#TheGrey: How Our Patriarchy Hurts Men
#TheGrey: How Our Patriarchy Hurts Men
You know, I realized a long time ago that I’m not a typical guy. For one, believe it or not, I don’t watch sports. Well unless it’s driven by me wanting to socialize. Obviously I love being active and do enjoy playing basketball, but my preference isn’t to catch the game with my buddies. I don’t drink beer, nor have I ever had a “hot babe’s” poster on any of my walls. I’ve actually always had more female friends than I’ve had male friends-- connecting over ideas, relationships, and how we feel about the things that are going on in our lives. Of course I kept my surface level relations with my guy friends; we talked about current events, hung out and eat, talk about work or maybe girls, and call it a day. For a while, it didn’t really ever get deeper than that. Why is that?
I remember telling a friend, when I was probably 12 or 13, that I couldn’t wait to be a father, that I found babies very adorable. And she told me, “Aw, you’re so sensitive!” I didn’t like hearing that. To me that equated to me being “a little bitch;” and for good reason too, other men had ingrained that idea all around me.
Growing up, if I got hurt and went crying to my dad, he’d say: “Jattan day lagdiyah hundiah ya--” which in Punjabi means Jatts* get hurt, it happens. If I wanted to be comforted, I knew it was my mom I had to go to. Your mom and dad are what set the precedent for what your relationship with men and women will be like for the rest of your life. My dad taught me about hard work, about sacrifice; doing whatever you had to do to get through hardship. He was also very affectionate with me and deeply emotional in his own ways, both my parents were. But I can’t say that my father always expressed those emotions in the best ways possible, and of course I picked up those patterns as well. My father holds things in, he wants those around him not to think that anything is bothering him, because he wants to be that strong and selfless. But it eventually comes out in sheer frustration, anger, or resentment. Where did he learn that from?
*Background fact: Jatts are a specific cast that hail from Punjab, India-- farmers; tall in frame, big in heart, hard in character, and we didn’t put up with shit. We took pride in that.
I did the exact same thing when I began facing issues in school with discrimination for wearing a turban. I held it in. On one side, I was dealing with constant alienation and ridicule at school for being different, on the other, I had these loving, hard working parents that were trying to do everything in their power to make sure I was successful. They uprooted themselves from their country to give me a better life, the issues I faced for carrying on the Sikh values were negligible compared to their problems-- I wasn’t even going to tell them this was an issue. My sister had to tell them what was going on with me at school-- not because I told her, but because her and her friends saw for themselves. I found that embarrassing above all else.
You know my 7th grader history teacher was asked by one of my peers: “Who do you think has it harder, guys or girls? And I remember her having so much conviction over the fact that she believed it was men, because of “the amount of pressure that we put on them,” she said. That always stuck with me.
"We as men are emotionally unequipped to express ourselves in a healthy way, and have imposed all these boundaries on ourselves for how we should act and see the world."
Senior year, I was on the football team, hanging out on the sidelines when the guys started asking me if I was a virgin or not. I said I was, and it became this big joke. I was so embarrassed for being a virgin, that I hit up a girl I knew was interested in me to have sex. She told me she was a virgin too, and that we’d lose it together. For one, it turns out, she wasn’t. And I threw away something I hoped would have been a little more special into some shitty motel sex just to say I did it-- I couldn’t even talk to her for weeks after that. I was so grossed out by the whole experience. Did I really do that? Is that what it meant to be more of a man?
We as a society attempt to callous boys from a young age and push them away from being in touch with their emotions as much as possible. We as men cultivate that culture within ourselves because that’s all most of us know. Feelings are taken as a joke. I learned that the hard way as all of my repressed resentment and anger began coming out in college.
And as I began unraveling a lot of my own complexities, I realized well, we were all pretty fucked up. We all feared rejection, abandonment, and had plenty of other complexes deep rooted to our childhood. I didn’t begin to see that women were hurting the same ways until I started seriously dating in college (which in turn made my relationship to the females in my family closer too). But there was a difference in how we dealt with it. We as men are emotionally unequipped to express ourselves in a healthy way, and have imposed all these boundaries on ourselves for how we should act and see the world. I’m not saying that women are all emotionally healthy; of course not, but we have set up a society that allows women to open up to one another yet a guys idea of getting his buddies mind off his hurt is to distract him. It wasn’t until college that I developed close male friendships with my current best friends did I begin to have emotionally healthy, connected relationships with men. Who played that role for me before then? Women did.
It is not the role of women to keep us emotionally healthy. My point is that our patriarchal society hasn’t just conditioned women into living in our world, we have been conditioned as well. And I hope my experiences show you that it’s not all for the best, we’re actually pretty screwed up emotionally because of it. Masculinity doesn’t have to equate to all the pressures of having to “be a man:” provide for your family, not showing “weakness” around your friends and family, having a bunch of sex to uphold your “mancard”, controlling what your partner does or making all the decisions for him or her. You don’t have to be strong, you don’t have to be anything!
We’ve fucked up this up. I’ve fucked this up. We made jokes about Bill Cosby’s victims speaking out against him, there were memes about it. Shit, I laughed at them too! Then more women came out against more men, and it was powerful. Okay, it was surprising too. Really Kevin Spacey? I really liked the Usual Suspects and American Beauty, please don’t tell me this is true. Louis C.K.?? I didn’t even think you were that funny but damn, asking women if you could masturbate in front of them? And then the stories became more and more relatable to everyday experiences-- was it a night of bad sex or was she really not about it?
There is a LOT of tension in the air. What does this all mean? #Metoo articles are transitioning into #yesallmen articles and it’s hard not to react defensively. But we’re guilty. There is a lot of male guilt floating around in us. As there should be. It’s scary to think that I could’ve contributed to this culture, but I’m sure I have. I’ve looked back on every interaction I could think of with different women-- hookups, relationships, and everything in between. I know in my heart that I’ve always been a respectful guy but the conversations we are beginning to have are redefining how we look at those interactions. I feel so guilty and scared just thinking this-- and I’m not even sure if I did anything!
I’m sure a lot of you guys do. I’ve never been one to go up to a girl and initiate a conversation by commenting on her looks or cat call, but maybe you have. Maybe you thought it was just an endearing compliment and you didn’t mean anything by it. But that’s not how it’s landing on the other side. I can’t even sit here and defend or judge the actions of another man when I’m not even sure I’m in the position to.
All I know is I want to be part of the conversation. I hope that you’ll humbly join me.
[Please make sure to read “#Metoo: How We Hurt Women” before moving over to the third piece, “#TheDialogue”]