Surviving Midlife is not just a concern for women, it is one for men as well. As a white, heterosexual, female, I have hesitated to speak to the male journey as I am admittedly not one of them. Instead, I have focused my blog on the issues women face during midlife. But….women are not the only ones who suffer. So….begging your forgiveness from the beginning….I am going to attempt to share what I have seen as important in the male journey through midlife. All you male readers out there….PLEASE FEEL FREE to share your own comments and experience, because I’m just a girl who only sees it from the outside looking in. 🙂 In today’s blog, I want to celebrate the unique gifts of men. Tomorrow, I will tend to some of the specific challenges men may face during midlife.
To begin, I believe that one of the greatest disservices that has been done to human beings…..including men….is the enculturation of our patriarchal, hierarchical society. While there are benefits for men in this current cultural paradigm, it provides a double-edged sword. In a patriarchal, hierarchical society, certain expectations are put forth for men – to be providers, protectors, in charge, strong, manly, virile, sexually potent, to have all the answers, to be the best at whatever they do and to be more successful than those around them. In a patriarchal, hierarchical society, men are told they cannot be sensitive, appreciate the arts, be sad, grieve, or feel. If a man shows emotion he is often considered weak and if he shows sensitivity, it is assumed he is gay. These are unfair assumptions to make regarding the male species who in fact need to have the freedom to be all these things in order to be happy, healthy and whole.
Women’s Lib and the Gifts of Men
The other thing that has happened, is that women’s lib, while doing amazing things for the rights and empowerment of women, have left men wondering about their role in the world. Ultimately, I believe that we are in the midst of a HUGE societal shift in our definitions of gender roles and are moving beyond patriarchy and hierarchy into something that has yet to be revealed. As such, we are currently living in the tension between what we have known and what we do not yet know. As such, men (and women) currently spend much of their time being confused. Who are we and how are we supposed to relate to each other? One of the things we as “liberated” women are invited to do in this time of transition is to stop demonizing men and begin to recognize the inherent gifts and drives of men and how these gifts can serve as a source of support, not imprisonment. Watching my 11 year younger brother grow up, reading the work of Dr, Ali Binazir, raising a son, and having the fantastic gift of close male friendships, have given me some insights into the unique and special gifts of men that I think we, as women, sometimes tend to forget. These gifts include, but are not limited to:
- The drive to be provider and protector. To keep the people they love safe and to provide for their wellbeing
- The need for competition
- A deep sensitivity and warmth
- A great curiosity and sense of adventure – always wanting to explore and try new things
- The need for accomplishment
- The need to be silly and ridiculous
- The need to be able to do it – to confront a challenge and successfully conquer it
- The need to be needed
- The need to be recognized for what they are accomplishing
- The powerful drive and need for sexual expression – which for many is the only way they are safely (in our culture) able to experience intimacy, tenderness, and vulnerability
While women may certainly possess some of these gifts, it has been my experience that men possess these gifts in a unique and special way. I have also observed, that when we, as women, set down our shields and put away our medieval flails, these unique gifts of men are here, not only for their enjoyment, but also for our benefit. For example, there is nothing more enjoyable to me than to watch my son giggle and laugh at the latest, greatest, most ridiculous, gross-out video he discovered on YouTube. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a man accomplish a task that I am either unable or unwilling to do for myself (like changing a tire or catching a bat that found its way into my house.). Yes, I could certainly do these things for myself if I wanted, but I don’t. And, by asking for help, I have the opportunity to allow myself to be vulnerable, and I get to observe the satisfaction a man experiences in helping another person. And finally, And there is nothing better than pure and simple chivalry – an open door, helping us on with our coat, assisting with carrying in the groceries. Chivalry, by the way, was invented by men….not women. Let’s not forget that!
Men are not the enemy
At the end of the day, men are not the enemy. Instead, men have the potential to be terrific friends, generous and giving lovers, nurturing and supportive partners, fantastic providers and protectors and they have the ability to help us maintain our own sense of curiosity and adventure. As women, if our male partners are not living up to these ideals, they are not always the ones to blame (more on that tomorrow), and it would serve our so-called battle of the sexes to exercise a little empathy and compassion as we all move through this treacherous time of gender role transition. If we can pause for a bit and set down our weapons, we might just find that we all end up with happier, healthier, more loving and mutually supportive relationships.