Male Sensitivity: A Serious Talk

A few weeks back I got into an unfortunate argument with a few people that were a little upset with me for being a feminist. They didn’t like that I had this ‘change the world’ attitude and I could feel their uncomfortableness as if I were a disease planted in the room to soon takeover their mind and body. I could tell they were all so mad at me and my presence. However, while they hated me for being there they continued to argue with me over my beliefs and it was when one of them said something surprising that I started to feel relieved. 

One of the males I was talking to said that it’s not fair that men can’t be sensitive. I completely agreed and in that moment I felt as though we were speaking at the same level. I reiterated that feminism is more than just “equality for women” rather it is equality for all. Feminism doesn’t just address circumstances that are categorized in the big groups such as women’s contraceptive rights, working rights, and fighting sexism — it’s more than that. If used correctly, it’s to combat girl-on-girl take downs as well as develop a process of change in which we allow men to have an open conversation about their rights and their feelings. However, you don’t have to be a feminist or whichever you choose just to support or be aware of the stigma around male sensitivity.

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So you can imagine how taken back I was when he said this. I am the type of person that sees a guy crying and immediately gets giddy because I am like YAS QUEEN! You are finally responding to your feelings in a way for the world to see. When someone says a guy is too sensitive I push back with a simple, what? Why is that an issue? Men have faced not only immeasurable standards of what it is to be a man in the working world but have also gotten lost along the trail that is emotional communication because it is deemed “wrong” or “unmanly”. 

Because I am no expert on this subject, I have decided to discuss an article I read the other day arguing this exact issue. “Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest” by Andrew Reiner is an excellent piece on men’s emotional incapability and unfortunate expectation placed on men in our society. Below I have pulled a few things that stood out to me and have linked the article in the latter sentence.

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Reiner starts off by saying, “Some colleges are waking up to the fact that men may need to be taught to think beyond their own stereotypes.” This is something I saw when I was in school as well. There’s a host of lifestyle predictability and while some men explore the idea of ‘finding one’s self’ in college, others fear that notion. 

Reiner continues on with: “Yet when they are immunized against this deeper emotional honesty, the results have far-reaching, often devastating consequences.” We try to hold men accountable for so many things that we forget that we are sometimes to blame when we judge or don’t allow an open platform for them to grow on. 

When I asked one of my male students why he didn’t openly fret about grades the way so many women do, he said: “Nothing’s worse for a guy than looking like a Try Hard.”” This particular statement from Reiner is one that could be proven true by several boys and men. Growing up you are asked to step up and the same continues as you are older. Whether it’s from a parent or professor, the pressure never ends. Throughout elementary school and beyond, they write, girls consistently show “higher social and behavioral skills,” which translate into “higher rates of cognitive learning” and “higher levels of academic investment.”

Furthering the idea behind the inconsistency between how young males and females develop emotionally, Reiner states : “With so much research showing that young men suffer beneath the gravity of conventional masculinity, men’s studies is gaining validation as a field of its own, not just a subset of women’s studies.” Although this is great that more focus is being put into this, some still question it. But wouldn’t encouraging men to embrace the full range of their humanity benefit women? Why do we continue to limit the emotional lives of males when it serves no one? This question is the rhetorical blueprint I pose to students before they begin what I call the “Real Man” experiment.

In the article, Reiner will explain how he allows his students to perform social experiments to really try to understand this problem. One student filmed himself and a female  student crying, both separately, in attempt to gage how many people would stop to see what was wrong. While others stopped to check on the female student, none stepped up to see if he was OK. When asked why he thought that was the case, he wrote: ““It’s like we’re scared,” he said, “that the natural order of things will completely collapse.”

Reading Reiner’s piece opened my eyes even wider to something I already knew was a prevalent issue. I’ve grown up with a group of male friends and I don’t think I have seen any of them open up emotionally unless the situation was emotionally intense. If you’re interested in reading more, please head over to the NY TIMES and educate yourself on an issue much less talked about.

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