Today I’m sharing one of the thoughts that often consumes me. My sister and I have had many great discussions about this topic. What is it? Men! This isn’t about how they irritate us or how we can love that significant one in our lives at the same time as wanting to wrap our hands around their necks (thanks, P!nk, for that line). This is about what we do to them. This is how we, as women, fuck with them all the time and then blame them for the outcome of our own actions.
I can only speak about this topic from a heterosexual female perspective because that’s all I know. It’s not that I can’t appreciate other types of relationships but want to make it clear that this is what I know.
I have to tell my story about my relationships with men first so there’s some context to these thoughts. From the time I was born, my life was female dominated. The men in my world (my Dad and both grandfathers) were scary and we just tried to stay out of their way. Two of them drank too much and one of them was much older so he was kind of a non entity. This one we were taught to respect but stay out of his hair – typical old fashioned kids messaging – we should be seen but not heard. My mom and two grandmothers were the biggest influence on me growing up. We had one uncle who moved away to attend university when I was only about 3 – he was the fun, goofy uncle who made family visits fun when he actually came home for them. I then had one male cousin who was born about 5 or 6 years after me and we didn’t see much of him so no real influence or understanding came from that relationship. I never had a BFF with a cool older brother or a male neighbour who became a friend. I lived my life surrounded by females. This might not be all that significant but you also need to consider the era in which my Mom grew up.
My Mom was born in 1947. At that time, her family life was pretty stable. She had a beautiful mom and a dad who was a WWII veteran but who took her for a ride on his motorcycle while she had curlers in her hair when she was a teenager. From everything I know, she was a princess in her world, well loved and secure. She met my Dad when she was about 19. My Dad was the mysterious, quiet but cool guy, three years older, from another high school, who drove a fast, fancy car. Needless to say, I was conceived in that car while they were engaged and apparently the public story was I was born premature – yah, right. My Dad had been taught a man’s role in life was simple – provide for your family. That’s it, that’s all. He is a very intelligent man who would have loved to go to university when he graduated from high school but that wasn’t appropriate for a man in his family in those days – his sister was sent (then dropped out). He took his marriage and his role very seriously. I won’t remember all the details but they bought a house, had savings, and all the material possessions anyone could want as 24 and 21 year old parents. But, it was the 70’s. Helen Reddy and women’s rights activists came along. My Mom wasn’t happy – everything with my Dad became about the practical. There was no focus on them as a couple or emotional needs. With that and the combination of both their stubborn personalities, their relationship was always volatile. My Mom, who was working banking and retail jobs (that she wasn’t allowed to keep when her pregnancies started showing), decided at some point she was returning to school and social work was her chosen field. My Dad half-heartedly supported her – he wasn’t against it but never really understood it.
Fast forward a few years. Now, we have a woman who is questioning her role in her own life, society is telling women to stand up and roar, and she’s being educated in a field that supports equality. This woman is raising two daughters. At some point during all this, my Dad was either gone working or he was drunk. Can you guess where that left me? Put this story together with my original one about males in my life.
If you can’t guess – I grew up believing women don’t need men. I grew up the way I’m guessing most boys grow up – don’t be needy, be strong, don’t show emotion. Women are equal in all ways and that means we can only be self reliant – don’t ever count on anyone – only believe in yourself – be self sufficient – be okay alone. Men’s role? I can’t really say. My Mom would have sworn it wasn’t about being a provider (but that’s what my Dad always was for her, if nothing else). It would have horrified her if I’d said they were just babymakers. Whatever she consciously or sub-consciously believed men’s role to be, I grew up believing you take what you need from them. Your life partner doesn’t have to be a friend – you have other people in your world that meet that need.
Then I fell in love – a love that started as attraction – but a love I knew I wanted. I met a man who had a beautiful family life. He had a mom and dad that were old school but who were a stable force in his life. He had older brothers and a sister that he fought with but would do anything for each other, any time. He lived a simple life but one that was full of love. I wanted that – I wanted to be part of a family that loved like that – one that had each other’s backs – one that I knew my children would be loved. He wasn’t my best friend – he probably has actually never even been my friend – but, he loves me. He is my safety net – our worlds are merged – I can’t imagine life without him. We’ve made a life together, one I wouldn’t trade for anything. I got exactly what I thought I wanted – I got a man who is committed to me and loves me more than life and who loves our children, teaching them a whole different way of viewing the world, along with his family.
For a while, I loved just being loved by this man. I had that at home, yet I had a career that was evolving, had friends that I hung out with whenever I wanted. Then our first son was born. I’ll tell the story another time of his birth and how that in itself changed my world. For the purpose of this story, the second son came along 3 ½ years later. Imagine me – a woman who has been taught to believe males have no real purpose in this world to be living with three of them. Not only that, I’m apparently expected to raise two of them?! About 18 months after my second son was born, my Mom died. I don’t have any idea how I may have approached parenting two boys differently if my Mom was still alive – it actually worries me a bit. Because, today, I love the fact that I’m the mom of two boys – I love everything about their lives – I love the way their minds work, even though it’s so different from mine – I have had no choice but to shift every lesson my Mom taught me about men. Why? Because I knew right from the time my first one was born that they really do have a purpose. Men are not the enemy. Every man is a mother’s son. It’s what a mother chooses to do with that that counts. I believe every parent needs to invest the energy into showing their kids they’re important, showing them they have meaning and can be everything they want to be. It can’t just be words, the actions need to substantiate. My need to be that kind of parent overshadowed everything I learned about men. If you read my first blog, if I get an inclination that I need to learn something, I go all out. I attended a session at my oldest’s day care about the “boy brain”. I read books. When my boys got old enough, I just started listening.
To this day, I hate it when someone says to me, “you’re so lucky to have boys – girls are so much harder.” What does that even mean? Yes, there may be differences based on whatever gender our kids are or they identify as, but being a parent to a unique individual is the true challenge. I’ve learned by talking to too many mothers that, at a very young age, they assumed their boys no longer needed them and so left it up to the dads – positive influence or not. Why do people do that to their boys? Raising children isn’t about gender. Raising children is about helping your child to grow into the best person they can be. It’s about appreciating all the influences in their lives whether it’s grandparents, teachers, friends, other relatives. It’s about helping them process the understanding that there are differences but trying your best to guide them towards being healthy, happy human beings who appreciate diversity. You need to teach them that the grandfather who believes women should be barefoot and pregnant should be respected but they’re not right. You need to teach them that friends who are bullying other kids, based on ethnicity, colour, religion, sexuality, are not friends worth having. At the same time, it’s teaching them it’s okay sometimes not to isolate yourself by taking a stance, unless it truly means something to you. I’m not promoting passivism but, for kids, sometimes passivism is the best option. I dare you to disagree if you’re a parent!
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably still wondering how this all ties to “we, as women, fuck with men all the time and then blame them for the outcome of our own actions.” I needed to explain why I have this level of understanding. If you don’t get my perspective now, oh well. But, what I’ve learned is that as heterosexual females, we want in our intimate partner, that best friend – the man who will spend time being our BFF that shares our secret thoughts, that can sit back and gab. But, when they do, if it’s not our moment, we look at them like they’re weak . We think: Grab some balls! Be a man! Open doors for me. Be my provider. Be my safety net.
The role we want them to play depends on our day – are we vulnerable, looking to share, or do we need them to stand up and take control of the situation. We don’t know what a day will bring so how do we expect them to know? My sister told me about some research that’s been done related to dominance and submission and how you are only really one. I so disagree – to me it depends on the day. I believe we all have both in us depending on the day. Sometimes in your daily life, you’ve already given up more control then you wanted so going to bed with your partner, you want to claim some of that back. Other times, you’ve been so in control, you’re a tight string and need someone else to ease the pressure. To me, sexual intimacy comes from communication about where each of us are at. I’m so not good at this part – I can say it and understand it but it’s so hard to practice it.
On a side note but a note that ties it all together – in high school, us vain heterosexual females wanted the cool guy – the one who stands out in some way – maybe sports, maybe badass, the ones that stand out. Most girls ignore the “nerds” – can you imagine high school and the boy that loved Shakespeare and who wrote poems? No high school girl ever publicly looked. At the same time, no matter what kind of music you like, isn’t every truly powerful love song written by a man? We, as woman, disregard them for the most part until they become famous with love songs that rock the world. Then we’re hanging pictures in our rooms, joining fan clubs, spending life savings going to their concerts. Really? They are the poets we ignored in high school. They are the boys everyone probably called “gay” because they expressed some kind of emotion. They were the ones that were more in touch with their emotions than we were ourselves.
The men we dedicate our lives too can never get it right. I’ve learned from my boys that they will give everything if their heart is involved. I reflect on my life with boys/men and believe this to be true. It’s us, as girls/women, who have such a hard time figuring out what we really want – and it changes based on what’s happening in our world. If you really think about it, we expect them to be mind readers and emotional barometers. Think about it: “I feel fat” means tell me I look good but if you’ve gained a few pounds, you then think, well now he’s lying. You expect that he’s going to compare you to other women but if he has the nerve to voice it, he will pay. You want him to want him to have a life separate from you but resent it if he has the nerve to make plans that exclude you. You want him to give you freedom to be you but rely on him to keep you in check when needed.
Unlike my Dad and grandfathers, men/boys are living in a whole new world. They’ve got influences in their lives that are still very traditional but they’ve been taught that’s no longer the way. They don’t by nature talk about this shit with their friends. Their girlfriends fluctuate hourly on what they want and need. Do we really expect them to figure it out?
Share your thoughts….
P.S. I do believe, if my Mom had lived, she’d have gone through a transformation too with two grandsons. I also don’t regret anything I learned from my Mom or any of the women in my life. I do believe that women needed to stand up and assert their independence to get the world where it is today. There is always a price to pay for change. First world problem – I know.
P.S.S. My husband was just looking over my shoulder and asked why I don’t share what I’m writing with him. My response – go ahead – let me finish but you’re more than welcome to read it. So, if he is reading this, you need to know I have no regrets – I love you and love figuring out life challenges with you. Better or worse, you are my life partner and I only see a future with you in it.