Where are all the men?
Before I get a feminist ear bashing, let me say that I entirely understand as a woman myself, that women have had and still do have a hard time in the world. However, this piece is about men as I’m becoming increasingly worried about where men fit into the world. I’m concerned about the men I’m coaching who lack confidence, a sense of identity and an ability to express themselves. I’m also not focusing on gender.
I have five children, three of whom are boys aged 25, 23 and 11. I and other women I’ve been talking to, are becoming more and more concerned about our sons role in society, both now and in the future.
I have many male friends, colleagues and coaching clients. I feel a deep empathy for men as they don’t seem to have their own space in the world anymore. There’s no room for their masculinity to be seen positively. Masculinity seems to have been tied to physical strength which gets tied to violence, or if you are into the gym, you are a himbo. If a women goes to the gym, she is empowering and enabling herself, getting in the feminine strength zone, taking me time, it’s all very positive. Men in the gym are preening, over confident and physically - slightly threatening. I’ve never heard anyone say to a man, well done for taking time out and empowering yourself.
Why has being a man and being masculine become so negative? As a woman I’m very feminine (with traditional concepts of what this means), I like being a woman and I like my woman-ness, my curves, my softness in personality, my caring attitude etc. However, that is just part of me. I also do boxing for exercise, argue with the greatest, do DIY –(I put an entire feather board fence together and dismantled, moved and then refloored and reroofed my shed while my partner (male) sat and watched because he didn’t want to get dirty!) Oh, and I can reverse park, with confidence! In all honesty, I do what I want regardless of whether it’s a ‘male role’ or a ‘female role’.
I’m exceptionally tough in body and in mind. I own my wholeness and my woman-ness. I’m not afraid to identify as a woman and I own my power in the world. So here’s the catch, it’s my opinion and from those I’ve worked with, that many men find feeling pride in their masculinity is not acceptable, that it’s not okay to say. I’m a man and I like being a man, I can be all or anything I want to be. They cannot be empathetic and masculine, they cannot show feelings by crying and be masculine, they cannot be a kind and trusted professional and be masculine. Society has created its own Frankenstein’s monster and he is apologising for being himself. If you read the original book, Frankenstein was a beautiful character.
The problem is that as women stand up and take their rightful place, men are being pushed down and that I can’t agree with. Is there not space for us all? I feel angry that women have been treated the way they have and that as a women I find myself making statements that reflect my ingrained perception that men and women do certain things. My daughter told me last night that a child had brought in a castle (for a castle project) that had a moving drawbridge. I immediately said, ‘that’s someone’s Dad getting competitive.’ My daughter immediately said, ‘or someone’s Mum’. I felt annoyed with myself that as someone who is so pro the fact that gender doesn’t matter, that I have this judgement in bedded in me by society. This balance needs realignment. Women need to be given equal space in the world and in business, but does this have to be at the sacrifice of men?
Men’s confidence and self-esteem is low, they don’t know who they are allowed to be. It’s my understanding that men want to be kind and hold doors open, stand up if they see a tired female (or male), offer to carry something heavy if they see anyone struggling, but they are so tied up in not knowing whether they will be shouted at for such an offer, that they don’t and are then accused of being rude or dismissive.
So, what is masculine and feminine – what do they even mean, I don’t know (and actually don’t agree with them as definitions to describe but as I said I’ll return to that) but looking superficially? If I look at my role, I am very professional, but I will be direct, challenging and gently confrontational in a very loving way. I am firm, but empathetic in getting my clients to explore their thoughts and processes. I recently made a client squirm in his chair and say he felt I was making his brain hurt because I called him on some truths he didn’t want to face. Some would say I’m very ‘male’ in my approach, others have said I’m a softy from just looking at me! However, I am also empathetic and emotional and I ‘get’ my clients’ emotions too. I am a very touchy-feely person – some would describe this as a feminine attribute! I express myself with my hands and often will touch someone on the arm or give them a hug. I express my humanity by connecting with others. I have met men who are touchy feely too, but they are rarer.
It’s my belief that men are so bombarded with assault claims – look at the recent news (I’m not arguing the validity of those claims here, I think this being brought into the open is right and just, not just for women.) But, it all adds to men being so frightened to be just who they are, afraid to breathe wrongly near a woman in case she takes it the wrong way. I love men, most of them are generous, sensitive, emotional, warm and beautiful and they bring to the world their masculinity and maleness in such wonderful ways. It breaks my heart to see them trying to choose whether to be real or be what they think society expects. They can be the ‘soft’ male, often described as a effeminate or the ‘hard’ alpha male, but not both. Women make this harder for men too by wanting men to ‘be a man’, or in that currently popular phrase, to ‘man up’. No one ever told me to ‘woman up’. What would that even mean?
The recent Adam Sandler discussion about him putting his hand on Claire Foy’s knee on Graham Norton’s show is a prime example. We have no idea of his motives, again I’m not taking sides, but I cringed when I read it as I could imagine myself stroking someone’s arm, man or woman, next to me. I’m very demonstrative and whilst I’m now reflecting whether that’s okay, as a woman I would never have been in the papers for doing it.
I was once at a PTA event to raise money for our local school. Mainly attended by women, one of the fathers showed up. He was whooped and hollered at to strip for cash in the name of raising money. He got down to boxers and socks. I know him, and he found it funny, but do I think this is okay? NO, I do not! He was, in the words of others, ‘a good sport’ for some light-hearted humour, but I was deeply uncomfortable about it and wish I had halted the proceedings.
There are just such double standards here. If a roomful of males had chanted at a woman to take her clothes off, it’s likely the police would have been called and charges made. As a woman I can pretty much touch and hug who I like, men cannot. If I say, ‘hey you’re handsome’ to a man, most would smile, if a man said, ‘hey beautiful’ to a woman, most women would not like it. Women objectify men all the time, it’s human nature to see attractiveness in each other. If men set up men only groups in a business context, that would not be acceptable, but where I live, it’s full of women only groups. It should be acceptable for both or neither.
My daughter just asked me, what is masculinity and I couldn’t really answer. For me it’s just a strong sense of maleness in the same way that some women have a strong sense of femininity about them, I can’t put it into words. It’s there even in my male gay friends. I believe men and women bring so much to the world in their own ways that we should celebrate both and more…
To go even further in my belief would be to say that I truly wish we could drop the whole gender issue completely and move away from biological difference to just accepting people as people, not male or female, just Tom, Dick or Mari. The transgender and non-binary community have educated me a lot in this way. I was once tested by Cambridge university and I apparently have a 50/49% male/female brain! What rubbish! I’m Mari, I can do some things really well and not do others, but that has little to do with my gender. I believe, talking to some non-binary identifiers that their struggle is that they don’t fit with either description and so they reject both. In my opinion, we don’t need more identities, we need less.
We are all humans, all original, no normal, no labels, no boxes, just our wonderful selves.
The lack of confidence I’m seeing in men, their fear of crying in public, if at all, their fear of being seen as a soft boss, their inability to own up to their true feelings, whether negative or positive, their worry about how they will be viewed if they want to be a stay at home parent, it’s all very worrying. Where will it end? I worry for my boys, I worry their wonderful personalities will be changed. My 11-year-old, son loves pink, cuddling his Mummy, has a deep love of animals and his prized possession is an adult hand sized ice skate Christmas decoration that is covered in glitter, he loves it so much it stays in his room year round. He also plays football, wrestles, and plays shooting computer games. He is exactly who he wants to be, but will his stay that way?
We shouldn’t be putting down men to lift women. Speaking to most men they want to help redress the balance between women and men, they see the historical inequality and want to change it, but often they don’t know how and fear of saying the wrong thing stops them. My partner recently went to a meeting at work about encouraging women into STEM, he was the only male there. I don’t think it’s lack of care, it’s fear of saying the wrong thing.
I look at my beautiful, sensitive, strong, emotional, rough, soft sons, friends and clients, and I worry for their future. I don’t care about labels, but I care deeply about their ability to be themselves, their ability to bring their warmth, their humanity, their themness, into the world.
Let’s make the world a place where we can ALL be treated equally. Respected for our differences as well as our sameness. Allowed to be whoever we are and using our strength to bring others up with us whatever their gender or identification.
If you are interested in exploring your thoughts around this topic or creating the life you want, do get in touch for a conversation.