Notallmen/Yesallwomen, secondary trauma and relearning everything for the sake of not killing each other

(Hi again!  I’m basically the least consistent writer ever.  But this is on my mind and I wanted to try to write about it if I could.  Warning: I think I’m pretty frank, and also I swear a fair amount.  Also, I am writing from my perspective, not as a representative of women.  Just as a representative of me.  That said, I make the assumption that a lot of what I have experienced in the realm of sexual harassment/assault/intimidation is pretty across the board for women in my culture.  The #YesAllWomen meme resonates strongly with me).

 

 

Like most of my friends, much of the news, and many of the writers I follow, I’ve been caught up in the terrible, horrible killing spree of Elliot O Roger, his misogynist manifesto, and what this event reflects about our larger cultural reality.  And, like many (much better than me) writers and culture observers, I’ve observed that for women, the response is a kind of quick, frustrated rage while for men the response is a kind of shocked surprise.  Terms like rape culture are being used (or studiously avoided).  And the seemingly diametrically opposed hashtags #NotAllmen and #YesAllWomen have sprung into a kind of intensified existence.

 

Driving home today, all of this reminded me of a conversation I had with a very good (male) friend about a year ago.  We were talking about a local writer we both adore, and discussing her increasingly sharp tone in discussing how women were portrayed in movies and television.  My friend observed that he was growing kind of uncomfortable with how unceasing she was in pointing out the objectification of women, the ritual humiliation, and “the general shittiness” of the movie industry in general.  He observed that as a male, he felt both helpless to change the larger culture and also like he couldn’t participate in the conversations that our female friends were having on these topics without being disruptive.  He also felt like there was an undertone that perhaps all men were being tarred with the same brush.  I remember most his comment that it was all so “depressing and fucking exhausting.”

 

Well. Yes.  Speaking as a woman, it is actually all so depressing and fucking exhausting.

 

I didn’t say that to my friend at the time, because he had reached out to talk to me about this stuff and because I wanted to be supportive, and also because I really did agree with him and felt grateful that he, as a dude who really can chose not to feel all of those sucky feelings, chose to feel them.   In fact, I didn’t even think to say that to my friend- I was really focused on listening to him and supporting him and validating his experiences, and it wasn’t until later in the evening, when I feeling kind of irritated and wasn’t clear why, that I sat down and thought about it and realized that there was a kind of frustrating irony in validating to a guy about how horrible it must feel to listen to the general experiences that I, as a woman, just sort of have learned to deal with.   And then I didn’t say anything to anyone about it, because what was there to say?  Yes, it pretty much sucks that a not small segment of the population sees me essentially as an object whose job is to be pleasing to them, and who thinks it is appropriate to punish me if I fail at that job.  Yes, it sucks that I sometimes come in contact with individuals who compose that segment, and I don’t really get to control when that happens, and yes, it sucks that the experience can range from mildly degrading to physically threatening to bodily harm (and, as we have seen, to death).  And yeah, I can imagine it sucks a whole lot to hear about that.  And in a kind of snarky way, it sort of sucks even to support a friend in their emotional process in hearing about your experience.  But since there didn’t seem to be any value in articulating that thought, and also because it isn’t at all my very good friend’s fault that all of this suckiness exists, I just tried to let it go and move on.

 

But today, driving home, thinking about all of what is going on, and about the conversations I see happening and the conversations I don’t see happening, it occurred to me that there was actually a way I could look at that exchange in a light where it could make sense, and where there could be something productive in talking about it.  And I think it ties in to the larger conversation, and so I’m going to try to do my best.  Here goes.

 

I.) It actually really does hurt to hear painful stories.

 

When I began my master’s program in counseling (sorry, dudes.  This is going to be a counseling reference heavy essay.  Counseling, misogyny, the misdeeds of my cat, getting my house ready for summer visitors and how much I love watching Veronica Mars with my husband- those are basically the major themes  of my life lately, so those be the waters I am drawing from.  You’ve been warned) one of my favorite instructors, a decades long veteran of the field, said again and again to us that the dangers of asking a client to share their stories did not lay in traumatizing the client, but in traumatizing ourselves.  “Your client has already lived through there situation- they’ve survived it enough to tell you about it, so the act of telling isn’t going to hurt them.  But you- you don’t know their situation, you haven’t earned the callouses yet to protect yourself from it.  You are the person who is most likely to be hurt at first.  You have to figure out a way to deal with that.”

These incredibly wise words (thank you, Colin Ward!) are, I think (and experience) powerfully true.  If someone is sharing their story with me in a therapeutic setting, they are a) alive and b) have figured out a way to come to terms, at least partially, with the experience.  They have figured out a way, in any case, to get up and out of their house and dressed and into my office carrying that experience.  They’ve probably done a whole host of things- probably paid some bills, probably held down a job, probably experienced a relationship or friendship or parenthood.  Maybe these things are stressed out- maybe these things are seriously affected- but on some level, unless I am meeting my clients in an acute crisis, inpatient situation, they are managing on some level to move forward with their lives.  They might want to move forward better- they might be still experiencing active pain or limitations- but they are not dead.  They are not totally paralyzed.  They’ve figured out some coping mechanisms.

But me, well, I’m a first time listener, each time.  I can make some educated guesses, but I don’t know what their life has been like and in the process of learning, while it’s always a privilege and an honor and a gift (and while there are *always* strengths in there- always), it’s not always easy.    And some of the things my clients have to tell me- some of them are pretty horrible.  Some of them are dark and intense and make me want to go home, bury myself in my blankets and never get out.  Some  of them make me spend a whole weekend crying.

And a big part of that- a big part of the painfulness of that- is that fundamentally, in the act of listening, I’m putting myself in the helpless position of witness. I’m just experiencing their trauma, but with the added guilt that comes from a) it not being my trauma and b) I’m terribly, terribly helpless about it.

This is not something easy to come to terms with.  Helplessness is not easy.  The pain of another’s story is not easy.  There is no part of being human that wants to just accept pain, and there is no part of the empathetic experience of connecting that wants to not try to fix another person’s pain.  It’s a completely uncomfortable situation devoid of peace.

And when there are imbalances- of race, of class, of any kind of power dynamic, it’s that much more terrible.  If someone is experiencing pain as a result of something where I experience privilege, the desire to run away from it, or to hurry up and patch it up quickly, is that much more intense.  Because not only am I in pain from the sheer injustice of it, I also now have to examine my own relationship to privilege, and it becomes that much harder to be a truly innocent bystander.   (And, frankly, my desire to fix the problem becomes a little suspect- do I want to fix it to ease another’s suffering, or to ease my own discomfort?)

This experience of secondary trauma is not limited to being a therapist.  Basically, any human being who is empathetic and hears the story of another’s trauma can be affected by that experience.  And repeated exposure to the stories of other’s trauma, when not managed, can have a devastating effect-  according the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

“Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Accordingly, individuals affected by secondary stress may find themselves re-experiencing personal trauma or notice an increase in arousal and avoidance reactions related to the indirect trauma exposure. They may also experience changes in memory and perception; alterations in their sense of self-efficacy; a depletion of personal resources; and disruption in their perceptions of safety, trust, and independence.” http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/secondary-traumatic-stress

 

So I can only imagine (literally, I can only imagine) how hard it really is when the men in my life- my husband, my brother, my male cousins, my dear friends, my colleagues and classmates- hear about the things that I experience, just in the day to day act of being female.  And I think that I can get the act of telling these things on my part is a lot less painful than the act of listening on theirs.  I mean, telling can be kind of a relief, sometimes!  In telling, I get to share my experience and get support, I get to feel validated and less isolated, and I get to work through my feelings, brainstorm ways to handle situations in the future.  Telling can transform the experience!  (I am a professional listeners of tellers, and my whole goal is to get to the point where the telling becomes a transformative experience!)

 

But listening- and I say this as a professional listener of experience who loves my job- listening is not always nearly as positive to experience.

 

And something else- I’m speaking here as a professional listener, but obviously I’m not always a professional listener.  Sometimes I’m just a lady who wants to hang out with her husband or her friends, or ride the bus in peace, or chill out with the cat after we’ve made a truce and catch up on my Veronica Mars.   And sometimes the people in my life want to talk to me about things because things are happening right then, and I don’t always want to deal with it, but I do want to be a good friend/spouse/sister/daughter/neighbor/person on the bus.  And sometimes (hopefully more than fifty per cent of the time? ) I can set aside my not wanting to be talked to in the moment because, in the grand scheme of things, I really do want to support the people I love.  And sometimes, honestly, I just can’t.  But the point I want to make here is that I think I can safely say I am skilled in listening, and I can honestly tell you it can be painful and overwhelming, at times, when people you care about, regardless of the relationship, tell you hard, horrible things.

 

So let’s go back to my male friend, who is also a really good listener, but hasn’t exactly made that his profession of choice.  And he definitely hasn’t had the experience to learn trauma stewardship, and basically while he is awesome for choosing to hear the stories of the women in his life, he really, validly, actually is being hurt by hearing those stories.  Those stories are weighing him down, making him feel helpless and also kind of defensive, because ok, yeah, all of the women in his life are constantly having all these awful experiences and having to be so cautious and having to be mindful and having to figure out how to say “No” in ten thousand different languages and tones (So, in the immortal worlds of Louis C.K., men don’t kill us)- but *he* isn’t that kind of guy!  He honestly, really, isn’t!  And as much as I know he wants to, he can’t go out and just demolish all the dicks in the world.  It’s just not possible.  And he can’t stand between us and intervene between each of the women he cares about (and, because he is a really good human) all the women he doesn’t even know and each of the men who are jerks.  So all he can do is listen and hear and feel awful and helpless and kind of terrible and kind of awful for being a guy.  Which isn’t helping anyone, and he knows it.  So what else is there to do?

 

Well, he has to tell someone, of course.

 

II) Men and intimacy/Men and isolation

Also last year, I had a conversation with my brother that comes to mind right now.  We were talking about being adults and how relationships change over time.  I was telling him about a study I had read about how health in men is positively correlated to being married, but this is not necessarily the case with women, and also telling him how I thought this had to do with the way that men tend to get most of their emotional needs met in the context of their marriage, while women tend to get their emotional needs met through a web of relationships- with partners, but also with sisters, friends, parents, coworkers, cousins, etc.  We discussed how men with sisters had better long term health outcomes than men without sisters, but, again, women with brothers fared about as well as women without brothers, and we speculated that this is because, again, because women reach out to so many people, but men with sisters have a slightly greater likelihood of a solid and built in emotional connection than men without sisters.  My brother listened to me telling him these studies I’d been reading, and told me that he could see some truth to them.  Anecdotally, while my brother is someone who has some profound and deep relationships with several key, close male friends, he told me he had noticed that over time, he tended to these friendships less than he tended to his relationship with his wife and his children- particularly the friendships with other married men.  On the other hand, he noticed that his wife continued to maintain her close emotional connections to other people- and we shared the experience that we both have, which is that Mamie (my sister in law) and I are much, much more likely to call each other, to email each other, to mail packages to each other, than my brother and I are.  Through no conscious decision, and despite the fact that Luke and I like each other a fair amount and, occasional tension and rivalry aside, enjoy each other’s company, the natural course of things have tended to be that I contact my brother’s wife when I want to get in touch with my brother’s family. When I asked Luke how he felt about this- was he ok with the trend he was observing in his life to put more and more of his emotional eggs in his marriage basket?  Did he miss his male friendships?- my brother reflected that when he talks about it out loud, he isn’t ok with the distance in those relationships,  but in the day to day of things, they really take a lot of work.  And of course he cares about his friends as deeply as he ever has (and, as a witness to my brother’s life, I will attest that he has been luck’s own favorite child when it comes to solid male friendships- some of his friendships stretch back to when he was eleven, and are with amazing, excellent human beings).  It’s just, as he says, in the day to day of it all. You know?

(I mean, totally.  In the day to day of it all, sometimes I can’t even manage the houseplants, let alone maintaining the enduring emotional connections that make up the bulk of my life.  So I totally know, and I bet you do too.)

This bit of anecdotal evidence is hardly unique to my brother’s life experience.  Last year (shortly after our conversation- I’ve always felt that Luke and I were trendsetters of the laziest sort) an article on the subject of male friendship was published in Salon (http://www.salon.com/2013/12/08/american_mens_hidden_crisis_they_need_more_friends/) which discussed the decreasing levels of intimate male-to-male friendships in white, heterosexual men’s lives, which contrasts, in turn, with the high levels of desire for emotionally intimate male friendships articulated by that same group.  The article (which is well worth the read) explores all sorts of reasons why it might be hard for men to intitiate, cultivate and maintain the kind of emotional intimacy which women seem better able to do.   One of the reasons explored in this article- and which *highly* resonates in my own life- is that culturally, it’s simple more accepted (and feels less threatening) for guys to share their intimate selves with woman.  Be they friends or partners, it simply is easier and less stressful and more desirable to most men to share their feeling selves with women, and their fun/thinking/doing selves with other men.

III) But when the person you go to tell things is the person who just told you things….

The problem I am seeing here- the place where this is unraveling- is that for men who are *hearing* about the traumatic experiences of women, and experiencing secondary traumatization over it, where do they go with those feelings?  Who do they talk about their own (totally valid!) emotional reactions to feeling overwhelmed with the things that the women they care about- or just women in general- have to deal with?

Because if the answer is women, things go downhill.

I see the whole #NotAllMen  http://time.com/79357/not-all-men-a-brief-history-of-every-dudes-favorite-argument// #YesAllWomen https://twitter.com/hashtag/YesAllWomen?src=hash as being basically a conversation that plays out this way:

Woman to man:  Here is my experience!

Man: *Listening*

Man (internal dialogue): Holy shit, that is really awful and I feel really bad about it.  I need to go talk to someone about this.  I’ll go to the person that I usually go to to share intimate/emotional aspects of myself.

Man to woman: Hearing this makes me feel really bad!  And now I’m worried about how you think of me!  #NotAllMen are like that! (Importantly, I’m not!)

Woman (internal dialogue): Wow, I just shared a part of myself and my experience and now this guy expects me to help him feel better about the experience of listening to me?  And also seems to be devaluing the integrity of what I’m telling him?

Woman to man: Fuck off.  Seriously. For Real. #YesAllWomen.

Back to talking about secondary trauma- there was an outstanding, outstanding article last year in the LA Times about how to support people who were grieving.   This article is one you’ve probably seen- it showed up on my Facebook page with strong verbal “YES!” fistbumps by friends who had lost children to miscarriages, friends who were seeing their parents through the last stages of cancer, friends who were going through divorces, friends who lost loved ones to suicide- basically people going through really difficult processes of loss were resonating strongly to this article.  My therapist and social worker friends were also passing it around, as very valuable reminders for how we work with people who are grieving.  If, by some chance, you were absent from social media the month of April in 2013 and you missed the article, I’ll put it right here and strongly encourage you to read it, because it is fantastic and brilliant:

 

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

While I don’t mean to say that the fact of being a woman is any more grief filled than the fact of being a man, I do think that  the notion of circles is extremely helpful in the conversations where women are sharing with men what their experiences are when it comes to being a woman and being harassed/intimidated/sexualized/preyed upon for not conforming to the desires of men.   Women are at the center of that experience.  The emotional energy/listening/comfort moves to the women. Not because we are weak, or because we can’t handle the stuff we are telling you.  I basically assure you, given that are choices are a) deal with it or b) cease to exist, if we are telling you our experiences, we’ve figured out a (however imperfect) way of coping. But simply because in the act of telling you, we are asking for you to listen and witness our experience.  End stop.  And if you are a man who is listening, then, as overwhelming as it feels to you, you are not in the center ring.  The men who are listening are in the next ring.  Just by listening, they are being supportive and doing exactly what they need to do.  Just by listening.

That’s it. Listening.

But!  Of course, if you are a guy listening and being overwhelmed by what you are hearing, you absolutely need to go talk to someone.  One hundred percent yes.  That is the right thing.
Just (and, in my opinion, this is pretty critical, and also, if this could happen, could be pretty seriously transformative:)

 

IV) If you are a man who is becoming upset/depressed/overwhelmed/hopeless/defensive when you listen to the women in the world/your life talk about their experiences, you need to talk about it.  With another man.

 

I really, really mean this.  Not to complain about how crazy or uptight women are, please.  (I mean, personally, I don’t think that would help you or me very much at all).  But you absolutely need to talk to another guy.  A guy you are friends with and who you trust is ideal.  And if you don’t have that kind of guy in your life- and, seriously, you are not alone in that area- then you have the very hard, critical work of figuring out how to make that kind of friendship ahead of you.  If you are feeling a restless helplessness over all of this, that can be your challenge.  Because I think as women we really, really need you to form those relationships.  We really, really need you to have an emotional connection to each other.   And we need to know you guys can turn and talk each other through these hard things and support each other while you support us.

And if you are a guy who has already figured this out- if you’ve already figured out the circle thing and the male friendship and intimacy thing and how to be supportive of women thing- then my personal challenge to you is to go and find the guys in your world who haven’t totally made this connection, and pull them into your circle.  Mentor them.  Teach them how to do what you’ve figured out to do.  Seriously, I can’t do that.  Your girlfriends and lady friends and moms and sisters and classmates and bosses can’t do that.  But you can, and that is absolutely invaluable.

 

Which brings me to a not altogether linear, but somewhat related, point:

V) Women are not magic.

 

This is the other thing that has been bothering me since Friday, when I read about the killings and then spent some disastrous time on Saturday reading Elliot Rogers screed.   His seemingly dark faith that, somehow, if only a desirable woman would have sex with him, he would suddenly, magically be happy (I mean, beyond the moment of sex itself) just reminded me of ways in which women have simultaneously seemed to be granted dark, mysterious powers of happiness and wellness granting (particularly to men!) which then absolutely need to be controlled (by men!).  This grated uncomfortably with my own personal experience- like the time in college when a lonely guy from my freshman English class began sending me unsolicited stanzas of poetry, and when I tried to politely explain that I appreciated his poetry but wasn’t interested in him romantically, transitioned to daily emails of short stories in which I experienced horrible (and painstakingly graphicly depicted) tortures to rectify the suffering  I was putting him through by refusing to date him.  This was so bizarre and irritating to me that I sat him down and asked him, in all seriousness, if he really wanted me to date him if I wasn’t interested in him, and was told that, well, how dare I not be interested in him?  Didn’t I see how much my rejection was hurting him?  How dare I do that when I could make him *so* happy?

I won’t go on.  I feel like nearly every woman I know has some version of this story- of a guy who sort of imagines that she somehow holds the key to his happiness, and her refusal to provide that goes against some kind of natural law, and hell is to be paid.  I have multiple versions of this story to tell, but it’s frankly not all that interesting to me.  What is interesting to me- and what I really  think needs to be explicitely laid out- are the following basic truths:

 

1) Women are not magic.  Having sex with us will not cure a man’s problems.  Dating us will not cure a man’s problems.

2) Not only are we not magic, but we weren’t created to be magic.  It’s not a design flaw or a refusal on our part if a woman is not interested in any given man or (particularly) able/willing/interested in solving the problems of his life through dating/sex/attention.  It’s not a design flaw if we are dating/sexually involved/adoring of guy and he still has problems.  We weren’t designed to fix them.

3) That said, just as, culturally, men have been trained to wield power confidently, to move through public spaces with some assurance that their genitals won’t be touched and to channel emotions into lust and aggression, women have been trained, culturally, to be emotionally sensitive, to be good listeners, and to be comforting.  So it makes sense to me that some men see us as magic.  (Heavens, as the absolutely amazing article “Your Princess is in Another Castle” beautifully points out, men were raised to see us as magic!  As magic prizes to be won!  And on some level, we women have been raised to see ourselves this way as well.  Observe: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html) And it makes sense to me that more men see us as a really good place to explore their own emotions around discovering what our cultural experiences are around sex and violence, for those same reasons.

4) But ultimately, we aren’t magical.  We’ve been trained to make connections in ways men haven’t, but, just as women have been learning how to negotiate male space and take on male roles and learn to do the things that men are taught to do in our culture, men completely have the capacity to make empathic connections with each other, to tend to their own valid, complex emotional processes, and to basically make themselves happy (or, as is the case with most women I know, at least baseline emotionally ok.)

And, finally:

VI) Women need men to do this.

Ultimately, I think this is true.  Women need men to learn how to be emotionally connected to other men.  We need men to learn how to draw emotional support and nurturing from other men.  Not to do that in absence of us, but in addition to us.  Because men being isolated and lonely- it really, really is killing us.

Men and women, it is really killing us.

So, my dear beloved very important to me guy friends- first of all, thank you for listening.  I mean that.  Listening is hard and crucial, and when you listen without being defensive it is a huge gift.  Thank you.  And second, when you are wondering to yourself- what can I do?  What should I do?  Please, don’t ask me.  I can’t fix this or tell you how to fix it.  I am not the one with that kind of leverage.  But I have a feeling that you can make a serious start by finding another man and being honest and open with them about what it means to be male in this culture, and what it means to be female, and what you’ve heard from the women in your life.  I think that can be really, really powerful.

Thanks for reading this.

 

Sarah O

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70 responses to “Notallmen/Yesallwomen, secondary trauma and relearning everything for the sake of not killing each other

  1. LTE

    Overall this is great and insightful. Honestly, while I’m going to focus on the one part I disagree with, I really did appreciate the rest.

    If I could offer one critique, I would advise against denying the lived experience of some men that yes, in fact, being with a woman is the key to their happiness.

    Because we really, really need to distinguish between the fulfillment that comes from a good romantic relationship and the feeling that such fulfillment is _owed_ to men from women (one specific one or any of them). The former can be somewhat problematic, if, as you point out, too much of the man’s emotional needs are being met by one other person. That’s not great. But it’s the latter point that is crazy problematic and leads to harassment or violence.

    Women aren’t magic. But their effect on a man’s well-being can seem like magic to the man. This isn’t just the fantasy of men who’ve never had relationships, as you imply. It’s the lived experience of men. And if I could point out another distinction, it’s not just the close friendship / emotional tending / connections making / whatever. As a man, I can compare my close platonic friendships with women to my close romantic relationships and although both are great, only the latter feels magical (and I’m talking years into the relationship, not just those heady first weeks).

    It’s not just men who feel this way about romantic love. There’s a reason that romance novels are the single best-selling genre of book. And yes, men read them too, but in the last RWA survey, 78% of the readership is still female. I certainly know un-romantic practically inclined women who think love is nice but not that crucial to their lives… but #notallwomen ;)

    • rabidlycurious

      Hey LTE!

      Thanks so much for reading this essay, and for the feedback!

      To be clear, I don’t mean to deny anybody’s experience- and definitely, as you state in your final paragraph, many people- men and women, (and, I’d presume, gay and straight!) find the most extreme happiness and satisfaction in their committed romantic relationships. I’d say that is the case for myself! I would hope my husband would agree :) But I draw a distinction, I think, between people finding their happiness in the relationship they build with another person, and people finding their happiness in the other person. It’s maybe splitting hairs, but I don’t think so, really? I think it’s the work of the relationship, not something that pre-exists in the woman in the relationship, that breeds the happiness, you know? And in that case, the onus is on both parties to maintain and create that happiness? At least that is how it looks like to me :)

      And while I totally get that that happiness may be experienced as magical, I’m still really strong that woman aren’t magic (speaking as one! Because let me tell you how many things would be different, and how often I would never ever again do laundry, if I had even a centimeter of magic in me). In a non-facetious way, I think that it’s really important to stress not only are we not magic, it’s really important that we aren’t put on pedestals at all- because when that happens, and then when we disappoint people by being human, the reprecussions can be really negative for us.

      But that is just my two cents to your two cents :) Thank you for commenting!

      • LTE

        I think we largely agree. I just don’t see this distinction anywhere in your essay, but maybe that’s because I wouldn’t use the same language you do. I’d be happy to use “finding their happiness in the other person” as another way of saying “finding their happiness in the relationship they create”. Because with your way of distinguishing, you make it sound like anyone can be happy with anyone if they work at it. (Now, I think that’s probably a little more true than we admit these days, when so many people spend their time trying to find the “perfect” partner rather than working on relationship skills… but it’s certainly not entirely true.)

        And I get your pedestal point, but I don’t see that as the real issue. I see the sense of entitlement as the real issue. Putting people on pedestals – attractive women, hot guys, sports heroes, religious leaders, whomever – can lead to disappointment and bad poetry for the pedestaler, and discomfort and pressure for the pedestalee. But it’s unclear to me how it leads to severely negative repercussions itself. It’s the entitlement (with or without the pedestal) that leads to harassment of and violence against women. Or so it seems from this particular male perspective, and the examples you give. I’m willing to shut up and listen if you have examples to the contrary :)

        Maybe part of the reason this resonates with me is that I admit I’ve put more than my share of girls/women on pedestals in the past (and have the reams of bad poetry to prove it!). Some of them I never got the courage to approach. Some I approached and they weren’t interested, and c’est la vie, it happens (been on the other side of that too). Some I ended up dating, and discovered they were way more awesome as a real person than as some pedestalized ideal. The only real problem the pedestal has ever caused for me was trying to write Petrarchian sonnets in English (seriously, there’s a reason Shakespeare came up with a different sonnet form; we are quite rhyme-deficient compared to Italian!). I _think_ that’s about the extent of the impact my pedestal has had on women, too.

        And I’m one of the strongest proponents of scientific dysteleological physicalism you’ll run into, so when I say magic, I’m of course speaking metaphorically :) In my world, there is magic in love, whether we’re waxing banally Romantic or going the Shakespeare sonnet 130 route. And I’m frustrated by the current notion that we should all be complete and whole and blissfully fulfilled on our own before getting into a relationship. Really, it’s okay to find completion in a relationship. Otherwise no one would much care when their spouse died.

  2. Kathryn T.

    This is amazing and profound. Thank you. PARTICULARLY thank you as a woman who is married to a man, who is raising a daughter and a son.

    • rabidlycurious

      Thank you so much, Kathryn. I’m so very glad that this resonates. Thank you for letting me know!

  3. M.A.

    I got pointed to this post from a (male) friend while we were having a discussion on this very issue. Thank you for writing such an informative post – your conversation of internal voice versus actual voice is right on the money from my (male) perspective and it’s refreshing (more of a relief, actually) to see not only that my feeling is normal, but gives me insight into the perspective of the other side and gives useful advice on how to deal with it.

    Thanks once again.

    • rabidlycurious

      Thank you so much, M.A., for responding to this post! I’m really glad that it’s been useful to you. And I want to say that I think it’s totally, totally normal to feel hard, stressed out, angry, helpless feelings about all of this, and I really, really appreciate you taking the perspective of how it might affect women to process this with them. I’m really excited that a friend pointed this to you too! I hope you and your male friend keep up the conversation (which is awesome) and I hope you keep on reaching out to the female friends in your life and listening. Speaking for myself, it makes a really big difference in how optimistic I feel about things changing, or at least having the possibility to change.

  4. edwardmartiniii

    Thank you!

    This connects a number of seeming “loose ends” in this dialogue.

  5. edwardmartiniii

    Thank you!

    This connects a number of seeming “loose ends” in this ongoing dialogue.

    • rabidlycurious

      Thanks, edwardnartinnii! I’m glad you think that way! I felt like there were a couple of things that were sort of getting missed- I’m glad I’m not the only one. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Thank you for writing this. I found your insights very helpful and am reflecting how to improve my own behavior. Plus maybe helping others. :)

    • rabidlycurious

      Jeff, that’s awesome :) I’m really glad I had something helpful to offer. Thanks for letting me know!

  7. Lilli Haicken

    I weighed in on this topic a couple of days ago, but I only approached it from why we needed the discussion to continue, and why #YesAllWomen was a needed thing.

    Your analysis, from the therapist perspective, is truly outstanding. I knew women tend to look for ears in a web of social and family interactions, but I was not sure how men managed, other than to talk to their spouses if that option was available. My brother and I never talk, never got along well. We might just have been too far apart in age to make that an option for him.

    The differences between men and women are so much more than physical or mental, they go to the core of how our perceptions of simple phrases are processed. We may be one species, but we definitely are also very different halves of the whole.

    • rabidlycurious

      Hi Lilli,

      Honestly, I didn’t really see the differences between male and female support networks until I started studying counseling. It was hidden in plain sight, but I never saw it.

      I makes me think about other sort of extremely different cultures men and women swim in, alongside but not touching, that might make perceiving and receiving information from either side difficult.

  8. (nods) Yes.
    Yes, yes, yes, yes.

    I’ve been having preliminary fragments of this conversation with a number of people lately, trying to get it clear in my own head, but this leapfrogs over what I was stumbling towards and goes on from there and that’s lovely.

    Thank you.

    A piece I might add, maybe… the discussion thus far is basically about how heterosexual men relate to women.

    The situation is IME a little different for queer men, who by and large have found or created our own support networks as part of the experience of coming out and being queer in a heteronormative climate. (And, yes, often those support networks comprise women, creating exactly the situation you describe… but not exclusively, which is helpful in this context.)

    I guess it’s no coincidence that people in higher-status groups are accustomed to receiving emotional support from lower-status groups, rather than each other.

    • rabidlycurious

      Hi David,

      Thank you for this response, and for your response to other posters down the thread (which I really appreciate, in the spirit of men having conversations with men!)

      After I wrote and posted this piece, I felt uncomfortable with the way I had situated this pretty much entirely in the realm of heterosexual men without acknowledging queer men (let alone Trans* folk). I’m really glad you pointed that out, because I want to acknowledge the problem of misogyny is more complicated than that. But I felt like I wanted to address a specific bottleneck in the cultural conversation (and in many of the conversations I felt I was privy to in my personal life), and so I was intentionally trying, for the sake of not being even *more* wordy, to limit the scope. But yes. This essay is really speaking more to heterosexual men (and, particularly, heterosexual men who are looking for way to support the women in their life and struggling with the information they are receiving right now) than anyone else.

      I would be really, really interested in hearing your thoughts as a queer man about male/male friendships, emotional support. In fact, if you wanted to write a guest piece, or let me interview you, I’d be delighted to put that up here. I suspect you may have more expertise in the area of building that kind of relationship than I, a woman, have. And comments further down make me think that that kind of expertise could be helpful for men who are feeling like the task of former those support networks are impossible?

      Also, yes, yes yes to the support people in high status groups receive or are used to receiving from people in low status groups. It’s hardly a unique experience to men and women!

      Thanks again!

      Sarah

      • > your response to other posters down the thread
        > (which I really appreciate, in the spirit of men
        > having conversations with men!)

        I’m glad, and thanks for letting me know.

        I was hesitant to weigh in there, as it kind of risked the comments section here getting completely taken over by guys talking to each other about how to listen to women’s experience, which is potentially ironic enough to require chelation. I’m glad it came across in the spirit it was meant.

        > This essay is really speaking more to heterosexual men

        (nods) Absolutely, and that makes perfect sense and I completely understand and endorse the decision to ground what you’re saying in your own experience; I didn’t mean it as a criticism. (And I don’t think you took it as one, I just figure explicit is good.)

        > if you wanted to write a guest piece, or let me
        > interview you, I’d be delighted to put that up here

        Um… huh. (sputters) I have no idea if my thoughts on the subject are either coherent or interesting, but if you’d like I’d love to talk with you further and we can see where that goes. You have my email…

        Unrelatedly, I saw you mention elsewhere that you’re accustomed to getting like a dozen readers… I forget where I saw your post signal-boosted initially, but I shared it on my FB and have seen about a dozen of my friends do the same since, so I suspect it’s going to spike.

        Which it deserves; it’s a good article.

  9. Reblogged this on Adventures of Auntie M and commented:
    Such a helpful contribution to the conversation! The grief circles article she links to is a really helpful way to think about loving and supporting people who are going through something that’s hard for you to witness and that brings up difficult emotions for you.

    • rabidlycurious

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate you reblogging this and I am glad this has been helpful to you!

      -Sarah O

  10. Elise

    Thank you Sarah! I really appreciate you taking the time to write all this out :)
    As a woman having experienced the feeling that other people are magical, and having had to work hard with my rational mind to knock down the pedestals my emotional self has created for those people, I’d like to hear some more from that side of the story. I think it’s an instinct for a lot of people of all genders, biologically or culturally instilled – I don’t know, and I’d like to hear some more from people who actively work to keep it under control, in order to maintain emotional independence.

    • rabidlycurious

      Hi Elise!

      Thanks for taking the time to read it!

      You know, that thinking that other people are magical is totally a human thing, not just a guy thing. I think there are ways which it’s sort of enforced for men to see women as magical, but totally. It’s a human thing.

      I would also like to read more from people who work to keep that under control in order to maintain emotional independence. I think that there are probably a bunch of skills in place! What do you think? Are there any particular things you do that help you in that regard?

      -Sarah O

  11. John (soon to be flamed out of existence) T.

    I really appreciated this piece – especially since I woke up this morning with exactly those feelings of futility and depression. However, there are a couple of points that were implied in the writing that didn’t seem to ring true…

    1) Elliot’s misogynist screed is a proxy for society as a whole.

    I can’t equate a clinically and criminally deranged mind with society as a whole. If you can, then there isn’t a damn thing any of us can do about it and we might just as well nuke every living person on the planet and let Mother Nature start over.

    2) You need to talk about it…with another man

    This is one of the distinctions between how men and women communicate. Women want to be listened to (at least according to the post) for the sake of sharing the experience. Men don’t do this – we communicate with the purpose of doing something about what was communicated (hence the stereotypical best buddies conversation: ” ‘sup. ‘sup – and silence for several minutes).

    My point on this is that talking to another man is irrelevant to us in this point. We feel angry and frustrated and depressed – all those things are true. And we want to go DO something about it. As a consequence (regardless of the validity of the woman’s position) when the woman responds negatively to the “I’m not that way”, it completely deflates the man. It effectively neuters him.

    With this impact, all he wants to do is say “screw it” and emotionally and intellectually disengage. I won’t go into the prejudicial and discriminatory underpinnings of such an assessment as I will likely get strung up from the next tree – but using the objective definition, the response is both of those things.

    So unless we can effectively communicate with *women* about this, nothing is going to get solved. That is for BOTH sides of the gender gap. Men need to understand how to shut up and listen. But women need to understand that when a woman talks about “men” being the evil, vile things that we are – we internalize that. To us, it becomes “you” are… not “men” are… And BOTH genders rile at being grouped into stereotypes.

    3) Women are not magical.

    Familiarity breeds contempt is all I have to say on that one. As the post was being written from a woman’s perspective, I can understand the reason. But, unfortunately, I don’t think it is true. To paraphrase Heinlein: “what women are and what they can do makes them superior to men”. Men cannot make children without women – but women can (with modern science). The biological imperative of a society to perpetuate itself doesn’t require many men – but it DOES require women.

    Let’s take this one further (and potentially more flame worthy). In a well ordered, rational society, “no” means “no”. It is a point of power that the person expressing the “no” has over the other. The odd thing about men and women, is that the bargaining power isn’t equal in this fundamental biological imperative. If one were to ask a woman how many times she has to say “no” (with, unfortunately, increasing levels of assertiveness) we would get the answer of “oh, thousands of times.”

    How often does a man say “no”? They pretty much don’t. Nor (for the most part) do they want to. This places the balance of power in the interaction well within the woman’s grasp. And in all actuality, this is why rape is a violent crime of CONTROL – NOT passion. The man doesn’t know how to equalize the playing field except to resort to violence. Violence isn’t magical – its primal. It’s also wrong – for all kinds of reasons.

    So, if you take the critical imperative as per Maslov’s hierarchy (the biological imperative of procreation) and you look at it this way, women hold (or *should* hold) a significant level of power over men – they get to say no. And none of this speaks to the earlier comment around how true romantic love *is* magical.

    If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

    • David Policar

      “Women want to be listened to (at least according to the post) for the sake of sharing the experience. Men don’t do this – we communicate with the purpose of doing something about what was communicated”

      I hear this a lot.
      Often in long comments or speeches from men who sure do sound like they value being listened to, or resent not feeling adequately listened to.

      I’ve never quite understood how to reconcile the implicit and explicit messages there.

    • anonymouse

      To others who were feeling heartened by this essay [This essay is transformative! Everyone will understand, now!] and are now disheartened by John T.’s comment, I suggest as an antidote reading the equally wise article about grieving that was linked in the original article: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

      • John (soon to be flamed out of existence) T.

        Anonymouse – Lovely concept. I really like the comfort IN dump OUT concept. It is a good technique for dealing with any kind of trauma. And I hope my comment wasn’t too disheartening as the *vast* majority of the post is transformative (I like your word there). The challenge with any of these circumstances, which Sarah actually does point out is that there isn’t just one set of rings. It’s a venn diagram of rings.

        The explanation of *why* the woman’s response of “screw you” when the man says “but *I’m* not like that is absolutely spot on. And the conflict that it brings into sharp relief is that *both* parties are in the center ring. The only time that doesn’t happen is in the middle of the trauma happening. If one is dealing the the immediate aftermath of a rape – there is NO other ring that gets to take stage.

        But that isn’t what we are talking about here. Life is messy – you generally don’t experience a neat set of discrete events which have no other interlocking events. This is the generalized discussion of the horrible crap most (I’d argue all) women have had to endure well after they have endured it. The beautiful thing about this post is it accurately points out the difficulty with being a listener. And this is the truly transformative take-away I wish people would get. It isn’t about gender differential (which was why I made the *rest* of the comments I did) its about the fact that when you are venting to your loved one/friend/bartender, you understand the consequences of your actions *to them*. This isn’t to say that you should stop your actions. They are necessary in moving the dialogue along. But they may have unintended consequences. No one wants to be lumped into the same category as those who one detests.

        Inversely, when you are listening, one needs to stop and be still, not personalize or internalize the commentary, and (unless asked point blank) don’t try to solve the problem *then*. Venting is just that. Dialogue isn’t the same thing. When one party isn’t interested in dialogue, any attempt is going to be challenging at best (and usually the best isn’t what happens).

    • Josh Horm.

      Eh. Being allowed to say no (to whatever it is and not only in the sexual sense, as I believe is what you mean) is a right and pretty much neutral in the power aspect, unless we are talking about basic human rights as a power – but that still does not reveal power over someone else. Just a basic human right. A woman can say no to a man or another woman; a man can say no to a woman or another man. One does not hold power over the other in doing so. No one is losing or winning here.
      (And yes, many men also say no to sexual approaches of women (many times because they just do not feel like it, not because they are not allowed cause they are in a relationship or such things), and that is not in any way POWER over women or the women in these cases.)

  12. CG

    Bravo. This is a really good essay. A little verbose, but I like that about your writing, I do it too. So we’re good.
    I do think that it’ll take a lot of time and steadfast work to create a culture where all men feel able to talk with other men, or therapists. And have more genuinely platonic relationships with every gender, to provide that connection.
    Also, that comment about the magic being in the relationship between two people, not owned by either person. I very much agree with that.

    • rabidlycurious

      :) Thank you. I like readers who like verbose writers, so we are certainly good.

      I totally, totally agree with you about steadfast work. I’ve gotten some comments and emails from people saying they don’t think men talking to men alone will solve this problem. I completely agree. I offered my thoughts as a starting point to get us past a particular place in the conversation, not as a solution to the much more complicated problem, you know? And even that first step- as you point out- takes a lot of work to get there. I am heartened by seeing that some men already do this- it’s not introducing a concept that is totally foreign or impossible. So I hope that the men who are already doing this in their lives can start to sort of model that and talk about that and help make it a more safe option for other men.

      Thank you again!

      Sarah O

  13. Aaron

    Thank you for writing. I think you brought together some pieces that hadn’t really been connected so far in this discussion. And it’s an important discussion! As a future therapist (from/will return to Seattle, did psych coursework at Antioch, currently doing my Psy.D. in NYC), I’ve been pondering how to write about issues that matter to me from a place that blends my clinical perspective and my social/cultural viewpoints (and, on this issue, how to write about them as a male). This is a wonderful example from which to draw inspiration!

    • rabidlycurious

      Thank you so much, Aaron! This is really my first stab at this kind of writing, so it’s all sort of new to me, figuring out the boundaries of it all. (Also, I basically only expected like 10 people to read this essay, all of whom I knew pretty well, so I’m trying to figure out how to recalibrate given that more people, including brand new to me people, are reading this! ) When you start writing, I look forward to reading it. And also, Antioch is pretty excellent. :)

  14. Thank you for writing this. Had me in years, had me reflecting, had me in gratitude for all the women, all the men, all the people who are trying in this world to live with more empathy, love, respect and connection to one another. Thank you.

    • *tears* not years. LOL

    • rabidlycurious

      Thank you, Roxanne. The experience of writing this and the feedback and conversations its allowed me to have and work its allowed me to witness has also filled me with so much more optimism than I’ve had in awhile about these things!

  15. Travis

    So I wasn’t going to comment but was commenting on Facebook :). I like what you had to say, and your experiences are certainly very interesting, and I think you’re on to something, but I have to say I disagree with your conclusion – I don’t think the real cause of this is the fact that men don’t have men as friends, though I think it’s _a_ solution to the problem. I think the problem is that women are still somehow different, as a group, in men’s minds.

    So, imagine a white person that says how it was difficult to hear about slavery and discrimination in the 70′s and how it was hurtful and not all white people were like that, and doing this to people that experienced that discrimination. I don’t think that is likely to happen very often, for most people, and if they did that, I think most people would just think they’re mean people, not argue that what they need is more friends that aren’t of that group so they can relate to them.

    Does that make sense? Somehow women as a group are different to men and therefore not treated as equal to other groups that are going through something.

    I do think you’re onto something with the whole magic remark as well – I think a lot of men see women as magic, and perhaps do see them as the emotional outlet, and perhaps that’s what makes the relationship to women as a group different than to other groups, but I think _that_ is the underlying problem, and I don’t think having more male friends will make that go away, I think it’s a lot deeper culture thing we have to begin addressing – maybe having more male friends is the stop gap solution until then, but I don’t think it’s at the core.

    Please, let me know what you think, I’m very curious, perhaps I’ve misinterpreted what you’ve said, and once again, not arguing with your experiences, just I think there is a deeper issue you’ve unrooted.

    • rabidlycurious

      Hi Travis, thank you for reading and also writing!

      Oh, absolutely, my essay wasn’t intended to solve the problem of misogyny, or even diagnosis it. I was specifically writing to address what I felt was an impasse in the cultural conversation between well meaning men who acknowledge that women are fully human and not other, and who want to be supportive, but who were feeling reactive and defensive by the information women were giving them about their life experiences- not to address the underlying causes and ongoing motivations of misogyny, or even to address men who don’t see women as being as fully human or deserving of respect as men. (Why would I even try to address those men? They wouldn’t listen to me in the first place, you know?)

      My thinking is if men begin to learn how to turn to other men for support and emotional connectivity, the following things will happen:

      1) Men will have greater support networks, decreasing their emotional reliance on women and then, in turn, decreasing their potential feeling of needing to control women in order to maintain their emotional well being.

      2) Men will have the chance to explore among themselves what makes it so hard to hear women’s stories without feeling the need to defend themselves. What is happening there that is so hard and threatening to men?

      3) Men who are allies to women can use their leverage as men to begin to address the behavior of men who are misogynist. Maybe those men will never fully get that women are equally human and deserve to be treated with respect, or at least not accosted daily, but those men can definitely learn (I think) that other men are not, in any way shape or form, going to condone or allow or accept that kind of behavior. I think men look to other men for cues, and in particular, men who are lacking emotional connectivity/romantic partnership look to the men who have those things because- well, they want them. They want to know how to get them.

      And finally, when men turn to other men for emotional support, they will be in a better place to offer that same emotional support to the women who are sharing their stories, in a better place to react non-defensively, in a better place to hear and, hopefully, accept the reality of the situation for women.

      I think that in and of itself would be a huge improvement.

      But also just a baby step in the larger picture.

      The topic of women not being magic has generated more comments than anything else, and I look forward to pulling some thoughts together about it a little later!

      Thank you so much for writing, though, Travis. Did this clarify my position at all?

      Sarah O

  16. This resonated so very much with me, a great article.
    Also, thank you for linking the article about What Not to Say. Like everyone else, I read it and I was trying to find it again just recently.

    • rabidlycurious

      I know, that What Not to Say article is so good, isn’t it? The concentric circles idea is just so brilliant.

  17. Joe

    > “But! Of course, if you are a guy listening and being overwhelmed by what you are hearing, you absolutely need to go talk to someone. One hundred percent yes. That is the right thing.
    Just (and, in my opinion, this is pretty critical, and also, if this could happen, could be pretty seriously transformative:)

    IV) If you are a man who is becoming upset/depressed/overwhelmed/hopeless/defensive when you listen to the women in the world/your life talk about their experiences, you need to talk about it. With another man.

    I really, really mean this. Not to complain about how crazy or uptight women are, please. (I mean, personally, I don’t think that would help you or me very much at all). But you absolutely need to talk to another guy.”

    Hmm…
    Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnoooooope. The entire idea here is that males are the problem, all males, including (especially) the ones who get defensive about being tarred with the same brush we use for rapists.

    Why the hell would I open myself up to someone like that?
    What, exactly, is going to improve when I go up to another human being and say “We’re both shit, and here’s why,” and I’m consistently and completely right? That’s not a healthy relationship, that’s abuse and self-destruction.

    • rabidlycurious

      David below kind of addressed this, but to be clear, I’m not suggesting that men get together and talk about how shitty they are. I can’t see that as being useful.

      What I am saying is that if men are having a hard time hearing about the experiences of women, they need to talk about that hard time they are having with other men, not with women. Because, as David points out, there are just not that many other alternatives. I think I’ve done the best job I can pointing out why it’s not a great alternative to process that with women (but if not, I’ll give it another go). And I think it’s a terrible idea to not talk about that. Definitely seeing a therapist is an option, though not always a financially feasible one. So what is left? Men.

      Also, one thing- when you say the entire idea is that “all men are the problem”, I’m not sure whose entire idea that is. Yours? Because, to be clear, that is not my idea. I think some men are very much the problem, and some men (the ones I had in mind when I was writing this essay) are working very hard to be part of the solution. I was offering that latter group of men some observations I had about some things to think about in order to be part of the solution. I wouldn’t have done that if I felt that men, de facto, were the problem.

      Just to be clear!

  18. I used to be surprised at how often admitting my flaws and transgressions can be healthy. No, more than healthy: transformative.

    I’m no longer surprised by it. And, hell, it’s certainly an improvement over keeping my mouth shut about it all for fear of making myself vulnerable.

    But if saying “We’re both shit, and here’s why” is too much, perhaps a better alternative would be to do what the quoted text actually suggests: say “I’m becoming upset/depressed/overwhelmed/hopeless/defensive when I listen to the women in the world/my life talk about their experiences.”

    > males are the problem [...] Why the hell would I open myself up to someone like that?

    Well, the most available alternatives are either to open up to the women in your life, or to open up to nobody, both of which are unhelpful in this case.

    A third option is consulting a professional therapist, of course.

  19. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for writing this.

    There is one minor thing that bothered me, though: the comparison of having a child diagnosed with autism to going through a divorce, losing a loved one to suicide, or having parents dying of cancer. I have friends who are autistic, and I can only imagine how they’d feel hearing their existence compared to suicide, cancer, and divorce.

    I know that raising a child with disabilities isn’t easy, and I know there can be a process of grieving for the neurotypical child that the parent expected (just like there’s often a process of grieving when a child has any major identity change, even if it’s ultimately positive, such as coming out as transgender). I’m not saying that this grief isn’t real or valid, but I feel really uncomfortable seeing it put into a list with things like having parents dying of cancer or losing loved ones to suicide. Autistic people may have extra struggles, but their lives aren’t a tragedy.

    • rabidlycurious

      Hi Laura!

      That is a totally valid point! I was thinking (as I wrote this) about the people who did post that article as helpful to them, and that did include parents who had a child diagnosed with autism, and so I was thinking of that from the perspective of the parents (whose grief and sense of loss was real), but also, you are totally right. Autistic people’s lives aren’t tragic.

      Thank you for pointing that out. I will remove that line.

      Sarah O

  20. KoLaC

    I’ve been reading a lot of different blogs and articles concerning the NotAllMen/YesAllWomen hashtags over the past few days, and I have to say yours is by far my favourite. It’s one of the only ones I’ve so far seen that really tries to take everyone’s viewpoints into account, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do with such a sensitive subject. You’ve helped make my confused mass of conflicting opinions on this subject a lot clearer, so thank you so much for that!

    Do you mind if I share this article around a little bit? I know quite a few people who I think will be very interested to read it as well. =)

    • rabidlycurious

      Hi KoLaC! Thank you so much for your kind words! This is a huge topic that is really confusing to deal with- I’m glad what I wrote helped a little. (It’s helped me a lot writing it!). I would be honored if you shared it around a bit.

  21. Amelia Eve

    What a valuable insightful, and compassionate essay. Thank you.

    I often think about the work that men still have to do to catch up with whatever progress women have made in the past 50 years, and how it is not women’s responsibility to lead them along. I also think that one reason it’s so hard for them is that many men are very unkind to one another. Whether it is born of insecurity or just orneriness doesn’t really matter to the outcome. If you are familiar with the works of linguist Deborah Tannen, you will recognize that one of her observations about the different ways men and women speak is that there is a large group of men who view every human interaction as having a winner and a loser. (Understanding this has helped me a lot in my business life.) These men can’t open up about their feelings with other men because they might expose their weaknesses and come out the loser of the conversation. But they are willing to speak to women. Why? Because they don’t consider women to be competition. It’s still part of the same ingrained view that doesn’t really take women seriously.

    • runawayjim

      I wholeheartedly and respectfully disagree with you. The biggest feeling I get from this whole #YesAllWomen thing is attacked. I don’t think (I suppose a woman would really have to say for sure) that I am one of the misogynists that are the problem. And I don’t think that I am part of the problem. I do quite a bit for women (heck, I work in an IT department at a college and primarily hire female students because it’s been my experience that they are far better at the job than the male students). Your view seems to be, and maybe I’m wrong, that feeling I get from a lot of feminists, not that men and women should be equals, but rather that women are better and men just have to fend for themselves. That is NOT the answer to anything. Would black people have gotten anywhere if they didn’t work WITH white people? Would the gay rights movement have gotten anywhere if the allies were excluded? Absolutely NOT! If women want to make change, they need to work WITH men as EQUALS (and not put the whole of the male gender down simply because we are men). It’s not until EVERYONE works together that we will see any change. It’s not an us and them thing. Once you start with that, you alienate the people you should be working with. Using phrases like “these men” just deepens that feeling of being alienated.

      I’ve been trying to deal with a lot of my thoughts about this subject internally. And as someone who truly believes that women and men are equal in every way – and my actions match my views – I feel more and more attacked by the whole #YesAllWomen campaign. I don’t view other men as competition. Heck, most of my male friends aren’t competition for anything (they’re married and work in different industries than me). I don’t even feel competition when it comes to financial or family success (as in I’m not about to have a kid just to “keep up with the Joneses”). But I don’t have any reason to talk to men about this. My feelings aren’t those of being hurt for women, they’re feelings of being attacked by statements being made (such as your comment). I think it does everyone, especially women, a huge disservice when you not only choose to specifically exclude men, but also when you write things that basically lump all men together (especially in light of the very obviously deranged mind of Elliot Rodger and his misogynistic manifesto). I don’t blame women for feeling attacked, fearful, or any other number of negative feelings, but I do blame them for pushing away the men who they KNOW they can trust, who they KNOW they can go to for help. And that’s what’s happening with this campaign. Yes, it might be eye opening for many women to learn about how they, too, have been affected, but it’s also eye opening for many men who now want to do what they can to help.

      And here I read your comment that says (and I paraphrase, so please accept my apology if I’m reading it the wrong way) “Women don’t need the help of men” as if men are somehow inferior, which turns this whole thing into the competition you’re saying shouldn’t exist. So which is it? Do you want to be viewed as equals or do you want to be viewed as the superior sex? I know plenty of men who want to help, but we aren’t willing to help those who see no problem attacking us as being inferior.

      So what are we supposed to do? Ignore the problem women are having? Work with only men to solve someone else’s problem that we don’t fully understand (and, realistically, CANNOT fully understand without working with women?

      • rabidlycurious

        Hi there, runawayjim-

        I’m not sure who you are addressing this comment to- myself or Amelia Eve? In either case, I don’t think that men are worse than women or the problem, and I didn’t read that in Amelia’s post. Can you help me understand your concerns a little bit better?

      • runawayjim

        It was a response to Amelia, not you. My responses to you have all already been addressed (specifically the men need to have intimate conversations with other men… something that we’re not wired to do). I took what she said to mean that men should fix the problem themselves. That women shouldn’t be sitting here telling us what the problem is and what would help them out. But the reality of the situation is that we all have to work together. Her comment felt very “us and them” with the “us” being the women who already know what the problem is and shouldn’t have to do anything more about it and the “them” being the men who are the problem and need to fix it without the aid of the women. She said how women made progress all on their own (not true) and men should do the same (not effective to get any real results). I’m saying that until we are all on the same page and working together, we will not see a change.

      • A couple of thoughts.

        > She said how women made progress all on their own (not true)

        So, I’ve reread Amelia’s post a few times and I don’t see where it says that. Would you mind pointing it out more precisely?

        > women shouldn’t be sitting here telling us what
        > the problem is and what would help them out

        I would agree that if someone needs my help, it’s good if they can tell me what would help them. Women, men, children, whoever.

        But this seems to be addressing a different issue than the one rabidlycurious started out discussing, which was an emotional difficulty that men are facing and men need help with, not one that women are facing which women need help with.

        And, here again, I’m not seeing that issue mentioned in Amelia’s post, either… would you mind pointing it out?

        > til we are all on the same page and
        > working together, we will not see a change.

        All of us being on the same page and working together would itself be a change. A pretty radical one, at that. It would be awesome, and I’m all for it.

        That said, it’s probably better if we don’t wait for that to happen before we start working.

  22. While I like that the discourse began, I don’t think that the event that prompted the discourse can be used as an example in this case. Elliot Rodger suffered from a mental illness that played a large part in how he chose to deal with his anger.

    I have issues with the generalization that men should go to other men to discuss their feelings regarding trauma to their female friends. Yes, the grief circle would apply to the particular friend that related their story to the man, but wouldn’t extend to all women.

    I had a friend that wanted to wear a white peace flower at the same time as the poppy on remembrance day, and we determined after much conversation that theoretically it shouldn’t be offensive. However, the only people who could tell me whether or not it actually was, would be veterans. Sometimes you have to engage with the expert. In this particular instance, I asked a few veterans, and they unanimously said that they would find it offensive.

    Do I really want men to find out how to deal with, support, fight the misogyny fight etc. from other men? Or do I want to have the discourse myself, or at least in conjunction with, this group of men?

    All women are not the same, and don’t feel the same way about having this conversation.

    Also, I don’t discount secondary trauma; it can be a very real thing, but I would argue that it would exist in very specific areas only – ie. counselling perhaps. Rather, I find that in many cases, it is a horrible self-indulgence of a self-absorbed individual.

    Thank you for starting the conversation.

  23. KS

    Thank you for this. Not only in the context of the #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen discussion, but this has really resonated with me on a personal level.

    My marriage fell apart, primarily due to the belief that I was magic – indeed, I was explicitly told that if I loved my then-husband enough he would no longer have depression or an anxiety disorder. He refused treatment for years, believing that my love/attention/sex would cure him. When he announced that he was divorcing me, I was told “I’m not happy. And if you were the right person, you would make me happy.”

    I could never really understand what I saw as his personal abdication of responsibility for his own mental and emotional well-being. It did not occur to me that this belief is much more socially ingrained. And yes, the consequences of not being magic were severe. And traumatizing.

    Thank you for another lens through which to process that experience.

  24. Nathanael

    “But you absolutely need to talk to another guy. A guy you are friends with and who you trust is ideal. And if you don’t have that kind of guy in your life- and, seriously, you are not alone in that area- then you have the very hard, critical work of figuring out how to make that kind of friendship ahead of you. ”

    Honestly, it’s much harder even than you think it is. Even for those of us who have done it multiple times before. Frankly, it’s not even worth trying most of the time. If one finds other men who were raised “right”, one can do it. But an awful lot of men just refuse to form serious friendships with other men. Too much childhood trauma, probably. If you’ve read anything about how boys are trained to abuse other boys, you’ll understand this. Anyway, there’s nothing to be done but write them off and try to meet other people.

    “And if you are a guy who has already figured this out- if you’ve already figured out the circle thing and the male friendship and intimacy thing and how to be supportive of women thing- then my personal challenge to you is to go and find the guys in your world who haven’t totally made this connection, and pull them into your circle. Mentor them. Teach them how to do what you’ve figured out to do. Seriously, I can’t do that. Your girlfriends and lady friends and moms and sisters and classmates and bosses can’t do that. But you can, and that is absolutely invaluable.”

    In general, actually, I can’t. Sorry. I wish I could. Been there, tried that. The men who are halfway there already, they’re easy to teach. The men who aren’t… are completely impossible. One can’t even get started.

    I can’t mentor people who aren’t willing to learn.

    Frankly, the problems with “guy culture” are even deeper and even worse than you think they are, and those of us who aren’t completely steeped in it have absolutely no idea how to change it, because it’s extremely resistant to change. I think it can only be changed by changing how boys are brought up.

    Sorry to be so negative, but this is my experience since I left my hippie-paradise elementary school.

    • Antares

      Yes. This is exactly right, and was on my mind the whole time I read this, but could not find words to express. If we could fix everything that is wrong with male communication we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, but the idea that processing secondary trauma would be in any way an effective avenue for that is wonderfully, spectacularly naive. Women aren’t magic, but men learn very early on that women are sometimes safe people to talk to about emotional trauma, in ways that other men simply are not. So in this case there are really only two realistic directions men can go with the secondary trauma; either they can “backwash” it back to the very women who trusted them enough to share their primary trauma in the first place, or they can simply keep it inside and process it themselves, to the best of their ability. Neither option is great. But it’s what we have.

  25. Reblogged this on Cat Tunes and commented:
    I have never chosen to reblog anything on the past but this is fabulously accurate and, I think, really important. Especially for men.

  26. Thank you for writing this.

    I had never made the connection between my need for support in hearing female disclosures of gendered abuse and the potential invalidation of that disclosure in the eyes of the women I was talking to (and as the vast majority of my enduring relationships are with women it has almost always been them I approached for support).

    The contents about maintenance of male friendships are also very insightful from my viewpoint.

    Thank you so much for this, I wool share it far and wide.

  27. Beautiful piece – a little verbose – but worth the read. Clearly the verbosity is a thing for my male brain ;-)

    No – women are not designed to fix anyone’s problems, but that said – neither are men. In fact, no one person is designed to fix another person’s problems.

    Perhaps if we consider this from a needs perspective, people – of whatever gender or sexual orientation – help meet each others’ needs and fundamentally that is the nature of our relationships. The quality of those relationships are defined by the extent we meet each others’ needs and the extent we are happy doing so.

    Throughout history, women have had such a crappy time. I feel deeply ashamed of our collective history as a species in this respect. I feel sad when I hear of ‘honour killings’, date rapes, the whistle calls and the other manner of discrimination that lurk on this spectrum of terrible experiences that women face – almost daily – all over the place.

    I am scared for my daughters. Scared and enraged – that they may face even the slightest of any nastiness because they are women. Enraged as a parent, that I cannot protect them – not because they are femail, but because they are my children.

    I am also a parent of 2 sons and I’m determined that they will learn to be different from the image of misogyny that seems to be current narrative of malehood, that they will treat women with respect, empathy and love. Not because they are women, but because they are human beings.

    Because this is what we are talking about really – how do we respect each others rights to need and have those needs met without disrespect or violating the needs of others. As human beings.

  28. Nick H

    As a Trans man & a sexual assault survivor, this cross-roads of manifesting masculinity and reconciliation with my experiences of being raised as and living as a woman have required a LOT of work around finding a way to be at peace with all the seemingly endless contradictions, disparities and paradoxes.

    So – firstly – thank you for stepping out there and offering some clarity in finding a way to move the discussion of this really critical issue forward in a constructive manner.

    Secondly – you offered up-stream to have someone from the other “team” guest-write or be interviewed. If that offer still stands, I’d love to talk with you about this – as I know I am a lot more articulate when speaking in dialogue than I am when writing prose (degree in English, not withstanding :LOL: ).

  29. Reblogged this on Coming to the Edge and commented:
    This is really, really thoughtful and really, really good and I really, really want my male friends to read it, because it gives men actionable insights into how women are feeling, how men might be feeling, and how we can all help each other. (Hint: it involves listening! It always involves listening. Listening leads to kindness and dammit, babies, you’ve got to be kind.)

  30. Interestingly, I had begun a project prior to this most current situation and consequent hashtags. This has simply encouraged me to move forward with more determination. In short, the idea is to create a sort of independently produced game show/talk show where guests/contestants would be selected based on holding positions at extreme opposite ends of any highly charged, controversial subject. Guests would be given an opportunity to not only share their story about why they believe what they do and be assured that someone from the other side would truly listen and hear their story, but they would need to agree to follow the rules and hear the other person as well. The goal is not to convince, persuade, or win. The ONLY goal is to achieve understanding. As a listener, you’d be required to repeat back what the sharer said and then say, “Is that correct?” If not, the sharer could clarify and the listener would try again. Once they ask, “Is that correct?” and they receive a reply of “Yes” then the listener would say, “Is there anything else?” Then the cycle would repeat and continue until the listener demonstrates they heard everything and the answer to “Is there anything else?” is “No” and then DING! “You win!! You achieved understanding! Now…let’s flip things around and go the other way.”

    I’m meeting with a director this week and someone else who I think would be a phenomenal game show host. I also have a great venue that has been volunteered for use. This was an exercise my wife and went through in counseling and it was life-changing. I don’t remember who our counselor was and can’t get in touch with them so I was looking for someone in that role who I could speak with about this idea. Would you be willing to speak with me briefly about this project? You have a seat at the table that provides you with a very valuable perspective–a perspective that I want to be sure and take into consideration as we plan this further.

    Thank you so much for this incredible essay!!

  31. Connor

    Thank you. I appreciate everything you have to say in this piece. I think it really comes down to empathy, and it’s something everyone can always work on. Thank you for not playing down the emotions of either gender, as they both are valid. I will work on the things you have pointed out. Thanks again.

  32. justin

    No need to reply for I don’t have time for this in depth of a discussion. You go into great detail and into intrigueing concepts regarding this discussion, but, I believe you have done the same thing as Elliot Rodger. You have projected guilt on someone due to YOUR ideals.

  33. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! Legitimately, just today, I was actually thinking of hurting myself for this exact reason. The women in my life are calling me a terrible person because of my sex, and whenever I tried to stick up for myself, I would get bashed (to clear things up, I’m not perfect–no man is, we all have feelings that are hard to control, and no matter how hard we try or how good we are, every now again, we’ll slip up. I’m not saying we’ll go out and try to do stuff with a girl without permission, but we’ll make a comment, or flirt just a little too hard. We’re people. Like you all, we’re not magic). From now on, I will make sure to just listen to them, and take my problems with it elsewhere.

    You see, the biggest problem right now is that men are being stereotyped just as bad as women, blacks, gays, trans…the list goes on. Just men are stereotyped into being pigs, misogynysts, and being portrayed as people that feel they are ENTITLED to women. While this may be true for SOME men, it’s not true for a lot more of us.

    I also think a lot of women (you excluded. You seem to have a very good concept on everything, and besides, you didn’t use “entitled” or “deserving”) use the phrases “mysogyny” and “entitled” the wrong way. And that leads to a lot of problems, as well. But that’s a story for another day.

  34. Thank you.

    I needed to read this. I didn’t know I did. I spent a chunk of last weekend listening to a beloved friend discuss how he was splitting up with his wife, and trying to emotionally process my (varied, generally negative) reactions to that news. I didn’t have language to explain my distress until reading this, when I suddenly could see myself in the role of the men to whom I’ve explained (or tried to) the lived experience of being a woman.

    Thank you for illuminating these experiences and dialogues and stresses and ways beyond them.

    (And that’s not even touching on the way your essay speaks to misogyny/sharing/changing. But that too is awesome.)

  35. Paige R.

    Wow. Phenomenal blog post. Thank you for writing this. As a social worker (currently pursuing an MSW) and a feminist, it resonates strongly with me. This article was brought to my attention by a male friend of mine, who I was starting to get very frustrated with in that he wasn’t understanding feminism and rape culture and everything I, as a woman, have to deal with. It was very heartening to see him share it and tag me specifically in it, and eye-opening as I was able to parse through some of his defenses. This is a really good opening to a conversation that needs to be continued and I appreciate the time you took to write this. Have you read anything by Brené Brown? Her research is on shame, empathy, and the power of connection and I’m taking a course by her on the same subject and she recently said “We can’t talk about white privilege until we can talk about shame” and I feel that this goes hand-in-hand with what you say about men getting defensive and feeling helpless. She’s phenomenal, if you get a chance to watch her TedxHouston talk or read any of her books.

  36. Pingback: The Curious Incident of the Linkspam in the Night-time (18 June 2014) | Geek Feminism Blog

  37. What a brilliant post. I really learned something here, which is my favorite feeling in the world. I’ve always thought it was selfishness, just plain old male “I’m the center of the universe” crap, when they take the enormous pressures women live under and then try to make it about their problems. I mean, talk about wasting the megaton of emotional energy and kindness it takes to try to educate someone about all that pain.

    But your point that the victim knows the situation and has to have some way of handling it, whereas if it really is new to the listener he/she does not … that was a real eye opener. Of course! I know that feeling myself! I’ve felt that way. It’s not selfishness necessarily. It’s just the recoil from a sharp object that goes all the way back to amoeba-level.

    Now I know I can talk to someone who genuinely doesn’t get it without trying to smash them.

    Thank you!

  38. xenologer

    Reblogged this on Dissent of a Woman and commented:
    “The problem I am seeing here- the place where this is unraveling- is that for men who are *hearing* about the traumatic experiences of women, and experiencing secondary traumatization over it, where do they go with those feelings? Who do they talk about their own (totally valid!) emotional reactions to feeling overwhelmed with the things that the women they care about- or just women in general- have to deal with?
    Because if the answer is women, things go downhill. (…)

    Woman to man: Here is my experience!
    Man: *Listening*
    Man (internal dialogue): Holy shit, that is really awful and I feel really bad about it. I need to go talk to someone about this. I’ll go to the person that I usually go to to share intimate/emotional aspects of myself.
    Man to woman: Hearing this makes me feel really bad! And now I’m worried about how you think of me! #NotAllMen are like that! (Importantly, I’m not!)
    Woman (internal dialogue): Wow, I just shared a part of myself and my experience and now this guy expects me to help him feel better about the experience of listening to me? And also seems to be devaluing the integrity of what I’m telling him?
    Woman to man: Fuck off. Seriously. For Real.”

  39. SomeGuy

    Thanks for writing this. Really does connect a couple of dots for me. Thanks for describing every gender discourse ever.

    “Woman to man: Here is my experience!

    Man: *Listening*

    Man (internal dialogue): Holy shit, that is really awful and I feel really bad about it. I need to go talk to someone about this. I’ll go to the person that I usually go to to share intimate/emotional aspects of myself.

    Man to woman: Hearing this makes me feel really bad! And now I’m worried about how you think of me! #NotAllMen are like that! (Importantly, I’m not!)

    Woman (internal dialogue): Wow, I just shared a part of myself and my experience and now this guy expects me to help him feel better about the experience of listening to me? And also seems to be devaluing the integrity of what I’m telling him?

    Woman to man: Fuck off. Seriously. For Real. #YesAllWomen.”

    I think this is spot on. But I’m not so sure about the solution you’re prescribing, because I think there’s even more wrapped up in this little exchange than having to deal with secondary trauma. And that is because of how gender roles and attraction/desire in the male-female paradign tend to play out.

    Particularly among women and men who are not in relationships, where socialised gender-based sexual dynamics are more important than between individuals in relationships. And particularly to men who are having this kind of talk at all – in the abstract and specifically.

    Women tend to be attracted to “confident, masculine” men, and that kind of performance is, very likely, for many men, necessarily based upon a self-concept of what you call “importantly, I’m not!”, in other words – I’m not part of the bad guys. But upon hearing these stories, there will certainly be a nagging thought, for all the defensiveness: am I, too, part of that to some degree? Was my kiss on the cheek welcome? Was my hug? Was my kiss? How can I still interact with women in the way I perceive they want me to when my doing so is at least contributing to socially reproducing their experiences which I find traumatising just listening to? That is very much emasculating even if you don’t do a full-on Robert Jensen and stop being romantically pursuing woman altogether because you start being more afraid of how your sexuality can hurt women instead of bringing them pleasure and validation.

    And talking to other guys about this is not going to be much help, because all that can happen in those conversations is mutual acceptance and grief about the situation. So, yes, that can help.

    But ultimately, what we really need is female affirmation of our sexuality and what we’re doign, and given the dyanmic of the conversation you describe that is about the last thing (and rightly so) women will be able to give in that situation – in person more so (as you describe) than in the general abstract social discourse, but by-and-large, the dynamics of those conversations appear to be similar to me.

    And that leaves all of us stuck in the middle. Wanting to have a conversation and have our experiences accepted and affirmed without becoming dysfunctional in our interactions that follow. And even after reading your insightful post, I don’t know how we could get there, certainly not with respect to the general discourse, even excluding Twitter.

    Thanks for moving the meta conversation a good step forward for me.

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