Masculinity, part 2 of 2: Nonviolent Communication is totally gay

In part 1 I talked about what’s scary about not being man enough. In this part, I’ll explain why having feelings is for sissies.

“Patriarchy hurts men too” types tend to focus on expressing emotions. And it’s true that enforcement and learning target mostly expression. Stop crying, stop whining, don’t wanna look bad in front of them, stiff upper lip.

Part of it is appearance, of course. Everyone hides weakness, and members of the boys club worry about getting kicked out.

So there are norms about expressing emotions. If you’re sad, you’re supposed to get listless and curt and to drink, and to cry a little if it’s something like a funeral, not to curl up and bawl. (Or laugh.) If you’re happy, you’re supposed to grin and cheer, not to giggle and jump around. (Or flap your hands.) If you’re afraid, you’re supposed to sweat and swear and grit your teeth, not to squeal and shake. (Or freeze completely.) If you’re angry, you’re supposed to get violent, not passive-aggressive. (Or hurt yourself.) Norms like that are enforced for everyone, but sexism influences them. (As does ableism.)

But there’s a deeper component of masculinity (and masculinity alone), that explains why men traditionally express emotions rarely, express only a narrow range of emotions, don’t talk about feelings or emotional needs or mental health, or make gestures just to show them:

Men aren’t supposed to introspect.

Feelings aren’t things you, um, feel, then choose to act upon. They’re labels for categories of symptoms. The somatic reactions, the drives to act, and in which contexts they pop up.

That’s why they’re not discussed or shown. John won’t say or do anything about how attached he is to Sherlock, but he will cross half the country and take a few bullets because of it.

That’s why they get bottled up. Either keep a stiff upper lip (which is nearly the same as not feeling anything in the first place), or crack and do something as dramatic as the situation warrants.

That’s why labels are extremely vague and broad. If you introspect carefully there are chasms between joy and cheer and mirth and merriment and happiness and fulfillment and contentment, but if all you know is that you’re smiling you’ll make do with “happy”.

You probably think it’s a terrible way to do things, and I’m inclined to agree. For one thing it requires narrow enough cultural norms that you can read other people’s feelings without resorting to telepathy. (Did anyone say rape culture?) For another, it has little to offer against mental problems but alcohol and violence.

Norms stemming from this one stand alone; I’m obsessed with emotional taxonomy and I still swear like a sailor every time the meds make me cry. So there’s some hope of making introspection more acceptable to masculine men, without forcing them to abandon masculinity as a whole.

Some interventions are needed – making mental illness less shameful, teaching people to work across personal and cultural gaps. But, as usual, I recommend caution in attempting to dismantle a way of life that’s suboptimal according to your personal philosophy, bro.

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