by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
Enjoyment forms the emotional basis of developing habits and attachments to familiar people and other living as well as inanimate things and even abstract goals, such as values and ideas. Anyone can learn to enjoy and commit themselves to family, neighborhood, like-minded people, or animals, plants, creative activities or caregiving. And we can become fond of aspirations to truth, justice or beauty.
But some typical differences may arise from gender, class or culture. Habitual enjoyment may result from early life experiences or the accidents of peak experience. But we will focus on gender-specific reward training. Our institute is named Love and Power because our understanding of female child training highlights love as both an ideal concept and a guideline for many ways of acting. Women are arguably more devoted than men to take good care of their appearance, clothing, adornments and valued objects outside of themselves, including animals and plants. Women are more likely than men to care for pets, over 2/3 owning a pet compared to more than half of men. More importantly still, far more women than men care for relatives and friends.
Thus women’s activity is essential to the survival and health of families and broader groups, and it’s called emotional work. They are also more likely than men to build both wider social networks and emotionally closer friendships. Through these wider and stronger relationships their greater awareness and expression of the emotions of joy, shame/hurt, distress and fear enable them to both better manage their mental health and accumulate more wisdom about human nature over time than men. [link to Emotional Fluency part 2] Because the consequences of women’s socialization for love and nurturance are essential for restoring sustainability of humanity in relationship with the totality of the earth, we will explore them further in later blogs.
In contrast, male childhood training emphasizes power more than love. But the concept of power is not as easy to pin down because it comes clothed in other aspirations and values. These include worldly success, wealth, winning in competitions, gaining public position or status, leading, commanding or impacting others, achieving something of social value or bringing something new into existence. Many of these various goals are sometimes summarized as “making one’s own mark on the world.”
What stands out about these male-preferred values is that they aren’t focused on good relations with others, but on something else that men value more highly. These values are not conducive to happy families and communities but to individual achievement. Pursuing these aspirations includes commitment to a different kind of enjoyment than normal play-pleasure or bonding joy with other people. Thus men come to consider playfulness, pleasure and emotional closeness inferior to organized work. Even though society now expects more women to engage in paid labor, boys are still normally trained to value paid work and conventional success as vital to their personal identity and suffer low self-esteem when they don’t attain them.
Choosing to strive for power, wealth or male-patterned success also makes it inevitable that negative emotions such as distress (from struggling to succeed), fear (from uncertainty) and shame (from failure) must be endured before and in place of joy—which is commonly called delayed gratification. Many men have learned to feel proud of themselves and of their ability to imagine their anticipated joy of success and thus reduce the burdens of negative emotion and lengthy uncertain delays.
Yet next to their noble strait-jacket of self-control and disinterest in socializing when unrelated to success, most men may still yearn for some unplanned fun and relaxation. So they may rely on their alcohol- and drug-assisted socializing or asocial pleasure habits developed in earlier pre-adult years. But because they are unwinding instead of striving they’re less likely to develop as good skills for managing either casual or close relations as for achieving their ambitious individual goals.
Since sex also brings about an extremely pleasurable endorphin-aided state, they may also engage in sex, either with a wife or steady partner or other types of hook-ups, perhaps with an inner sense of entitlement due to their heroic striving for higher goals. They may even express romantic love for their partner or partners, though what they mean by love is different from what women mean. Or perhaps they believe, with Nixon’s bachelor Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” One wonders, however, about whom this aphrodisiac is supposed to affect? Is it women who can’t keep their hands off the man of power, as Kissinger seems to imply, or the man whose power over the hearts and bodies of women knows no bounds? Can the men whose wealth, power and dominion over groups, companies, armies or nations gives them boundless confidence in their romantic and sexual capacities accurately understand how women think and feel and what they want? Here is Donald Trump’s answer on his Access Hollywood tape. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . . Grab ’em by the p….”. [To be continued.]