Christine Walker, who blogs at Boys Cry Too, recently did a podcast that I really enjoyed listening to. There’s a lot to say in response because this is the sort of thing that creates important discussions. I suggest that readers visit her blog and listen to the podcast to better understand my comments.
My comments are selective, but what I have to add is that:
Conflict avoidance is a big issue for men. It’s commonly thought that men think emotions are unimportant. And some men do think that, but most don’t (not really). Rather, emotions show vulnerability, as you mentioned at several points. But men frequently see vulnerability as an “in” for someone to take advantage. A defensive stance is usually preferable to outright conflict.
“Yes, dear” is conflict avoidance. When I got married my father told me to learn those words. And I did. It was both bad advice and good advice.
Ultimately, a man needs a woman who can hear the word no and accept it. But in longterm relationships I’ve not wanted to be hammered into position. I know I’ll lose the battle. That is, I don’t feel like I’ll be listened to. So to avoid conflict, I surrender before the battle begins. And conflict avoidance is a large part of why I got divorced five years ago, and why the thought of marrying again scares the living hell out of me.
You brought up the question, “Am I safe?” That’s an important question. Women seem to worry about it more than men. Yet, a man walking alone down a street at night is more likely than a woman to be attacked (though it’s not likely a sexual assault). Crime stats dispute feminist memes. Emotional safety is just as important.
I think men worry about safety more than people think. Anger is the mask it wears. It’s preemptive self-defense. Yes, anger is the acceptable male emotion. But knowing the role of preemptive self-defense is key. Yet, “It’s scary for the person on the other side of it [anger].” Yes, it is. And that’s the point. They won’t cross you. It’s defensive. And it creates barriers, walls. Maybe that’s why Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, and Roger Waters’ pleading, “Mother, did it have to be so high?” resonates with teenage boys even today.
Humor is a big way to defuse it. That’s why men are often quick with a joke (verbal or practical, though this too can get out of hand if it becomes passive-aggressive or just plain aggressive).
And it’s absolutely true that this “keeps men from forming close relationships with other men.” And so “women become the one and only support system” for men. Which goes a long way to explaining why men’s suicide risk (which is already four times greater than women’s) increases more after divorce.
Your observation that “Men would rather do nothing than do something wrong” deserves special attention. I think of young men, indoors all day, unengaged, unmotivated. Society blames them. What’s wrong with you? Be a real man! But an anorexic woman deserves our compassion, support, and understanding.
These young men are depressed, and society struggles to acknowledge this. The mixed messages create such a fear of doing something wrong (I think of the microaggression fad), that they just withdraw.
And finally, the importance of naming the emotion. Absolutely essential. But as I wrote about Mad Men‘s Don Draper (Men’s Silence), people communicate when they feel safe doing so. A man won’t name the emotion if he doesn’t feel safe, and an emotionally confrontational approach produces the opposite effect.
You stated that men are still confronting traditional gender roles, and that was spot on. And it’s not just from other men – it’s just as often from women. (You gave the example of a man going to confront the noise in the night while his wife waits safely in bed.) Finances play a role as well. But today’s economy doesn’t permit a traditional male role for the average man, yet expectations from both women and men lag behind.
The weight of expectations can make a man feel like his back could break, but he doesn’t feel safe saying this, and so he slowly fades away.