I sometimes find myself thinking about how men and women are socialized around relationships. Men and boys are given messaging around being "the strong silent" type. Women and girls are encouraged to "take care of their man." These things seem okay on the surface, but how do they play out? Can they be harmful? How do they relate to the work we do to prevent violence against women and girls? There is a meme I saw recently that really illustrates this. Basically, a wife writes in her diary that she is troubled because her husband is "acting weird.” She is upset because he did not talk much with her while at dinner. She spent time trying to connect with him and check in if something was wrong. She tried to check in to see what was wrong and he replied, "nothing." She told him that she loved him and he did not say it back to her. When they got home he just quietly watched television instead of talking to her. As a result, she felt she that she had "lost him" and that he wanted out of the relationship. He ended up coming to bed late, and after he fell asleep, she cried next to him. In her mind, he wanted to be with someone else, and her life was a "disaster."
Clearly, a lot is going on with this relationship. But, the joke is on us until reading his diary. The punchline is that the issue between them was that his "motorcycle won’t start…can’t figure out why." So, what's going on here? This meme is meant to be humorous. But, it is also playing on some beliefs about women. The meme is implying that women are too emotional. In a sense, this woman was hysterical and thought her relationship was ending when that was not the reality. Portraying women in the way pokes fun at them for being emotional beings. Newsflash, men are emotional beings. Men have the capacity to have these emotions, too. What does it mean to be in a relationship with someone? What does it mean to be present? What does it mean to share what is coming up for you? Does it mean that we just sit and watch television or do we make an effort to connect? It is interesting how her myriad of emotions was contrasted with him logically figuring out how to fix something. Guys do that right? That's why we like going to Home Depot. But at the end of the day, do men learn to talk about their feelings? What would it have meant for this man to have simply said "honey, I'm worried because my motorcycle won’t start? I'm feeling flustered because I can’t figure out what's wrong with it?"
The sad part about a lot of this is that we spend so much of our time socializing men and boys that it is not okay to express emotions outside of rage and anger. If he had kicked his motorcycle over while trying to fix it out of rage, then she would have known what was going on with him, right? What does it mean that his kicking over a motorcycle he cares about makes more sense than his saying he feels helpless because he does not know what to do. Kicking over a bike is not a healthy response. It is not healthy for him or his motorcycle. But, what does it mean when we as men rely on women to do our emotional work. Look at all the hoops she has to figuratively jump through to figure out what is going on with him. It is like she is doing all of her work as well as his. That is not healthy. Women are socialized to focus on the men in their lives; women are socialized to take care of them.
What does it mean for men when we expect women to take care of our emotional needs? What does it mean for men when we expect women to unpack all of our baggage? It means that we expect it. It means that we demand it. It says that we never learn how to do it ourselves. It means that we expect women to do double duty taking care of us as well as themselves. But more than anything it says that we take it out on women when they do not do this for us. Emotions are weaponized as a road to intimacy rather than men genuinely knowing themselves. And, we create a world where we express ourselves with rage and anger because the world tells us that we can not say we feel hurt, sad, or scared. That environment is dangerous for both women and men. A society where men are infantilized instead of realizing their full, true emotional selves is not an ideal in my mind. A world where women are expected to carry the water for the men's emotional selves is not ideal either. Men deserve more. They deserve to realize the totality of who they are as emotional beings. I want us to be better. I want us to be healthier.