Lack of Male Intimacy

Lack of Male Intimacy

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The Lack of Male Intimacy


As I sit in the auditorium of the school I attend, I listen to the speaker of the day make his fatal mistake. He has done well up until now, relating to us only facts and ideas. Now, he has suffered from a lapse in judgment, and seems to have forgotten his surroundings - an all male audience. He has the audacity to display genuine, vulnerable emotion. I wait for the response I know he will get. The sound fills my ears. The all male audience brings forth a sarcastic and mocking chorus of "awwwwwww."

One could not imagine the same event transpiring in an all female group. It is pretty much commonly accepted that men do not show emotion. It is pretty much commonly accepted among men that men should not show emotion. The group in the auditorium had bought into this stereotype. Most of them were probably not accustomed to seeing men display their emotions, and it made them nervous and uncomfortable. So, they reacted with the two most common defenses used when one is uncomfortable in the face of something one does not understand: criticism and humor. In "Locker Room Talk," Stephen Dunn notes that the danger of a man having sex is the possibility of "admitting he felt something...". So, Dunn believes that many males see the display of emotions as something along the same lines as an admission of guilt. Something they would try to avoid in most situations. I agree. I think it is pretty clear that men, as a rule, have trouble sharing their emotions. So, the real questions are, "why do men have this problem," and "can things change, and how?"

While there are probably a few reasons for this condition, and the answer cannot be given with absolute certainty, I think the answer can be found by looking back through time. This abstinence from intimacy is probably as old as the family structure. When humans began to settle down as families, responsibilities were assigned in the way that the family could survive the most efficiently. The children would have to be taken care of, and food would have to be provided. It made sense for one person to handle one of the two major tasks. It was logical for the mother to attend to the children, because she had carried each of them for nine months, and was required to breastfeed them.

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While the man would go out to hunt or gather food, the mother would stay to take care of the children. The mother would be surrounded by family, and the sharing of emotions with them would come naturally in this setting. The bond between her and her children would be increased through breastfeeding and general care giving. So, the mother would spend her whole day in the company of people close to her. This natural flowing of emotions in a family setting would make it easy to express emotions towards those not in the family, too. This would occur because sharing emotion would be a major part of everyday life for the woman, and it would seem more natural to express them than not. On the other hand, the man would brave his task alone. Thus, he came to solve problems, overcome difficulties, and spend the majority of his day by himself. Because man would solve external problems alone, it would feel normal for him to solve internal problems and address emotional conflicts alone, too. There would be no one to share his emotions with, and often times work would overshadow the importance of emotions. This predicament made it more difficult for men to share their feelings even when given the opportunity. Man's assignment was to work. Woman's assignment was to be nurturing and empathetic. Thus, the roles were set.

It is easy to see who would relate their emotions more freely. This pattern would be passed on. The children's view of how the world works would be gained by watching their parents. They would see what their parents do, and would assume that the proper role of man is to do what their father did, and the proper role of woman is to do what their mother did. In this way, these presumptions have been passed down as a standard for centuries upon centuries.

So, we can see that man's lack of intimacy is a tradition passed down from one generation to the next. Its origin is a matter of convenience, not any inherent affliction of man. That explains why there are always a few exceptions to the rule; why some men are completely in touch with their emotions, and are able to easily express them to one another. It is just a majority that the generalization applies to. And the tides seem to be changing. Feminism has directly and indirectly gained some ground on which men can express themselves. Feminism advocates equality of the sexes in almost every area of life. This clearly implies that men can and should be as emotionally expressive as women. Perhaps more importantly, feminism has changed the family structure. Feminism's victory in securing jobs in the work place for women means that women are not always able to take care of the children. So, the two major tasks of the family structure are now both done partly by each parent. Both work, and both spend time with the children. As men have to take care of the kids more and more, the expression of emotions and bonding with others becomes more natural. They are more likely to express themselves, and grow closer to their wives and friends. As this occurs, even on a small scale, the roles and stereotypes of men and women become blurred. Future generations of children see that discussing emotions is not something limited to females. So, we are living in a time when these boundaries are being broken down.

We already have some evidence of this happening. Some men are criticized for having a fear of intimacy. The sheer fact that the term is used as one of criticism, rather than just one of reality, shows that many men do not have the problem, and that some women prefer men who are ready to share their emotions. Some men are addressing the issue directly. In the essay "Can Gays and Straights be Friends?", Paul Monette states, "We make terrific friends, we queers, perhaps because we have traveled so far to reach the free country of the heart. All men deserve to live there." That he speaks of homosexuals and heterosexuals is secondary to his idea that all men deserve to live openly, which involves expressing emotions. Men expressing themselves emotionally can be seen in plenty of other places. If one listens to the radio, they are bound to hear a number of songs about sex, and probably an equal number about love or other emotions. All sung by males. The same is true of other mediums of pop culture, such as movies and television. As these images become more visible, men are more likely to feel comfortable about the idea of men revealing their emotions. While there is not an equal number of men secure with expressing their emotions as women, there is a much higher instance than in previous centuries.

I expect that things will continue in this direction at a higher speed. It certainly does not seem plausible that any ground will be lost in this area. The structure preventing man from speaking honestly and openly with others has been reformed. The boundaries are falling down, and the only way to go is forward. Who knows? Maybe in the not too distant future, another group of males in the auditorium of my school will hear a speech similar to the one I heard, and react the same way. Only this time, with sincerity.
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