“Men are such children!” my mother always said, in frustration, about my father.
“But men are children!” answered my mother-in-law in regards to her son, surprised that I still harbored hopes to the contrary.
“All men are children!” exclaimed my married friends when I had come too close to being fed up with the babysitting. “There is no one better,” is what they would say next, unwilling to contemplate any other way of relating.
I refuse to perpetuate this frustrating status quo that serves no one.
I don’t want my partner in life to be one of my children. This is not what I have signed up for! I want an equal!
Yet, when I speak to other women and dig deeper into myself, I realize that most of us do not really want an equal either: we want a father figure. We crave finally being taken care of by a stronger authority figure—which most of us did not have growing up, whether our fathers were physically present or not.
We fight for equality publicly, but privately what we still want is someone to save us, to spoil us, and battle the hardships of life on our behalf.
We enjoy being taken care of, yet we resent the price of losing our autonomy and freedom.
We are filled with conflicting messages, torn between the remnants of patriarchal conditioning and the need for change. We are so confused about what makes us happy that fulfillment eludes us. Most women I know, me included, end up blaming our partners for our unhappiness, abstaining from taking our share of responsibility for our own well-being.
When I coach women about self-empowerment, we focus on retraining their reflexes from assigning blame to accepting responsibility for everything that is happening in their lives. As long as we blame others for whatever is not working, we remain stuck in victim mode, unable to initiate change. It is only once we recognize our contribution to our current circumstances that we can step into our power to make the necessary changes.
I have witnessed this dynamic in my own relationship.
After years of blaming my husband for my lack of fulfillment, I decided to take matters into my own hands, pursue my own passions, and take care of my own needs. As I became more contented through taking action and improving my own life, I stopped blaming my husband for my unhappiness.
Women are caught in a vicious cycle. We rebel against centuries of being exploited by men, but we fail to notice how we exploit them, in turn.
We say we want equality, love, and partnership, but we really just want a man to take the pressure of being a self-responsible adult off of us. Of course, the moment one feels inferior to the other, resentment, fear, and envy become unavoidable.
The dynamic of mistrust and fear is revealed in our language. To “snag a man,” women go through all sorts of machinations. A friend on the brink of a divorce was told by the counselor that her husband will get remarried quickly, while she will have a hard time. The counselor was just citing statistics, but several years later, that is exactly what happened: her newly divorced ex-husband got “snapped up” pretty quickly.
There is a desperation in our behavior.
To get the guy to commit we use every trick in our seduction toolkit—then we try to break him in and domesticate him. We proceed to turn our men into helpless children: exactly what exasperates us once we have succeeded.
Our ideals of marriage still come with many conflicting and unrealistic expectations that are simply impossible for a normal man to live up to.
We want our men to be sensitive and vulnerable, but not too much so or they become too needy.
We want them to be strong, decisive, and take initiative, yet sufficiently obedient and willing to compromise at home.
They have to be good at making money and have a thriving career, all while spending plenty of time at home, available to help with the children and, whenever we want to talk, to listen to us with attention and understanding.
When any of these expectations fail, we feel betrayed. As women become more independent and take care of things that we would have preferred the father figure partner to resolve for us, we feel resentful. We come to the conclusion that, since now we have to do everything on our own, men have simply become obsolete.
The ridicule and debasement of men in the media and mainstream culture is now pervasive. The stereotype of the incompetent male head of the household is prevalent on television and in movies, with little respect shown for the man-children who can’t seem to do anything right and are usually saved by smart, witty women.
The emasculation of men has become normalized.
Most men are aware by now that, one way or the other, they are failing to meet their spouse’s wishes. Even those who try, just can’t seem to get it right. Here, too, I speak from experience, with my latest birthday fiasco still fresh in my mind.
Constantly feeling like failures, it is now our men who become resentful and simply tune our nagging out. They withdraw from us and turn to things that make them feel better: working more, drinking, watching football, watching pornography.
Women are not the only victims of patriarchy.
Men have also had the life force beaten out of them by the same system. Their emotional development has been arrested during their formative years, with focus placed only on their physical strength, and not on emotional intelligence and intuition. Many grown men shrink from the responsibility of adulthood in their relationships, turning into the ever-growing breed of the irresponsible, uninspired, and uncreative.
Our accumulated resentments and fatigue from dysfunctional relating with our partners incite us to lash out against men privately and publicly, loudly airing the long list of our grievances. They are also reflected in our divorce statistics.
The majority of divorces today are initiated by women.
Leaving a marriage feels like an empowering thing to do. Except, most of the divorced women I speak to quickly come to realize that being a single parent is too hard, and that navigating life without a partner is lonely, sad, and unrewarding. Inevitably, women want to be back in a couple set-up, newly desperate, betting that the next partner will be more attentive and understanding.
When we come home from our protest rallies and marches, after the giddiness subsides and the quasi-empowerment wears off, if there is not a man there who loves and supports us, we feel lonely and small. And no matter how loudly we proclaim that we’d rather be alone than unhappy, in the end we don’t want to be unhappy or alone.
We need to redefine what it means to be empowered.
We also need to understand that no man can give us happiness and flowing feelings. We produce them ourselves when we dare to open our hearts to loving and our minds to our own inner truth.
It is true that we no longer need men to survive. We modern women can totally live on our own. We can provide for ourselves and our children even if it is not always easy.
But is living on our own the point?
Survey after survey, experiment after experiment, prove that what makes life worth living are the deep connections that we create with other beings.
It is normal and healthy to share a life with a partner.
Patriarchal structures did a lot of disservice to the way women and men relate to each other. There is a lot of frustration, fatigue, and rage about the way things are. Centuries of dysfunctional relating will take time to dismantle and rebuild.
However, it is not by using the language of aggression that we can achieve results we hope for.
I feel that it is up to us, as women, to interrupt the cycle of unhealthy gender duality, separation, and alienation.
A woman’s force lies in her wisdom, her emotional plasticity, and her willingness to be the first to extend a hand in forgiveness and compassion. It is easier for us to find the right words and courageously open our hearts to love and understanding.
Most importantly, when we blame our men for the state of our relationships, we ignore to what extent we are responsible: we are the ones who raise our sons and daughters.
In schools, the majority of teachers are women. At home, whether single or married, mothers still spend much more time with their children than their fathers do—generally—and, therefore, have the most influence on their education.
We need to start by teaching ourselves and then our children about right relationship with ourselves. Only then can we forge constructive connections with others.
We need to teach our boys and girls about self-leadership, which is about being there for yourself in the way that we always wanted and needed someone else to be. It is taking time for self-care. It is feeling capable of facing our fears and feelings, and cleaning up our own mess.
For women, it is knowing that we can save ourselves—that we are enough on our own—which will finally make us feel equal to men. That we can have our emotional fulfilment without having to become either a slave or a competitor. That we can be in love and remain autonomous.
For men, it is cultivating their real strength and power through facing their feelings and being able to relate to their partners on a level of intellectual and emotional equality.
For that, we need to be willing to release the feelings of hate, distrust, and blame that permeate our relationships today.
Autonomous, whole, self-responsible, and self-actualizing men and women have nothing to fear or resent in one another. They can open to love and experience fulfilment through connecting in a non-needy way, shouldering life’s challenges together in equal measure.
Women and men complement each other. For the harmonious existence and perpetuation of life, we need both. This is for our own benefit and part of Nature’s perfect plan.
Bonus: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Look out for
Author: Galina Singer
Image: Mad Men (1999)
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy/Social Editor: Nicole Cameron