Someone just submitted a Disqus question that I found, well, touching and provocative, so I wanted to post it in hopes of hearing what others think. It began with a comment I made to …
The fact that somebody even had to ask this question in seriousness is fucked up. Not blaming the asker—it’s not her fault she hasn’t been exposed to things that would help her develop a better understanding. But it is a really fucked-up thing that the images and impressions of men that surround us are so shallow and narrowly focused that someone just can’t tell.
Fanfic doesn’t always get it right—hell, its portrayal of female characters is more ‘on’ some days than others, and the bottom line is that everybody’s different, no matter what gender they are. But at least fanfic addresses the fact that men HAVE an interior life.
Men are people. They have emotions. They can love, and be hurt, and be moved by beauty and moved to compassion and amused and bemused, just like everybody else. I’ve talked with male friends about their formative experiences, about their deep-rooted fears and hopes, and why they have them. I’ve helped my dad climb up from underneath a bridge when we took a wrong turn and got stuck while hiking. I cried with my uncle when my mom died, and watched him ache for losing his sister just as much as I was hurting for losing my mother. I still remember the look of love on my grandfather’s face when I was little, when I’d worm into his easy chair with him and steal his ice cream.
What you’re seeing, when you look away from actual men you may know and stare into the burning heart of media depictions, is the straitjacket that societal conceptions of masculinity want to lock men into. It’s every bit as horrific in its own way—in some ways maybe even worse—than the one it tries to lock women into. Women get told what we’re supposed to do with our bodies, and that results in some seriously twisted things. So can you imagine how poisonous it is to be told how you’re supposed to experience your emotions?
I watch men struggle with this, with trying to be whole people while having to confront the images that accuse them of being weak for even trying it. That very conflict shapes much of male expression. They have to negotiate it every time they talk to someone, whether that negotiation is conscious or not (much of the time, I think it is subconscious, though I’ve spoken to some who are keenly aware of the process)—how much of their interior self do they put out there? What should they show? Does the person they’re speaking with need to see them as strong, or are they allowed to compromise themselves a bit? Are they allowed to seek comfort, reassurance, or intimacy in this context, and in what form?
Socialization and maybe some biology mean that men often react differently to things than women do, but men do feel. They experience and emote. They rejoice and suffer and love and feel righteous indignation. They want to see the people and causes they care for succeed, and they work to make the world a better place. Some of them are nicer than others. Some are trustworthy and some aren’t. Some are resilient and some are weak. They’re human inside.
I have to admit I boggled. Someone needed to ask that? Really? I didn’t really have a dad either growing up, and I still figured out that, you know, men feel stuff.
My husband is a giant walking bundle of skin hunger. He touches, clings, gropes, cuddles. All the time. I’m trying to do something? Too bad, there’s hands all over me. Getting ready in the morning is an adventure of trying to focus while I’m being bear hugged/stroked/patted. I get begged for “pets” (massages) on a nearly daily basis. Sometimes he’s aching because, well, the trials of being a 6’10 behemoth, but a lot of the time I think he just wants to be touched.
Sometimes I wonder if the fact that he comes off as something of a jerkface some of the time is just his counter to the fact that he’s really a giant bundle of FEELS that he doesn’t know what to do with.
ALL THE FEELS, MY HUSBAND HAS THEM.