WHY MEN CLAM UP WHEN IT COMES TO FEELINGS
Exultation, humour, celebration, enthusiasm, assertion, arguments, debates, fights, annoyance, bragging, any of these aspects, men can express with startling immediacy but when it comes to sharing emotions and feelings, they experience a change in composition. To a woman, sharing her feelings isn’t burdensome in fact she must vent it out to attain equilibrium from the causal stress else it will manifest in her social behaviour. Women, even if they meet strangers, are reasonably unrestrained in expressing their feelings. A monologue with any other person who can provide compassionate and lavish listening and a bit of validation, diffuses her to neutrality, which readies her constitution to offer emotional reciprocity to the provider.
Genetic differences exist between man and woman but are women really hardwired to share feelings and men aren’t? Sharing feelings seem innocuous to a woman after all she has practiced how to share from childhood. Men struggle, when it comes to educing such feelings from within or sharing their emotional state with others. Expressing emotions, talking about feelings, adding delicacy to script is a task for men. There are very few Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser in Bedazzled) in the world, so emotionally sensitive who cries over ‘how beautiful the world is’. Under abject distress, men enfeeble themselves into isolation, attempt to sort it out themselves or seek from their spouse/ friend/partner, advice first and understanding later. Anxiety ridden men don’t talk, they perhaps drink, vegetate in front of television, project the anger on to others, hit the gym, a pub stopover with friends, intense video gaming, stay quiet for a prolonged time or some other passive coping mechanisms. Sharing as a solution doesn’t occur to them incipiently, it renders an imagery of weakness in their head. The above observations in men and women are common but are these traits innate?
IS EMPATHY INNATE OR TAUGHT?
Scientific studies claim that there are genetic differences in man and woman. Corpus Callosum connects the left and right hemisphere of the brain. This neural tissue (the largest collection of white matter in the brain) augments communication between both sides. A woman’s corpus callosum is larger than a man’s. Female brains are highly connected across left and right hemispheres hence they process emotion and feelings better whereas men’s brains are stronger on the left side, which is the logical/rational side of the brain. Men express reasons, women express emotions. Buying this scientistic argument is a convenient deportment to categorise men as unfeeling but it needs further depth dredge. We have been taught to believe that women can express feelings easily and that men tussle with it.
Can emotion or expressing feelings be a taught behaviour? From a cognitive standpoint, empathy for others as well as sharing feelings is a learned attribute under operant conditioning and with systematic exposure to a civilized and sensitive environment a child picks it up. Girls are encouraged to do so and small boys too are initially taught to be kind and sharing but the same society and ecosystem around the boy eventually makes him disaffiliate from it in order to instill in him the need to appear strong, masculine and robust. Crying boys are denigrated. Guns, cars, swords enrich the boy’s toy repertoire and Barbie, comforter blanket and dolls supplement a baby girl’s stockpile. Boys get toys that move and girls get toys that they can nurture. The rudiments of empathy is planted in a girl and from here on it sticks with her.
A child born in a deprived society and who is indoctrinated into an environment that seeks aggression to eat, live and survive is bound to pick up an impassive demeanour from a very young age. Empathy or any form of remorse could be totally missing. A child who grows up watching boxing apparently grows with the thought that hitting someone on the head is such an art and may remain insensate to violence as it may not jar at him so uncommonly. Ancient Romans encouraged the inclusion of gladiators into the arena. Gladiators were armed combatants who indulged in violent jousts with wild animals, condemned criminals and peer gladiators often to dispassionately kill the other that offered entertainment to spectators. We still watch boxing, remain blithely entertained and subconsciously condone the savage viciousness. Why should two human beings beat each other to pulp for the betting, gambling, sports and entertainment industry to flourish? Surely these knocks on the head have long-term ramifications the likes of Dementia Pugilistica, a neurodegenerative disease common to boxers who are exposed to repetitive concussions.
MAN’S SOCIETAL CONDITIONING
Crying and mawkish expressions from men are deliberately and systematically stifled. This is further compounded at work when employers need to see resilience, strength and bounce back attitude from men as against verbalizing feelings. When one communicates to one’s boss, feelings such as ‘I feel devastated, we lost the deal’ is swiftly altered to ‘No problem, we will nail the next one boss’. Corporates are unkind to depleted souls at the work place hence men learn to mask their desolate and crestfallen feelings soon and realize the futility of sharing emotions. Culture of winning seem to squelch and strangle man’s need to communicate feelings eventually making them unwittingly substitute action to placate feelings and over time it becomes their disposition.
A man, offering a gift and a rose to his wife, speaks something about his present emotion doesn’t it? Man’s emphasis on action is his way of representation. Taking her to a nice restaurant, event, opera, all these are terrific but merely such unimpeded outings are inadmissible for a woman as her circuitry is wound differently. She needs more. She needs to hear how beautiful she is, how much she means to him and occasional excessive attention from him. This can happen only if he talks. His humour is great, he is professionally successful and plans awesome holidays but women seek something more than these condiments, a few more lines from him about his emotions and feelings.
Men haven’t experienced an environment where their feelings were either validated or domiciled. When men attempt to share feelings, other men ridicule and jeer at them with derisive comments such as sissy, effeminate and so on. Riveted to dread, men learn a behaviour kneaded to seeming invincibility and invulnerability thereby consigning themselves to quiet implosion and repression. Periodic outbursts from him is taken by the society as his instinctual nature and not construed as popping the lid of repression. Even women in the society, seek a strong, robust, emotionally steadfast husband or partner. They like them being resourceful and sorting out the problem. Male self-esteem is schematized around success, action and performance while female self-esteem is organized around connectedness, intimacy, sharing and relationships.
Men do have empathy but haven’t consciously practiced expressing their feelings. Observe a man with a small child in an empty room, he is caring and empathic but out in the open, he wears a mask. When a man is diagnosed with terminal illness and suppose he just has a year to live, would he keep his feelings contained? Can the sense of urgency transform his resolute way of being and make him connect and share feelings with important people in his life. Perhaps yes, perhaps no, one can keep conjecturing an outcome to fit one’s research.
From medieval times, we have certainly progressed emotionally and our basic posture towards empathy is improving. When we say we are civilised, empathy and feelings play a big part in it. We are certainly kinder and sensitive from decades before and need to improve more. If empathy/ feeling is taken as an innate attribute, human beings do not embrace responsibility as there is no motive to change but if it is construed as a taught behaviour, there is impetus to learn and adopt it. A community practicing these traits without any discomposure remains bereft of an aspect of gender based distinctions. Women can cry, so can men. Women express feelings, so will men. Yes animals have innate aggression and human beings, in comparison to them, are endowed with better awareness and empathy but this empathy cannot be something that can be taken as an inherent essence in mankind. It cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured and cultivated. Autistic children, schizophrenics and narcissists due to their inadequate or severed relations with objects are focused inwards and they lack empathy for others but with proper therapy administered to them, a reconnect with objects can be established and they too can empathise.
Let us teach the children within our remit to express their feelings more openly. Men aren’t from Mars, women aren’t from Venus, sure they are constructive metaphors to drive an idea but let us reconsider the societal conventions that massively influences how behaviour is outlined. This blog is a mere provocation upon this charter as the society attains constitutive powers with individual assent.