Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Suffering in Silence

A post in the man-o-pause blog sets me off on what I find one of the more irritating components of modern gender mythology, that of men being unable to express themselves adequately.   As if our society didn't already have enough problems for women to be neurotic over, a not-so-new book (2004) claims that women in their 30s are suffering from something that looks a lot like a midlife crisis.  The truth (or BS) of this notwithstanding the host of man-o-pause points out a comment from a retired male doctor in the readers' reviews on Amazon.   Dr. Johnathan Dolhenty, in a positive review of the book, says:

"Unfortunately, men going through their crisis tend to do so silently and in secret, while the women are intelligent and clever enough to be more open and conversant. Men should take a cue from this. They might suffer less."

Trying not to get distracted by what this implies about men's intelligence, what also makes me fume is the assumption that men wailing about their misfortune can in any way help them.  Any man who has gone through some real suffering in his life (and I put the midlife crisis fairly low down on the scale) will know that society isn't interested in hearing about his pain.  In fact, it can be actively counter-productive to pour one's heart out. 

Women are supposed to be vulnerable -- the combination of archaic chivalry bringing men flocking to their defense and the victories of feminism encouraging women to be vocal about their desires and failures results in a culture very prepared to listen, sympathise and give a helping hand at the drop of an accusation.  Vulnerability has always been a social advantage for women - under "the patriarchy" they were protected by their men because they were perceived to need it.  These days, the residual of this is still around and unlikely ever to go away, but is augmented by victim politics and a positively morbid fascination with generating statistics to show a supposed epidemic of violence against women.

Men, on the other hand, have been told that "the patriarchy" has given them an unfair edge for too long, and they should take a back seat for a while.  They are told, over and over again, that they are aggressive, violent brutes who must work (or be trained) to control their anger.  (Do I really need to point out the psychological consequences of telling a good and peaceful man over and over again that he is a violent, aggressive brute?)  Efforts to assert themselves as having rights as men or fathers or to show that they too are victims of violence are met with tirades of resistance from the feminists  while simultaneously they are beset by complaints that they don't contribute enough to the housework or parenting.  Women complain justifiably, men whine because they didn't (can't) win.

On top of this, men can be their own worst enemies -- the conventional, and probably scientifically if not politically correct anthropological picture is that men evolved as the defenders of the village, the hunters, the warriors and they competed among each other for mates.  In this context, the weakness of one man is the advantage of another.  Moreover, it is to one man's advantage to get his neighbor to spill his guts, literally and metaphorically, because he will look all the stronger for it.  Women encouraged this, it was in their interest to know who is the fittest mate.  Do we really think we're any different now?  Do the girls really like a "cry baby"?  Do the boys? Our cities don't look like mud huts in the jungle, but in many ways they might as well be.

In this environment, is it any wonder that men "suffer in silence"?  Claims that men would suffer less if they complained more are disingenuous, empty posturing - when men do it, it is a trap, designed to get the competition to admit their weakness, when women do it, they're winnowing out the chaff, looking for the wheat.  This is why men's activist groups always suffer so much in-fighting and why the feminists have so much fun tearing into them (and get away with it).  This is why so few fathers complain about their troubles in court.  This is why suicide is so much higher among men than women.

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Anonymous said...

Does that mean that "Biology is destiny" form men? I see no reason why that should be so.

John Doe said...

Neither do I, provided you know what biology is demanding of you. There is no point in moaning that men can't express themselves if you don't understand the pressures they are under which discourage that expression. Given such knowledge, the complaint becomes irrelevant in the face of a committment to changing the environment which produces the undesired result. That is, if you want men to be able to express themselves, then they have to be placed in a context in which it is no longer a threat to do so. Likewise, the men concerned have to be able to recognize the pressures they themselves are under in order to express them. There is no more effective oppression than that which goes unrecognized. And you can't oppress people out of oppression.

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