“When men are vulnerable women find them more desirable both emotionally and sexually. Women don’t want men to be vulnerable to “get” sex from them, but to be vulnerable so that they can be closer, which ultimately turns most women on. When women feel closer to men emotionally they want to be closer to them sexually and are more likely to feel safer and more adventurous because of it.” – Andre Moore and Dr. Lisa Kaplin.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them” – Margaret Atwood
Gender socialization is a complicated issue and for the purposes of brevity, I am going to focus on male emotional vulnerability in this post. I think we would all be better off if men were afforded the same freedoms as women. Namely, to be human and to express their emotions honestly without the repercussions of being called names or being physically assaulted.
We socialize men to be angry or shut down (flat affect) and this is destructive beyond measure (you only have to watch the news everyday to see another incident of violence). If a man expresses sadness or vulnerability at a young age, we say things to him like “toughen up” or “stop your crying and be a big boy.”
If a boy plays with dolls (that we label “feminine”), we take the doll from their hands and give them a truck or a gun. A doll does not represent anything other than a role playing toy to a young child. In that moment, all they know is that they did something wrong and that something was “boys don’t play with girl toys.” They learn that to be feminine or associate with things feminine as weak and undesirable. The association is then if I do something weak I will get in trouble.
This is problematic for many reasons.
Men are humans, too. This means that they also naturally experience emotions like: sadness, fear, frustration, hurt, joy, happiness, anxiety, embarrassment, and hope (and on and on). When those feelings are not validated as a child, they learn that the only acceptable feeling is anger or disconnection. In addition, they feel shame when they inevitably experience the undesirable feminine emotions. This does not allow a man to safely and honestly express how he is feeling in relationships.
When this happens, it prevents men from having genuine connections with people because they were told that to express vulnerability is unsafe and I’ll get in trouble. This narrative is drilled into their heads in childhood, the story becomes rigid, and challenging to alter once these men are adults. For the millions of children that experience/witness violence in the home, this narrative becomes even more challenging to revise.
Then these same men want to know why they can’t find stable relationships. In healthy relationships, people need to feel safe. There is nothing safe about someone who is angry, unpredictable, insecure, and/or shut down. Not a lot of people want to cuddle up or be intimate with a ball of rage, insecurity, and/or anger.
However, because those emotions are validated and encouraged in childhood, it is confusing and often beyond the male and female understanding why these same skills do not work when we become adults. So, these men (and women) continue to try again and again to map these same emotional skills (anger, jealousy, rage, insecurity) onto their relationships only to have them fail again and again.
Allowing men and women to express their emotions safely and with validation will improve their lives and the lives of the people that cross their paths in the future. A person with the ability to understand and express their emotions is a healthy person with an increased ability to have and maintain healthy relationships with healthy partners.
Women, I am talking to you: when you shame a man for expressing vulnerability you are fueling this destructive narrative.
“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.” – Brene Brown (her research on male vulnerability)
We absolutely can do better. We can allow men and women to be honest about their feelings and validate their experiences from a young age, allowing them a happy and healthy future. If you are a man or woman and you feel like you are repeating unhealthy relationships, please enlist the help of a professional therapist.