Why is it so “bad” to be vulnerable? Men’s struggle for emotional equality
In the last 100 years, women have taken gigantic steps towards gender equality. But this time, I won't be discussing the feminist agenda. I want to approach a much less debated subject: men’s rights. As women have fought to become equal, they have taken many traditionally "masculine" qualities such as strength, competitiveness and confidence. Many of these masculine qualities are often seen as positive and well desired attributes within personal development. While women have expanded their range of personality and opportunity, men have, in general, maintained their stronghold on the male sphere (typically public endeavors, as business, work and leadership). Yet, while there are more males becoming stay-at-home dads and taking traditionally female occupations, in general, it is not well accepted for men to express typical “female” qualities. This creates an unfair imbalance; women can express male or female qualities, but when men express “female” qualities they are often criticized and told to “man-up” or “grow some balls”. Society expects men to show NO signs of weakness, especially at the public sphere (work), where many men navigate to when things get tough. This attitude is also gender discrimination; it is time for men to fight for their rights to express all forms of human expression, not just the “manly” ones.
Even in our supposedly progressive western society, the connotations of many "feminine" qualities, such as vulnerability, emotionality and shyness veer toward the negative side. As a simple exercise, look over the two lists below imagining it describes a man or a woman. Though not all words in list 1 are inherently negative in social meaning, most of them take a more negative meaning when applied to a man. For example, a sensitive woman is more socially acceptable than a sensitive man. When men exhibit these qualities, they are frowned upon. On the other hand, women exhibiting qualities from list 2 might be criticized for some of them (a tough-skinned/resilient woman can easily be dobbed as harsh and insensitive), but for the most part “male” qualities are admired in both genders.
Why are masculine qualities often perceived as positive and the reverse trend with female qualities? I could get into the feminist blame-game where the “male-oppressor” is responsible for vilifying traditionally female strengths, but there are many factors at work. Gender differences exist due to our evolution and history, and they survived in this way as part of the specialization of the two genders, which was helpful for survival in harsh environments. At the same time, there is also a huge range of variety between the two stereotypical male/female ends of the scale. So why is there so much thinking in absolutes within the gender dichotomy? These tendencies may be hard to change, but we can change the value system we use to describe them. So the key question is not “why are female qualities seen as more negative”, but “do we need to have a good vs. bad dichotomy for characteristics that serve different purposes?”
Why are masculine qualities often perceived as positive and the reverse trend with female qualities? I could get into the feminist blame-game where the “male-oppressor” is responsible for vilifying traditionally female strengths, but there are many factors at work. Gender differences exist due to our evolution and history, and they survived in this way as part of the specialization of the two genders, which was helpful for survival in harsh environments. At the same time, there is also a huge range of variety between the two stereotypical male/female ends of the scale. So why is there so much thinking in absolutes within the gender dichotomy? These tendencies may be hard to change, but we can change the value system we use to describe them. So the key question is not “why are female qualities seen as more negative”, but “do we need to have a good vs. bad dichotomy for characteristics that serve different purposes?” Traditionally, a woman’s domain was the private/family sphere, which required specific set of characteristics. For instance, it’s more important to be sensitive and intuitive when looking after children than when negotiating a business deal. So rather than label characteristics as good or bad we should look at the context and situation. For instance, a woman (or a man, for that matter) may be rational and independent within her work and social spheres (masculine/yang expression), but she may remain sensitive and nurturing in her intimate/family life (feminine/yin expression). Many of the traditionally female qualities are important when dealing with the “right brain” issues, such as emotions, relationships, art and recreation. Vulnerability and sensitivity are vital parts of developing intimate relationships. If one does not open up one’s heart, trust is hard to build. As T.Q. from www.singleblackmale.org describes: “Most of the women I know like for their men to NOT be vulnerable by default (to the general public so to speak), but to gradually open up and be vulnerable to them personally after he comes to trust her.” Men have emotions too, even if they may not be willing to admit it. But where women have built a culture where emotional expression is supported, men are missing out. For so many men, life is all work and no play. This needs to change.
As a professional dominatrix, I frequently witness men in search of emotional support and craving to express their more gentle side. I'm sure, like many women, men feel vulnerable at least once in a while. They may not show it publicly, but they are also victims of stress, betrayal, distrust, heartbreak, guilt and disappointment. Only, for a vast majority of them, crying on a friend's shoulder is not an option. So how can they express and clear these negative feelings? Many men use anger and physical exertion to express their feelings. They might also sublimate them through art or visit a psychologist. But a large majority is more likely to bury these feelings (as the Australian saying goes “harden the fuck up, mate!”), a road that can easily lead to stress-related illnesses, or in a worst case scenario, suicide. In fact, it’s no wonder that in general, suicide rates among men are so much higher than among women. Men do not have a culturally accepted outlet for sharing emotions, especially when these feelings do not fit the accepted masculine stereotypes. That’s where kink comes to the rescue .
Two main attractions in BDSM are power exchange & role reversal. Dom & sub dynamics are all about playing with masculine and feminine energies, the yin & yang, this opposing duality that is reflected in so many aspects of society and nature. The scene space provides an oasis where the submissive can remove their societal masks and really be themselves, warts and all . Within kink, role reversal is much more widely accepted. Consensual submission allows men to express their more “feminine” qualities and their vulnerabilities without fear of judgment. On the contrary, femme dommes appreciate a passive and obedient male sub. In fact, many BDSM activities are forms of escape from the gender stereotypes of daily life. For instance, role plays and humiliation often include some form of role reversal. The theatre of kink allows participants to temporarily forget who they are in "real life" to take less “masculine” roles. It is ok for the “naughty student” to be innocent and inexperienced.
Furthermore, when done with the right intention, BDSM can have immense therapeutic potential. With the right coaching by an experienced and conscientious domme, all those negative emotions from daily life can be purged with the use of corporal punishment (catharsis), carefully constructed humiliation and other BDSM activities. Further, the exercising of these feelings promotes emotional intelligence. When a man practices a variety of emotional states (not just the socially accepted “manly” ones), he becomes more at ease in expressing them outside sessions when it’s appropriate, as in his intimate relationships. So for a man to visit a pro-domme, he is not only escaping his everyday stress and expressing his submissive side, he is also training his emotional “muscles” which can also improve his personal/intimate relationships. The journey of gender equality is not about men and women becoming the same, but it should be more about the acceptance of both genders (and all the inter-genders) expressing the full range of human characteristics without the fear of prejudice. While women’s equality race brought private issues to the public domain, men’s journey should be reversed. Men already have a good grip on public/work issues, they need help in the private sphere. Expressing receptive yin qualities within BDSM sessions is an effective and fun way for men to achieve inner balance, the next step in the gender equality journey. Men may still be victims of sexism if they express their vulnerability in public, thus thankfully in the dungeon they can be gentle, frail, flirty, emotional and submissive without the fear of being bullied. Unless that’s on the script right, cry-baby sissy slut?!
[i] Check this study on female leadership for an example of this type of double standard: http://www.catalyst.org/uploads/the_double_bind_for_women_in_leadership_flyer.pdf
[ii] For full article, see http://www.singleblackmale.org/2014/03/04/double-standard-vulnerability-men-women/
[iii] BDSM sessions are one way for men to express their feminine side. Men’s group therapies are another way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rotwI8lSyQo
[iv] Check Roy Baumeister for his theory of SM as an escape from the burdens of the Self. http://www.niu.edu/user/tj0bjs1/bdsm/Baumeister%20(1997).pdf
Article originally published on iFet.com, February 201.