When I was growing up I thought my parents (particularly my father) knew everything but as I age, I increasingly see that that was the intended perception, stemming from his anxiety and insecurity, and we all have so much to learn.
There was this hidden manipulation too though, to make my mother seem unreasonable for what I now realize are perfectly reasonable requests, allowing her to perpetually be the bad cop while he could be another innocent victim to “those outbursts,” swoop in as a saviour.
I think it comes from this general need that many men I have encountered have; this unrelenting NEED to be needed, stemming from a codependency so deeply rooted in our societal complexes we can’t even see it for what it is. It’s the expectation. And before anyone gets defensive, this isn’t a personal attack but an observation on a recurring issue we face societally in many families.
Men (and women, and all folks for that matter) often never actually face the uncomfortable fact that our past messes us up in ways we can’t see. And it’s not an accident that our societal status quo is people pairing up and maintaining codependency, because it’s the fairy tale propaganda we hear over and over again.
Look to Disney. Look to monogamy. Look to the nuclear family; the white picket fence, 2.3 children, a dog, The American Dream™.
It’s this lie we have been told by those running things behind the scenes, the same folks who graduated with no debt (if not being handed a job, provided for by their status,) their tuition then less than the cost of a single term now.
It’s been so subliminally implanted into our rules and behaviours. We learn to expect what we experience and see, good or bad. It’s an insidious iteration, we can’t seem to get out of this spiral; look to Britney Spears’ pre-pubescent body being marketed to the point of her collapse and then, when (logically) reacting to unrequited objectification of herself, her autonomy was taken from her and handed to the father who commodified her to begin with.
It’s abuse happening in front of us yet, but we are told everything is normal, it’s fine.
We believe it because there are enough players in the game that are benefitting from this, they stand amongst us swaying the majority vote, accepting it, so that should we react to the blatant exploit, we would be the odd ones out.
Think of the affect this constant moral conflict has on our psyches; no wonder we may doubt our realities. We are stuck in this system of “this is how it is” and when we try to react or even bring awareness of how that system is imperfect, the insecurity of the patriarchy steps in to shut down down. Hide the mess, and there’s no mess. Right?
It goes without saying that its #NotAllMen I’m referring to here; when I speak about the patriarchy or toxic masculinity, it’s always speaking about the actions and reactions, the systems and processes, and not the people themselves.
We are not good or bad as humans, but we are messy, complex, in varying-states-of-grown-up children. We are not our past, but we are how we choose to leave a ripple in the world.
I’m saying that FUNDAMENTALLY, the way our systems are now have different rules for different people, and it’s not based on need or ability; it’s based on money, and speaking generally, white cis-het men are benefiting from our vulnerable populations.
Another example is in communication, women and men have different thresholds for what is considered “acceptable” vs “agressive”; Women typically are expected to ask for permission whereas men ask for forgiveness.
To my young mind, it appeared my mother was always yelling. I remember always doing things wrong, so I learned to do things right or to isolate to avoid emotional upset.
Now I can see that when my mother was working in addition to being expected to manage the house, and my father was avoidant or oblivious, or just not putting in the emotional labour needed to be a team, getting frustrated was a justifiable response. I was caught in the middle.
Thinking is tiring and with emotional labor in the patriarchy, my mother had the responsibility to get it right, and should it fail that was hers too, yet my father gets the credit for success.
Toxic Masculinity weaponizes emotions by refusing to carry your own feelings or reactions, and when someone does react they’re “too much”. Boys are told not to cry, and grow up to be men who make others cry because they don’t know what they’re feeling.
They learn the buttons to push to get the reactions. “She’s so crazy," he might say, after having ignored the request long enough to get the exasperated “I’LL JUST DO IT THEN.” Step one, complete.
Next, he says, “Well, all you had to do was ask", pulling on the heart strings and evoking guilt; each a step in this cat-and-mouse game, the paradox of the “sheer cruelty of a woman to not do it for him”, yet the refusal to acknowledge (let alone respond) to something that was hurting or upsetting her. Deny, derail, delay.
All the while, young me was encouraged to “join the cool club” of backing my dad because his stoicism was seen as a strength compared to the power of my mother’s raw emotion. Young me didn’t know the whole picture.
It’s not my Dad’s fault, but at the end of the day it IS his choice if he continues to remain vulnerable by refusing to be imperfect. In truth we find strength.
Toxic Masculinity tells us that should anything uncomfortable bubble to the surface, you “defend and deny, we go down with dignity boys”. Feelings must be shoved down and ignored, repress all that makes you uncomfortable because anything but stoicism is weakness.
I can simultaneously hold this massive appreciation for the support I recieved from them, while being upset with some approaches and past events. The thing is, our emotional age is not directly tied to our physical age.
Our world is what we make it, our society standards are as high as we hold ourselves but I’m tired of feeling like the odd one out for wanting to be given the same rights as any man.
We have so much in this world, and we have space for us all, but it only gets easier by an iterative improvement processes, small changes to slowly improve the situation.
For good or bad we’re all earthlings, so we might as well be nice to each other.