December 12, 2009
Dear Thinking Housewife,
Men are not taught how to be men nowadays. What can I do about the fact that my husband is such a girl?
Anonymous (in an unspecified location)
I’m sorry, Anonymous, this question makes me mad. Not mad at you, but mad at this. In many ways, the debate over marriage is over, isn’t it? Women are already married to women. And, men are already married to men.
At least you realize it’s not his fault. As you say, “Men are not taught how to be men nowadays.” I think it’s worse than that. Men and boys are shorn of masculinity from early on. Our public school system works like a massive desalination plant. It removes the salt of male propensities. It desalinates and decaffeinates.
Even in kindergarten and first grade, there is this conscious synthetic emasculating process. Behold the little boys lined up row upon row upon row, with no more than a few minutes a day of active play and imaginary conquest, in many cases nostalgic for their mothers and for freedom, denied stories of warriors and knights and vicious battle and vanquishing heroes. Paper after paper after paper – by the time they are seven, they are have filled out more paperwork than Bob Cratchit. They return home to the passive, consoling pleasures of electronic entertainment. Electronic games and TV shows, which provide adults with the freedom from supervising more interesting activities, seem to satisfy a boy’s masculine inclinations, but in truth they further bury them.
Then there’s middle school and high school. More paper work. More servility. He reads girlish books in English classes, novels like the The Secret Life of Bees, and in history learns about the long and sordid story of white male presumption. It’s true there are competitive sports to keep his sex alive, but actually very few males even get onto the teams. There are the jocks and they do have a strong masculine mystique about them. But that life is not open to many.
In high school, he is surrounded by sexually mature girls dressed in camisoles and flipflops. These girls are swaggering and self-confident. They are pleased with their physical transformation and instinctively sense its power. They seem to have the world at their feet and the boys – well, they are unspectacular, physically awkward, and uncertain in the face of all this overt feminine self-intoxication. It is a wonder that the male sex of some of the other species is endowed with beautiful feathers and other visually imposing features. The sexually developing male human, especially the pallid version who has been kept indoors doing paperwork and playing electronic games, has a scratchy voice and a hairy chin. There’s only one way for any healthy adolescent male to respond to the pervasive female flesh and exuberance: Tone down, as best he can, his innate response to it. It would be impossible to function otherwise.
College, if he heads in that direction, brings the awareness that he will face a tough road. No roads are guaranteed in fact. Fierce competition awaits him in the workforce. What will he be working for? The message he receives is that he must choose a career that is personally suited to him and that will give him satisfaction in the doing. Will he make the right choice? Will it give him all he will want in life?
He is never encouraged to think this. Whatever satisfaction he may acquire from the actual work will be secondary to the pride and power he will acquire from using that work to provide for and rule over others. Pride and power. Provide and rule. These are the shameful and repressed inclinations, the essence of masculinity, the instinctive drives without which women and children are orphans and family, community, tribe and nation mere legal terms. In a million ways, men are taught pride and power, all domination and conquest, are wrong. It is wrong to rule. It is wrong to provide.
It is never pointed out that pride and power in the hands of the good are the only checks against pride and power in the hands of the bad. Nor is our male hero told that the weak will be depending on him whether he possesses pride and power or not.
Let’s gloss over the rest. There’s the scramble for a career; the brief encounters with women who have sexual advantages over him and no wish to marry until they have conquered more men and their own field of self-fulfilling work; or the hedonistic movement from one woman to another, conquering none, dominating nothing, producing nothing beyond the moment. There’s also the cooperative sharing of the corporate office, the esprit de corps of egalitarian bureaucracy, and the denial of entrepreneurial aggression. Women are promoted to positions over him.
The un-lucky man ends up in what is expected to be a companionate marriage, also egalitarian in its aspirations. Shortly after the birth of his first or second child, he encounters the blistering criticism of his wife, who is not happy no matter how many diapers he changes. She looks fantastic in her work clothes. Even though she works and he works, they are flat out broke. He is perplexed. He was told all along that if only he shared and helped out, if only he indulged in the spirit of cooperation instead of domination, if only he conquered nothing and was filled with that esprit de corps, all would be well. It may come to divorce for him. The egalitariam dreams break down into crass exploitation. Things are unequal after all. He may end up financially supporting his children, his former wife and her boyfriend.
That’s the story of the un-lucky man. I’m sorry it seems bleak. Fortunately, that’s not all. There is the lucky man too.
Things are much better for him. His masculinity will probably never be fully recovered; that’s a fact. But he finds something real nevertheless. There is a remnant of male honour.
That remnant is you.
Despite his strange unnatural upbringing, despite his thwarted masculinity, despite the years of paperwork and the vanished freedom, you love him. You love him unconditionally and uncritically. You care for his children with pride. You beautify his home. You respond to his wishes. You are a woman in her supreme and highest role, the heroine in a play that will be viewed and reenacted by distant generations.
You show your loving gratitude for all he is for the remainder of your days. In that, there are rewards enough for you and for him.
—– End of Entry —–
Laurence Butler writes:
Laura, you said: “Despite his strange unnatural upbringing, despite his thwarted masculinity, despite the years of paperwork and the vanished freedom, you love him. You love him unconditionally and uncritically. You care for his children with pride. You beautify his home. You respond to his wishes. You are a woman in her supreme and highest role, the heroine in a play that will be viewed and reenacted by distant generations.”
While I first and foremost lament in unison with the degradation of men in our modern, but far from progressive age, and sent my hopes and prayers to Anonymous, I must say that some portions of your response didn’t sit quite right with me.
My first question for Anonymous is, when did your husband become girly? Was he always girly, is it recent, or has it been a slow, steady development?
It seems, at least initially, like it’s counter-productive to recommend that a woman galvanize her husband into becoming manlier. As Laura mentions, men are often caught in the middle between their wives now expecting their unconditional cooperation in all things with spousal dissatisfaction in their contribution. To love him unconditionally and uncritically seems entirely too passive however—even if it’s a step to his regaining his manly freedom. We can’t assume he’ll find it on his own again, as Laura also mentions. In the mean time, while one waits for the passivity to take effect, you’re caring for his children and beautifying his home with pride. They are also your children. It is also your home. If the leadership role has been temporarily vacated, you had better step in lest your children grow up to imitate a stoic but sorrowful mother doting on an unimpressive father. I think it’s totally appropriate for you to tell him you are dissatisfied with his behavior, with his composure, and with his unwillingness to supply the manly presence you fell in love with and pledged to spend the rest of your life with. If he ‘wishes’ for you to leave him alone and let him keep his femininity, I think you have an obligation to the both of you to not respect that wish. This isn’t to recommend incessant nagging or anything, but woman in her highest role, the heroines in the great plays remembered throughout history, did not sit idly by and watch their lord’s mind, body, and manor decay form the foundation while she put up nice curtains. Too frequently now are the women who allowed this, or worse those who encouraged the emasculation of men/the masculation of women, being reenacted by posterity.
Absolutely show your loving gratitude for all he is for the remainder of his days, and for yours, but don’t forget about what he was and what he could or should be. Always through the lens of reality, see him as the man you and your family need him to be, and let him know. At least the dialogue begins. In a loving marriage, there will always be reward, but that is not to say the capacity for that love, and the fullness in which it can be experienced cannot be expanded. It can be done so without repressing the other rewards. Wives must be submissive, but men are supposed to face conflict. True they are less and less prepared to do so in this day and age, so they get jobs as civil servants, but we aren’t satisfied with this either are we? I would urge you not to shy away from a conflict; it seems you hold the cards already. You have the awareness, but does he?
Laurence makes excellent points.
Let’s bear in mind that we don’t know the details here. It was my impression from Anonymous that she was uncomfortable elaborating. She did say her husband had become overly fastidious, makes a big deal out of minor injuries and has his own personal collection of toiletries. I assumed we were dealing with ingrained effeminacy that she may not have been aware of when she first married him. I know men like this, progrssively emasculated over a life time, and truthfully I think it is too late for them and that it would be futile to try and rebuild them.
But, maybe Laurence is right in this case. Certainly he is right in other cases when a man is exhibiting behavior that is changeable and not part of his hardened nature. I also think Laurence eloquently describes the obligation in marriage to confront the flaws of a spouse. Unfortunately, here too I am probably unduly influenced by a culture that seems to encourage women to confront their husbands too much and too aggressively. That is the context in which I spoke. But I wholeheartedly agree with Laurence that a wife should not passively submit to whatever her husband is.
Sheila C. writes:
Much has already been written regarding the war against boys; I can only attest to having experienced it, to one degree or another, with both my sons. Modern schools, whether public or private, Christian or secular, view boys as defective girls and actively suppress their essentially physical and competitive natures. Football, roughhousing, climbing, even swings are forbidden as dangerous. If the voluminous quantity of paperwork isn’t finished in time, standard punishment is the counter intuitive banning of recess or any free physical play/release time. They are allowed no legitimate outlet or channel for their natural tendencies, yet when any sort of conflict arises they are forbidden to settle their differences. On the one hand, I’ve seen too many Christian schools refuse to help boys harness their natural leanings in a positive way, ignoring bullying or problems by saying “He’s just an alpha male” or “Let them work it out on their own.” On the other hand, if a child tries to defend himself he is punished for “fighting” or “violence.” There seems to be a schizophrenic nature to Christian education these days, on the one hand insisting they’re totally different than public schools yet on the other mimicking their repressive “security” procedures and social structures. They exist in a sort of limbo, neither fish nor fowl. The only “safe” or accepted venues for boys these days are organized sports or the military – and I have one son in each. Even these are under assault, of course, with women insisting on entering every fray. I cannot empathize with the writer who is married to a “wimp,” but perhaps she can work to ensure any sons she has will not end up the same way. She will be fighting every existing social or religious organization to do so, however. These days there seems to be an overabundance of bullies and wimps, and few to know or show boys the middle way, to become strong Christian men.
Alex A. writes:
Your commentary on a wife’s complaint that her husband is a wimp should be required reading in the minority world still inhabited by unemasculated educated men. It would give them cause for hope by reminding them that not all women want wimps. It’s no use the wimps reading it: they’re beyond rescue.
I can say after years of resisting the often subtle but ubiquitous pressures to conform to the “womanish man” stereotype, my efforts sometimes feel like a waste of spirit. Swimming against the tide and kicking against the pricks is an exhausting business. In other words, challenging feminist assumptions is a long term endeavour. There is inevitable conflict now for the “man’s man” at college, in the workplace, and in many social interactions with friends, relations, and neighbours. And there’s no refuge even in the army.
Eventually, you end up in a lonely place where nobody seems to share your point of view. But self-pity would be idiotic: it’s far better to be isolated than ridiculous.
“It’s far better to be isolated than ridiculous.” That’s a great line.
The person in question is very kind but not very manly. It was the kindness I was attracted to; I didn’t really come to understand the wimpiness in depth until after we were married. Another detail: he has never had any interest in playing or watching any sport. I don’t think anyone would describe him as “effeminate”, exactly. His manner is not effeminate. But there is definitely something missing.
I agree with Laurence for the most part in his assertion the wife of the “wimp” shouldn’t just sit idly by and worship the ground he walks on while letting the children and husband rot. Frankly, I’m not sure any such women really exists, except in the rare, extreme case where serious dysfunction on one or both of the parties is taking place. In these cases the woman is a complete doormat, in denial of reality and wouldn’t think of posing anything critical of her husband lest her bubble of self-serving and often destructive denial burst. Sadly I’ve seen this, more often than I’d like to admit. By far the majority (99.99%) of women, however, including the lady making the original post, are no doormats, nor would I recommend they be doormats. The only remedy I know of that has been shown to work consistently, other than sainthood which is unlikely for most, is from Al-Anon of which I have more than a passing familiarity having unknowingly married a sober, but sadly not recovering, addict.
Through Al-Anon a number of powerful techniques can be learned to spiritually transform ones perspective, attain sanity, and effect the behavior of any relationship positively. The first, and most empowering technique is to get honest about yourself, your assets and weaknesses and then your part in the relationship. It takes two to tango as they say. Once you have a clearer view of why you married this man or woman, and your own part in the dysfunction being suffered by both parties, you can then begin working on improving yourself and your perspective.
Once some personal clarity has been attained, one can learn the model for effecting change in yourself, which by extension changes others indirectly. This concept is often described in terms of a street where each party inhabits the space across from each other. It must be acknowledged that it’s not possible to change the other person or their behavior, only they are capable of effecting any real change. Thus we are incapable of directly improving or changing the lot of the other party across the street from us. Just as in real neighborhoods, change can and will be effected once you begin taking better care of your side of the street. It will not be easy, or quick, but in almost every case the other party does begin to change, inspired to improve their lot, it’s a natural human instinct. Modern police forces recognize this in the broken window theory. If a neighborhood has lots of broken windows, crime and vandalism will increase. By fixing windows, covering up graffiti, and generally preventing further decay, the situation improves, often radically and quickly. In our relationships we must take care to mend our windows, tend our yards and work to improve our outlook and situation. Verbal and emotional tirades or worse, emotional or sexual blackmail schemes, leveled to cajole or force improved behavior are the metaphorical equivalents of throwing rocks at the other persons’ windows and will only contribute to a calamitous decline in the neighborhood’s situation.
To make this work in any real sense, new communication skills must also be learned. Women (women typically being more skilled at communicating complicated emotions verbally than men, although I have no wish to absolve men) instinctively resort to a plethora of verbal and nonverbal assaults and manipulative techniques to force “improvement.” Modern culture abounds with examples of emotionally and intellectually superior women berating men, always stupid and indolent, into action. Men despise this, and the modern man beaten and bloodied by constant assaults from women all around them, often gives up and retreats from battle to lick his wounds and mourn, and if they have an addictive nature, turns to substances, other women, TV, or any of a hundred of different distractions to avoid the grim reality of their state. The traditionally oriented male suffers even more, having been taught to stand by their woman through thick and thin and to defend them against assault, will quickly realize they are trapped by their desire to not be another bad guy, our culture loves to stereotype men who leave as slimy, conceited womanizers, even as they are dismantled by their increasingly embittered woman and the culture at large. Women deep down dislike this as well, although they often seem incapable of doing otherwise, secretly desiring the man to stand up to them, although it’s rare any man has the stamina or verbal skills to turn the tide, and thus a general malaise and depressing recognition sets in that doubles the woman’s already plummeting opinion of him. This sick, twisted cycle creates a vortex of bitterness and repressed anger that breaks down the bonds of the relationship and decimates the emotional well being of all directly, or indirectly involved with it. In some rare cases the man, will resort to physical violence, but the majority of men realize the futility of it as it will almost surely land them in jail. Sadly, there has been a sharp increase in female abuse of men, although most men rarely report it and the courts stacked as they are against men downplay or may even turn it against the man.
Ironically, although men are called upon to do most of the fighting on the battlefields being the biggest and strongest, in reality men are incable of sustaining high levels of confrontation indefinitely. Women on the other hand, especially when in the face of real and supposed injustice, have a seemingly endless reservoir of emotional energy they are willing and able to level at a supposed enemy at a moments notice, especially if they are across the bed and within easy reach. As Shakespeare so aptly stated, “Hell hath no fury as a women scorned.” What he didn’t say, nor did he need to, is women and men know instinctively that a woman’s ire can be easily aroused by even the slightest real or supposed provocation. Women and men must learn to THINK, another Al-Anon technique, before they speak. Is what they are about to say Thoughtful, Honest, Intuitive, Necessary, and Kind. If it doesn’t pass the THINK filter, the whole filter it’s not a cafeteria after-all, then it should not be said and they must let it go or redirect in a more productive fashion. Emotionally stuffing, something most men and women are exceedingly good at, will just force the emotional response to leak out in a hundred or more other nonverbal ways.
Lastly, for any of these techniques to work they must be performed in the context of spiritual sacrifice. Many women and men are capable of practicing one or more of these techniques for awhile, but without close monitoring of oneself, a spiritual regime, and input from a confessor, spiritual director, pastor or group setting, they will become embittered, thwarting any potential of progress by becoming “living martyrs” leveling ever more subtle, but no less withering, verbal or emotional condemnations against the party on the other side of the street.
I have seen this work in my life and many others. It is marvelously effective when followed as a life changing path and often results in both parties forging a more meaningful relationship, far from perfect most often, but far better than before. Sometimes it will result in a breaking of the relationship, but in these cases a breach would have been inevitable most likely, pretending it isn’t so only prolongs the misery of both participants, causing further harm to them, their children, friends and community. This was true in my case. Once I began reforming myself and tending to my side of the street, it forced my spouse to grapple with her own demons instead of distracting herself with blaming me. In the end, she left, choosing a path of willful and self-destructive addiction. My case is extreme, but the lessons still apply. Like anything in this life, true reform is not easy, but what in this life is really worth having that doesn’t demand effort and sacrifice to attain.