". We're saying "why would men do this, why would it improve things for men to get all feelings-y", with the strong suggestion that this is a point of distinction between men and women. It's difficult to read that as not implying that women are basically Doing It Wrong all the time.

Which also takes us right back to the original "men are rational, women are emotional; men hold it together in public while women just cry and cry, isn't it a pain when that happens".
posted by Frowner at 7:46 AM on April 5, 2016 [17 favorites]


Why are you assuming that having public spaces be more open to honest expression of emotion is a bad thing?

It may or may not. I'm not sure. I suspect that it would behave similarly to unilateral disarmament - it only works if everybody does it at once.

Supposing that a man gets uncommonly in touch with his emotions (say +3 sigma compared to most men) and so he freely weeps at cute kitten videos and pictures of his children at work. Perhaps in the hypothetical future society, this is normal.

In the current society, "man crying in public" is code for "man is overwhelmed and having an extreme personal crisis". It is a spectacle. At work, our hypothetical man is called in for serious meetings with his manager with HR representative present, discreetly directed to mental health resources, quietly removed from the leadership track, flagged as a possible problem employee. (None of the preceding is intended to be prescriptive, merely descriptive.)

Personally, I don't believe my life is lacking something because I don't have license to cry in public. I can't think of the last time I had to "hold myself back" from doing that because I was upset. Does this indicate low EQ or disconnection from emotions? I don't think so ... but if it did, would I know it?
posted by theorique at 7:48 AM on April 5, 2016


"White men in America, in North America, are the beneficiaries of the single greatest Affirmative Action program in the history of the world. It is called "The History of the World"."

—Michael Kimmel giving a talk at Dartmouth
posted by polymodus at 3:54 AM on April 5


Your point being?
posted by MikeMc at 7:53 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Personally, I don't believe my life is lacking something because I don't have license to cry in public.

I refer you to XtinaS' point above, wherein she notes that there's plenty of middle ground around how to express emotions and where that you seem to be ignoring.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:57 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


XtinaS: At some point, this has transformed from men displaying any emotion at all to men displaying "raw" emotion in public, and I can't pinpoint where that happened.

There's probably room to discuss both.

For the men who can't express their emotions to anyone, it may feel like every space, even with your oldest friends or your romantic partner, is a public, exposed, dangerous space. So for those guys (which may include me, haven't decided yet), making public spaces friendlier would be nice, since public spaces are all they have, even in their most intimate relationships.
posted by clawsoon at 8:00 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


At some point, this has transformed from men displaying any emotion at all to men displaying "raw" emotion in public, and I can't pinpoint where that happened.

I am pretty horrified that the discussion has taken this turn. But it is symptomatic of how our culture views emotional men that the very discussion of men being emotional is now about men "crying and carrying on in public" or being a walking wound or showing emotion distastefully (which seems to be defined by "showing any vulnerability at all"). Reading the painful accounts men have given in this thread, to the people begging these questions genuinely believe men are wishing for the approval to have hysterical sobbing breakdowns whenever they don't get their way?

Men shouldn't feel guilty if they cry. They shouldn't feel like they're not men if they express deep emotion to their friends and loved ones. And yet they do, and it's because we have a culture that expects masculine pain to solely be expressed through anger or brooding silence.

Men, as actual, untamed, masculine men, seem to be rather inconvenient to the progress of the global industrial complex - they form gangs and tribes, start revolutions, get in fights, break stuff.

I agree that this is begging the question. You have a pretty reductive and narrow view of masculinity, to define it as forming gangs, fighting, and breaking stuff. I talked about my dad. My dad, in his unrestrained form, is not ever the sort of person who is going to form gangs and break stuff, and it is something that causes him a great deal of pain because of assumptions that true masculinity comes in the form of wanting to fight and break stuff.

Speaking of which, I'm a woman, and before I learned more socially acceptable methods of controlling my feelings I was all about the fighting and breaking stuff, so does that make me a better man than my father?

In the current society, "man crying in public" is code for "man is overwhelmed and having an extreme personal crisis". It is a spectacle.

That's kind of the point. Why is it a spectacle? Why have we created a society where a guy shedding some tears is a spectacle? I mean, if someone breaks down into hysterical sobbing because they saw a cute kitten, that would be an outlier for a man or woman. But if a guy tears up because he broke up with his partner or heard some bad news, or even just watched an emotional video on his phone or is really happy, then why is it a big deal?
posted by schroedinger at 8:04 AM on April 5, 2016 [28 favorites]


there's plenty of middle ground around how to express emotions and where that you seem to be ignoring.

One of the things we're discussing is how much emotional expression is enough; another is how much is permissible.

Apparently, being a stoic, callus-fingered, silent, he-man type who won't open up even to his closest friends or his wife is "too little" emotion. (I also agree with this point of view.) Men openly weeping at work may be "too much" emotion. So there must be some range of emotional demonstrativeness in between that is "reasonable" for men?

It will vary by context - we should expect a lot more openness and candor in a "safe space" compared to a "public space".
posted by theorique at 8:05 AM on April 5, 2016


I've always been someone who doesn't hide his emotions, who doesn't worry about crying etc. But then I'm gay and was raised primarily by women. So I guess I'm not an 'actual masculine untamed man,' then. Thanks for letting me know. Perhaps you can tell me what I actually am? Some sort of crippled, broken, not-A-Real-Man™ I suppose.

Like seriously do you have any idea how incredibly insulting that was?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:05 AM on April 5, 2016 [15 favorites]


What if someone's expression of an emotion, so long as it was not harmful to others (e.g. crying, anger spoken of instead of acted on), could just be witnessed and accepted without judgement? Isn't the difficulty in seeing someone cry not really the problem of the person crying but the person witnessing, the one who feels like something-not-right must-be-fixed. And that seems to be the real problem with the way masculinity is held by society. There's a very narrow range of acceptable emotions even in private with those closest and most intimate. If men could allow themselves and be received in expressing emotions privately, then perhaps there would not be so much bottled up energy that can easily turn to harmful expressions.
posted by kokaku at 8:09 AM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


This thread started out with some nuanced (and courageous) talk about emotional expression, socialization, coping and self-understanding, so how did we reach a point where that got swept aside and replaced with the straw man of public crying fits?

"On the other hand, is communicating raw emotions in public or at work something that men's lives are really missing?"

The way I see it, the opposite of the emotionally constrictive corset of masculinity (awesome phrase by smoke) is not what some people here have expressed criticism and wariness towards: unbridled, uncontrolled emotional outburst (be it tears, despair or anger). I think those two are just two sides of the same coin. Outburst is what happens when the dam breaks, so let's rather talk about the dam.
posted by sively at 8:11 AM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


[theorique et al - as others are saying, it's pure discussion-killing to make this about "this isn't a problem for me" and "people who think it's a problem think men should just cry all day". Don't do this.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:15 AM on April 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: Perhaps you can tell me what I actually am? Some sort of crippled, broken, not-A-Real-Man™ I suppose. Like seriously do you have any idea how incredibly insulting that was?

My gut reaction was, "Dammit, feckless fecal fear mongering, don't be so emotional!"

There's something about the way that you expressed your anger that my corset of masculinity saw as feminine, and reacted negatively. Thankfully, I've learned to take myself not-so-seriously, so I was able to laugh at the irony of having that reaction in this thread.
posted by clawsoon at 8:17 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Men openly weeping at work may be "too much" emotion

So far, it seems that your justification for defining this as "too much" is based on 1) your personal distaste for this - which is understandable, as you we have been raised in a culture that values suppression of emotion in men (I'm certainly not excluding myself from this, I'm 47 years old and just shit at dealing with strong emotions besides joy, for all that my own father was far more Brainiac than He-Man), and 2) because of the social/economic cost for men expressing emotion within the context of emotionally-repressive masculine culture. IOW, you're accepting this repressive culture as a given, rather than examining the roots and branches of the culture, which is what the articles are about. You're standing on the bottom of the ocean, going, "Water?! What water?!"
posted by soundguy99 at 8:22 AM on April 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


Yes. "You hurt me, do you understand that you made me feel bad" codes as feminine, and therefore 'bad,' which is what this is all about. It all keeps coming back to misogyny.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:23 AM on April 5, 2016 [19 favorites]


Freddie De Boer did a strong response to the Reiner piece in the NY Times
posted by zipadee at 8:26 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


The real fear is that other people (men and women both) will laugh.

As a boy who sometimes expressed emotional vulnerability, I can tell you that there is a certain laugh some males have in response to displays of emotional vulnerability that is often a very good indicator that unless you can suppress that vulnerability immediately, physical violence will quickly follow. The laughter intensifies once the violence starts, and that's what we remember the most. It is hard to kill the response this conditions, no matter how many years it has been since it was relevant to your social context.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:31 AM on April 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others.

"Never let them see that they get to you." --Nick Wilde, Zootopia
posted by kliuless at 8:34 AM on April 5, 2016


I feel like I need to point back that I definitely have gotten hounded, entirely by boys at school, for showing emotion.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Freddie De Boer did a strong response to the Reiner piece in the NY Times

De Boer is talking about something different, though - he's saying that the pressure to express emotion is intrusive and somewhat dubious when it comes from institutional sources. That's quite reasonable so far as it goes, and I think a quite interesting line of inquiry - the pressure to produce "correct" emotions, the pressure to perform emotion "correctly". I am interested to see that he frames this as a male problem (the quiet student and the angry student are men - no space for private or angry women).

There's always pressure to perform emotion sufficiently and correctly - that's a feminizing pressure, I think, and it's definitely a piece of the whole "teach boys to feel" thing.

But unless we're actually saying that no one is anything more than the result of a series of capitalist/institutional pressures, and that therefore feminism is unimportant (since we're all just puppets of institutions anyway), De Boer really isn't addressing the question of men and feeling at all.

He's basically saying "not all men", in fact - he's saying "not all men want to express their feelings, let's not pressure them to do so", when the issue at hand is much more "men are hugely punished for expressing feelings, this is a problem".
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah. Men not wanting to express emotion I could buy as a reasonable self-generated desire if men weren't socialized from birth to not want to.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


deBoer's response makes a great counter point to Reiner's article. The Reiner article had a little bit too much savior complex for my taste - "I am the enlightened professor-empath, hold still, Young Man, while I heal your pain!" In contrast, deBoer seems to acknowledge that young men may have reasons - sometimes very powerful reasons - for staying grounded in a worldview that both he and Reiner have labeled as "toxic masculine".

A lot of young men very much want to express their feelings, but they also want to avoid punishment for doing so. (For example, "tough football guy who's actually sensitive" is a common character trope in teen movies.) But building trust with others takes time, and choosing a context where showing feelings won't be punished is not evidence of weak emotional intelligence. Indeed, it is an emotionally intelligent decision for a young man to refuse to "spill too much" in a situation where it is not obviously safe to do so. (Needless to say, an American college or high school is not a safe space.)
posted by theorique at 8:55 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


Frowner: De Boer is talking about something different, though - he's saying that the pressure to express emotion is intrusive and somewhat dubious when it comes from institutional sources. That's quite reasonable so far as it goes, and I think a quite interesting line of inquiry - the pressure to produce "correct" emotions, the pressure to perform emotion "correctly".

My sister and I were talking about this recently, after our mother died. My sister is (and my mother was) about as stoic as I am when it comes to emotional expression. We do it when socially necessary and expected, but it can be exhausting. (I think it may have something to do with growing up on the prairies as descendants of pioneers; rural women on the Great Plains are much more likely to be socialized into stoicism than women elsewhere, in my observation.)

She told me about how much she disliked having to hug all the people who were offering her sympathy at her workplace. Exhausting and uncomfortable. We mused about the professional grievers that some societies have, and that it just might be nice to have them here, too. Maybe lots of people find the Correct Expression of Grief exhausting, especially when they're grieving.
posted by clawsoon at 8:56 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


I can tell you that there is a certain laugh some males have in response to displays of emotional vulnerability that is often a very good indicator that unless you can suppress that vulnerability immediately, physical violence will quickly follow.

One of the things I've been trying to figure out lately is why certain kinds of laughter that I most often hear in some groups of teenage boys or young men sets me on edge immediately and makes me wonder if there's an immediate safety issue.

I didn't make the connection until just now, but my guess is that we're talking about the same kind of laugh. It's been a while since I was likely to be a target for anything more than social violence, but there was a time when the threat of violence and that laugh went together.
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:03 AM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: I feel like I need to point back that I definitely have gotten hounded, entirely by boys at school, for showing emotion.

I was in the middle: Not a hounder, not a houdnee. But I was entirely aware of the dangers, and I had some limited empathy, so an expression of emotion like yours leads to the reaction, "Dammit, man, why are you putting yourself (and maybe all of us) in danger?!?" It's like watching someone yell in an avalanche zone, or walk to the edge of an unsteady cliff.
posted by clawsoon at 9:08 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


My sister and I were talking about this recently, after our mother died. My sister is (and my mother was) about as stoic as I am when it comes to emotional expression. We do it when socially necessary and expected, but it can be exhausting.

-> Emotional labor

She told me about how much she disliked having to hug all the people who were offering her sympathy at her workplace. Exhausting and uncomfortable.

-> Emotional labor again

Having read all those threads about EL, I feel like I've taken the red pill and detached from the Matrix. Now I see performance of EL everywhere I look that has humans interacting with humans. Anybody else feel this way?
posted by theorique at 9:24 AM on April 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


So when the projector chittered to a stop and the lights would come up in Mrs. Kane's classroom in Pod B of Hammond Elementary School and I would still be red-faced and ragged from the emotional childhood ride of The Red Balloon, even before I knew what I know now, I could look around and understand that being able to be feel too much for a body to contain without letting some out wasn't wrong—it was the root of the kind of joy that would send all the balloons in Paris to your rescue when you needed it most.

I grew up crying in public, partly because I was bullied from the moment the haze of otherness surrounding me became visible to the kids in my school, and partly because I'm just wired with emotional responses that go to eleven and wasn't properly indoctrinated in being ashamed of strong sensations by the people I trusted most. It was vexing to my parents, not because it was too raw or too embarrassing for them, but because, being good parents, it hurt them when I hurt, and the rest of the world could more or less go fuck itself.

The bullies were virtuoso in the manipulation of bringing forth the gales, using tools as simple as the perfect, pointed statement, "Well, what are you gonna do? Cry?" to which the answer is certainly yes, in the same way that someone irritably asking you if you're in a bad mood tips the balance towards yes. But when I'd talk about it all at home later, my father would not chastise me for showing what was there, because there is legitimately no shame in having been manipulated into showing truth by someone who lives to hone that skill for hurt, but would just put it in a complete frame.

"They'll tell you you're weak when you cry, kiddo," he'd say, "but no one is more weak than a bully. Playing games with shame is weak."

It was a ridiculous thing to say, of course, because I didn't have the framework to grasp it, but sometimes, your parents do best when they are plowing a field that will not produce a crop for a decade, leaving it to settle—waiting. At the moment, though, you wish for the perfect weapon for the counterstrike, failing to grasp that you've had it all along like Dorothy Gale's ruby slippers.

The otherness that made me a victim was, in fact, the sense that I knew who and what I was, and what I wanted out of this amazing world, in the midst of a crowd of kids cowering in uncertainty because they couldn't parse the flood of nonsense about themselves and the world that wore them out from treading water in every moment of their days…and I was the lucky one.

When the kid said "What are you going to do? Cry?" with a curled lip, I'd come to say "Probably. What an accomplishment that must be for you, Wayne," with the haughty elegance of my idol, Julia Child, and the crowd would start to turn my way, because it wasn't the right answer, and that was a subversion of the rules. After a lifetime of it, the message about weakness kicked in right around the same time that a growth spurt turned me from the rangy tree climber who cried too easily into a inexplicably large and muscular guy who could just as easily compete when it came to brainless brutality in response, but only did so once, at the very start of high school, in a discovery at how easy it is to knock someone else out when you know their own weakest spot, and how unnecessary that ends up being when words and strategy are so much better.

They're all going to laugh at you, you think, and it holds you transfixed unless you've known fear every damn day of your life and come out the other side.

So fucking what?

And the time went rocketing by, and life opened and closed and turned and twisted and took me to all sorts of places, and one morning, twelve years ago, I'd fled a hotel room in Toronto after a particularly hard conversation with my then-boyfriend, needing air and openness, and I burst into tears on the sidewalk, not out of shamelessness or need for attention, and not in spite of such things, either, but because that's what I felt right then and it was all too much for a body to contain, and a few people cut me a wide berth, but I came to notice that a woman had caught up to my usual brisk walking pace, and when I looked to her, she looked me in the eyes with a smile and extended a hand.

I took it, and we kept on walking like that was exactly the most normal thing in the world.

After a time, when we'd covered a good bit of ground, I sniffed, rubbed my eyes with my other forearm, and asked, "Did you ever see The Red Balloon?"
posted by sonascope at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2016 [33 favorites]


I have sometimes asked a few traditionally masculine type friends if they plan to raise their boys the same way they were raised; no crying, never show fear, etc., despite their acknowledgement of their own experiences and that that way of raising sons is (in their words) cruel and crippling.

To a man, they reply yes. Why? "Because he won't make it in the real world. He'll get called a sissy. He is going to have to be tough to survive."

So out of genuine love for their children, the next generation continues to pass on the same poison that crippled them.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2016 [16 favorites]


Emotional expression definitely needs to be calculated. Not just because of cultural norms of masculinity, but also because there are people out there who will use that vulnerability to their advantage. Socially, at work, or even for sadistic reasons.

I was reading a Reddit thread the other day where some guy opened up about a harrowing experience he lived through. Then a couple of users started harassing him about it, taunting him, and so on. I looked through their histories and they were big contributors to a board about watching people get murdered and other horrible things like that. There are people who walk by these people in the street or work with them somewhere.

The only time I've shared anything emotionally deep with someone in person is when I was tricked into it; the person then proceeded to use the information against me in petty political ways. People can be stupid.

The changes I'd like to see is making it more acceptable for men to have closer, more intimate same-sex friendships (and I can imagine a chorus of other guys going, "you homo!" and I'd have to be like "no way, man!"). Not only that, but to have more of a community culture, as opposed to the law of the jungle individualistic one we have now. Those are my preferences, though, I'm the sort-of person who gets more out of relationships than I do possessions.
posted by gehenna_lion at 9:43 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Have been reading this thread with interest and not a little divorce-trauma clawing at my hindbrain.

There's this thread that runs through this discussion, about men learning that feeling or showing emotion == danger, even among the people one is closest to in life. Someone way up thread talks about only after 10 years has the finally been able to disclose his anxiety to his wife, because when he does so, she has something to use against him. And then these Brene Brown quotes from men saying that their women can't stand to see them vulnerable...

I'll tell you my lived experience: coming to the slow realization that every time my husband felt any of those challenging emotions within our marriage (shame, fear, failure, vulnerability), that alchemized into him demonizing me. Whatever the conflict was between us, however pressing the shared problem or legitimate my own issue, when those ugly feelings reared their heads, from his point of view, I turned into the threat. I say slow realization because of course none of this could be discussed or addressed directly--even trying to get at it welled up more poison, more contempt, and more shame on his part for feeling such ugly feelings against the person he used to? Was supposed to? Love.

i would have gladly held him in his vulnerability, honored him in his struggle as I hoped he would honor me, but I got treated with as much emotional brutality as I guess he must have, coming up.

I've been working for years to heal from this and have more to go. Our kids have those scars too and will for long time to come.

Case study in how this isn't just a guy issue? Me working out my shit some more on MeFi? Probably some of both...
posted by Sublimity at 9:46 AM on April 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


and I can imagine a chorus of other guys going, "you homo!" and I'd have to be like "no way, man!")

Or you could be like "so what, man? Why does that even matter? It's two thousand and fucking sixteen, grow up."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Never let them see that they get to you." --Nick Wilde, Zootopia

Ha, I was going to mention the old "never let them see you sweat" deodorant ads, and how I wish they'd actually said, "Sweat all you like and if they give you a hard time tell them to stick it where the sun don't shine."
posted by Lyme Drop at 9:56 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


gehenna_lion: The changes I'd like to see is making it more acceptable for men to have closer, more intimate same-sex friendships (and I can imagine a chorus of other guys going, "you homo!" and I'd have to be like "no way, man!").

It's funny; when people who don't like sports want to make fun of sports - a place where, sometimes, intense male bonding happens - they gleefully point out how homoerotic it all is, all the butt-slapping and hugging and touching, as a way of... condemning it? pointing out the hypocrisy of homophobia in sport? I'm not quite sure.
posted by clawsoon at 9:57 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Emotional expression definitely needs to be calculated. Not just because of cultural norms of masculinity, but also because there are people out there who will use that vulnerability to their advantage. Socially, at work, or even for sadistic reasons.

Yes! At the risk of repeating myself, this is the drum of "context" that I have been beating throughout this thread. It is healthy and emotionally intelligent to have an awareness of your emotional state and a handful of people with whom you can talk about that emotional state with minimal holding back or inhibition. It's not healthy to do this without any attention to where you are and whom you're with.

The changes I'd like to see is making it more acceptable for men to have closer, more intimate same-sex friendships (and I can imagine a chorus of other guys going, "you homo!" and I'd have to be like "no way, man!").

All-male social spaces (like lodges, clubs, and societies) went into decline, at least in the USA, during the past 50 years or so. Originally the explanation was that these organizations were "sexist" in their exclusion of women. The newer explanation does seems to be a vague, shaming insinuation about homosexuality - "so your groups is all men and you go into the woods and do ceremonies? Sounds kinda gay, dude..." (Which is, needless to say, an obnoxious form of shaming that depends on both (1) hatred and suspicion of gay men, and (2) a presumed sexualization of all social spaces and activities.)

Regardless of the nay-sayers, same-sex socialization is healthy for both men and women. Mens' emotional health and wellness would definitely be served by same-sex group activities.
posted by theorique at 9:58 AM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


For me, it's pointing out the hypocrisy. And noting how many gay dudes I know who play sports and extrapolating to major leagues.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:59 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?


- Audre Lorde
posted by rtha at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


gehenna_lion: Emotional expression definitely needs to be calculated. Not just because of cultural norms of masculinity, but also because there are people out there who will use that vulnerability to their advantage. Socially, at work, or even for sadistic reasons.

It just occurred to me that this is pretty similar to the logic that's behind telling women not to dress so slutty because they might get raped.

I can imagine the reaction to men having a "Cry Walk", along the lines of the "Slut Walks". It would not be good. Not good at all.
posted by clawsoon at 10:08 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


My experience is one of feeling completely helpless and forbidden to speak about my inner mental world. I have anxieties about my work, my friends or lack thereof. I worry about whether I'm a good enough parent. I worry about whether I make good choices or bad. I sometimes feel so completely overwhelmed by the balancing act of trying to manage family, work, friends etc and feel like I'm failing on all of them. I hate the way that middle age is slowly making my body feel and look run down. Just like women, men have all sorts of complex feelings.

I know this isn't an AskMe thread, but if I can offer some take-it-or-leave-it advice: journaling. Take 30-60 minutes where you are able and write down a couple hundred or a couple thousand words what you're feeling, without censorship and without holding back. Don't worry about being "nice" or correct or accurate or fair or anything like that. (You can delete the file or shred/burn the pages right after you finish if your writing contains things that you don't want others to read.)

Since this kind of "venting" is often harder for men to do in conversation with friends or family, performing this process privately can be a way to flush the emotional buffers clean and let go of recurring and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.
posted by theorique at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2016


It just occurred to me that this is pretty similar to the logic that's behind telling women not to dress so slutty because they might get raped.

I can imagine the reaction to men having a "Cry Walk", along the lines of the "Slut Walks". It would not be good. Not good at all.


I think the issues women have are a little different from the ones men have. Victim blaming for rape is a little different than blaming men for ... crying in public? Wildly different in degree and form.

What I'm talking about is waving your vulnerabilities around makes you open to the dark side of primate behavior. I'm sure a lot of that's fueled by culture, but there are also some really sick, nasty, twisted, demented people out there, so from average to extreme, it's generally a good policy to be strategic with what you share to others and the world.
posted by gehenna_lion at 10:14 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wildly different in degree and form.

Agreed 100%. I should've put a much stronger caveat in there.

I wouldn't be surprised if "Cry Walk" participants got death and rape threats, though (since they're So Gay, obviously, and therefore deserve it), and that's part of the similarity I was thinking of.
posted by clawsoon at 10:22 AM on April 5, 2016


Victim blaming for rape is a little different than blaming men for ... crying in public?

Blaming men for getting assaulted for crying in public is also part of the comparison I was thinking of, the kind of violence that [expletive deleted] and sonascope and others talked about above.
posted by clawsoon at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2016


I've just finished reading We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is a very small book, but has a huge amount to say that is worth listening to / reading. But the quote that leapt to mind as I read this thread was this one :
We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.
posted by Fence at 11:07 AM on April 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


every time my husband felt any of those challenging emotions within our marriage (shame, fear, failure, vulnerability), that alchemized into him demonizing me

yeah, speaking from my own experience working through this in successive relationships, that's the outcome of men not receiving any useful education in working with their own emotions - not only is there a barrier of anger/shame/fear that lies in the way of working with the actual emotional states, there is a displacement of responsibility and a projection of blame - oh, and we can add in the additional frustration/anger at knowing that you want to do better and there are ways of doing this better and you don't know what they are or how to enact them; all you have are habits that don't work but those habits are powerful and reinforced by the world around you and those are the habits you have

so yeah, the patriarchy hurts everyone
posted by kokaku at 11:08 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wonder why many men have a blindness to caretaking and certain types of emotional labor? Because emotional reasoning is trained out of boys with literal reward/punishment Pavlovian conditioning. Literal in the sense that it has often historically been, "show an emotion, get hit."

Or, "show an emotion, be ostracized." Or, "show an emotion, be taken off the leadership track." Or, "show an emotion, lose access to sexual intimacy."

I didn't see stoicism and providing economically given credit in Metafilter's emotional labor conversation. Stoicism is exhausting. Hiding your vulnerabilities is exhausting. Men are spending their spoons at the exact same rate that women are spending their's.

Sonascope: "because that's what I felt right then and it was all too much for a body to contain, and a few people cut me a wide berth, but I came to notice that a woman had caught up to my usual brisk walking pace, and when I looked to her, she looked me in the eyes with a smile and extended a hand.

I took it, and we kept on walking like that was exactly the most normal thing in the world."

When I feel the most vulnerable, I want this more than anything. More strongly than that, though, I feel guilty for wanting it.
posted by Skwirl at 11:57 AM on April 5, 2016 [22 favorites]


I want to say "Thank you" for everyone sharing in this thread. It's made me tear up a little just reading about the pain that so many find it so hard to share. It also makes me so afraid for my son, who at five years old just feels everything so deeply. I try to make sure that I am not quashing those emotions or belittling them, and I think I succeed most of the time, but so many of these responses are so ingrained in me, just like in other men. I think I'm more comfortable with expressing emotion than many other men, but, like others here, I've never cried with my male friends, very rarely discussed anything really serious with them. Thankfully, my wife and I are comfortable sharing our emotions with each other, but even so, without even thinking about it, I keep so much of that inside.

So, thank you for this discussion. I think it's deeply important.
posted by dellsolace at 12:05 PM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


My mom tells me that when I was 5 and waiting for the bus on my first day of kindergarten, I struck up a conversation with another boy. Apparently we got along so well that I gave him a hug. (Note: I did not attend nursery school or preschool, and my younger sister was not born until a year later, so my socialization with other kids was limited to the children of my parents' close friends.) He pushed me down and said "boys don't hug."

I feel like this is unfortunately apt imagery for much of my emotional life. It might even be part of why even today I have trouble being vulnerable, especially around male friends and relatives. #feelsbadman
posted by dhens at 12:13 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


[A few comments deleted; please be mindful that readers can't always tell what you're endorsing, so to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding in a tough thread like this, if you're working through stereotype stuff, try to be clear in your comment that that's what's going on. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:17 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can imagine the reaction to men having a "Cry Walk", along the lines of the "Slut Walks". It would not be good. Not good at all.

This makes me think of an earlier incarnation of men's issues. Back in the late 80s-early 90s when Robert Bly wrote Iron John which is very much about all of this, it spawned many "men's encounter groups" that would go off in the woods to sit around a fire and try to open up about their inner lives. And they got ridiculed in popular culture for it, with things like Saturday Night Live skits and the like, characterizing these guys as "a bunch of babies."

So we've kinda had a men's Cry Walk. Seems like the men who actually went to it may have learned a lot, but it failed to bring about wider change in the culture that chose to point and laugh instead.
posted by dnash at 12:34 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


This makes me think of an earlier incarnation of men's issues. Back in the late 80s-early 90s when Robert Bly wrote Iron John which is very much about all of this, it spawned many "men's encounter groups" that would go off in the woods to sit around a fire and try to open up about their inner lives. And they got ridiculed in popular culture for it, with things like Saturday Night Live skits and the like, characterizing these guys as "a bunch of babies."

I definitely remember this. I must have been at an impressionable age when this was going on, the whole idea of a "men's group" doing rain dances in the woods belongs to some comedy archetype in my mind.
posted by gehenna_lion at 12:41 PM on April 5, 2016


Having read all those threads about EL, I feel like I've taken the red pill and detached from the Matrix. Now I see performance of EL everywhere I look that has humans interacting with humans. Anybody else feel this way?

I think this is true. Emotional labor is, at its heart, caring for the way another human being feels. It's a necessary part of social interaction. Where it becomes toxic is when all the expectations of labor are placed on one person.
posted by schroedinger at 12:50 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


In a timely development, The Onion has published this article today (sponsored by CMT!?!): Tips for Male Bonding
posted by dhens at 12:54 PM on April 5, 2016


I remember all that Iron John stuff, and a lot of it was pretty misogynist. It may have been a joke in general culture for the wrong reasons, but it had plenty of disturbing elements - the idea that men are stifled by their mothers'/feminine authority and have to break free, the idea that men need to go on a "hero's journey" but women do not, because the female "hero's journey" is childbirth, plus a sort of ev-psych-ish reading of a fairytale. (A pretty bad one, claiming that Iron John is this unique tale of masculinity when it is almost entirely in parallel to Katie Woodencloak/Thousandfur.)

I feel like any "let's get in touch with our masculinity" thing that attempts to postulate an inherent masculinity rather than a constellation of culturally constructed masculinities is going to end up being misogynist and just, so to speak, a gilding of the small hard cage.
posted by Frowner at 1:01 PM on April 5, 2016 [17 favorites]


I was all set to type a long and nasty comment about the Iron John/Fire in the Belly stuff and how gross it was but Frowner, yep.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:08 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Last year, one of my daughters told me that a classmate of hers - a boy of 13 - confessed to her how much he loves animals. For years now he has secretly frequented all the "children's farms" (public city farms in parks, where kids get to take care of farm animals) in our Dutch city. He knows them all, practically knows all the animals by name, and at the time he was eagerly awaiting the birth of a calf to one of the cows. Riding his bike there every day after school.

And the way he swore my daughter to secrecy, you would've thought this was a state secret. For years, this boy had been worrying that someone would find out where he went every other day, which would lead to a de facto social death. Because of caring about animals. I have no words for how unfair I thought that was.

But it is just one example of what has stood out to me in recent years among the peer group of my kids: how unacceptable certain kinds of positive, joyous and nurturing emotions seem to be for boys to have and express. As well as most artistic creativity. Or reading the wrong kind of children's literature. And generally, interest in any topic deemed unsuitable for boys. It's the peer group doing the policing, and to me it looks so brutally limiting, especially at an age when these kids could be discovering who they are and what they love.

And it's got to have consequences. While I was reading this thread, I kept thinking about what Eyebrows McGee wrote in an earlier thread about emotional labour and early socialization. To me, these things seem utterly intertwined. Little boys and young men are actively discouraged from developing relationships or engaging in activities where they might risk learning EL skills.
posted by sively at 1:13 PM on April 5, 2016 [15 favorites]


What Wikipedia calls the mythopoetic men's movement strikes me as having been blind to all the male initiation ceremonies and rituals which do happen in Western, especially American, society. Sports. Hazing. Military.

They may have been blind on purpose; possibly because they found all the standard rituals toxic, and possibly because they were shut out of them. This may have been part of the ridicule: Here are men who say they want to become Real Men, and say they've created a way to do that, but we already have rituals to create Real Men and those men have already failed the test.

That's an explanation for some of the ridicule, not an endorsement.
posted by clawsoon at 1:14 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about this all day, and had a comment that got modded off b/c, in retrospect, it lacked perspective. But I find it hard to get perspective, b/c for me this is very knit up in gender roles and relations.

Anyway. This was hard to write.

1. My experience is that what I do is more important than what I feel. I've hit women before, and I can't process that without this baseline truth: that I felt angry is less important than the fact that I hit someone.

2. My feelings around women are a huge part of my emotional life. And not being desired can hurt. Call it entitled, call it whatever you will, it's the biggest cliche in the world, but unrequited desire hurts. I've found there's little that can be done to assuage it besides go lose yourself in physical activity.

3. I've found that when I need a woman to desire me, that's a pretty big turnoff. Why that is is none of my business, it's just how it's been for me. Suffice to say that when I'm not autonomous, nobody's happy.

4. For all of the above reasons, I thrive on autonomy. Being a young man was really shitty, because I had no autonomy. And being caught up in institutions like higher ed and shuffled amongst therapists and medications to "fix" me didn't help.

And that's why I don't like crying in front of people. I experience crying in front of others as needy, not autonomous. Crying in front of people means I am not okay and I need to be comforted. And while I get my immediate concerns taken care of when I'm comforted, I am not happy in the long run because I am not truly needed.

Yet just because I don't cry in that way doesn't mean I don't have an emotional life. I cry before God when I pray sometimes. I also have mentors and friends that I talk through my emotional life with. But I don't go to them for support: I go to them for counsel, and because I just can't make sense of those feelings on my own.

It also doesn't mean I don't like to be comforted. The groups of men I'm a part of tend to be huggy. They tend to hug you whether you like it or not. And I've learned to hug the men I know whether they like it or not, too.
posted by billjings at 2:00 PM on April 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


And I've learned to hug the men I know whether they like it or not, too.

Hugging someone who doesn't like or want it is an invasion of personal space and, to put it in your terms, a violation of their autonomy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:08 PM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sheee-it, feckless, be easy on the guy. What you're saying is true, but you're doing the gut punch right after he made himself vulnerable.
posted by clawsoon at 2:13 PM on April 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


One modern day descendent of the mythopoetic men's movement is the Mankind Project . They were actually immensely helpful to my emotionally stunted husband as he started figuring out how utterly incapable he was in dealing with emotion.

It was an environment where guys could talk to other guys, in a masculine way, with the same sort of experience-sharing that women do naturally. After his first few experiences he was dumbfounded at how many similar dynamics/histories/struggles would surface.

He also began to recognize that he--like many men--was essentially completely emotionally illiterate. As in, he really could not identify what he was feeling at any given time (and so of course had no clue how this was coloring his entire life). Their framework of five basic emotions was revelatory to him as he started to figure this out.

Unfortunately it was too little, too late for our marriage and couldn't neutralize or heal the years of emotional abuse that characterized his response to stress or conflict. However it was truly eye opening to me to learn along the way that full grown adults walk among us and actually can't formulate the concept that, right now, they feel _______.
posted by Sublimity at 2:14 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sublimity: Unfortunately it was too little, too late

After your relationship with your husband ended, did he go down the road of, "OMG, I got sensitive and vulnerable and that's exactly why she left me"?
posted by clawsoon at 2:23 PM on April 5, 2016


Sorry for threadsitting. My Mom died recently, funeral is this weekend, and this is a way I can interact with people without blubbering all over my desk at work.
posted by clawsoon at 2:47 PM on April 5, 2016 [13 favorites]


Clawsoon, I'm so sorry about your mom.

About "OMG I got sensitive and vulnerable and that's why she left me": not that I've heard, but then I don't speak with the man.

The incident that was the last straw for me (which relates to the theme of this discussion, so why not go there?) was when the marriage therapist and I finally got him to explain how he could justify to himself his pattern of coldness and withholding, when it was clearly immensely painful to me to be frozen out and I tried many ways to address the lack of kindness and warmth in the relationship. He said that he saw me as strong and himself as weak, and when he saw me scrambling and hurt and failing, he interpreted that as me being brought down to his level, and that made him feel powerful. Also, he was always keenly aware of power dynamics in our relationship, and in romantic relationships the one who wants it less has the most power, so he felt powerful when I would chase him and try to get him to engage.

This kind of clarity and understanding, and willingness to address the question of his self-justification at all, was only possible due to the internal work he had started to do, for sure. Whether he somehow conceptualizes this as "vulnerable and sensitive", I have no clue. Maybe? I really don't know. However, back in consensual reality, this admission wasn't even followed up by so much as an "I'm sorry", so I think an impartial observer might come to a different conclusion. If he did somehow cast himself as the Victimized Sensitive Dude--well, it wouldn't be the weirdest conclusion he's ever drawn.
posted by Sublimity at 3:09 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


But it is just one example of what has stood out to me in recent years among the peer group of my kids: how unacceptable certain kinds of positive, joyous and nurturing emotions seem to be for boys to have and express.

I think one of the reasons many women get weak-kneed at the sight of a man playing with children or interacting lovingly with animals is because we're not used to seeing that sort of open, emotional softness from men. Not all women feel this way, and there's often an element of the double-standard going on there where a guy gets bonus points for doing things expected of women. But at least for me the appeal is of a man who is willing to buck the system and show an "un-manly" side of himself.
posted by schroedinger at 3:20 PM on April 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, Clawsoon.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:06 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


jfwlucy: "To a man, they reply yes. Why? "Because he won't make it in the real world. He'll get called a sissy. He is going to have to be tough to survive." So out of genuine love for their children, the next generation continues to pass on the same poison that crippled them."

Yes, this is one that genuinely keeps me awake at night, because I don't think this line of reasoning is entirely wrong. I used to think it was absurd to encourage the "boys must be tough" thing but then I had a son and the complexities of the problem started coming into focus.

My son isn't a super-resilient kid. He cries easily and is overwhelmed by his emotions. Teaching him to understand and manage his emotions is important, but it's hard and he's taking a long time to get there. But he's at school now, and I'm now acutely aware that there is a clock ticking. If he can't learn it soon, he will be at risk of being bullied. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the current reality on the ground. While I would like a better world in which my son is afforded the time to learn self-control and the "no sissies" thing dies in a fire, I'm stuck with this stupid world in which he has to get it together soon. My partner and I have started to become a little less tolerant of him losing control than we used to be, because he is quickly reaching the age at which no-one else will tolerate it. The structure of the rest of the world has forced our hand here and we have very little room to move.

Going hand in hand with that process of emotional control is the way in which he adjusts to the schoolyard. In particular I've noticed a certain "hardening" of his behaviour ever since he started school and began socialising with lots of other boys. He is rougher and more defiant than he used to be. He never starts fights or anything like that, but the gentleness that he typically shows is greatly diminished. It comes back over school holidays or when he's with his little sister, but goes away around other boys or when school starts again. I don't like it, but I'm loathe to intervene too strongly: this behaviour is very clearly adaptive. It's something that enables him to get along in his social environment. Trying to undo that socialisation entirely would probably be a disaster for him, especially since he's right in the middle of trying to learn basic self-control and I worry that it would provoke meltdowns if I try to discourage a behaviour that is clearly working very well for him.

There's this delicate balancing act between trying to teach him how to survive in the often toxic world that boys occupy (where it helps to be "tough"), and to provide the tools that will get him out of that trap later on (where you need to recognise that the idea of "toughness" is a load of bollocks). I don't know even how to strike that balance properly as an adult much less how to do it with a kid.
posted by langtonsant at 4:24 PM on April 5, 2016 [24 favorites]


Internet hugs (if you want them, and if not, then just my deepest sympathy), clawsoon.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2016


There's this delicate balancing act between trying to teach him how to survive in the often toxic world that boys occupy (where it helps to be "tough"), and to provide the tools that will get him out of that trap later on (where you need to recognise that the idea of "toughness" is a load of bollocks). I don't know even how to strike that balance properly as an adult much less how to do it with a kid.

If you wouldn't mind some advice (you know your situation best, apologies if I'm overstepping again), often talking about the situation, the adaptive changes he's making, etc... can give him the language to understand what's going on and help you both to navigate the ethics of living in a damaging world. The language you use could be like "You do xyz after being with family and abc after being at school. What do you think is going on?" Naming and asking is a really good way to build awareness of and facility with circumstances and choice with regards to our emotions and the feedback we receive on who we are.

If he understands "being tough" is something he can chose given the circumstance, not something he has to be no matter what, then he will also learn that "being gentle" is something he can chose in other circumstances. This also works to both to inculcate himself against blaming himself for being bullied and encourages him to not be a bully. My gut sense of bullying (I've not studied it but I was bullied and later became friends with the chief instigator) is that there are children who bully to avoid being bullied, and that's an easy place for a gentle and sensitive boy to go out of fear and desperation.

The usual reaction to bullies (I know I experienced this when I was bullied) is to focus on what is wrong with the bullied and try to change them, which sends the message that the fault in the situation is on the target and not the actual people being cruel. The more challenging but more just response should be to target the bullies and make it clear cruelty isn't acceptable. The world isn't like this right now, but I think if we speak up and say it should be, and enough people raise their children to expect it to be, than the world can change.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:39 PM on April 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


There's this delicate balancing act between trying to teach him how to survive in the often toxic world that boys occupy (where it helps to be "tough"), and to provide the tools that will get him out of that trap later on (where you need to recognise that the idea of "toughness" is a load of bollocks). I don't know even how to strike that balance properly as an adult much less how to do it with a kid.

Toughness as a more general concept is a great quality for a boy or man to have. Call it resilience, or unfuckwithableness, or whatever else you like, but it’s a broader quality and life skill than just being resistant to bullying, or being willing to fight back against an aggressor.

Maybe “gravitas” is a good word for it - a certain Stoic calm in the would-be victim that will throw off a bully’s equilibrium and un-nerve him.

——

Clawsoon: I am very sorry to hear about your mother and I hope that you can find peace at this time through writing here and whatever else you need to do.
posted by theorique at 6:36 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a side note about raising boys, I was raised by a single mom and my sister, and as a consequence I hard a really hard time learning how to navigate masculinity. A lot of my behavior was coded as feminine because my role models were women. Everyone assumed I was gay because of how I carried and expressed myself, which made me a target on the one hand, and which really screwed with my sense of self (and sexuality) on the other. For the majority of people, being gay was apparently the only explanation for my outward lack of masculine traits.

The thing is, I could have learned to embrace that, to help chip away at toxic masculinity (and stereotypes about sexuality), but that kind of stuff really gets under your skin. We want our kids to be who they want to be (who they feel comfortable being), but no one else does. I could have been a model for positive change, but I would have been sacrificing more than I could bear. Call it weakness, or call it survival, but I just didn't have it in me to stand up to the world. I just ended up copying masculinity without any guidance (sometimes with negative consequences), and I think I'm still learning how to fit in. I'm just lucky that as I get older I worry about it less.

I hear about boys growing up today, and I want them to get those skills that I didn't have, because for all I want to fight the toxicity of masculinity, I don't want anyone to have to go through all that the way I did.
posted by teponaztli at 7:43 PM on April 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


The thing is, I could have learned to embrace that, to help chip away at toxic masculinity (and stereotypes about sexuality), but that kind of stuff really gets under your skin. We want our kids to be who they want to be (who they feel comfortable being), but no one else does. I could have been a model for positive change, but I would have been sacrificing more than I could bear. Call it weakness, or call it survival, but I just didn't have it in me to stand up to the world. I just ended up copying masculinity without any guidance (sometimes with negative consequences), and I think I'm still learning how to fit in. I'm just lucky that as I get older I worry about it less.

I had an unconventional upbringing that made it hard for me to "code masculine". The only solution I found was moving to NYC where I coded instead as "cool and artsy". Which isn't a solution for like, most people in the US, I was just lucky to be born outside of the city.

It's tough because of how entrenched it is, and how violently it's enforced. I moved back to the suburbs for a job and I've had people call me a "fag" and "pussy" from their cars, I've gotten assaulted on the street, etc., for the dire crime of not looking masculine enough, I guess. And this is in a supposedly nice middle class suburb, too. Nuts to that. I'm moving back to the city as soon as humanly possible.
posted by gehenna_lion at 8:16 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Toughness and resilience aren't really the same thing, theorique. You can be a sensitive and emotionally demonstrative person, and also be willing to persevere through difficult experiences.

As far as toughness goes, for what it's worth, I think it's easy for well-meaning parents and educators to communicate the wrong message there. The sum total of the advice I got as a kid was mostly repetitions of the idea that "bullies win when you have an emotional reaction" and that I needed to be calm in the face of aggression. But even though I could see there was some truth in this, as Deoridhe mentioned upthread, it mostly made me feel worse: not only was I getting bullied, but now the fault was actually located in me for being too emotional, not in my aggressors for bullying me. I would also often be punished twice over for crying or yelling, first socially by my peers, and then formally by my teachers (who seemed to be much more concerned that I was crying or yelling than that someone had, e.g., been intentionally tripping me on the stairs for the last several weeks).

So in my experience, framing that problem as my needing to cultivate "toughness" was sort of pernicious. For one thing, it allowed people to avoid acknowledging that I really was being treated poorly. For another, it didn't even help me better regulate my emotions: it just made me feel ashamed about failing to live up to that standard, and gave others another yardstick by which I was made to feel inadequate.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:17 PM on April 5, 2016 [19 favorites]


I really worry about this myself, as a parent of two boys. Right now they are still young (an infant and a three-year-old) but the oldest is already struggling with the "corset of masculinity."

He's a pretty gender-variant kid (so far), with a strong preference for wearing dresses, dancing, rainbows, and princesses. All of the kids in his daycare are all just becoming newly aware of gender, and as long as he dresses "like a girl" he gets lots of comments from other kids telling him he must be a girl because he wore skirts or telling him boys couldn't wear pink or whatever. (They're mostly not malicious I think, just coming from the other kids trying to navigate these waters, but he really takes them to heart).

He hates these comments: it's become clear that whatever his preferred activities or mode of dressing, he identifies as a boy and doesn't like to be mis-gendered. His solution has been to wear "boy clothes" on daycare days and his preferred clothes (skirts, pink, etc) on non-daycare days. And doing this has actually really helped his social life; he was never that social, but since wearing these clothes he's become a lot more outgoing and even has a little boy friend, his first ever.

On the one hand, I'm so happy to see that he's doing well socially for basically the first time in his life. On the other hand, this breaks my heart a bit, because it's so incredibly obvious that these clothes aren't his preference, and that he is forcing himself into a box that he doesn't really fit. But on the gripping hand, he does have to live in the world, and he's come up with an adaptation that seems to be working for him better than going to school in skirts and constantly correcting the other little kids did.

We're of course talking a lot about this at home, and right now he does explicitly see it as an adaptation to the "silly" expectations of the other kids, who are for some reason that he can't understand really worried about colours and pants and so forth. I assume, because that's how these things go, that he'll internalise a lot of it at some point, no matter how much we try to fight it. So right now my best hope is that he learns to "code switch" - that he learns how to play the masculine role as necessary in order to not get beat up and have friends, but that he still retains the ability to process his emotions, to feel his feelings, to have a sensitive side, and mainly not to bury who he is in this masculine box our culture imposes. That's the best case, because I think not adapting would be worse for him -- he'll be bullied and ostracised -- while complete adaptation would mean he loses access to his own emotional expression.

But how sad is it that right now the best outcome I can see is that he only spends half of his life shaving off corners of himself in order to fit into this rigid cultural box?
posted by forza at 8:21 PM on April 5, 2016 [19 favorites]


teponaztli: " Call it weakness, or call it survival, but I just didn't have it in me to stand up to the world. I just ended up copying masculinity without any guidance (sometimes with negative consequences), and I think I'm still learning how to fit in. I'm just lucky that as I get older I worry about it less. "

This is not dissimilar to my experience, and I feel very fortunate that as I've gotten older I've started to pick up the skills required to turn the "male performance" on and off as required (a little bit at least). I think the ability to do masculine performance is greatly underrated by folks who never needed to do it or always knew how to. It is brutal being that boy who can't work out how to play the part, and the thought that my son might have to go through that too is what fills me with dread.

Deoridhe: "The world isn't like this right now, but I think if we speak up and say it should be, and enough people raise their children to expect it to be, than the world can change."

I agreed with everything else you wrote, and your practical suggestions are exactly in line with the approach we're taking, but I don't share your optimism about the prospects for change. This might be the consequence of my own formative experiences, but I cannot make myself believe it. The most positive outcome that I think has even the slightest chance of actually happening is that my son learns how to "code switch" in the way forza is talking about, and he learns how to survive in a toxic environment without internalising the norms. I have no realistic hope that the kind of broader change you're talking about will happen, except maybe over the time course of several generations.
posted by langtonsant at 8:53 PM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


"But how sad is it that right now the best outcome I can see is that he only spends half of his life shaving off corners of himself in order to fit into this rigid cultural box?"

A friend once mentioned that her mother was squished down by various factors, which led to her mother trying her best to improve the friend's life. She in turn is trying to improve her children's lives. "A little less squished" is a phrase that runs through my head a lot.

(Phrasing woes due to it being midnight o'clock.)
posted by XtinaS at 9:07 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I had an unconventional upbringing that made it hard for me to "code masculine". The only solution I found was moving to NYC where I coded instead as "cool and artsy". Which isn't a solution for like, most people in the US, I was just lucky to be born outside of the city.

It's tough because of how entrenched it is, and how violently it's enforced. I moved back to the suburbs for a job and I've had people call me a "fag" and "pussy" from their cars, I've gotten assaulted on the street, etc., for the dire crime of not looking masculine enough, I guess. And this is in a supposedly nice middle class suburb, too. Nuts to that. I'm moving back to the city as soon as humanly possible.


As a guy there's a part of me that regrets even posting this. Now I want to counter with how I got into fist fights growing up, and screwed all sorts of women, and how macho and awesome I am. Because I imagine the women reading this will think I'm some wussy loser puss that they have to uncomfortably distance themselves from.

At this point I don't really care, though, I've lived through things that would make people projectile vomit across the room and I made it out. Masculinity has nothing to do with resilience, or strength, or toughness, or anything like that: it's a look and a performance only. It's about following strict rules blindly and obediently, as opposed to actually cultivating any qualities in particular. It's inherently shallow and insubstantial like any social role.
posted by gehenna_lion at 9:12 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Interesting article about the subjects of this thread.

Young male initiations into a tribe have a long history (e.g. Sparta, Judea, sports teams, fraternities). The article argues that if there's no tribal initiation rite administered by the adult males of the tribe, then boys will come up with their own, even if those are antisocial (youth gangs in a ghetto, online troll crews, etc).

Maybe this is one of the reasons why the "Iron John" forest rituals of the 1980s were so mocked - they were LARPing authentic rites that were originally administered to young boys in full seriousness, and they were doing this as grown men, in a form of remedial tribal initiation that would have been completed in their teen years in a traditional culture.
posted by theorique at 3:00 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gehenna Lion, I thought your post was cool, very self-aware, and very brave, FWIW.
posted by jfwlucy at 3:24 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I never thought of myself as coding "gay" or "effeminate" until I spent a few days in jail (long story). In the holding cell, someone - who didn't know why I had been arrested, but who had my best interests in mind - gruffly told me that I should ask to be put into protective custody instead of the main population. When I arrived in protective custody, some of the (very kind, nice) gay guys there thought I was hitting on them. It was my shy, "let's be friends" smile that did it, I think.

Outside that context, especially when I'm nervous, I think I mostly code as Nice Guy(TM). As appropriate as that was in the demasculinized Evangelical Church of the 1980s, I'm pretty sure it doesn't make a great impression now.

And thanks for all your sympathy and kind words.
posted by clawsoon at 4:48 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Gehenna Lion, I thought your post was cool, very self-aware, and very brave, FWIW.

Thanks, though I wouldn't exactly call it brave, I'm anonymous over an internet forum. I think the main issue I have in suburbia is I like snappy clothing and haircuts and I'm interested in the arts and design. Which goes off a little better in the city than in NFL/middle manager land. At my last corporate job in deep suburbia, a Fortune 500 headquarters, I was called "womanly", "girly", "pretentious", "faggy". Whereas in the city people stumbled over each other to hang out with me. Go figure. I have no idea why I even moved back out here, total bonehead move on my part.

I don't think we're going to see a change in our concept of masculinity until people relinquish the values that go along with it. I don't blame people for being afraid about it, either, because ostracization isn't exactly something anyone would want for themselves and their loved ones. The United States in particular has a pretty brutal culture, so not conforming can be downright dangerous.
posted by gehenna_lion at 5:55 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks, though I wouldn't exactly call it brave

Breaking out of comfort zones, in this case the corset of masculinity, is always brave. Doesn't matter if it has your real name attached or not.

One of the things we talked about a lot when I was in therapy was diminishing or downplaying actual victories. Not every victory is 'got the dream job, found my soulmate, etc.' Some victories are smaller... getting out of bed. Saying hello to someone. Saying something that makes you vulnerable.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:31 AM on April 6, 2016 [16 favorites]


Thinking more about the demasculinized church I grew up in... it occurs to me that it was a haven for guys like my Dad, guys who were more sensitive than average, guys who would cry. (My stoicism I mostly got from my Mom, and later from the playground.)

The Mars Hill preacher would've said my church was maximally pussified. Not that it was anywhere near being patriarchy-free - women were put on impossible pedestals of purity, homosexuality didn't exist, all the pastors were men, etc. - but men were expected to be kind. They were expected to revere and defer to their wives. "Macho" was a worldly value, not a church value. Sexually harassment was a huge no-no, something I talked about a bit in the Evangelical/PUA context.

Churches hemorrhaged men. My half-baked theory is that most men saw how much more their male privilege and masculinity got them in the world outside the church. Stallone's characters got revenge. James Bond got women. Gordon Gekko got filthy rich. They all had equivalents who got the same rewards for their hypermasculinity in the real world. Church men, though, weren't supposed to even lust after those things, let alone pursue them. They were supposed to be meek. Humble. Desexualized.

A counter-reaction set in in the church, though most of it happened after I left. Dominant masculinity came back in a big way in things like Promise Keepers, Quiverfull, and Mars Hill. And especially after 9/11, macho militarism became an accepted Christian value in many churches. Men started coming back. In-your-face male privilege had been restored.

Thinking about gehenna_lion's comment about cities, it seems like most of the guys I went to church with - many of whom were sensitive like their Dads, often artistic or musical - ended up in cities. Most of the non-church guys stayed around, especially as the rising price of oil made the culture in oil rig country even more masculine. Rural churches were no longer enough of a haven for sensitive guys, especially when you could move to the city and make good money as a graphic designer.

This is all unresearched personal observation and conjecture, so don't take it too seriously.
posted by clawsoon at 8:26 AM on April 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


jpe: The people I know that can't control their anger are the same people that cry more often.

So if someone tells a man to not be so angry all the time or to control his temper, isn't it hard for him to selectively damp down only the undesirable emotion, and not the others? Wouldn't he first need to have some mastery over -- and knowledge of -- the full range of his feelings before trying to prune them?

Just thinking out loud here.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:35 AM on April 6, 2016


No, and I feel like saying that gives cover to men with anger control issues (which I won't pretend for a second I don't have. Getting better, I hope) to ignore dealing with that until they get in touch with all their feelings.

The thing about not controlling your anger is that it feels so good to be an emotional Godzilla and just let loose. It's an immediate gratification vs the long-term slower and more subtle gratification of controlling it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:39 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think we're going to see a change in our concept of masculinity until people relinquish the values that go along with it. I don't blame people for being afraid about it, either, because ostracization isn't exactly something anyone would want for themselves and their loved ones. The United States in particular has a pretty brutal culture, so not conforming can be downright dangerous.

This is unlikely to change until the pain that comes from the status quo exceeds the fear of change. But one of the difficulties there is that the rewards and penalties are distributed unequally: there isn't a great deal of incentive to change for those who benefit the most from the status quo, and those who don't benefit from the status quo are more likely to be outsiders and to have less power to change it. And of course, culture and norms change slowly - even the most influential cultural icon can't issue an executive order and change everything all at once.

One of the mitigating factors of the US is that there is a long history of subcultures and alt-cultures. So those who don't conform can at least have a niche where they are accepted for who they are.
posted by theorique at 8:40 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a niche person, let me tell you that having to stay in a niche to be accepted actually kind of totally sucks.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:42 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


I guess "more open minded than Saudia Arabia or Afghanistan" doesn't necessarily imply "good", in an objective sense.
posted by theorique at 8:50 AM on April 6, 2016


FFFM: The thing about not controlling your anger is that it feels so good to be an emotional Godzilla and just let loose. It's an immediate gratification vs the long-term slower and more subtle gratification of controlling it.

Of course! :7) And in the long term, gaining selective control would be the plan. But in the mean time, guys who only have a box of things that are probably nails, and who are only learning which end of the metaphorical hammer to hold, are probably going to smash flat everything they see.

It's damn hard not to shut down everything while you're learning there are subtleties to what's going on inside your head...and that probably comes across as shutting down emotionally for a while.

(But that could just be me. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:05 AM on April 6, 2016


One of the mitigating factors of the US is that there is a long history of subcultures and alt-cultures. So those who don't conform can at least have a niche where they are accepted for who they are.

As a niche person, let me tell you that having to stay in a niche to be accepted actually kind of totally sucks.

Agreed. My own journey to "outsider man" status isn't just having a weird, unfortunate upbringing. I started out as typically masculine, one of the guys, but I had a relentless curiosity about things and self-reflective personality. I used to love sports and military stuff when I was a kid, and as I got older I thought about it more, and decided war, boxing, and the NFL were cruel and inhumane.

I discovered interests like film, music, philosophy, sociology, nature, and politics that I thought were more interesting, and I took those on. So after a long process of constant renewel and discovery I found myself far outside where I originally started. So much so that I was now an outsider in the world I grew up in. And I have this sort-of contrarian, obstinate, life-loving personality, so I said "to hell with you all" and went my own way against social pressure.

I still like some sports and have some of that traditionally masculine "spirit", but I also have a ton of new and different things I've adopted and pieced together, too, that blends "masculine" and "feminine" (which I'm aware of are social constructs anyway). Unfortunately those constructs exert real force in the world, so I'm a nail that sticks out that gets the hammer, unless I'm very careful about how I go about the world.

The United States is a very conformist society that has a very brutal, cold-hearted nature behind it. Difference and individuality are very negative qualities to have here, in my experience. I faced a lot of rejection and violence becoming the person I am, and I only did it because I have a restless personality that made no other way possible.

Our consumer economy and society wouldn't function without high degrees of thoughtless conformity and blind order following, so maybe the way I am is a threat to the status quo. Or that could just be a heroic gloss I'm putting on a crappy situation.
posted by gehenna_lion at 9:10 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just an addendum, I think the seriousness of our masculinity issues goes hand in hand with how obedient we've become in the US.

We're overly deferential and obedient to our employers - and look how much we're being exploited, and how little benefits we get. People are unwilling to stand up, organize, and fight for the quality of their own lives, for benefits that people in most other developed countries get.

Or the problems with police violence. Or income inequality. Or healthcare. Or mental health services. Or homeless and poverty (which we're almost the worst at in the developed world). Or all of the gross injustices that are being committed by the government and corporations. Not to mention climate change.

I remember there was a thread on here about the rise of Trump, and some of the posters here said they could understand how regular citizens went Nazi under the regime. How is that not the reddest of red flags for the health of a free society? I can understand it, too, because the door of blind obedience to suffering and injustice has been opened, and people have been led so far down that hallway.

Since masculinity is an enforced social role, this type of fear and obedience is linked to the strictness, the violence, and misery caused by it, and by our own unthinking acquiescence to the status quo. We're not going to fix masculinity issues until we fix our own issues with being free-thinking, independent citizens willing to stand up for ourselves and our communities. Though sometimes I can't blame people, because I've gotten the absolute beatdown for speaking my voice and being independent.

That's my rant for the day. Thank you.
posted by gehenna_lion at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


You know, I realize I was remiss in telling my story without its conclusion. I had spent a long time separated from my friends, which was really due to the circumstances of life and the vagaries of miscommunication, but which my low self-esteem told me was a conscious effort to force me out. One day, I finally explained my feelings to my friend, a man who could reasonably be called the center of our group, and whom I've always admired for his self-assuredness and quiet generosity of spirit. And, of course, what happened was precisely the opposite of what I had feared: he told me that he felt the same affection for our friends that I did, and was dismayed that I had felt shunned for so long. Since then I've never had any reason to doubt that I was part of the group.

I don't think I exaggerate when I say that sharing my feelings with my friend that day has been the most beneficial choice in the past four years of my life. But even with such a powerful lesson to draw from, it's still so difficult for me to fight the conditioning of a lifetime and honestly express affection for the people who deserve it. I despair to think of all the men who have been told their whole lives that feelings are shameful things to be locked up and never let out, who never conceived that there might be another way, who never transgressed against The Laws of Manhood and realized that they're not so great or absolute after all.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:12 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


Related but separate: Inside the 'Asian Men Black Women' Dating Scene (from Vice last year):

"The unattractiveness of Asian-American men can be linked to their perceived lack of masculinity. Masculinity in American culture is an idea often predicated on aggressiveness and promiscuity. In Asian culture, however, masculinity is generally tied to mental strength, being a provider, and accepting familial responsibility."

The view of how much the concept of "masculinity" is culturally dependent is interesting.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


"The unattractiveness of Asian-American men can be linked to their perceived lack of masculinity. Masculinity in American culture is an idea often predicated on aggressiveness and promiscuity. In Asian culture, however, masculinity is generally tied to mental strength, being a provider, and accepting familial responsibility."

The view of how much the concept of "masculinity" is culturally dependent is interesting.


Which specific part of American culture, though? For example, in a Division I college football team, of course the players express their masculinity through "aggressiveness and promiscuity". I'd wager that the attendees of a suburban Texas megachurch would be far closer to the "Asian model", and would view aggressiveness and promiscuity as irresponsible and undisciplined.

In most cases, I find that when someone wants to define masculinity for us, it's because he wants to sell us something or persuade us of something. The Ford salesman claims that the big, manly F-150 truck is more masculine than those weak GM trucks. The feminist claims that "real men" support what women want. The preacher claims that it's manly to follow Jesus. The military recruiter pitches his branch of the military as the real test of manhood. And so forth and so on.

But what is masculinity really? What is it, in its essence?
posted by theorique at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2016


A socially constructed set of behaviours that varies from culture to culture and changes over time.

Neither masculinity nor femininity are words that have any objective, outside meaning. About as close as you can get is that people with uteruses can (usually) bear children and people without them can't. Beyond that literally not one thing about 'masculine' or 'feminine' has an essence. Pink used to be seen as a boys' colour. Men used to wear dress-like things--indeed, those who work for the Catholic Church still do. Short/'masculine' hair on women falls in and out of fashion. Ditto shoulder pads.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:38 AM on April 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've seen a bunch of comments about how women are "allowed" spaces in which to communicate their emotions, or their vulnerability, while men are "punished" for expressing these things. Frankly, I don't think that's true at all. I think both men and women are punished in very similar ways, on a one-to-one basis, for expressing vulnerability, or an "excessive" level of emotion, or certain emotions.

But the difference is that *all* women are punished, pre-emptively, as a demographic. They are assumed to be incompetent, poor leadership material, weak, unstable and so forth, *because* that's what society believes women to be. If you see a woman crying, she's fulfilling the stereotype. Moreover, her emotions are invariably assumed to be inappropriate for the context in which they are expressed. When women express a particular reaction or emotion as a group, the automatic response is that it must not be a serious issue *because* women are getting emotional about it. (Like how calling a woman a "feminist" is an insult with a very particular subtext.)

If an individual woman wants to prove that she is strong, competent and stable, she must hide her emotions--arguably as much as men do. I might talk to my best friend in private about something deeply affecting me, but I sure wouldn't tell my female *boss*, or even talk about it on Facebook, because the hit to my professional reputation will be almost instantaneous. And after a year, or multiple years, of making sound decisions and being emotional stoic and not displaying any stereotypical "woman" behavior, that individual woman might have her strengths and accomplishments acknowledged, specifically in the context that she is an EXCEPTION to women. Nor does this start a conversation that maybe the social assumptions about women are wrong; of course they're not! Every woman has to first PROVE to an ever-changing audience that she doesn't possess the negative qualities of being irrational, unstable and incompetent. One slip? Cried in public because your mom died? Guess you're not strong and capable after all, just a woman. Back to the starting line with you.

Women as a demographic, though...well, we're 50 years in on equality for women and we're actually going backward in terms of reproductive rights and representation in science and technology, so...I don't see society *not* equating women with overemotional instability anytime soon. Any time we get within range of bucking the trend, we get some kind of throwback like Donald Trump or the religious right wing creating a movement that erases all that progress.

Conversely, men as a group are pre-emptively assumed to be competent, stable, rational and strong. An individual man has to *actively demonstrate* that he is not those things, and even then, it would be an indictment of him personally, not all men everywhere. No employer is looking at his resume and thinking, "A guy? How is my team supposed to work with a guy around? Probably check out or quit when his wife has kids anyway. I need somebody with management potential and who isn't going to be sensitive every time somebody makes an off-color remark." No political campaign is questioning whether men have the intellectual capacity to manage their reproductive decisions, much less instituting a series of hurdles specifically designed to make the process as difficult as possible. No politician is making derisive remarks about whether we really need to spend $500 million on men's health care anyway. (Which equals like $3.25 per person.) Society doesn't literally question whether men are worth treating equally, or whether that's too expensive and time-consuming!

Sure, society will react to *individual men* acting inappropriately. That individual man will lose status. That individual man might get beaten up by other men. "The worry about appearing weak is that other men will kill you." Yeah, and? Women deal with that threat every day, but look at all the backlash women get for talking about it. Gamergate, enough said.

The difference is that men worry about LOSING status if they express an inappropriate emotion (according to how society views it). Women don't have that status to begin with. We have the "freedom" to have conversations about our emotions and vulnerability because we're already doing the time for the crime. And yeah, you might see that kind of talk anonymously on the Internet, or in the privacy of the home, or among close friends in a particularly private context--but you won't see it at work, you won't see it at a party, you won't see it among casual acquaintances, or anywhere where it will sabotage her efforts at *achieving* any status at all, or maintaining what she has achieved thus far. You sure haven't seen Hillary Clinton do it, even though Donald Trump has driven his personal trainwreck all the way to the primaries. Men and women will express the same emotional restraint and facade of strength in the same contexts. They will get different results for it--men are rewarded for being "strong" and women are punished for being "cold" or "bossy"--but the behavior has the same fundamental cause: an appearance of a narrow range of "masculine" behavior designed to demonstrate strength and leadership.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:00 AM on April 6, 2016 [20 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: Neither masculinity nor femininity are words that have any objective, outside meaning.

You are 100% correct. But...

John Keegan suggested that the one activity which has been overwhelmingly male through recorded history is war.

War is an extreme, and most men do not participate in it. That has been the case in almost every large culture; agricultural and industrial societies simply can't afford to have all men be warriors. Many men - most men? - hate war and conflict. War has resulted in the enslavement and death of a lot more men than it has resulted in reward or glory.

Murder has also always been overwhelmingly male. However, again, the vast majority of males never murder anyone.

But taking into consideration all those caveats, war and murder are things way out at the end of the male bell curve that shifts it over just a wee bit compared to the female bell curve. The bulk of the bell curves overlap, but way out at the tails there are activities which are more "masculine" than they are "feminine".

Those tails make up a small minority of men, but they do set a common template for many - not all, but many - cultures to build a masculine ideal around.

And the more wars that a society is involved in, the more that it will push that extreme tail as aspirational masculinity. The US has been on a war footing for a decade and a half, so it's not surprising that the current masculine ideal that's pushed in most of the country has combined the "warrior ideals" of stoicism and aggression, the kind of toxic masculinity that's talked about in the original article.

War and murder: Not an essence of masculinity, as you rightly point out, but an extreme of masculinity that has a ripple effect throughout the culture.

/half-baked theory
posted by clawsoon at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


A socially constructed set of behaviours that varies from culture to culture and changes over time.

I guess what I'm trying to track down is the common ground of masculinity among the different cultures. What is shared among all those Venn diagrams? Apparel, grooming, fashion are out because those are so variable across cultures. (There's nothing especially gendered about a color or most styles of clothing.)

Something that we do see is that the warriors of the tribe who participate in organized violence tend to be male. (Nachthexe or Amazons, while dramatic examples, are exceptions to the general rule.) Physical laborers too. (Although everyday life 100 or 200 years ago was far more physical for both men and women of almost all social classes.)
posted by theorique at 11:13 AM on April 6, 2016


Autumnheart: I might talk to my best friend in private about something deeply affecting me

That's the one difference that we're highlighting here. Most men are punished - or live with the constant fear that they'll be punished - if they try to talk privately with a best friend about something that deeply affects them. That's the one thing you can do that we can't.

But you make a fair point; this is one thing, contrasted to a universe of contexts in which women will be punished, or even pre-punished, for emotional expression.
posted by clawsoon at 11:14 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


If nothing else, Autumnheart, there are more forums where if people talk about women's issues attempts to turn the whole conversation about men are recognized.
posted by bswinburn at 11:18 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


War and murder: Not an essence of masculinity, as you rightly point out, but an extreme of masculinity that has a ripple effect throughout the culture.

I should add: An extreme that gets pushed onto huge numbers of men who hate it, who are forced into its tiny cage. Which is what leads to the toxic emotional suppression that we're talking about here.
posted by clawsoon at 11:25 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I might talk to my best friend in private about something deeply affecting me, but I sure wouldn't tell my female *boss*

The problem is that many men feel they cannot be vulnerable in private, even to their closest friends or significant others. It's not to say that women are unharmed by the patriarchy and contrived standards of masculinity, or even that no ever women feel pressured to be stoic. Rather, here is a specific way that men as a group are harmed by the same patriarchal system. And I don't think anyone is asking for men to be able to bring their personal problems into a professional setting.

(on preview, what clawsoon said)
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:35 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Autumnheart, I agree with what you said, but I'd also add that men who display "effeminate" behaviors are often treated worse than women, not equivalently. Gender-non-conformity carries its own penalties under the patriarchy.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:08 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Autumnheart: "Sure, society will react to *individual men* acting inappropriately. That individual man will lose status. That individual man might get beaten up by other men. "The worry about appearing weak is that other men will kill you." Yeah, and? Women deal with that threat every day"

Sigh. Yes, we agree. Literally no-one in this thread has tried to minimise the truly ghastly things that women have to deal with. No-one. Everyone agrees with you that in almost every respect and in almost every context, women are treated so much WORSE than men. There might be a few exceptions in a few contexts, but across the board our society is riddled with violent and punishing misogyny. If you want to make this thread yet another "olympics of suffering" contest, you will win. This is a universally acknowledged truth, please believe me. Unfortunately, it's also a total derail because you're arguing against a position that no-one has advanced.


And yeah, you might see that kind of talk anonymously on the Internet, or in the privacy of the home, or among close friends in a particularly private context--but you won't see it at work, you won't see it at a party, you won't see it among casual acquaintances, or...

This is NOT what people have been saying. Men DON'T usually tell stories of personal vulnerability on the internet, or to their close friends, or even in the privacy of their homes. They won't or can't talk to their partners, their friends, their therapists etc.

In my own case it took years of effort to be able to reach the stage where I felt comfortable with this. I'm slowly reaching the level of expressivity that you are describing as the normal experience - namely, I can talk honestly with my partner, I can share on the internet in a place like MeFi, and I have one (female) friend who I trust enough to talk openly with. But while this is pretty typical of women, judging by your comments at least, this isn't the normal experience at all for most men. Men don't do this, by and large. I suspect that few women would find it remarkable or special to expect to be able to share a personal story with a close friend, but I know a lot of men who never have. It is taboo to do so.

Even as one of those guys who has learned to do so, when I examine my own feelings, I still feel this gut level "nooooo, NEVER TELL ANYONE ANYTHING EVER" feeling every time I write anything on MeFi etc, because I know I am breaking all the rules when I do it. Like gehenna_lion I desperately want to go back and delete my comments in this thread, especially the highly favourited ones in which I said honest and personal things. I feel disgusted with myself for writing those comments, because they are honest and personal and because I have this deeply ingrained belief that I am not allowed to speak about such things.

In this thread, I have seen more emotional honesty from men in the last few days than I have seen from most of my closest male friends over the last 20 years. And actually even this thread is a surprise - usually when a "men's thread" arises on MeFi you don't really get a lot of sharing from guys. Men don't share their inner worlds even in the spaces where they're supposed to be allowed to do so.
posted by langtonsant at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2016 [24 favorites]


For guys all you need is 0.000000001% feminine in order to be considered "effeminate". Gender is a zero-sum game. I think it's ridiculous when I get coded as "effeminate" because I've got testosterone to spare. My grandfather was a boxer, my other grandfather was a military officer, and I grew up in a family of utterly terrifying, intense people. I've been in my share of fist fights, won all the cases I argued in court, I was good at sports, and I've pulled off more "masculine" things than those khaki-wearing cowards and sports-jersey wearing nitwits out there who are too scared to get outside of their little boxes.

Yet because I like fashion, and art, and have a sensitive side, none of those traditionally masculine qualities count. They're gone. One drop is all you need to get the black mark on your forehead. "We're going to have to revoke your Man Card, gehenna_lion."

And to bounce off what Autumnheart is saying, it's probably because women do have it worse than men that having any qualities considered "feminine" is this mark of evil that needs to be punished, and why guys are so scared to get out of the "man box".

It reminds me of this time I was out at a bar, and I was hanging out with a girl I was dating and her friend outside; some drunk idiot comes up and grabs the friend's boob. I got in the guy's face about it and asked him what made him feel justified in doing that. He just shrugged and went "I unno" and grinned sheepishly. He probably felt justified about it because women are dehumanized in our culture. It's disgusting. And what right-thinking human would want that to happen to them? Hence probably why guys are understandably afraid to be considered non-manly, feminine at all, violating masculine rules ... it's like they know deep-down what the stakes are, because they see it everyday with how women are treated.
posted by gehenna_lion at 1:59 PM on April 6, 2016 [13 favorites]


Isn't one definition of Patriarchy that it is a culture preparing for war, fighting war(s) or recovering from war? Men, in such a system, are ushered to see their supposedly rightful place in the agonistic world as Army or brisk military hardware.

Someone waaaay up thread mentioned the sneering at homoeroticism that attends male sport, and that this demeans the avenue for male bonding that sport provides. That's probably true, but for me it's also coded so incredibly martially that I have taken to drinking games with myself whenever military discourses are employed during sports newscasts. Once you start hearing it, you simply can't unhear the anxious exhortations to Army thinking that the whole enterprise entails.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:10 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


honey-barbara: I have taken to drinking games with myself whenever military discourses are employed during sports newscasts.

!

How are you still alive? Have you had your liver function checked recently? That's the most suicidal thing I've heard this week, and I've had Gnarls Barkley's "Just A Thought" on heavy rotation.
posted by clawsoon at 2:15 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sure, society will react to *individual men* acting inappropriately. That individual man will lose status. That individual man might get beaten up by other men. "The worry about appearing weak is that other men will kill you." Yeah, and? Women deal with that threat every day

Like langtonsant said, we know this. This is, however, a thread for discussing the problems that men have under patriarchal culture. It's rude and deraily and dismissive for men to go into a thread about womens' problems under patriarchy; it's just as annoying to see the reverse happening. So maybe don't?

It's really foreign to me to see how toxic this masculinity corset can be first-hand. I mean, I grew up surrounded by a large majority of women (+ one abusive father, so..), in generally hippy dippy neighbourhoods, went to an arts high school, etc. While yeah, around me there was some of this stuff, and I definitely had my share of being called faggot from approximately grade 2 onwards, the levels of stuff you guys are talking about is blowing me away. I'm amazed at the bravery and resilience you are all showing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:17 PM on April 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's really foreign to me to see how toxic this masculinity corset can be first-hand. I mean, I grew up surrounded by a large majority of women (+ one abusive father, so..), in generally hippy dippy neighbourhoods, went to an arts high school, etc. While yeah, around me there was some of this stuff, and I definitely had my share of being called faggot from approximately grade 2 onwards, the levels of stuff you guys are talking about is blowing me away. I'm amazed at the bravery and resilience you are all showing.

Yeah, the degree you see it probably depends on what your environment is. I grew up in a blue-collar New Jersey town, so you can imagine. Once I moved to NYC it was like a totally different world. I have friends who grew up in places where being intelligent and "artistic" were OK, and they had totally different experiences growing up. I feel like those environments are for the upper-end of privilege, though, like they're aberrations that are allowed once you have enough social capital built up. Luxuries.
posted by gehenna_lion at 2:23 PM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


I should probably clarify what I was saying upthread. I do think that men with behaviors and/or appearance that is coded as visibly "androgynous" or "effeminate" are even more susceptible to physical and social aggression from men than women are in certain (though certainly not all) arenas. I'm definitely not arguing that they don't retain any aspects of male privilege, or that women as a whole aren't more disadvantaged than men as a whole.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:37 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


langtonsant: "It is taboo to do so."

Just to highlight my point about the strength of the inhibition: we're all agreed that this is a thread in which it is okay for a man to say that he has emotional vulnerabilities, right? This is ostensibly a situation in which I have social licence to say "this is scary to me" rather than merely saying "this is a scary thing" in a depersonalised way. That's the entire point of the thread, yes?

Yeah, no. For me at least it doesn't work like that. When I wrote my last comment I included a bit about how I feel about sharing rather than discussing emotion sharing in the abstract. The inclusion of the personalising aspect to the comment is taboo. I wrote the comment a few hours ago, and I am physically nauseous, because I referred to my own fears about expressing something personal about myself. Even though this is a thread about precisely this topic, and there couldn't possibly be a more appropriate context outside of a therapists office! I do not feel licenced to talk about myself here, and it produces a panic response. But if I'd written that exact same comment without making reference to my own feelings, I wouldn't be sitting here trying to make my hands stop shaking.
posted by langtonsant at 5:25 PM on April 6, 2016 [15 favorites]


Does it help if a guy says yep, here's your licence to talk?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


Huh. Weird. Yes, it absolutely does. I feel way calmer now. Thanks.
posted by langtonsant at 5:35 PM on April 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


Damn, langtonsant, you got it bad. I'm starting to feel more and more grateful for the havens I had growing up of my "pussified" church, my not-afraid-to-cry Dad, and schools that were friendly to smart, musical kids.

And yet you'll notice that pretty much all of my comments are depersonalized, too.

I'll admit I had a half-a-second of the "dammit, don't yell in the avalanche zone!" panic when you wrote, "In truth I'm utterly humourless about my own failings as a person, but it doesn't seem like a very wise move to admit that in real life", before I remembered that we're in a relatively safe space.
posted by clawsoon at 5:37 PM on April 6, 2016


[Folks, just as we ask people in threads about the experience of womenhood not to derail the conversation towards men, we'd appreciate it if you allowed folks to talk about the subject here without shifting it. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:06 PM on April 6, 2016 [14 favorites]


I was going to write a comment about the intersection of masculinity and mental health, but I need to take a step back from this thread. Frankly, it sucks and is hugely depressing when you can't talk about your own hurt without someone needing to remind you that other people have it worse. This is the number 1 reason I don't like talking about shit, because I know, as everyone knows, that other people have it worse than me. And all I can think is that someone, somewhere, must think I don't get it, that I must only be able to talk about this if I believe I'm special. So I'm scared to say anything because I know how much privilege I have, and how the world works, and I just feel like I have no right to say anything about it. It just makes me want to keep my mouth shut, because I can't deal, like seriously, I can't deal with having absolutely no places anywhere where I can just say I'm hurting without someone saying "well, don't act like other people don't have it worse."

I don't even feel comfortable writing this comment, because I know someone will see it and think "well, other people have to deal with this all the time, welcome to the real world." And I cannot handle it.
posted by teponaztli at 8:18 PM on April 6, 2016 [25 favorites]


I feel you, teponaztli. Brings to mind my siblings and their insistence that so much dysfunctional behavior from our childhoods was not, in fact, dysfunctional. "You want dysfunctional? Your brother-in-law's family is dysfunctional!" Having your truth dismissed hurts, and that it comes when you're making yourself vulnerable makes it that much worse. I'm glad you commented.

Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts about masculinity and mental health. (Only if/when you feel like it, of course.)
posted by Lyme Drop at 8:36 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think it's really hard to open up on Metafilter to the degree many blokes here have. It's been so helpful and heartfelt to read - not that it's your job to educate me or to give me the sniffles as I inhabit your landscape via your writing. But, thank you and please know that we are listening and learning a lot via your words and experiences. Take care teponaztil.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:55 PM on April 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


I want to say thank you to everyone who shared in this thread. Your input and insight was valuable. I have similar thoughts and stories that I would like to share, but as many have said it is way too scary to do that even in an anonymous internet forum. Maybe someday we'll get to a place where more people (including me) feel safe sharing, and discussions like this are a good start.
posted by Tehhund at 5:54 AM on April 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


In 1st-5th grade, I remember getting in a fair number of fights. I liked fighting. There was something addictive about it - there was that rush of "will I win? will I lose?" and the thrill of the actual physical contest. There was also a thrill of breaking the rules. The rules were, of course, imposed and enforced by the largely female teachers and school staff. So it was hard not to view women and girls as buzzkills who wanted to interrupt and ruin anything really cool, like fighting or rough games, that was infused with the excitement of masculine energy. It's not as though the girls were obedient little angels (ha!), but their rule breaking was more social, subtle, and Machiavellian, mediated through stealthier means like huddled conversations and passed notes in neat, feminine handwriting.

I think a lot of young boys first experience the mysterious female like that: a powerful, external force that establishes power over them through verbal intelligence and rules, rather than "fair" means like superior strength or athletic skill.

That suspicion of feminine tendency toward verbal facility sometimes made things tough for a boy who usually liked reading more than sports practice and used four-syllable words in complex and intricate sentences. But that seems to be the masculine contract, right? You can have a quirk or two, but you'd better compensate for it by being useful to the boys' gang in some other way. If you have a high, girlish voice, but you can pitch a baseball faster than any of the other kids, you can be cool. If you have too many quirks, life is not so easy.
posted by theorique at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm a feminist who is super sensitive in my day-to-day life of gender bias towards women (both prescriptive and descriptive), sexist language, rape culture, etc. Like, almost to the point where I sometimes feel I need to step back a bit to maintain my sanity.

I also think it is really, really important that men be allowed to discuss how toxic masculinity affects them without having to always qualify themselves. I think this can be tricky for feminists, and there is a degree of good faith required due to the toxic nature of MRA's; but I don't think it's generally difficult to to be able to sort out when men are talking about the unique ways patriarchy hurts them vs. when they're talking about it in a way that discounts or denies women's voices or experiences. I mean, sometimes it may be, because sometimes people aren't great at expressing themselves, and there's also an ugly history of this being used by men (whether intentional or not) towards women as a tactic to deny women their own voices.

But I think that on metafilter, we generally have a higher level of discourse and just as I have an expectation that I can go into a thread about feminism and discuss my experiences with men without having to preface it with a #notallmen disclaimer (due to my assumption that most of us already understand that) I think that it's reasonable here for men to be able to discuss their experiences without having to first acknowledge all the stuff that women have to deal with and the ways in which women have it worse.

Especially because what men experience and what women experience - while different - are so intimately intertwined, I think it's especially important to give space to men to discuss this in a context of their experiences (as opposed - and this is important - to doing it in a space where women are speaking, which is usually a derailment). Not only from an angle of respecting people's voices (though that's important), but also for reasons that are purely out of self-interest. I mean, it is definitely in my interest, as a woman who is tired of dealing with misogyny and sexism, that men work through these issues. Because (for example) if society moves closer to a place where men are allowed to openly display and discuss feelings other than anger, then they won't have to channel all their pain/fear/sadness through the narrowly acceptable channels of violence (physical or sexual) or self-destruction. This benefits women as much as it benefits men.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't think that being a feminist and being an advocate for men to overcome toxic masculinity are at odds at all. I think they're often positioned as such and I think that's a real shame. I hope we can both move toward more of an openness to listening to and helping men redefine masculinity while also maintaining a respect for women, women's issues and feminism (and all the intersectionalities therein). It isn't a zero-sum game - I think the things we're working on are complementary.

Thank you again to all the men who have contributed here and I hope you continue to do so.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:38 AM on April 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


Sorry for responding to something waaaaaaaay upthread, but:

A man who will openly laugh at or sneer at another man for his uninhibited expressions is not conditioned to stoic repression of his honest feelings the way a woman is, and for that I envy him.

Yes he is. That's why he's doing that. Instead of expressing compassion or empathy or sympathy or humanity, he's expressing contempt for those who do. The situation you've described perfectly captures both the mechanism of male emotional repression and the effects of its internalization.

If you think this is about stoicism, you're not paying attention.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:45 PM on April 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sys Rq: “That's why he's doing that. Instead of expressing compassion or empathy or sympathy or humanity, he's expressing contempt for those who do. The situation you've described perfectly captures both the mechanism of male emotional repression and the effects of its internalization.”
My crew actually uses the words, "Sympathy through hostility."

For example, "So, even though Mom's been dead for years now, out of the blue I set the table for four last week. I'm still really upset about it."

"Eh, buck up, you crybaby," one or another of them will chuckle. Then they'll add, "Sympathy through hostility."
posted by ob1quixote at 4:42 PM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes he is. That's why he's doing that. Instead of expressing compassion or empathy or sympathy or humanity, he's expressing contempt for those who do. The situation you've described perfectly captures both the mechanism of male emotional repression and the effects of its internalization.

As with so many other situations, doesn't it depend a lot on context?

If the man showing a friend or brother or member of my tribe, I might show sympathy if we're in a safe situation ("Sorry man, that really sucks") or 'tough love' ([slap in face] "No time for that now, dude, we've gotta get out of this zombie pit").

If he's neutral and not a member of my tribe, he probably feels bad enough falling apart in front of men he doesn't know. The best respect I can show him is to pretend I don't notice.

If he's a member of an enemy tribe, or other form of adversary, this is good news for us - we can exploit his weakness and double down on his discomfort in order to weaken our opponent.
posted by theorique at 5:15 PM on April 7, 2016


Christ that is a terrifying way to look at the world.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:35 PM on April 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


If he's a member of an enemy tribe, or other form of adversary, this is good news for us - we can exploit his weakness and double down on his discomfort in order to weaken our opponent.
posted by theorique


The entirety of your comment makes me despair.
posted by futz at 5:55 PM on April 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


[Theorique, this isn't the place or time. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:05 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


If he's a member of an enemy tribe, or other form of adversary, this is good news for us - we can exploit his weakness and double down on his discomfort in order to weaken our opponent.

And there it is, what's most fucked up about traditional masculine norms. Just reading that raises my hackles.
posted by Lyme Drop at 8:23 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


we can exploit his weakness and double down on his discomfort in order to weaken our opponent.
posted by theorique

The entirety of your comment makes me despair.
posted by futz

Christ that is a terrifying way to look at the world.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering


Take this out of the context of a rival/enemy context, and consider it in a perhaps more relateable one. Have you never encountered someone - male or female - that has used something that you shared in confidence or they encountered by chance, that was then used as a tool for their own gain, at that moment or sometime later?

If so, what did that experience teach you? At best, it might teach you to be just a bit more selective about when, where, and to whom those things are made visible. At worst, it might teach you not to risk showing or sharing it at all.

The decision of whether or not to share or display certain emotions is one of cost/benefit. Male culture/masculinity/patriarchy is a major influence on that equation, but I am hesitant to say it is the entirety of it.
posted by chambers at 8:24 PM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


The entire notion of using something personal against someone is rooted in the power-at-all-costs-and-never-use-empathy that is one of the pillars of patriarchy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:35 PM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


The decision of whether or not to share or display certain emotions is one of cost/benefit. Male culture/masculinity/patriarchy is a major influence on that equation, but I am hesitant to say it is the entirety of it.

It's a huge chunk, I think. Often, it seems that the calculation going on is:

"If I do [thing X] I will code female" ->
"Females are inferior" ->
"Inferior behavior will be punished" ->
"I must not be discovered doing [thing X]"

Minus the intermediate step of "females are inferior," a whole swath of unacceptable behaviors are suddenly normalized, and no longer fodder for manipulative behavior like that. (Fffm hit this point earlier, but I think it's worth restating.)
posted by mordax at 8:53 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


The real fear is that other people (men and women both) will laugh.

Well no. It's the violence. If you are a man, you constantly live with the threat of violence from other men. We are so immersed in this that me even pointing this out probably seems as bizarre as a fish chatting about all this water. It is however the truth. Women have much to fear from men. Men have much to fear from each other. Crime statistics generally support this. Men are more likely to be murdered, and more likely to be the victims of violence from strangers. The perpetrators are overwhelmingly men.

(If you think this is about to become an anti-feminist deflection it isn't. The next part will really seem like it, but I hope you can grit your teeth, because it isn't.)

Remember that episode of Master of None called 'Ladies and Gentlemen?' During the walking home sequence, to make sure you focus on the awful bullshit women have to go through, being stalked by assholes, they have to make sure Dev doesn't walk home alone. Because most men who've walked in a big city late at night, by themselves, know that they will have to present themselves as alert people with whom not to fuck. We will manage our gaze so that we momentarily look at other men (because looking away is cowardice) without making eye contact (because eye contact is a threat). We will avoid groups of other men, but never in such a way as to look like we are intentionally avoiding them, because that might provoke them.

Now of course this sounds like "What about the menz!" bullshit, but it isn't. This is a thing men do to deal with the threat of other men, not some sort of reversal of the burdens of sexism. Yet it should be noted that as a culture, we are becoming increasingly aware of deep-seated reactions to the everyday threat of violence, and how it changes behaviour. Due to violence from men, against men, this is what men are so often like. It deeply affects who we are not just as a way of winning the patriarchy prize (which is privilege, which we certainly have) but as a defensive mechanism.

I'm sure some men will claim this isn't their experience of masculinity at all. So be it. I advise you to look at statistical resources on violent crime and childhood bullying. It doesn't help that under patriarchy, this culture is considered the default, the measuring stick, so that unless it is thrown in your face, you, fellow men, will not ask yourself why it is not considered unusual if you've been violently assaulted several times in your lives, or why your teachers, caregivers and police will often assume that if you were violently assaulted it was a consensual act for which you and the boy/man attacking you are to blame.

(Are you seeing something familiar here, about what we, as men, are being taught about responsibility?)

Certainly, I took it in stride. Getting the shit beaten out of you, and having no recourse whatsoever except to harden up, was simply par for the course. The entire structure of society accepted it. And I prepared myself accordingly, spent a few years being someone who should not be fucked with, and I got old and fat, and realized even during that prime, I was never at peace. I got old enough to age out of the teens to twenties segment which is lethal to so many young men, and no longer stood as a front line competitor in some game I was barely aware I was ever playing, and got a better look from the outside. I became a father for two boys, in an era that finally abandoned bullying as natural and consensual among boys, and sometimes supported victims instead of punishing them because it "takes two to tango." They're partway there. They have less fear.

My sons are calmer than I am. My older one doesn't know the kind of men I know, that so many of you know. He doesn't know someone like my friend who was beaten with baseball bats and as a result, had to throw off a painkiller addiction. He doesn't know the guy who was smacked around in high school and in college, shifts from "ironic" bigotry to a constant stream of racist and sexist jokes, a way of asserting the dominance he could never muster physically. He doesn't know the same kinds of assholes. He doesn't know the broken men who can never even describe why they're broken, because they're supposed to be past schoolboy bullshit even though the memories make them twitch. He doesn't know anybody like me. He knows better people than them, than me, than us. He knows better.

He'll be better to men and women than we were. No wonder we're so sexist. We men learn that to actually notice you've been assaulted, bullied, treated like garbage is to submit, to be weak, and to invite the bullies to dig in. Unless we go for revenge, we are supposed to pretend it isn't there. It's a form of cowardice we label bravery. So it must be easy for us then, to pretend that what happens to anyone, regardless of gender, doesn't really happen, and that acknowledging it anyway is tantamount to deserving it, because this is the twisted ethos we have taught ourselves.
posted by mobunited at 9:15 PM on April 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


The entire notion of using something personal against someone is rooted in the power-at-all-costs-and-never-use-empathy that is one of the pillars of patriarchy.

I would certainly say that a great deal of the reason 'something personal' has value as a tool for using against someone is certainly rooted in patriarchy, but I disagree that the act of setting empathy aside and using something against someone for personal power or gain is something exclusively patriarchal or exclusively 'male' in itself.

I think there is some value in separating the factors that cause the action from the action itself in order to better understand how they work and what can be done to change it. If it turns out they are somehow inseparable, then that's the way it is.

It's also possible that I'm misinterpreting your comment, and that it is not implying what I am disagreeing with. If so, apologies, which means I'm most likely needlessly hair-splitting at best and derailing at worst. In any case, I think I'll step away from the keyboard for a while.
posted by chambers at 9:46 PM on April 7, 2016


I very much remember reading that homophobia is how masculinity reinforces itself and a big lightbulb going off for me. So much of gender-policing is about punishing anyone for appearing feminine.

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano is a really awesome examination of this devaluation of the feminine and how it negatively impacts everyone.
posted by lazuli at 9:52 PM on April 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was thinking about what GuyZero and feckless fecal fear mongering said about the social constructedness of masculinity as I was watching a documentary about tango on today's plane ride.

The man said that his sleeping with all the chorus girls was "only natural" and he wouldn't be a man if he didn't.

But there are places where even the slightest interest in tango would be seen as "totally gay", worth at least a beatdown or two.

Put the same guy in one culture and he's the manliest of men; put him in another, and one thing will be seized on to "feminize" him.
posted by clawsoon at 10:25 PM on April 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


The entire notion of using something personal against someone is rooted in the power-at-all-costs-and-never-use-empathy that is one of the pillars of patriarchy.

My wife's sorority house experiences also suggest that women-only environments are not free from such behaviors. And the political intrigues of elementary school girls would make a Medici doge nod in approval (despite the efforts of teachers and administrators to get the kids to play nice). If anything, girls are far better at these kind of tactics than boys.
posted by theorique at 2:39 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Theorique's model of "buck up"/ignore/exploit pretty well covered the range of response that my ex-husband displayed. Empathy and compassion were not even on the radar and there was no way in hell he'd even get close to those (while more than happy to enjoy the empathy and compassion that I displayed, and to fault me when those inevitably broke down.) Maybe that works in your military phalanx or something but it's no way to run a marriage and a rather shitty way to parent.

Women are every bit as capable of coldness and cruelty, of course, but generally this is offset by the cultural space to connect, to empathize, to approve, to nurture.
posted by Sublimity at 4:29 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Put the same guy in one culture and he's the manliest of men; put him in another, and one thing will be seized on to "feminize" him.

Yep. I was just looking at a paper about that how that worked in Ancient Greece. The short version is that what constituted 'masculine behavior' was profoundly affected by overall societal pressure. The Spartans and Athenians had a lot in common superficially, but the nuances are fascinating. (In particular, the differences between a Spartan family and an Athenian one are downright weird to me as a modern person.)

Women are every bit as capable of coldness and cruelty, of course, but generally this is offset by the cultural space to connect, to empathize, to approve, to nurture..

Heh. This.

Women are the only reason I was even aware this was a problem. Some years back, I was talking to my girlfriend about some problems she was having, and I told her I wanted her to come to me if she was sad and needed anything. She told me she wanted me to do the same. I scoffed at first, but she was serious.

I protested, the way guys do, that that was stupid because I'm tough and I can handle it and all that stuff. But she insisted that it was completely unfair to make such an arrangement one-sided, and that I needed to trust her if she was going to trust me. So... you know, I balked for a little bit before admitting she had a point. Then I explained that I pretty much could not articulate any of this in the moment, and offered to compromise by talking to her about whatever was eating me *after* I was calm enough to have a conversation.

She accepted, and... you know, I still suck hard at this. My emotional context is pretty much 'angry' or 'fine, thanks,' but it's slowly improving. She's not even the only person I talk to that way anymore, although it's pretty limited.

The traditional guy solution of just 'never unbottle that shit' is... I'm not sure I even have words for how unhelpful it is, or how glad I am that I only do it like 95% of the time instead of 100% now. It also loops back to 'misogyny just makes it worse' - if I hadn't listened because of it, I would have missed out, and I know a lot of guys do.
posted by mordax at 4:46 AM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Riffing on the notion of the superficial similarities of families in Athens and Sparta, disguising enormous differences in the reality--

If only men really understood the vast, vast difference between *appearing imperturbable* because you deny the existence of any vulnerability, and actually *being imperturbable* because you have fully faced those vulnerabilities and are confident that you can withstand them and even appreciate them as a means to become more strong.

Looks similar on the outside, but a universe of difference on the inside, and the impact on your own well-being and on the world around you is like night and day.
posted by Sublimity at 4:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


If only men really understood the vast, vast difference between *appearing imperturbable* because you deny the existence of any vulnerability, and actually *being imperturbable* because you have fully faced those vulnerabilities and are confident that you can withstand them and even appreciate them as a means to become more strong.

That is very true, and the source of a great deal of woe, I think. Someone - male or female - with genuine confidence is good to have around because you can trust them. You know that circumstances can get bad and they'll stay reliable. That's why it's the ideal in the first place.

Someone who is trying desperately to maintain the superficial appearance of having no weaknesses is actually going to do worse than a person who just lets their feelings hang out. Someone who cries when they're sad? They can just cry and move on with their life.

Someone who can just never acknowledge their hurt? That containment won't work all the time, but the trouble is that they can't let it show openly, so they have to resort to venting in inappropriate times and places. Hurting the wrong people is pretty much inevitable with that mindset, and I think it's behind a lot of... well, mobs of guys hung up on hurting the wrong people in our society.
posted by mordax at 5:29 AM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well no. It's the violence. If you are a man, you constantly live with the threat of violence from other men. We are so immersed in this that me even pointing this out probably seems as bizarre as a fish chatting about all this water. It is however the truth. Women have much to fear from men. Men have much to fear from each other.

Without getting into a tiresome back-and-forth and definitely without any intention of invalidating your experiences, I will just say that this does not reflect my experiences as a boy or as an adult man. What you say may reflect the norm, I don't know, but it is not what I have seen and live with now.

I work in a very macho and quite rough environment, 100 percent male and with a lot of free-flowing testosterone, and contrary to stereotype and contrary to my middle school experiences, everyone is extremely gentle and protective with each other. The only threatened violence I have ever seen was in response to an inebriated asshole with a gun showing up and making threats, and that was easily defused. When someone is having family trouble or health issues, everyone says kind things and there is space for emotional expression.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2016


She accepted, and... you know, I still suck hard at this. My emotional context is pretty much 'angry' or 'fine, thanks,' but it's slowly improving. She's not even the only person I talk to that way anymore, although it's pretty limited.

One of the things that we could do to help boys and young men in this area is to help them acquire more nuanced and descriptive language around their inner emotional states (and thereby defuse and transform the more negative states).

Some aspects of NLP are admittedly little bit wacky and New Agey, but one of the areas where I've found it helpful is in structuring my language for describing emotional states and emotionally sensitive memories. Instead of something like:
when I remember how my teacher criticized me in front of the class, I feel angry and insulted
you can say something like:
when I remember how my teacher criticized me in front of the class, I feel a sense of rage in my chest, and that rage is like a vibrating iron rod and it's hot and glowing and it feels like it wants to burst out of my chest.
The latter description is far more detailed, and provides a lot more access points for a therapeutic context or just a conversation with a loved one.

(Of course, this presupposes that boys and men actually feel safe enough to have these conversations with someone. How do we help them (us) acquire that safety?)
posted by theorique at 7:06 AM on April 8, 2016


If anything, girls are far better at these kind of tactics than boys.

I've probably linked back to this about ten times now, because coming across that article was a great antidote to the "mean girls" stereotype:
A study of Georgia high schools "found that, at every grade level, boys engaged in relationally aggressive behavior more often than girls." Commenting on the study, the lead researcher said, "We have books, websites and conferences aimed at stopping girls from being aggressive, as well as a lot of qualitative research on why girls are relationally aggressive," Orpinas said. "But oddly enough, we don't have enough research on why boys would be relationally aggressive because people have assumed it's a girl behavior."
posted by clawsoon at 7:08 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Sublimity: If only men really understood the vast, vast difference between *appearing imperturbable* because you deny the existence of any vulnerability, and actually *being imperturbable* because you have fully faced those vulnerabilities and are confident that you can withstand them and even appreciate them as a means to become more strong.

Part of the problem is that the appearance of invulnerability has to be put on early, while we're still little boys, way before we have the tools to actually face and work through vulnerabilities. The shield that prevents us from doing that learning has to stay up almost continuously after that.

And since playground culture is often passed down independently of adult culture, out of sight of adults, it may be harder to fix than we'd like to think.
posted by clawsoon at 7:17 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you are a man, you constantly live with the threat of violence from other men.

Mmmmmm. I might put it a little more subtly than that - more like:

"You constantly live with the awareness of the potential of violence from other men, and the expectation that you should be able to respond in kind if provoked."

I mean, my take is that "threat" essentially implies "imminent high probability of violence", and I think that's both highly context--and-individual-dependent. I grew up pretty solidly white US suburban middle-class, and I certainly never felt in imminent danger the whole time. Even when bullied or in an argument/confrontation with another boy, I quickly realized that while they might act as if they were willing to escalate to personal violence (said act can be a major component of bullying), actually crossing the line of committing violence was pretty rare.

Masculine aggression often has a high "performative" component, a strong element of "threat display" more than actual "threat." Which I've seen many times as an adult, in drunken bar confrontations (as a soundguy I've spent a fair amount of my life people-watching in bars) - while the combatants may behave as if they're about to get violent, often that's as far as it goes. Actual punches never get thrown.

Men have much to fear from each other. Crime statistics generally support this. Men are more likely to be murdered, and more likely to be the victims of violence from strangers. The perpetrators are overwhelmingly men.

Which is why I brought up my point about context-dependent. While technically true, there are major intersectional elements concerning racism, poverty, and other socio-economic factors that affect these statistics. Crime statistics don't necessarily prove that all or even most men operate under constant apprehension of murder by other men. My experience as a white middle/working class man is going to be different than that of a black man, including the likelihood of encountering violence.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:50 AM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


when I remember how my teacher criticized me in front of the class, I feel a sense of rage in my chest, and that rage is like a vibrating iron rod and it's hot and glowing and it feels like it wants to burst out of my chest.

Hmm, ok, but how about maybe also exploring further possibilities, such as "I feel really small, vulnerable, humiliated, helpless, sad, rejected and scared of the consequences, and scared that these feelings mean that I am weak, that I won't be able to feel good about myself, and that I will face social rejection, loss of connection and loss of status as a consequence of these feelings"?

IME it's not uncommon for men to hide a whole bunch of stuff, even (or especially) from themselves, behind anger and rage.

My youngest was born with a very mild congenital anomaly that I never gave much thought to, until I decided to google it when she was maybe 4. I discovered what caused it, and also that in rare cases, it was associated with more serious, potentially life threatening problems. In her case these were unlikely but not impossible, so I made a mental note to take it up with her pediatrician the next time we had an appointment. And of course I wanted to tell my husband, and to let him know what he should keep an eye out for in the unlikely case that something really was amiss.

His first reaction? "What are you talking about? She doesn't have [congenital anomaly]!"

I was baffled, asked him if he had really never noticed. There was a bit of back and forth, and only when I asked him if he wanted me to find a photo of her where this anomaly was clearly visible did he admit that ok, alright, she obviously does have it.

But now he got annoyed. Angry. "Why do you do this to yourself? Googling for problems and getting all panicky and hysterical!" (Yes the h-word was used.) This was really weird, because I was just sitting there calmly eating my Weetabix. I tried pointing out I was not panicking, not even very worried tbh, that this was just something I thought we should be aware of, that's all. Again, back and forth where he tries to convince me that I am being too emotional about it, etc, and I'm basically staring at him in puzzlement.

And then finally he snapped and shouted "But maybe I didn't want to know it! Maybe it scares me!" And all of a sudden he was in tears.

So mystery solved, poor guy had been frightened all along. But before he could even get in touch with his fear, he went through denial, projection, gaslighting and anger. A whole host of defense mechanisms to prevent him from facing his own fear and helplessness.

Oh, and he did have one more up his sleeve: blanking it out. I tried to talk about this with him maybe a year or two later, and he had completely forgotten about the whole thing. The conversation, the anomaly, its possible connection to other health issues. Every single detail.
posted by sively at 8:37 AM on April 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


Clawsoon, I think "needing to learn to cope before being capable of actually facing and dealing with vulnerabilities" is pretty much the summary of the human condition. Definitely not limited to men. Men and women alike struggle with this well into adulthood.

Not too be too unvarnished about it, but if a person doesn't get in there and confront their vulnerabilities and learn how to read them as the internal guidebook that is showing the work that needs to be done in order to grow truly strong--well, that person just doesn't grow up.

This is how it's perfectly possible to have an adult job and a mortgage and a family and all that stuff and still be Peter Pan.
posted by Sublimity at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


sively: Hmm, ok, but how about maybe also exploring further possibilities, such as "I feel really small, vulnerable, humiliated, helpless, sad, rejected and scared of the consequences, and scared that these feelings mean that I am weak, that I won't be able to feel good about myself, and that I will face social rejection, loss of connection and loss of status as a consequence of these feelings"?

Absolutely. The example is just one tiny window into the range of application of what I would call, broadly, language-based therapies. One of the nice things about these techniques is that they don't have to stop at the simple, first response, but can dig deeply into the feeling behind the feeling behind the feeling ... (again, assuming the subject is willing to go there).

Another good thing about these techniques is that they can be applied in a fairly algorithmic fashion to all kinds of thoughts and emotions. And not just bad ones - you can also explore positive emotions to find out how to feel them more often.
posted by theorique at 9:48 AM on April 8, 2016


teponaztli: "And all I can think is that someone, somewhere, must think I don't get it, that I must only be able to talk about this if I believe I'm special. So I'm scared to say anything because I know how much privilege I have"

This comes up a lot when guys talk about these topics. Every comment requires a lot of footnoting, even (or especially?) in a very progressive kind of place like MetaFilter. Of course, that's also something that women have to cope with too in the more general social sphere, and much worse too (oh hey, there's me doing it), but it's a subtly different situation and it has its own characteristics.

A curious feature of these conversations is that both the traditional male norms and many feminist folks agree* that men should not discuss their lived experience. From the traditional perspective the message is "emotional expression is a sign of weakness - stop complaining", and from the feminist perspective message is often "everyone else has it worse than you - stop complaining". It doesn't matter which viewpoint you take, the outcome is the same. Quite unintentionally, there's considerable agreement across the spectrum, that men discussing their subjective experience of the world is inherently invalid. It does get a little tiring to be constantly pushing back against that, especially when you're also fighting against the voice in your own head that says "maybe they're right, maybe your experiences are invalid, maybe you're just weak, etc...". I don't really know what the answer to that is.

(*Pre-emptively: Yes, they really do. Not always, but surprisingly often. There's a bunch of examples in this thread, but it happens in real life too. A little while back I was going through one of the more stressful periods of my life. I had my career and all my worldly assets on the line, simultaneous with an extended period of solo parenting, while my whole family were distracted with their own major life events. It wasn't the worst thing I've had to go through by any means, but it wasn't exactly fun. I mentioned that I was stressed as hell about this to one of my female friends (in response to her asking, I should note, this wasn't a spontaneous admission on my part), and she told me to my face that I was not allowed to feel anxious about such things: as a middle aged middle class white cis straight male, I am not entitled to this because I have so much privilege. She did later apologise and admit that this was over the top (and I have no hard feelings over the incident), but it's pretty striking that this was her initial reaction to what I thought was fairly justified distress over a difficult situation.)
posted by langtonsant at 3:04 PM on April 8, 2016 [21 favorites]


The only threatened violence I have ever seen was in response to an inebriated asshole with a gun showing up and making threats, and that was easily defused.

The fact that you do not think of anything short of a murder threat really worth thinking about as a thing is exactly what I am talking about.

Do you know how women are getting us to stop being so fucked up in our relationships with them? By (among many, many other things they should not have to do) not letting things short of the worst possible violence rest. By not treating it as no biggie, but as part of a destructive pattern of inequality that surrounds us, and can be confronted early and often.

Do you know how men are fucking that up? By ignoring everyday sexism. By ignoring everyday microthreats and gestures. And it makes sense, because the nothing-short-of-the-worst-counts attitude because we're so fucking stoic is, when applied socially, a calculated callousness that helps us 1) maintain our gender privilege, and 2) maintain a semblance of power in male-male relationships steeped in subtextual violence.

Which is why I brought up my point about context-dependent. While technically true, there are major intersectional elements concerning racism, poverty, and other socio-economic factors that affect these statistics. Crime statistics don't necessarily prove that all or even most men operate under constant apprehension of murder by other men. My experience as a white middle/working class man is going to be different than that of a black man, including the likelihood of encountering violence.

Of course it is. Of course intersectionality matters. But it matters in everything else. It does not mean, that you, white dude, are exempt from the transmission of violence among men, that you are not simultaneously a perpetrator and recipient of it. You have racialized and class interests that encourage you to ignore, trivialize and otherwise strategically adjust your approach. You're on the privileged side of police and prison systems that industrialize violence.

The "threat display" anthro argument strikes me as sort of garbage, because it's a manifestation of that privilege. It's "Look at me, as a white dude I can get involved in all kinds of threatening shit without getting in too much trouble because I'm going all Alpha Male," when this is no different than the behaviour that gets men of colour called "superpredators" for the political advantage of the assholes of the day. You are not immune to it, you do it, and the fact that you do it creates toxic masculinity not because men are stupidly insecure, but because we are insecure because of a low level awareness that this system is everywhere, and we can be eaten and shit out by it at any time. The fact that the most privileged among us have rigged the odds doesn't change this.
posted by mobunited at 6:29 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


This comes up a lot when guys talk about these topics. Every comment requires a lot of footnoting, even (or especially?) in a very progressive kind of place like MetaFilter.
...
A curious feature of these conversations is that both the traditional male norms and many feminist folks agree* that men should not discuss their lived experience. From the traditional perspective the message is "emotional expression is a sign of weakness - stop complaining", and from the feminist perspective message is often "everyone else has it worse than you - stop complaining". It doesn't matter which viewpoint you take, the outcome is the same.


Over the last few days, I spent a great deal of time on comments that I decided not to post, which was ironic since the comment was in response to someone wondering about the possible reasons that few male mefites were participating. It seemed that situation had changed when I came back to this thread yesterday, and even though this thread was going relatively well, I found that it remains incredibly difficult to compose a comment in this situation. A great deal of the difficulty stems from the serious nature of the subject, and the desire for that comment to be a considered, positive contribution to the discussion with the least chance of inadvertently causing a derail, making this too personal when the overall topic is masculine psyche in general, or just simply putting my foot in my mouth with a poorly expressed sentiment, and communicating who I am and what I think and feel in response to a comment, while at the same time clearly separating that from the closely related but separate topic of how that relates to the wider concept of males, masculinity, patriarchy in general.

It is possible some might read that paragraph and conclude that a significant part of my apprehension and over-consideration is due to a fear of being mocked or judged - something that has been referenced several times much earlier in this discussion. In this case, I would say that my concerns lie more towards what I share being simply dismissed, and that concern even greater if the comment should contain even a hint of disagreement with another's comment. Many in this thread have shown that those concerns are understandable, but I should not let that prevent me from commenting.

However, even with that invitation, and despite the incredible openness of some of the other men in this thread, I feel that whatever my attempts to delve into the matter may be, that it will inevitably become far more about me as a particular race, class, and gender in general than it would be about what I think and feel as a human being in relation to those demographic groups.

So while some are inviting us to share our personal feelings about why sharing some things are difficult, others seem to be saying 'Yes, bring them out, so they can be judged and condemned, because your feelings and thoughts as an individual on the matter are irrelevant.' Whether intended or not, that's how it reads to me. After seeing a number of those comments, I understand why many would decide not to participate. While I may even agree with their main points, the manner of its delivery is certainly not inviting to further discussion. If the response to that is "It's not my job to educate them," then you are doing a disservice to the cause you are so vehemently defending.

Remember that this is coming from someone who agrees with the idea that the whole gender/power/privilege situation is bafflingly twisted and defective, and at one point was looking forward to a rather promising discussion.

Maybe I have somehow read this discussion all wrong, taken things too personally, and I've fallen into some beanplating vortex.
posted by chambers at 10:22 PM on April 8, 2016 [16 favorites]


I for one am saddened that you feel you cannot share your thoughts and feelings. If you can find your way to a place where you feel comfortable and safe sharing, I'd really like to read what you have to say.

As for the rest, well, fuck the haters.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:49 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you can find your way to a place where you feel comfortable and safe sharing, I'd really like to read what you have to say.

I appreciate that. I think if there was a broader point I wanted to make, its that I'm glad I was able to get that out, because though I can only speak for myself, I suspect a number of those perceptions and concerns I noted, or at least along those lines, can for some people stymie some good-faith engagement in the discussion long before they hit the 'post comment' button.

The main thing that kept me determined to actually finish and post that comment was when I realized that it would be hypocritical if I just walked away from the discussion - essentially 'dismissing' it - when the very thing that I was trying to express was concern over being dismissed myself.
posted by chambers at 11:08 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Good conversation. Thanks to all.
posted by Lyme Drop at 11:13 AM on April 9, 2016


chambers: "I'm glad I was able to get that out, because though I can only speak for myself, I suspect a number of those perceptions and concerns I noted, or at least along those lines, can for some people stymie some good-faith engagement in the discussion long before they hit the 'post comment' button. "

I don't have much to add, other than to echo fffm and say thanks for sharing. I wish it were possible to have these discussions without the dismissiveness and the derails, but it seems to come with the territory. I'm glad you commented, but I also think that noping out of these threads is a pretty valid choice, and not hypocritical in the least.
posted by langtonsant at 11:56 PM on April 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


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