Further into the third chapter on Shame, I reached the section on the (different) ways men and women perceive and react to shame.
While each day’s reading brings it own share of surprising insights, I was positively riveted by the things I read today. Not exactly surprised though. I have caught glimpses of the phenomenon before though I’ve never defined it with the clarity that Ms brown has. And my admiration for her grows.
Women are the more oppressed sex, but that doesn’t mean that men as not repressed at all. Women may have a wider and deeper shame experiences; they may have many layers and categories of shame; but that doesn’t mean men don’t experience shame at all.
Men die in battle; women die in childbirth.
~ Philippa Gregory
According to Ms Brown’s research, the top two shame categories of shame for both men and women are absolutely different. The similarity between the categories is that they attack at the very core of people’s self-conception… with equally devastating effects. No matter which facet of a person shame attacks, it purpose is only to reinforce the fear of being Not Enough.
For women, the biggest shame comes from how they look and from motherhood.
An untoward focus on, criticism of or attack on on how they look creates a visceral response in most women. I know it does in me. It doesn’t matter if the focus is complimentary or the opposite… specially when I am being evaluated with that yardstick in a professional arena.
It infuriates me when who I am is being relegated to the side lines while what I look like is given center stage. How are my looks- or lack of them- relevant to my work as a professional? It is so insulting and unfair to focus on the irrelevant! It is such a shoddy way of dismissing and discrediting my ideas and the best of who I am.
The second area of shaming is that of motherhood. Unfortunately, womanhood has been tied inexorably with motherhood. An attack or perception (right or not) of lack on the latter, therefore, is a negation of the former. Unless you are a mother, about to become one or dream ecstatically of becoming one someday, you are worthless as a woman. For the life of me I don’t know where this nonsense has come from!
For men, the biggest shame areas are failure and appearing weak (read vulnerable). To be seen as a failure is the most devastating thing for a man. It implies weakness, making it a double whammy.
The wounded child inside many males is a boy who, when he first spoke his truths, was silenced by paternal sadism, by a patriarchal world that did not want him to claim his true feelings. The wounded child inside many females is a girl who was taught from early childhood that she must become something other than herself, deny her true feelings, in order to attract and please others. When men and women punish each other for truth telling, we reinforce the notion that lies are better. To be loving we willingly hear the other’s truth, and most important, we affirm the value of truth telling. Lies may make people feel better, but they do not help them to know love.
~ Bell Hooks
By societal expectations and definitions, a man is someone who is ever strong, always courageous and undefeatable by anything life can throw at him. He is always in absolute control of everything- his life, fortune and circumstances. He is the favored of the gods and always knows where he is going and how to get there in the shortest way possible.
He never suffers from doubt nor would know confusion if it stood on his toes. He never desires personal comfort or comforting. He is always to nurture, never to be nurtured. He should be steadfast in his efforts and unwavering in his purpose. He isn’t allowed any setbacks at all. They are only proof of his vulnerability and we don’t want to go there as well, do we?
If he does suffer a setback at all, he should not feel disappointed or low. He’s supposed to be ever strong and courageous, remember? He should walk by setbacks like they were flecks of dust too inconsequential to be noticed. In other words, he is a machine, not a man. And a machine that knows the secrets of the entire universe like the back of his hoary hands to boot!
Talk about unfairness!
I certainly don’t want my son to bear the weight of societies expectations and keep wiping himself out of existence in an effort to conform to its idiotic definitions. He should have an equal right to be vulnerable as his sisters should have the right to be taken seriously and not be evaluated on their looks. He is allowed setbacks and has as much right as his sisters to be nurtured and celebrated. If his sisters ought to be congratulated and feted for their person and their efforts, so too must his effort and dedication be acknowledged and celebrated.
Girls can be athletic. Guys can have feelings. Girls can be smart. Guys can be creative. And vice versa. Gender is specific only to your reproductive organs (and sometimes not even to those), not your interest, likes, dislikes, goals, and ambitions.
I don’t have a gender bias- at least I like to think I don’t. I don’t think either sex has the exclusive on excellence… or mediocrity. Neither is all good nor the other all bad. But yes, while the power and control are mostly on the side of the men, the sympathy and commiseration is mostly on the side of women. And that’s not fair at all.
We can’t really talk of equality when our outlook is so biased. A fractured prism distorts all that we see through it- men or women. We refuse to throw away the prism though. Instead of relying on our own unassisted and undistorted vision, we insist on using the prism and compelling each other to twist and turn to offset the distortion it produces. And that’s plain ludicrous.
Gender bias is the brain child of that damaged prism.
Daring Greatly: Gender Bias
I agree with both categories. Quite a few of the gals I know are teased about their looks, and if they are married, the talk around them is about when they will have a child. For the life of me, I cannot follow that either. Forget gals, even guys are targeted on that front. One of the drivers my friend and I hired for a journey heard us talk and promptly asked, “when will you get married and have kids if not at ‘this age’? It’s more irritation than shame, what I felt. But still.
And yes, failure is top for guys. I’ve faced that early on, and it’s not something nice. Vulnerability and showing it, that’s paramount to failure (for so many around me). If I get tired after a long walk, or have sore muscles after an hour of ping pong, one of my relatives say, “you’re a guy. you should be strong, not so easily tired.” and the same when I’ve cried for a loss or when I was angry. It’s like we’re being molded to the ways of society.
Equality is a far cry, if it is meant in its complete sense, and especially if its definition changes for each person.
I’m so grateful to you for sharing your own experiences with gender stereotyping. Why is a man never supposed to feel tired or pained? Why are they expected to pretend that their pain doesn’t exist? It is so unfair!
You added to the value of this post. Thank you!
I might appear to have a divergent opinion but I will actually try to echo what you have put so cogently. Perhaps the feelings associated with motherhood for women are driven by the forces of evolution which in their turn are driven by the urge of survival. I have to say the same thing about looking good which is again an evolutionary tool in the process of choosing a desirable partner. That we tend to project these core functions on a wider scale on our co-inhabitants is merely a reinforcement of our role as a unit of the race. But given that humans have evolved much beyond the competing organisms, by which I mean to say we are feeling obliged to exist well above the plane of being just reproductive creatures, we are feeling the need to overhaul the concept of gender, the need to break free from the fetters.
Strangely though, not many of us are ready to forgive a member of the opposite sex for not being pretty or handsome, or not being man or woman enough. We are seriously hard-wired to perpetuate the narrow-mindedness of our genes.
As you have so eloquently said, “But given that humans have evolved much beyond the competing organisms, by which I mean to say we are feeling obliged to exist well above the plane of being just reproductive creatures, we are feeling the need to overhaul the concept of gender, the need to break free from the fetters. ”
Indeed we do! Are we to exist on a primitive plain and be driven by evolutionary imperatives? It takes us back to the caves of the stone age!
We have to counter the evolutionary programming if we are to realize our true potential as humans.
You are also right when you say that the most people are unwilling to reject the narrow-mindedness of our genes. But surely we must try to reject it. We can’t move forward else.