I’ve felt some wariness about posting this series of pieces because I’m exploring some themes of gender relations and culture that are often discussed with overt or covert criticism. Because this is the norm and something we’re all intuitively expecting, it’s a very common and natural emotional response for people to automatically react with either defensiveness or excited criticism in agreement. Unfortunately this dynamic gets in the way of compassionate, rational discussion of topics that are very important and have a real impact on people. So, paying attention to both my wariness and my conviction that these things are important to be discussed I asked myself,
‘How can I preface these posts in a way that still allows me to say what I want to say, but minimises the risk of offending or inflaming which will help to maintain openness to thought?’
This is my attempt:
- Acknowledging and bringing attention to, as above, the common reactions that I’m aware of;
- Stating, as above that my intention is to open compassionate, rational thought and discussion;
- Very careful wording of my posts.
A Request for Reader Responsibility, if Possible
- If you notice the feelings and thoughts of either defensiveness or agreed criticisms about the dynamics I’m outlining please acknowledge them in yourselves- e.g. “Am I feeling defensive? Am I gleefully indulging in a negative critical opinion of these dynamics I’ve noticed too?”.
- These feelings and thoughts are valid- they tell you that something matters to you.
- Please also try to use these emotional biases as a cue to re-focus on the actual words, language and points I’m using to test for yourself whether what I’m conveying matches your assumptions.
- Please try to notice the words, language, points and phrasing that suggest a primary theme of these posts is personal responsibility- especially my own.
This series of posts has evolved from an initial intention to make a brief observation about something that was absent from the ‘evening of connection’ I had the other day to a longer, more comprehensive contemplation on the nature of what can be lacking generally in how we connect, how that might disproportionately disadvantage half the population of humans (and consequently the whole), and what each of us could do as individuals to address this. It starts specific, goes broad and ends with each of us as individuals with agency.
Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth Part 1/3
Throughout my life I’ve experienced a persistent conflict in my belief that men and women are fundamentally the same, so I desire to treat men as I treat women, with the repeated occasions upon which speaking with a man with the same openness and kindness with which I like to freely speak with women, has caused a man to interpret romantic intentions from me or to develop interest in me (a.k.a. my kindness: who any of us is, is much deeper than simply what we give to others). More often than not, this has resulted in the person being rejected by me, as empathetically as I know how, but with much discomfort for both of us. It’s resulted in a nuanced internal battle in which I’m constantly trying to balance how I want to interact with all people with the recognition that sometimes, if I can see it happening while another person isn’t seeing the difference for themselves it ends up being unfair to them and uncomfortable for me.
For me personally, this dynamic I’ve perceived has always brought with it multiple moral and ethical conflicts. I think this might be because a) I can perceive it; b) I have a perception of the underlying causes, so I don’t see these individuals simply as either flawed and annoying or needing of my care. Some of the brain debates that happen for me: What’s the balance of kindness and distance? How can I gain this AND minimise how much another will feel dismissed or rejected? How much responsibility do I take alone for protecting the feelings of another? How do I balance my own need to be seen and heard? Do I even try?
It’s a constant process of self-regulation and monitoring of another’s responses to determine whether openness is okay or likely to mislead. It’s the constant mental watchman on the lookout for slightly too-long eye contact during personal conversations, escalation of eagerness to share about themselves and divulge information they wouldn’t normally share at all, too-soon comments about trust in me, my niceness, comments suggesting they feel like they know me (they don’t, as few people in my wider life do) when possibly they’re just having a moment of feeling known themselves. This same thing happens with women who have less connection, just without the romantic intentions for me, therefore less potentially rejecting consequences. It also doesn’t seem to happen so readily with men or women who seem to have more comfort and skill in reciprocal genuine communication.
What’s happening in these instances has always seemed to me like the conflation of generic human kindness with specific romantic interest. To me, it says a lot about the emotional dessication of conventional human interaction when mild kindness (at least within my concept, compared to what I receive regularly and know is possible) arouses the specificity of romantic interest instead of the familiarity of human kinship, and it’s something I’ve often felt sad about.
I think it comes from a world of relating in which many people are never exposed to how normal their moments of sadness, fear, insecurity, anxiety and (insert all other sensitive, vulnerable feelings here) are because the facades they’re interacting with are reacting to the other facades which are all finely moulded to mask these experiences, reinforcing the impression that these feelings within a person are aberrant.
It’s a world of relating in which many people will never wholeheartedly express, explore or even recognise their felt values, interests and passions because the collective insecurity of humans drives individuals to bolster their sense of self-worth by declaring some of these things are right, good, better and some are wrong, bad, worse.
It’s a world of relating in which all this means that generally, exposure of personal truth does actually come with high risk of judgement, criticism, ridicule and rejection. Each person is simultaneously experiencing fear of this and protective, self-reinforcing relief when someone else can be the object of this instead of them. It’s a world of relating that we’re all simultaneously reacting to with protective actions to avoid, hide, mould, reject, judge, condemn, dismiss, criticise whilst unknowingly perpetuating this environment for those around us and for ourselves- to greater and lesser degrees for each person (I’m in no way immune from this).
Public Service Announcement: It seems that these sensitive, vulnerable feelings are not aberrant. It just appears to me that the less exposure any of us have to the internal worlds of others, the less skill we develop at seeing beyond the facades which becomes a self-perpetuating and fortifying cycle.
Enter one of the numerous, mutually beneficial uses for allowing others to genuinely express themselves and engaging in this ourselves which is often unperceived. Continued exposure to genuine expression helps us learn about our own natural human-ness and understand others. Who hasn’t had the experience of listening to a person express themselves openly and gained insights into themselves and more acceptance of another?
This is one reason I think women are misconstrued as being ‘intrinsically’ more intuitive, emotional, empathetic, caring and (insert other ‘feminine’ characteristics here). Women generally, culturally, have more exposure to this and men generally, culturally are deprived of this. Deprived, except, perhaps, to greater or lesser extents, within the company of women. Often only one woman at a time, which isn’t a very enriched environment in contrast to the richness others have access to.
We can’t isolate the woman or man from the learning environments in which their brains have developed, so there is actually little reliable evidence to suggest these perceived differences are inherent. P.S. This is science. Any responsibly conducted or reported science on gender differences will acknowledge this difficulty in controlling for environment. And gendered environments are present from birth.
If less exposure to internal worlds= less understanding of your own and others, you could imagine that one attempted remedy to the seemingly irrevocable ‘gender divide’ (which is not just an intellectual consideration but has real, pervasive functional consequences for real, living humans) could be for us as individuals who form society to begin to make it okay for ourselves and men generally to be human, to talk and express genuinely with each other and others, often and throughout their lives from childhood onwards. And perhaps, also to recognise that this freedom or permission can’t be derived from or be the responsibility of just one external person alone.
So, to the observation that sparked this series. This conflict that I’ve described for myself in the beginning was absent at the event I was at. A gathering in which everybody had come with an openness to share more genuinely about themselves and hear about others. It was so absent that I hadn’t even noticed its absence until I compared this event to my expectations and experiences of more conventional social groupings of strangers. That’s not to say that no-one was surveying for potential love interests or that only platonic feelings were felt by every person in the room. It just seemed that there was no slightly-too-long eye gazing, and the relaxation and the excitedness to confide weren’t targeted at anyone in particular.
This makes sense. In this environment I- or anyone else who would normally interact with kindness- wasn’t just the first person someone had encountered in months who was willing to communicate genuinely and provide kindness. I was one of many such people. I wasn’t the only person available and wanting to listen. I was just one of many people with the conscious desire to hear about others. I wasn’t the rare person who can claim some of their sensitive experiences and make it safe for another to do the same, or at least to feel comfortable. There was an entire room full of us attempting to do this. I wasn’t a person understanding just them. I was freely expressing my identity as someone who always wants to understand everyone, amongst a collection of individuals who were also wanting to give understanding.
And that collective was men and women.