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This month’s Psychologies Magazine (November 2018) has been thought provoking, and it’s been interesting to notice that I’ve found it quite hard to write about. The dossier raises the question of male stereotypes and the fact that our limiting beliefs about men (and women) hold us back from having more meaningful, equal relationships.
I went through the questionnaire, and it didn’t surprise me to note that I score highly on the “men have it easy” stereotype. I also score a few on the “men are big kids stereotype”.
The reason that this was thought provoking is that I’ve been watching the #MeToo discussions with personal connection and some relief, but it has also brought up lots of feelings of anger and resentment. It would be easy, at this time, for me to focus my anger on Donald Trump (because I do fear his anti-women rhetoric) or on past injustices and awful experiences that I’ve had. It would also be easy to take the viewpoint that my work as a doctor was impacted negatively by a male-dominated system, and to fall into victim thinking about the negative impacts that men have had in my life.
Deep down I know that it isn’t right to dismiss half the population with as anti-women, or “having it easy”. As a mother of a nearly teenage boy, whom I love deeply, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that I don’t appreciate men, or different ways of doing things. It would also be inaccurate to judge men uniformly, when I know that gender is a spectrum, and even in one class at my son’s Primary School there is a huge range of characters, and relative expressions of testosterone.
When I pause to reflect, I have equally good friendships with men as women, for a range of different reasons. As a Crisis Counsellor I connect equally with the struggles expressed by men as I do with women, and I worry even more for men who are under social pressure to “man up” and not express their feelings.
I’ve spent the last few years with my son talking about emotions openly, to try to give him a vocabulary for what he is feeling and to know that anger, fear, loneliness, anxiety, ecstasy, are all normal emotions that can all be fully expressed.
What I’m starting to notice is that many of my reactions to male society are not based on the men I know, but the male dominated society that I perceive I know. I’m not at all sure that men are any more comfortable with society’s assumptions and unconscious limiting beliefs than I am. I also know that I am part of society, and I can choose to take a victim stance, or I can be part of the conversation.
How do we teach our young men to appreciate women as their equal? Do I model that behaviour myself, or do I unconsciously shy away from taking the lead, or from communicating my needs clearly? Do I behave in a way that demands equality, or settle for something else?
Can we move to a new era where sexuality is expressed with self-respect as well as respect for those around us? Can we teach our younger generation to ask, and listen for the answer and pause before considering whether they are embarking on a truly consensual sexual relationship? Where “no” means “no” whether you are male or female
When I talk about being equal, am I truly modelling equality myself, or is some of my behaviour revealing a desire to judge men as inferior to women?
When I criticise men for sexist behaviour, or inappropriate sexual comments, can I truly honestly say that I have never been with a group of women who have behaved similarly inappropriately? Did I challenge their behaviour, or just look on?
When I got married, did I embark on that relationship truly embracing equality, or did I unconsciously fall into roles, and cling to expectations that perpetuate inequalities between men and women? Do I truly allow my husband to parent our children with the intensity I enjoy, or do I keep him slightly marginalised, for fear that my own role would be less valuable?
These are just a few of the questions that I can feel bubbling up. For all the injustices of the past, (and there have been many), I can also see that we have some way to go to find a new reality. It is likely to take commitment and self-reflection from us all if we want to create a positive new era for men and women together. To my mind, a positive start is for all of us to develop a vocabulary around mental health and wellbeing. That means not just expressing how we feel, but also asking others if they are ok, and truly wanting to hear an honest answer. Perhaps when we all learn to really listen, not to reply but to really hear what the other person is saying, we will understand each other more fully. A fascinating challenge, and one which I intend to fully embrace.