Friday, November 29, 2013

Assertive Femininity and the New Masculine

Women have been taking leading roles in their relationships with men for a long time, despite the patriarchal structure of modern society. History is full of women leading men in science and engineering, computer development, medicine, humanitarian expeditions, exploration, and social activism (just read the Blanche Black recommended reading list).  And in fact, even though that history was obscured and neglected for many years, due to poor character and discipline among Western Civilization’s rather socially-insulated male scholars, the collective work of female scholars within the Feminist Movement managed to recover a large portion of it for us.

Perhaps one of the most potent demonstrations of women’s abilities as cultural leaders has been the development of the Feminist Movement over the last two centuries. Beginning in the 1860’s over the issue of women’s suffrage, the movement eventually began to address a much broader scale of political and social concerns, all of which were tied together by a common feature: the persistent censorship and repression of women’s self expression and self determination. As it turned out, the cultural female gender identity that had been prescribed for women by their social and professional peers wasn't working for them; rather, it proved to be consistently ineffective in protecting women against exclusion from family and group decision-making, domestic violence, sexual assault, denial of legal recourse, lack of employment opportunities, homelessness, and other depressing topics of discussion.

The Feminist Movement, however, was the collaboration of female thinkers, writers, researchers, academics, intellectuals, and activists who addressed this challenge by redefining society’s cultural and legal understanding of womanhood, redefining women’s concept of their gender role in heterosexual relationships, and changing public policies and laws to protect these developments. These women pioneered the first revision of a cultural gender identity - in a patriarchal and nearly global society - and they did so knowing the “heat” they were going to take for it from insecure men and women. And despite that clearly foreseeable backlash, they expressed their true gender identity anyway. We Feminists continue to do so.

So, there has never been any shortage of women out there leading men.

The reason misogyny and backlash against assertive women is still so widespread is not for lack of women leaders effectively leading. It is for lack of men following women’s lead by coming “out of the closet” regarding their own identification with and admiration for women’s cultural contributions, as well as their desire for a new masculinity – one that compliments the self expression of their newly “liberated” female peers instead of attempting to compete with it.

Men- the intimidation tactics resorted to by those who cleave to the myth of machismo for fear of change is merely an indication that it is time for men to follow in the footsteps of their assertive female peers and have their own gender identity revolution. In many social situations, it is only the example of socially-evolved men, and their increasing success with pleasing women, that makes other men begin to question the necessity, or even usefulness, of using attitudes like egotism and self-centeredness to prove their “maleness” to others.

It is in public that men really show others what their perception of masculinity is. Public behavior, not private life, is what demonstrates whether a man defines his masculinity as complimentary towards a women’s self expression, or dominating towards women. Is a man doing and saying whatever he’s doing and saying to impress other men in the room by attempting to demonstrate a form of power and control over women?  Is he aggrandizing himself and other men in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others, at the expense of the women in his company? Or does he use those moments when others are looking on and listening in to demonstrate a woman’s importance to him, as a man, by making her needs and interests a priority, even over those of his own?

And a man’s concept of his own masculinity determines how much room he allocates in his mind for perceiving and considering women. When it comes to evaluating a man’s potential as a prospective romantic partner, it’s the details of his public persona that tell a woman how he really thinks of her and her gender.

Fortunately for women, the overdevelopment of ego in a man usually shows itself as a subtle yet transparent disregard for others unlike himself. For example, men who engage me in conversation long enough to notice I am confident, independent, and most likely Feminist, often try to pass themselves off as supportive of Feminism and other assertive behavior in women in order to get a date with me. In the course of a lengthy conversation, they are quick to deny interest in porn and readily condemn perpetrators of domestic violence; yet they casually refer to the women in their life with the diminutive term “girl”. They are “all for” women in leadership, yet they are quick to criticize female leaders in the public eye and skeptical of women’s judgment in business and work situations, in contrast to their relatively blind faith in the men that occupy similar positions. They are not familiar with any female pioneers in their fields of interest, and in the midst of a speculative philosophical or scientific statement they blithely refer to the entire human species as “mankind”.

These are the ‘guys’ whose concept of “submission” to a dominant woman consists of lying on their back during the sex act.

These are the type of men that keep the dildo industry in business, simply for purposes of time efficiency.

Women- if you’re dating a guy who opens the door for you, yet fails to offer to carry the heavy backpack and grocery bags you’re carrying, you’re dealing with a self-centered guy. If you’re dating a guy who commonly refers to males over the age of 18 as “men”, yet refers to post-pubescent females with the same word he uses for pre-pubescent females, you’re dating an egotistical guy with the creepy inability to distinguish between age groups when relating to females. Other symptoms of an overdeveloped ego in a man include: interrupting women in mid-sentence; walking in front of his date in public; lack of interest in asking a woman questions about her opinions or livelihood; eating off a woman’s plate in addition to his own during meals; lack of gastro-intestinal control; and lack of grooming, research, and other forms of self-exertion in preparation for dates.

Personally, I’d much rather spend my time with a man who thinks enough of women and their wants to groom himself, in body and in mind, to their liking. What turns me on is a man physically disciplined enough to get his body in beautiful shape in anticipation of pleasing a woman visually, while also being mentally disciplined enough to choose his words wisely; a man who refers to adult females as “women”, in acknowledgement that they have more-than-earned a title that distinguishes them from children; a man who loves sports enough to know who Babe Didrikson and Jackie Mitchell were; a man who is well versed enough in the history of social activism to know who Mother Jones was; a man who would have voted for Victoria Woodhull in 1872 when she ran for president of the United States; a man who knows about the first group of tested and trained American astronauts that made up the Mercury 13 space program, and that they were all women; a man who knows that the inventors of the first computer software program, as well as the first computer language, were also women- along with the inventors of Kelvar, windshield wipers, and the Mars Rover; a man who knows the definition of Feminism and isn’t afraid to use it in front of other men.

Check out this example of masculinity by Jackson Katz, in his TED talk “Violence & Silence” . This is a man who works with men in professional circles, institutions and industries where machismo and a deep misunderstanding of manhood runs high (athletics, law enforcement, the military, college campuses); yet he coaches these men to be affirming and protective of women in order to be effective social leaders for their male peers. His example of appreciation for female leadership and his public demonstration of respect for women should be the official standard for any self-respecting heterosexual man who considers himself a lover of Womanhood. And among the hoards of men he has mentored and influenced there are many others who follow his example and mindset by demonstrating love and appreciation for assertive women in their interactions with other men.

So you can believe there are a lot of men out there redefining the gold-standard for masculinity with their Pro-Feminist worldview and attitude. And there are a growing number of women out there who know enough not to “settle” for any less.

There is a rich history of assertive femininity and female-affirming men out there that has paved the way, as well as a wealth of human activism all around us giving birth to the new manhood; both have been actively censored from academic textbooks and popular media channels by those industries that stand to lose money from the social changes such a collaboration would bring about.  It takes a socially-evolved man to follow in the footsteps of his Feminist female counterparts by reclaiming this stolen heritage, liberating himself from the unsustainable gender identity of machismo, and redefining his cultural gender role towards women to achieve meaningful and authentic relationships with them. Indeed, that is the only type of partner worthy of a “liberated” woman.

Additional Resources:
Tony Porter, A Call To Men
Jeremy Meltzer, Where Is Men's Roar 
Ingrid Vanderveldt, The Art of Making the Impossible Possible
Codes of Gender, Infantilization of Women
Lauren Zander, No One Is Coming To Save You (How women can get what they want)
Joel Stein, My Search For Masculinity
Educational Resources: The Bro Code
Educational Resources: Tough Guise 2

Friday, August 7, 2009

How to Train a Boyfriend: Other Women's Experience

As if confirmation of an ideological Zeitgeist fell from heaven, a friend recently came across a dating advice article entitled, "6 Ways to Train Your Boyfriend", where the writer interviews Amy Sutherland, author of "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers". Here are two other women who can attest to the power of psychological awareness and behavior modification for communicating more effectively with your man.

One part worth quoting emphasizes how communicating what you want to a man through specific direction and demonstration gives him a chance to show his true attitude towards you and his potential as a partner:

"The average guy is plenty romantic, but he's not hardwired to plan out the little details. So if you can't remember the last time he put together a romantic night for you both, you'll have to show him the way. Start by staging your apartment with cues that get you going, like candles and a sultry soundtrack. Have your favorite chilled wine on hand so you can ask him to open it before dinner. This creates a ritual in his mind. Eventually, not only will he get a sense of what your romantic needs are, but he'll also start making a game plan of his own."

See Dating Advice: 6 Ways to Train Your Boyfriend

Also see What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to Train a Man

Let me let you in on a little secret: Despite all their posturing, men are actually really vulnerable to women, and most men will do anything to hide this. Every day, they obsess over women’s bodies, women’s sensuality, women’s opinions of them, their ability to please women romantically and in bed…. and how to cover all that up under the illusion that they are indifferent to whether women like them or not. Some common ways men are encouraged to prove this indifference to themselves and others include disrespectful talk about women with the guys, trying to hurt women’s feelings, and generally defying what women want. Curiously, all such attempts from them seem to require an audience, usually male, which operates as a pep rally for psyching themselves out until they actually believe themselves.

They go to great lengths to hide their constant vulnerability towards the opposite sex from themselves. In relationships, they might hold on to this persistent fa├žade by arguing, being contradictory, teasing and pushing buttons, and acting out in brazen selfishness with anything from using porn to blowing off household chores.

The thing about denial, however, is that the charade used to mask what one is so ashamed of has to escalate in intensity in order to keep blocking out one’s ever-nagging consciousness of it. And so you see some men making public attempts to provoke women with insults, making a show of indifference towards women’s unhappiness with them, speaking about women in a diminutive way with terms that trivialize their womanhood, and even acting out in physical ways against women. They make a hobby out of denying their emotional vulnerability to women’s approval of them, apparently bitter that women still dominate their thought life.

The fact that so many men work so hard to act this way in front of an audience shows just how much their behavior is an attempt to change their social image rather than being an indication of how they actually feel. Why do they have to prove their emotional invulnerability to others if they are so secure about it? Why put so much effort into denying something if they don't have something to hide?

It’s just like what many of us experienced with boys back in elementary school: boys often went out of their way to provoke, insult, and otherwise annoy the girls they actually liked and wanted to be around in order to prevent them and everyone else from knowing it. (Brilliant, eh? Lot of good it did them).

So, if men’s posturing and arguing don’t necessarily indicate what they want, but how they want to appear, what are they hiding? Consciously or subconsciously, men want more than anything to be wanted by women, to be able to attract the focused attention of the woman they're pursuing to the same degree that she attracts they're attention, which is a lot. Why do you think they drop their guy friends so readily once they get love-struck by some mysterious woman?

This means that whatever behavior of his manages to draw her attention and keep it on him largely determines how he treats her, whether that be because he is charming her or pissing her off.

When a man is really interested in a woman, whatever she wants in a man is what he wants to be for her, because he wants his already intense attention and appreciation of her womanly charms to be reciprocated. If she accommodates her own interests, he will adjust his behavior to ensure he continues to remain one of them. Once he has that reciprocation, however, he’s got what he wants so he has no reason to change what he’s doing. That’s alright if what he’s doing is bending over backwards to please you, but not if he’s slacking off. Give a man his ego trip and your attention and he’ll take both. Make him choose between the two and, if he’s into you, he’ll eventually choose your attention and drop the attitude.

Behavior therapy is very handy for this purpose.

The incentive for a man is a woman's expression of pleasure and approval when he leaves his comfort zone to try and charm her. Consistent acknowledgement of what a man does right will evoke more of the same from him, and willingness to go even beyond that to do other things you suggest. Expressing satisfaction when he does it right is the key to keeping it going. That satisfaction and pleasure as a response to him signals that he's just succeeded in making himself more important to you.

All men, however, are prone to slip into the selfish modes of their upbringing. If they think they can’t be what a woman wants, they will settle for negative attention from a woman and begin to provoke her. Often, women can reinforce a bad behavior in a man just by giving him extra attention for it, even if it’s negative attention. That’s why negative attention towards men, like nagging or throwing dishes at them, rarely keeps a bad behavior of theirs at bay for very long- it is still a type of attention. This is where your honesty about how his behaviors turn you on or off comes in handy, if it’s expressed as an increase or decrease in your interest.

One of the best ways to discourage a bad behavior then is to highlight your lack of interest in it. Whether he’s just getting to know you or he already knows better, let the loss of your attention be the punishment for his disrespectful or difficult attitude by taking distance from him in whatever way works best for you.

If he complains about your cooking, for example, have him cook for himself the following night while you go out to dinner with a friend. If he teases you or makes jokes at your expense, look at him as if he’s speaking gibberish and acting unusually strange, then postpone your Saturday night plans with him and go out with the ladies to a hot comedy club instead. It will be much funnier than him. If he argues with your personal decisions, or pressures you to change them, cut your time with him short by saying you have to get up early in the morning and need the whole bed to yourself to get a full night’s rest. Subtle reminders that you have other things you can be doing and other people to see will usually snap a man out of his indifference act.

If he repeats any of these negative behaviors, tell him directly what you don’t like about what he’s doing, and what behavior you want from him instead. If he persists despite your warning, tell him to leave so you can re-evaluate the relationship, then ignore his calls. Don’t argue. Take space and cool down. He’ll regret it later. A woman doesn’t have to get emotional and upset to teach a man a lesson. Just give him a choice.

If you’re in a female-led relationship, you can make a policy of stopping a heated argument by tying him to a chair in the bedroom for a little while and getting other things done around the house. Don’t forget to gag him! It gives him time to calm down and rethink his approach and it gives you time to do something you enjoy instead. Finish that book you’re in the middle of, or order take-out and enjoy watching a movie in the next room.

To complete his lessons, wait until he shows a change of heart and until you’re feeling better, and then give him a chance to rephrase what he was trying to say before. Tell him what behavior you want from him instead of what he did, what type of behavior will please you, and have him do a few practice runs with you right then and there. When he does it to your satisfaction, reinforce this with some light praise.

Then, just to prove to the both of you that he can earn back your trust and confidence in him, assign him an unpleasant task or duty as a punishment for having upset you in the first place. It will prove just how sorry he really is for putting you down and being knowingly offensive. It can be cleaning toilets, buying tampons at a crowded supermarket, or bending over to take a spanking of some sort. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel once he accomplishes this as a token of his commitment to change his attitude. And once he endures it, he will feel much more optimistic about trying to be the man you want, now that he has a way to make up for his possible failures and start over with a clean slate from you.

The more a man thinks he can be what a woman wants, and knows she won’t tolerate anything less, the more he will try for the positive attention rather than the negative attention.

In fact, assigning a man tasks that benefit you, especially tasks that challenge him, and showing him positive attention when he carries them out, strengthens this positive dynamic, increasing your trust in and satisfaction with him and increasing his sense of adventure in pleasing you.

Physical challenges are the best. Ask him if he can cook a three course French meal totally nude without burning himself or the food. See if he can carry both you and the groceries up the stairs and through the front door at the same time. Have him vacuum the whole house each day with 20-pound weights on his arms and legs. That will help get him in shape. Suggest he practice Kegel exercises and see how many times in a row you can have sex without him losing his erection. There are endless variations on this theme. Make sure when he succeeds to show him how excited and pleased you are by the results of his hard work. Challenge him to make slightly larger sacrifices of his comfort zone than he is used to in order to accommodate your sense of fun, and both of you will be excited when he exceeds his previous achievements. It will increase his excitement about making you ultra happy.

These are just the basics, of course. A woman can develop her own strategies along these same principles, according to what she knows about her partner, and the relationship will take on its own style of conflict resolution and romance.

Training a man is all about a woman getting the most from her man for the building of intimacy in the relationship, which requires him to come out of his privileged status so he can get to know and relate to her more. Helping him break free from ridiculous corporate myths and personal denial by confronting him with his desire for and attraction to her is all part of it. Why should other men's delusions control his state of mind towards her and get in the way of the intimacy between them?

For more, check out Sherry Argov's advice on getting the most out of your man.