Aha! Did you know that today is International Men’s Day? I didn’t until I saw the media this morning, but #IMD2015 it is. The main intention being similar to that of International Women’s Day in March: to celebrate men and boys in all their glory and raise awareness of some of their own gender issues.
You might be thinking I am about to launch a feministy tirade against it, of the ‘what? Every day is men’s day, snort, rant’ variety, in much the same way that some men do about IWD. Or mother’s day, which is why they now have one of their own. However, you would be wrong. I am a woman thinking about how to teach a young son; I like men as friends and lovers, I even love quite a few of them. There will be things about being a man that I can only imagine and which are a source of suffering and frustration to them, so I empathise.
Of course I believe that in general, women suffer from greater social & economic inequality, as do other groups of humans. This is why we have an equality categorisation, which men don’t have unless they are disabled, gay etc. Sorry to all the able-bodied, straight, white men out there, but you are at the top of the tree, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. And that’s the point, it doesn’t.
Things are tough for men too, sometimes for the same reasons as all humans, sometimes for reasons that are about how men are expected to be. In 2015, it is still difficult for men to be open about their feelings. Or at least it is in the uptight, Scottish-British culture I operate in. Whether your preference is for men to act and speak ‘old school manly’, rather than for a softer version, is irrelevant. Men need to get better at talking, because it’s one of the best stress relievers there is. And as I’ve posted before, stress, with all its symptoms and behaviours, is one of the biggest things killing men today.
So I won’t repeat myself. Perhaps my focus in this post is about what women can do to help them. Because while there are exceptions to every rule, women are better at this stuff than men. For example, when I feel rubbish, I know there are people like my sisters or a few close friends, that I can sit and have an honest chat with, possibly a wee cry, and a hug. All of these needn’t be a big drama, or a long heart to heart, because it’s part of the ongoing sharing with the people who KNOW. You can give each other that kind of therapy in half an hour, over a cup of tea. It’s extremely effective, and has kept me afloat over the last while.
I would be interested to know how many men have those kind of relationships with other men in their lives. Those who are coupled, I hope do with their partners, but they also need people outside of domestic relationships to talk to. And what about the male singleton, living alone, perhaps without family? Who is looking out for them, especially as they get older and become more likely to fall into other health risk categories: heart attack, strokes, cancer, diabetes and so on. All things that will be exacerbated by stress and poor mental health.
What am I saying? Adopt a middle aged man? Patronise men with well-intentioned conversations? No. But perhaps we women are guilty at times of hiding the emotional stuff away from men, assuming their discomfort and not giving them the chance to take the same kind of things from those conversations that women do. A lot of them would be uncomfortable but the more they practice, the more normal it gets.
Maybe men need a universal thing, like women have with periods. It’s like a code to say to other women ‘ I am sore/emotional/angry/tired/grumpy’, when we need that extra support. So here’s another example: for the last forty eight hours I’ve been enjoying a truly horrible one, the kind that I needed to use up an annual leave day on, so I could lie on the sofa all afternoon with a hot water bottle strapped to my belly without guilt. Based by my own emotions over the last couple of weeks, I knew it was going to be bad in advance, and that all I could do would be to ride it out as best I can, while being aware that I could not control it.
Yesterday morning I had a meeting with two female colleagues from the health service and I was feeling like a discombobulated mess. But I started the meeting by apologising and telling them I was having a terrible period that was making me bleurch, after which we moved on, although not before we all shared a few horror stories on the subject. The ability to be open at the start of the conversation made me relax and stop stressing about how I was coming across. It’s a nuisance or menace that almost every woman shares and can empathise with, so why not share it when we feel like fallible beings? There must be a male equivalent that can bring you all together – something concerning the balls maybe?
That may sound flippant, but I mean it. Talking honestly is what makes us human and connected. Covering up how we feel is fine when we don’t feel very strongly about anything but when we do, pretending that we don’t can feel like being in prison. I find it very hard to believe that men don’t want to talk about things, only that they have been conditioned not to. Women have got used to whatever emotional shitstorm their monthly cycle brings. We gradually learn how to do deal with that, building up resilience for other difficult times. It’s not that men don’t have resilience, however, I think they’re not so good at sharing the burden, especially with their equally strong female friends and partners.
So what to do? First of all, for all of us, whenever we feel a bit of panic or anxiety rising, stop and take slow breaths. It sounds so obvious and yet it’s something we can easily forget to do, escalating the situation quickly. Remembering to breathe slowly and calmly is like kryptonite for panic. It happened to me this morning, thinking about getting on a plane to go to London tomorrow, even though it’s for a weekend I’m very much looking forward to.
Next, tell someone. Don’t be afraid to seek reassurance. I texted the friend who I am going to visit and who is also one of the most rational people I know. Just the act of doing that in itself calmed me down, even before I received a reply. Men – do this more, when you feel lousy. If you’re too macho to tell another guy, tell a woman, because we will understand. It just takes one person to be brave enough to admit when things are tough, to break down the walls. Be that person.
And women…the next time you want to strangle a man due to his extreme emotional unintelligence (NB this is not ALL men), just stop for a moment. Maybe he was brought up to be stoic and brave and never cry. Maybe he could do with a bit of help from us in getting it out there.
Sisters, on International Men’s Day, look out for your brothers.
Until next time,