by Marsha Hudson, Ph.D. |
How often have you been in a social situation when a man is speaking and found yourself exchanging knowing, humorous looks with a woman friend as if to say, “There’s that male ego!”? What is the man doing that elicits the same knowing reaction from all of the women in the room?
What is the man doing that elicits the same knowing reaction from all of the women in the room?
Well, in public he is usually showing off his competence in a certain area, oftentimes under the guise of entertaining everyone with a story. One can assume that some of the men admire his accomplishments, but it’s highly likely that the majority of the other men in the room are impatient with him for hogging the spotlight.
But not the women. Too often when a man expects to be the center of attention in a social setting or conversation, women feel demanded upon: Listen to me. Don’t interrupt me. Admire me. Whether or not they truly admire what the man is saying, they feel called upon to show him appreciation. Sometimes the woman thinks of this as “propping him up.”
What is going on? In brief, this difference in realities is a reflection of unconscious gender roles. For the man’s part, he expects women to reflect back to him an image of competence that he needs in order to guard against the shame of failure. For the woman’s part, she has most likely been socially conditioned to help the man see himself in the best possible light, lest he become surly or aggressive with unwelcome exposure.
Sadly as a result, neither the man nor the woman has the opportunity to see the other in an authentic light. If this dynamic of the man seeking approval plays out in a primary relationship, then the relationship is threatened by the inauthenticity this dynamic imposes. The man’s acceptance of the tacit permission the culture gives him to seek approval from women, and women’s collaboration in supporting this tacit permission is an example of unconscious gender roles. This example shows that women exhibit a false self in pretending to pay attention while signaling to each other their contempt for the man. Instead of responding to the man with the truth that is born of their own feelings, they are reinforcing the distance and distrust that is common between men and women today.
What can be done? This is the big question. The answer lies in the bravery men and women can call up to confront these basic gender role assignments. This is only possible with increased emotional awareness and a hero sized dollop of compassion.
Participating in the men’s and women’s groups and the Vulnerability and Empathy workshops offered by the Love and Power Institute is another sure way to change oneself as a preparation to changing the world. Learn more about our workshops.