Patriarchy harms men too, we’re told. Men are taught to push down, hide, repress their emotions, and it makes them all pent up and angry. You would think that anger isn’t an emotion. Why doesn’t that count? Why doesn’t the fact that when England lose a football match, domestic abuse rates spike by 38%, count? In a world where wives, moms, girlfriends and daughters tiptoe around the dramatic men in their lives, can we really say that men have trouble expressing their emotions?
Anger is seen as a basic, bottom-level emotion. In these men, there’s a suggestion that it’s often a manifestation of more complex and difficult emotions, which they’re not processing properly and therefore need help to do.
Here, we encounter the phenomenon of ’emotional gold-digging’. It turns out that just as men leave the women in their lives to do all the physical work, they expect them to do all the emotional work too. From remembering birthdays to soothing deeply set family feuds in families which aren’t even their own, women must now also be 24/7 personal therapists for their boyfriends. Why aren’t men doing this for themselves? Is it the patriarchy suppressing them, or is there something else? Hmm? Do you wanna talk about it?
Reading the article “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden“, I notice a lack of questioning as to why men have no qualms expecting women to be their personal therapists and life planners, but do not ask this of men. Men are not investing energy into maintaining friendships, but I’m not so sure that this is entirely explained by a pathological fear of the ‘feels’ and vulnerability it takes to do so. I also see that good old-fashioned cake-and-eat-it entitlement of ‘Why can’t I never send the first text, be flaky, not ask questions in conversation and not also have lots of friends? The white dudes in film do?’, as well as the sexist assumption that women have nothing better to do and are even fulfilling a natural capacity in tending to men’s emotional needs. Men, on the other hand, have better and more important things to be doing. We see this in the workplace, where women are expected to take on tasks which need to be done but are not particularly career-enhancing. Men are less likely to be approached with tasks which represent the dullest and most tedious parts of jobs, but which have to be done anyway. Is a similar thing happening in their tendency not to burden other men with their woes? Is that really the patriarchy repressing their emotions?
As is discussed in the article, some men are now arranging to meet up and talk about things. I have to admit to pulling one eyebrow back down, a little. I wonder what kinds of things men in a club where the first rule is ‘what is talked about here stays here’ will end up talking about. Will they consciously monitor the influence of their patriarchal socialisation in what they say? Power to them if they do. Men addressing their own problems is really right up there on feminism’s wishlist. But if we’re understanding ‘patriarchy’ as something which is directly harming men by forcing them to repress their emotions, the addressing of which is named by the clubs as their raison d’etre, I have less faith in a patriarchy-challenging atmosphere at these meet ups. I would have more faith, if we had a wider and more all-encompassing understanding of patriarchy and that fact that its prime target is women.
These men accept that it is unfair to their partners to lumber them with their emotional baggage, but when I read that the meet ups consist of “discussions on everything from how to deal with difficulties in romantic relationships to talking through problems at work”, and that “Shepherd describes it as “pretty powerful” to sit in a group of men as one or more of them breaks down crying”, it rings a bell… this sounds a lot like… friendship. Normal friendship. Friendship is a powerful and liberating phenomenon which women have been onto for quite some time. My sexism radar is bleeping in anticipation of men not having friendship, but having Man Friendship++, better and more important than Standard Friendship. (I also am starting to see people jump with praise and assurance at a man mentioning that he is scared about something. That’s fine, but I see women jump for men a lot, and I don’t see much significant reduction in the hysteria-laden perceptions of women expressing any emotion). Let me reiterate that male friendships that really fundamentally challenge patriarchy get me very excited. But is the content of discussions at men-only clubs being preened for hints of misogyny, or is the important thing to get their feelings out, whatever they may be? Are we getting more complex than anger yet?
For similar reasons I worry about what men will do with the mental health movement. Men are subtly taught how to manipulate and abuse women without either party even knowing it, mastering control, isolation, trivialisation, gaslighting and intimidation. There is an art to turning anything into an excuse for why your feelings should be discussed at length and prioritised, and a lot of men have it down to a T. It’s not hard to see how the mental health movement might look like a sitting duck for some of them. Activists against domestic abuse, Luke and Ryan Hart summed it up best in their tweet: “I really hope the mental health conversation doesn’t feed masculine self-pity and create manbaby v2.0 who expects his partner to look after his entire mental well-being, as well as his physical. Get men to talk about their feelings, great, but get them to take responsibility too”.
There is a lot of focus on men being under pressure not to display any vulnerability or weaknesses. I don’t see much about the possible patriarchal influence on what we see as weaknesses. I wonder if men would care so much about displaying women’s ideas of what are weaknesses. Interrupting someone. Being handsy. Losing your temper at a game. Lying. Wriggling out of doing your fair share at home. Commenting on women’s bodies. These behaviours are weaknesses; get a personality rather than using the one papa patriarchy made for you.
Sometimes, patriarchy is still in force in patriachy-reducing initiatives. I do not believe that there is a sub-department of patriarchy which is targeting men. If feminism’s aim of liberating females from all kinds of oppression was realised, then all of men’s gender-related problems would disappear as well. The harms inflicted on men are a matter of recoil, a bit of friendly fire. This should be recognised and addressed, but the most efficient way of doing that is seeing it for what it is – cross fire in the oppression of women.
Perhaps if women weren’t seen as nature’s source of sex, support, therapy, life planning and dinner, men wouldn’t be relying on only one person to keep them emotionally stable. Perhaps if the objectification and mocking of women wasn’t sewed into society and one of the few topics unfailingly used by men to bond and relate to each other (men exhibit striking solidarity in defending each other in response to rape accusations, in curbing women’s reproductive rights, and in enabling other men’s violence), then they’d manage to find time to talk about their other feelings. Perhaps if chatting and checking in with each other and being affectionate with one other, the behavioural paraphernalia of friendship, were not associated with superficial femininity and the embarrassing gossiping of silly old ladies, men would find it easier to be real friends. Women constantly repress their emotions for fear of being a nag, or the mom-girlfriend, or the jealous girlfriend, or hysterical, and it’s not hard to imagine the effects of this over time. Without this, heterosexual relationships could be more authentic and substantive, enabling men to see themselves more clearly and maturely. If, indeed, that’s what they want.
Anger doesn’t seem like a basic, bottom-level emotion to me when I see it in women. I see women who are exhausted and finally realising quite how much work they are doing for others, and I root for their ‘basic’ anger passionately. Their anger represents a long personal journey in unfolding why they are angry, accepting that they are justified and believing that they deserve better. Angry women don’t get violent and terrorise their partners. When we suggest that men get angry and break things because they can’t process their emotions, we should always ask Lundy Bancroft’s question: Does he ever break his own stuff? What unfolding personal journey might be behind his anger?
Men are not necessarily repressing their emotions. They might just be a bit boring.