seems i've always got something on the tip of my tongue.    ©

Sunday, March 05, 2006

How Sensitive is Too Sensitive?

The modern guy is caught in a weird, weird dichotomy. One where he’s told every day he needs to be sensitive to the plight of others, and at the same time, he’s told to be a “real man.”

So, which is it? What do women really want?

I can’t speak for all women, but I can certainly speak for myself, and don’t kid yourself. I don’t think I’m too far off from the masses on this one. But because I sometimes find it easier to write in the collective voice, I shall do that for this piece. Thus, the royal “we” shall be affected throughout much of this, but it really means “me, the prima donna, I think this.”

First, this question was asked in earnest by both Albion and Mad Coyote this morning. But it’s been on my mind for two or three weeks now. I’ve tried writing before now, but I’m having a hard time. It’s hard to put a finger on all the gender problems we’re currently afflicted with, because man, they’re a-plenty.

I’m a feminist with a twist. I love ze men. I love masculinity. I don’t want equality, I just want to do what I want to do. I think my gender’s in my favour, especially given that this writing’s something I love to do. But there’re a lot of fucking problems between men and women in this day and age, and the definitions of “feminine” and “masculine” are a great place to start.

Tackling both is too much in one post, so let’s talk about the boys, then, and just this issue of sensitivity.

A reader recently asked me what women think of men who cry in sad movies and the like. I flat-out said it was sissy. And it is. A guy who gets a sniffle, okay. Maybe he gulps, you know, that’s sexy. That’s hot. He’s affected. A guy who breaks down with some tears coming down his cheek, I’m sorry, but it’s perceived as weakness.

“Sensitive” means acutely affected, easily affected, so the word itself is actually the wrong word, and it’s part of the problem. It's grown past being a mere issue of semantics. It's simply the wrong word. We don’t want sensitive men. We want empathetic men. We want open men. Men who can understand where we’re coming from, who can be of support, who can express their sentiments about any manner of topic.

If you crumble, you are of no use to us. If you crumble, you defeat the purpose for us to pairbond with you.

As a woman, I am well aware of a few things. I am strong, I am creative, I am resourceful, I am sometimes indefatigable. And sometimes, I am emotional. Sometimes it’s nice to have a man around who is empathetic, but not overwhelmed. Then he becomes a pillar for me. His stoic aspects influence me, and I remember to look at things more objectively. It’s a yin to my yang.

It’s no secret, men and women tend to deal with problems and such in slightly different manners. Sometimes it’s nice to have that juxtaposition there. But if you get overly affected, overly emotional, you are of no use. Period. It’s that simple.

There are times when a man can cry and it would be understandable. The death of a parent or a friend, that sort of thing. At that moment, I’d be moved for him. I’d want to be his world, to help make it all better. I’d never forsake a guy at that moment. Three weeks later and the mood’s still there? It’s hard to deal with as a chick. When a man’s crumbled, it’s just a hard thing to see sometimes. To have that state maintain, it can begin to affect us on some pretty deep levels, too, and that’s hard to sometimes handle.

Remember 9/11, the horrible fucking footage of that day from the streets of New York? It was unthinkable to see the towers, but devastating when the cameras took in the faces of the aghast men in the street. The women, crying, that was almost typical – tragic, but typical. I can remember the face of this one burly man, though. A big broad man in his 40s of Irish or Scottish heritage, a ruddy complexion, piercing blue eyes, and he was staring up at that soon-to-topple tower, with people running in fear and panic all around him, dust filling the streets, screams and sirens raging in the background. His eyes were turning violently red, tears streaming down his face, and his body heaving with his gasps and sobs, his cries muffling in his throat, as he stood there fucking horrified at all this tragedy coming down around him, fully aware his life was changing then and there, and nothing would ever, ever be the same.

And that broke my fucking heart. I cried like a little girl, my body wracked with sobs as it hit me, too, just how bad that day was becoming, how etched it would be.

That look, the posture, said, “This is the most horrible thing I’ve ever endured,” and anyone who saw it, we knew. We felt it, too. And that’s the thing, when a man cries, it should be for something that would break the heart of any person, any where. Men are our measure of how bad things get. When it’s times like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 or the Tsunami, it’s always the stricken fathers that leave us knowing how bad things have become.

So, how do you empathize just enough? It’s in the eyes, the way you listen to us. It’s in the way that you reach out to softly stroke our hands when you hear something that’s upsetting us, the timing of the squeeze after we tell you the worst of it. Don’t respond every time we tell you something sad with a hug – it makes you look a little too soft. Stroking our hands, an arm over our shoulders – be there, but have a little distance from time to time, too. It’s really about listening, or really sharing your opinions. Not being afraid to tell us you’re scared, but also not letting too much of it show.

But that should be true for everyone. A woman who lets all her fear show is less attractive than a woman who reveals just a glimpse of that terror. A woman who’s strong tends to have more sex appeal than the fluffy kitten girl you know is gonna be high maintenance. It all correlates from one sex to the other, but masculinity ups the values of those traits, that’s all.

Be open about how you feel, but be a little reserved about showing too much of it, I guess.

I suspect there are some women who think I’m full of shit and way off base on this one? Lemme have it. If you agree, I’d love to know that, too. Thanks.

(The photo up top, that's kind of a sexy image of a guy being a little overcome. Quiet, reserved, not openly sobbing or whatever...)