Stand By Your Man

Women, let’s get honest: Would you like men to change? Would you like them to be more emotionally sensitive and expressive? Would you love men to support your campaign to truly be equals and to champion your wins?

In the last 50 years, women have made great strides in becoming the women they want to be. Women earn more graduate school degrees than men now. It is expected that employers allow flexibility for parenting. There are laws that protect your job during your maternity leave, and guarantee you equal pay for equal work. Women have achieved a new level of success.

If your growth is to continue, men need to participate more than ever. When the women’s movement started, a few men supported you. Then more men got behind you to pass new laws. The last few generations finally accepted you as equals. Many of us took pride in supporting your drive for equality.

Now, we need your help.

A Unique Struggle

The “men’s movement” (a name that I don’t like but will use for lack of a better one) can’t seem to get the traction the women’s movement got. Maybe it’s because women were fighting for tangible rights, like equal pay and the right to not be harassed at work. Men are not oppressed the way women were; rather, we have subtle, ingrained oppression that prevents us from living the full emotional life we’re looking for.

Who do men fight against? There are no laws that oppress us. We still have the majority of the power. Do we demonstrate against the media?

Many in the Occupy Movement are young men fighting back against the system that betrayed them. They were told that if they played the game, they would be rewarded. Well, as we all know too well, the rewards were taken away. Now that men (and women) around the world can’t have the material rewards, or at least some security, they are questioning the whole game.

Part of the bigger game is the game of being a man. For the first time since the Vietnam War, we are seeing people really challenging the established operating system. Men are beginning to ask, what is it to be a man? More men are questioning the media’s impression of what it is to be a man.

Men of all ages are looking for what it is to be a man. Young men are always more vocal. They have no place to turn for a better model of masculinity. Our politicians have regressed past adolescence to the “terrible twos.” Much of collegiate and professional sports can’t get beyond drugs, money, and sex. Then there are the traditional role models: our dads.

In each subsequent generation since the Industrial Revolution, our fathers have been home less. Mine left at 7am and returned at 7pm every day when he was in town. Once a month, he was gone for a week. He was a loving man, but he wasn’t around. We certainly didn’t have Skype back then, and if we had, I’m not sure it would have occurred to my father to use it just to keep in touch. My mother, like so many mothers, stepped up. Between her and all my female teachers, I was raised well as a boy—but without a masculine presence, I wasn’t raised to be a man.

A Solution To Get Behind

In 35 years of working with men, I have repeatedly seen that when a man gets the modeling, support, and accountability from other men, he initiates himself into manhood. He gets what he didn’t get as a kid. He fills those gaps in his maturation that were missed only because there were no men around.

This is where women can help:

1. Understand many of your complaints about men are not because we are bad or broken; men weren’t fed the key ingredients of masculinity. Simply, we’re not trying to piss you off.

2. Realize that, as much as you love us and know what we need, we need to get much of those key ingredients from other men.

3. This is a particular request of mine: Please support men to join men’s groups. Countless women have told me how much better their relationships are, how much happier their men are, what better fathers they are after their partner has joined a men’s group.

I started Men Corps, a nonprofit to teach men how to start and run their own groups, because I know of no better way—and certainly no cheaper way—for men to get what is missing. My partners and I realize that if the New Men’s Movement and Men Corps are to be successful, we need women to support us.

Over the years, a few women have expressed concern that these groups are women-bashing groups. From the hundreds of groups I know about, I have never heard of one that was against women. To the contrary, often we are telling the man what his wife has told him! In part, because we are men, who show him we are like him, he listens.

We Are In This Together

My experience of men shows me that beneath even some of the toughest exteriors are hearts that bleed. As men, we instinctually want to provide and protect; when we can’t, we are stressed. There are many stressed men out there. Having a few women putting down their swords to welcome back men, much as we learned to do with our veterans, will go a long way for both sexes winning. 

Please encourage the man in your life to reach out to other men. Tell him, from that vulnerable place in you, how much he means to you and how much having other men support him in achieving what he wants would serve the relationship. I can guarantee if he gets the support I see men get in my groups, you will be singing the praises of that support. I often have women come up to me on the street to thank me for what my groups have done for their men, and their relationships. (I live in a small town, so this isn’t that strange.)

I will write more in the future about some particular things women can do to support men. I believe you will find these suggestions as beneficial for you as for your partner.

Owen Marcus blogs for men and women about men at His new book, Grow Up, Guys: Your 9-Steps to Releasing the Remarkable Man Inside You will be out in 2012.

Photo credit paulbence/Flickr

Related Links: