The problem with men…
Many men are struggling more and more with every aspect of their lives, from study to work and from health to relationships.
Often books on the ‘problem with men’ talk about our post-feminist society, where women have learned to do it all. We have learned how to be mothers and how to make money. We’ve learned how to play with our girlfriends and how to stand our ground with our male friends. We have become independent and no longer need men. This leaves no room for a man. What is his purpose? What do we need him for? What do we want him for?
Zimbardo and Duncan, in the Demise of Guys quote, “Men are as good as their women require them to be.” For me, this encapsulates it all. Many of us women don’t know what we should or could expect from the men in our lives. If we are capable of bringing up children and earning a living, shouldn’t we be responsible for everything? Isn’t it lazy to leave someone else to do something that we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves? We have forgotten how to rely on a man. We have forgotten how to ask for help and support, and instead, when we realise that actually we have taken on too much, we demand. We’re no longer working together.
I’m not so sure that the problem with men is just about men. I understand all the issues – schools are geared to girls, with their larger classes and their focus on intellectual activity provided through narrative and language, whereas boys need more one-to-one; they need more physical activity to use up their aggressive energy so they are able to sit still and focus on lessons; and they need a greater focus on practical learning, rather than linguistically-based learning. I also understand that many boys grow up without fathers in single parent families, while the concept of the extended family is becoming more and more an old-fashioned ideal rather than a realistic reality. Their only role models are sports stars, music makers, film stars, men who are have made it and who only show the products of their success, not the endless hours of grind and hard work that preceded their fame. I also understand that many forms of digital entertainment, primarily gaming and porn, provide men with what they most need – instant stimulation, control, mastery, successful problem-solving and success – with minimal effort. The down side of spending more time online and less time in the real world, is that men can start to forget how to connect with another human being or how to initiate a relationship. Some young men have never learned the value of a genuine human connection and the gifts that commitment and being with someone can bring. They have not been taught about the satisfaction that creating a life with another person can bring, nor the rewards of taking responsibility and doing a good a job. It is no longer about working towards something, but about having it right now. The thing is, many women have forgotten all about this too. Many of us don’t know how to behave with men anymore either.
I’m mostly concerned with solutions and so (as a woman) I’m interested in what can women do about the problem of men.
Thinking about straight women primarily, Zimbardo and Duncan suggest that first off woman need to stop complaining that there are no decent men. Secondly, stop rewarding bad behaviour and start reinforcing good behaviour. Be clear about what you want and be clear about what’s not acceptable – and don’t settle for any less. Remember the quote: “Men are as good as their women require them to be.” Stop giving mixed messages. Be honest. And finally, be willing to teach and support where you can.
As women we need to think about our part in our relationships and about what we want our relationships with men to look like. Similarly, men need to consider their part in all this: what can men and boys do?
Firstly, young men and boys need a good male role model in their lives. If there is no-one in your family, find someone outside - maybe a teacher or a sports coach - some kind of mentor that can teach your young man how to be a man. Zimbardo and Duncan state that a woman is, while a man needs to become.
There’s also a whole host of things suggested by Zimbardo and Duncan for men to take control of, for themselves. These include to learn to dance, rediscover nature, make a female friend with similar interests (who is not and will never be anything more than a friend), try to listen to other people when they speak to you, practice making people feel special by complimenting someone at least once a day and, if you have online addictions, turn off the porn and do something other than gaming – find an activity you enjoy that involves socialising with others in a real-world environment. It will be difficult at first, but your mind will ‘rewire’ itself so that you begin to enjoy offline life again.
Don't forget - if you always do what you've done, you'll always get what you've always got. Even one small change is a fantastic start to creating a whole new way of being.
If you want to know more, hunt down the Demise of Guys Facebook page or search for Zimbardo and Duncan’s talk on TED.com.
Finally, I am aware that this subject is large and complex, and to write about it in under 1,000 words is simplifying it hugely, so I hope you can forgive me where I generalise. My intention is purely to raise awareness (in myself as well as in you, the reader) and to initiate debate and thought about how we can start moving towards making our relationships work a little bit better.
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