"I was walking home and a man was following me so I called you."
"I'm worried that if a man pays for my food on a date he will want sex so it's better that I just split the bill."
"I never get in the front seat of an uber if I'm by myself."
"I tell guys I have a boyfriend when I really don't just so they stop harassing me."
If you have any woman friends, and I do stress any, you've probably heard a story somewhere along these lines. If you haven't heard them, you're either not listening, ignoring the signs, or the women in your life don't think that you'd care enough to hear them.
Personally, I've heard these lines from probably almost every female friend in my life. And yet, when I was getting into this whole "manhood and masculinity" thing, I was still really naive in thinking that women didn't have much to say in th conversation about what masculinity is and what it should be.
I must give a lot credit for this mindset shift to Liz Plank, author of For The Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity. If you've listened to the latest episodes of my podcast you will know that I've started to use this book to introduce a lot of topics and themes. It is by far the best book that I've read that has broken down masculinity in so many different ways - and it was written by a woman. After all, aren't woman the ones who are often suffering from the hands of toxic masculinity?
I know the conversation seems to revolve around how men are hurting men with ideologies like "men shouldn't cry" and "toughen up". But women are also victims of these behaviours. Their husbands are are being told not to be emotional which can lead to more aggression and violence in their lives. It is young boys and men who harrassing women at bars (and everywhere else). It is young men who are not creating spaces for women to feel safe enough to just say "no" because they fear male aggression. It's very much a damned if you do, damned if you don't type of system for women.
In Plank's book, a major pillar of her argument is how feminist women, TRUE feminist women, ARE fighting for men. They're fighting to dispell the toxic behaviours of men. Not only to protect themselves, but also to get their husbands, sons, friends to be able to express themselves in healthier ways.
Two of the best characteristics of the book to me are:
- She is very empathetic to the ideologies and pressures that society puts on men to be financial providers, emotional pillars and more. These are part of what we call the patriarchy. As much as some men want to protect it, it really is harmful to us for a lot of reasons.
- She understands that women contribute to toxic masculinity as well by expecting men to show certain behaviours or by playing into the same gender stereotypes they seemingly express distaste for. That it's not just men creating these toxic ecosystems. A classic example is women expecting men to pay for the first date. Now, this is honestly all up to the individuals in the situation to determine what is best for them. But the expectation that men should pay for the first date IS uplifting the patriarchy. And, if you are a woman who says screw the patriarchy, you really can't have it both ways.
I've always had plans on interviewing women on the podcast, but I will admit that at the start, I was ignorant to what they would be contributing to the converastion. Not that I didn't think their voice was important, but because my primary goal was to create a safe space for men to communicate and share.
But through conversations with my woman friends and educating myself more, building healthier men really is a collective mission. I can't do it on my own. And I can't do it only with men. After all, we all are part of the same ecosystem. And women are ones who get caught in the crossfires of male aggression and behaviour - whether that's in the home, relationships, violence or other.
Men are part of the problem. Women are part of the problem. But we're all part of the solution.
And I need to give space to women who have been hurt by men to share their stories. I need to have men hear these stories and learn and be empathetic to the pain that women feel.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when you're having an argument with someone about a really personal subject but they have no skin in the game and you turn the argument around on them and they say "don't make it personal." It's always personal.
Make it personal. Make them see that while it may not personal to them, it's personal to someone else.
So to all the women that have listened in and have messaged me or think this space isn't for them - I want you to know that you are safe here. I may not agree with all of your opinions on what is and isn't toxic masculinity, but that can be where we have the conversation. Where I can expand my understanding of your experiences, learn more, and work harder to become a better man that makes your world safer.
And to all the men that tune in to my show - women are not out to get you. They truly are on your side. Many have been hurt by other men whether it's their fathers or an ex-boyfriend or other. Empathize with them. Understand why they have so much anger towards men. And do your best to make sure that they never, ever have to suffer at the hands of another one again.