The TinyLetter I received last week from Angie Whidden was particularly relevant and thought-provoking so I wanted to share it on my blog. Thank you, Angie for uncensoring yourself and for agreeing to be publicly heard. Here is her TinyLetter below with my response that follows.
“It’s fascinating, really”.
I like that you’re doing this. Because sometimes I have these ideas/rants/interests/experiences/random thoughts that I just desperately want to share in no particular order/time/place/format. But in my continuous quest for self-improvement I know that I have to be careful not to talk about myself too much or to start in on something that nobody really cares to hear. So I live in a semi-constant state of censorship. But, this isn’t about me.
That said. Here is one of a few things that I want to tell somebody, just in case it means something to anyone else:
One of the theories that I learned in my college career that I found to be the most helpful in understanding human relationships & males in general was in a “History of Christianity from 1800-present” lecture course in undergrad. Sounds dull. But this class was the most thrilling class I have ever (over 110 credit hours later) been a part of.
It was theologian Valerie Saiving that laid out this concept in examination of the unique female experience of sin, the danger of losing ones self in her identity as a female and forgetting about her spiritual self improvement. But the part that got me was this: As women we go through a marked, celebrated series of changes…first bra (celebrate!), first time shaving your legs (excitement!), first kiss (swoon!), first period (hoorah!), marriage/babies/etc….all of which are markers that a girl is indeed moving forward to adulthood and full transformation as a woman. For males (especially generally speaking in American culture), there is no such thing. Girls even have the advantage of seeing Mom at home (generally speaking), doing caretaking things, putting on makeup, doing woman things, and saying, “Yes, yes, that is a woman and that is what I will be.” Boys are also raised with woman around and they can only say, “I do not know what I will be, but it is not THAT”.
No one high-fives you for your first wet-dream. No one takes you out to lunch when you get your first ball hairs. This means that some men are left going through life asking themselves, “Am I a man yet? Am I a man yet?” And sometimes they are never getting feedback that they are, in fact, progressing as humans into adulthood. For some men, they get reassurance from their families in other ways. For others, they get to an age when they realize that they *should* be (or even feel like) a “man” and they did not get any confirmation of this…..thereby living in a state of compensation. Enter: The machismo. The dictators. The constantly sex-seeking male. The scared boy wondering if he is yet a man.
This isn’t fair. I think that this leads to many men being misunderstood & unfulfilled. A lifetime of chest-puffing. There are so many double-standards for men & women. Why should a man feel useless and guilty and underemployed if he is staying home with his children? We would never dream of thinking that about a woman staying home to be a caretaker. Women are celebrated for taking on manly tasks like changing oils or being bosses. The same is not happening for men.
If every woman had this understanding of a man’s experience, how could it improve her relationship with the men in her life? How would it adjust her interpretation of male behavior? Wouldn’t we talk differently to and speak differently of men if we all had more sympathy for the male experience?
I find myself increasingly aware of mens’ issues and yet “mens’ issues” isn’t even really a thing.
That’s my rant.
Thank you for your rant. You bring up so many interesting points but for the sake of saving time (and I have spent well over a week mulling over this topic) I will stick to responding to one specific point you have brought up and that is:
Why aren’t mens’ issues ‘a thing?’
Why are entire glossy magazines devoted to giving, specifically female-oriented tips and advice and yet mens’ issues (excluding fitness and weightlifting) are practically nonexistent?
Well, my best, most educated-guess on the matter is that men don’t operate like women. They don’t “do” issues. I believe that most men (at least the men I know) would rather deny the issue at hand in the hopes it will just GO AWAY or resolve itself. But maybe that’s an unfair assumption on my part. Maybe they hold it all in because there’s nowhere for them to turn.
That said, maybe the question now really is what makes an issue an issue? My educated guess? A woman makes an issue an issue.
So, now that you, Ang, have officially made this a ‘thing’ yes, let’s talk it. Let’s not stop there, though. Let’s arrange magazines about the subject and launch talk shows around the matter. This needs to be dragged out into the open. The simple fact that you have brought this up represents a sign that society is reaching ah-ha moment, a complete and total shift of consciousness, an indication of major progress. You are right: there’s no reason why men should feel useless for being stay-at-home fathers.
And no it isn’t fair. Women are celebrated for taking on what were previously thought of as predominantly masculine tasks, at home, at the office, in politics. Yet men aren’t. You want to know why this is “not happening for men”? It is not happening for the same reasons that father’s don’t take their sons shopping / out to brunch when their voice changes. In other words, I’ll answer your question by asking you another one: Who took the initiative to make your transition into becoming a woman feel more like a celebration instead of a traumatically embarrassing experience? Was it your father? Not likely.
Chances are it was yer momma.
I say this without a shred of resentment because it is a fact; it’s just the way it is. It has been up to us, women, this whole time, to do everything. And I think now it is safe to say that we really have nearly done everything. Whether it was earning ourselves voting rights or blasting ourselves off into space, females have finally caught up. Where men are represented, women are too. We have proven we have a choice. Not only can we go to work full-time or be a stay home mother if we so choose, but we can also encourage our men to let us be the bread winners of the family. Is this a difficult decision for a man? For some men, yes. Why? Because for them, making this a conscientious choice hasn’t really become the norm. What I’m saying is we have yet to prove the flip-side to this coin: that women are not the only ones who have a choice. Truth be told, men do too. Yes, men, you can stay home with babies. Why don’t you start lobbying for more paternity leave? (Not you, Ang, I’m talking to the men reading.)
While it is true that women are now commonly represented where society’s men are (work, politics, boardroom) it is NOT true that men are commonly represented where societies women are (as stay at home dads or attending PTA meetings). No longer can we (men and women alike) operate from the same old premise that men can do anything and everything and women can’t. That is a myth and it always has been. The bottom line is actually startlingly obvious when put this way: We all have this choice. That is where the game changes. There is no reason why, in today’s age where women have promising careers and are earning (nearly) as much as men in the workplace that men should not be the ones to stay at home with the babies and take on the enormously important responsibilities of Homemaker/Mister Mom.
We women, way back when, underestimated how big a job this so-called ‘women’s lib’ was going to be. Somehow, someone got the idea that once women broke through the glass ceiling we would be all squared away. That once we made our way out of the laundry room and into the boardroom, once we got the word “secretary” forever banished from modern-day vocabulary, that somehow, our work would be done. But we aren’t finished yet. All we have done is created a different inequality, which was not at all what we aimed for. It is only now, after the progression, after charting the evolution that we have a different view of things. We now see where we have been and know where we must head. Back then we thought we were liberating ourselves but in all actuality, we were liberating everyone.
As artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s long-time lover and husband, photographer and fervent supporter of women’s rights, Alfred Stieglitz stated: “Woman feels the World differently than Man feels it. The Woman receives the World through her Womb.”
That is a beautiful statement and quite astute seeing as how it was said by a man. If that is true, and perhaps it is, then could it be that a man feels the world and receives it through a woman? Is it not through a woman, his own mother, that a male receives life-sustaining nutrients first in the womb, and later when he is nursed after birth?
It was another particularly observant male, Joseph Conrad, bless his heart, who said, “Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.”
But it was my mother who sighed in sarcasm while folding laundry who used to say, “A woman’s work is never done.” This is true, but only partially. It’s not ONLY a woman’s work that is never done: it is all of our responsibility–men included–to do this load of dirty laundry that’s been piled up for centuries now. As the Carpenters put it best: We’ve only just begun.
And quite honestly Ang, I can’t really think of anyone better to champion for mens’ issues than a woman. We have shown men what we can do and now we must we also show them what they can do.
As for your self-censoring, I have this to say: More often than not your admirable continuous quest of self-improvement is probably, actually, a good gauge of what we might all improve upon, individually and as a community. So speak up more often. It’s good to hear from you.