Stop Treating Men Like Shit
September 19, 2016 ~ Demetra Szatkowski
* Almost all of this information comes from Alison Armstrong’s work (see first footnote)
** LGBTQ community please see second footnote
I want to preface this by saying that if you are a woman and are anything like me, you’re probably already defensive before even beginning to read this essay. I honor that. I hear that.
I want to know if you are open to hearing a different side to your story.
This is an important question to answer - please answer it to yourself before you continue reading, because it is going to affect the way you take in the information.
I was talking to a friend one night, and she was talking about how much she adores men. How men have been so supportive and generous and kind to her lately, and she appreciates them so much, and they are such powerful beings.
I didn’t relate to that at all. I told her that. I didn’t even need one full hand to count the amount of men I have felt that way about throughout my entire life.
I was, for the first time, struck by the sadness of that, instead of just being angry about it. Because when I thought about significant interactions with men that have stood out in my life, I thought about being called a slut at the age of 10, by boys who didn’t get in trouble, because “boys will be boys.” I thought about wearing a low-cut shirt at the age of 13 and watching a married adult man blatantly stare at my chest, reminding me that I was a sexual object. I thought of every single cat-call and interaction I’ve ever had that has made me stand my guard, that has made me put hidden defenses up, that has forced me to see men in a different light.
But my friend had experiences like that too, and she was still describing men in this beautiful, powerful way. And knowing better than to try to convince me, she directed me to a book.
I value truth more than anything else in this world. And while reading, even as I felt myself wanting to argue every point that was made, I still couldn’t deny the fact that inside Alison’s work was research, was femininity, was truth.
My goal in writing this is to be a voice amongst powerful feminist women, of whom I am and have been, a voice that can be for and with women but yet is not speaking out against masculinity. How is that possible?
To all women: I feel your protests to this because I have already felt them. And yet, and still, I am dropping my guard. This material changes lives, and spread widely, I think it can change the way society relates as a whole.
This is a complex topic and one that I am not sure I can do justice to in trying to navigate and explain in such a linear way. But I will try, regardless.
Let’s go way back. To biology. To cave people.
We have men, hunting for food. Men are great at this, because their minds focus on one thing at a time. They are physically strong and wonderful at providing food and safety to women.
We have women, gathering fruits and taking care of babies, chatting with friends, sharing information, all at the same time. Women are great at this, because their minds rarely focus fully - instead they have a million different things in their heads at once.
I am skipping. I am oversimplifying. Alison’s talks (the one that goes into this is almost 4 hours long) and her books are better sources for more information.
Cave women need men to keep them safe, both from outside dangers… and from men themselves. Women have an innate knowing that men are physically more powerful than we are (at least naturally) - and this makes us biologically fearful of men. This has (typically subconsciously) stuck with us in our modern world of today.
So what to do, in response to this? The solution is for women to keep pleasing men - to keep them on our side. We change ourselves to please men, and when that doesn’t work, we try to manipulate them. This typically doesn’t work, either. Women manipulate men and end up emasculating them. Men become angry and don’t meet the needs of women. Women become irritated and emasculate more. Men retreat or react. It creates a cycle.
“Women [today] are lacking the consciousness and self respect (which has been passed down to them by mothers with the same degenerative conditions) to even know, let alone acknowledge their own power and therefore are totally irresponsible with it…Women are powerful beings, but you put a little girl at the wheel of a vehicle that’s equipped for a mature adult and you’ve got a dangerous situation on your hands.”
Women held the ancient roles of priestesses, of goddesses, of witches. We are the connection to the universe. We are femininity, we are sex, we are a well of emotional depth. We are infinite, we are intuitive. We are the connection to nature itself, in a way that men are not, the way our bodies flow with the moon.
But what if men already know all of that, on some level? What if men already know how much they need women? What if men already recognize how much you are capable of being, of becoming? What if men already know how powerful you are?
What if when men ask if they can help you carry something they are asking because they want to help you and not because they don’t think you can do it?
Men have historically been threatened by the power of women. Women have also been threatened by the power of men. We are scared of each other. We treat one another as adversaries - even when we are in love with one another.
Women go to their girlfriends and complain about how men don’t do enough, how men don’t listen, how men don’t meet our emotional needs, how men are lazy and immature and dumb and assholes. We have ongoing jokes about how useless fathers are. And we reinforce one another. We have grown up in a society that suppresses women but reacts to that by emasculating men. Women grow up being taught to both manipulate and emasculate men. We are taught that men are the enemy. And in doing this we fail to recognize that men are not women and we end up missing out on all of the incredible qualities that men are capable of providing in the first place.
This is Alison’s whole point: men are not misbehaving women. Men and women are different. Our brains work differently, we process things differently, we react to things differently, we need different things.
An example I think is easy to notice is with communication. When women talk to our girlfriends, it’s a specific kind of communication. I can have a girlfriend telling me a story, and I can interrupt her a thousand times to ask questions about different parts of the story, and she will answer those questions thoroughly and then pick right back up wherever she left off. Men don’t do that! We listen to men talk and interject constantly to direct the conversation. We don’t wait until after men have finished speaking, because we think they communicate like women. Men will not pick up where they left off, and after a few times, they will most likely stop talking completely, and just let you talk. Men communicate differently. They will stop speaking, think, collect their thoughts for a minute, and then if you wait, he will continue to speak - and often it will be a thought we never would have heard if we hadn’t paused. If he’s done talking, he’ll say something along the lines of, “that’s it.” It is actually super funny to pay attention to.
Just notice it. That is one example among many.
Why can’t we adjust to men and still be strong in who we are? Why can’t we be respectful of who men are? Is it because we live in a society that teaches us to grow up blaming men, never taking responsibility ourselves? Is it because we don’t have the information that teaches us the differences between one another and the ways to honor this?
The purpose of this isn't just to make men's lives easier, either.
Imagine being able to communicate your needs to men in a way that actually resulted in those needs being met. Imagine if the men in your life supported you; imagine if they helped take care of you, helped to lift you up. The reason all of this information is so significant for women to learn is because it allows us to honor and respect masculinity and also our own femininity, making us ultimately happier.
There are bad men.
You are fully seen and supported in your experiences of rape, of sexism, of injustice, of being objectified, of abuse, of terror. And I deviate a bit (not totally) from Alison here when I say you can angrily protest those things. You don’t have to stop fighting for women to have equal rights, to have justice, to be heard. You can still stand up for yourself and tell men to fuck off when they say or do something that is completely uncalled for.
I wonder if it is possible to do this in a way that is no longer emasculating.
There are so many men who already see that sexism exists and believe that women should have equal rights to men. How could our conversations become even more productive if we were able to work with men in a way that was supportive? What if we appreciated the very different gifts that men and women both bring to the table? How could feminism change and become even stronger as a movement if we learned how to interact with men, instead of treating them the same way we treat women, and then getting frustrated when they don’t react like us?
Women and men deserve equal rights, yes, for sure. But we will always be very different. We can be equally qualified for a job and deserve the same pay, but we will still be performing that job in different ways. We don’t see the world the same way, we don’t communicate the same way, we don’t think the same way. It is a huge disservice to expect men and women to interact in the same way just because we happen to be equally deserving human beings.
What if we can work together in a way that is empowering? What would happen if women and men respected one another and came together to utilize all of our strengths in a way that is both supportive and inspiring?
That doesn’t start with men blaming all men and masculinity and patriarchy for their actions.
This begins with women, too.
* Alison Armstrong is a researcher who has been studying men and women and leading workshops on the subject for over 20 years. There is a talk she gives that is 3 1/2 hours long called “Understanding Women” that I HIGHLY recommend listening to, and I can email you the copy I have if you contact me. I think it might also be available on iTunes. If you only have time for one thing, I would read the Queen’s Code. The prequel to that, Keys to the Kingdom, is also worth reading but is more helpful to read second. If you read the Queen’s Code, and have gotten farther than the end of Chapter 3 (you’ll see why), message me if you want to be added to a group on Facebook that was created to discuss and hold space for these topics. The books are written simply, in almost a fairy-tale sort of way, but the info and message are what's important, and all of that is well-conveyed.
** I haven’t been able to find any information on how Alison relates this topic to the LGBTQ community. I know that for the most part, she is describing differences in sex as opposed to gender. But as a cis-gendered, hetero woman, I feel unqualified to try to describe how some of this material would relate within a same-sex couple or how Alison's work would resonate with someone who is transgendered. I can say for sure that I believe it is very accurate for cis-gendered, heterosexual men and women, and so that it can still be utilized, say, as a queer or trans woman relating to a cis hetero man. I regret not knowing more and think it would be helpful to have a more insightful perspective from someone within this community who has also read and listened to all of Alison’s work (not just my essay - I understand that the essay is limited in this way.)