Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Okay, can I first of all say that I don't rightly care what the science says. I am not interested in dogma - only real empiricism. Ha. That got your attention, but hear me out. I was talking with a friend today who insisted that it was scientific fact that women had a greater capacity for emotions than men - that they were "more emotional." Whatever this means.
It made me angry. How can this be so? Like women have the prerogative on feelings? Men are by and large, depsite a few curious exceptions, emotionally crippled? I think this is a misinterpretation of the observable facts. I'm going to grant that women display more outward sign of emotional activity than men. I will also grant that they are "more in tune" with their emotional abilities. But this is not a symptom of gender so much as social conditioning, and of social evolution. I'm not saying it is some sort of conspiriacy either. This is the way it is, in the broad arena of human interaction.
Men are conditioned to keep a wide group of "shallow" friends because of their evolutionary role in civilisation. Women are conditioned to have a smaller group of more intimate friends - plus they have the mothering instinct, which inevitably exercises intimacy. These are the facts. If you feel the need to question and quibble, look it up. These are the facts.
Right. Another fact of the matter is that there is no reason why these roles cannot be reversed. In fact they often are. It is a well noted phenomenon that women have recently begun to form wide, more shallow forms of social interaction, in the way that men traditionally have. This is a product of changes in gender roles. In the same way, it is slowly starting to have effects on the way men interact with each other. Emphasis on the slowly.
It is still a massive problem for men's health, that most men have difficulties confronting their emotional vulnerabilities. Male depression, particularly among minority groups in society, is a kind of silent epidemic. Society as a whole is reluctant to conrfront it. So we are happy to conclude that "science" demonstrates that more women have depression than men. At the same time, more men commit suicide than women. A lot more men.
My point is that recorded data does not necessarily mean facts. I have observed among my own generation a very real and worrying emotional fall out. Most young men are more than happy to reject and rebel against outdated norms of machismo. We have grown up with the damage it has done. However, rejecting machismo is one thing, rejecting masculinity is another.
There is absolutely nothing inherent in being a man, that determines that you are by nature some sort of emotional cripple. Despite the frankly offensive steretypes that we are bombarded with, men are human beings, and therefore we have as much emotional capacity as women.
Men are now faced with a challenge, though. We have to come to terms with emotional reality in a way that we have never done. Very little in our culture enables us to confront our sensitivities, and traditionally men have been taught to repress them. The only vents for emotion for the largest group of men in society are sport or war. The emotion is contained, controlled, repressed, and unleashed when it is acceptable for society to unleash it.
This is a habit that dates back to pagan times. The male principle was feared. It was feared in the same way as lightening was feared, or a tiger was feared. It was feared because primitive cultures had no other way of controlling it. Testosterone is a potentially destructive chemical. It is the life force at its most creative and also its most powerful. It is the survival instinct, the power that competes for life. Primtive peoples knew very well that this could be destructive. We only need to look at the characteristics of our histroically patriarchal culture to see that such power inevitably destroys itself if it is abused.
So we have to come terms with our power as men. Not by repressing it, not by emasculating ourselves, and not by simply resigning ourselves to emotional disintegration. The emotional reality of men is unchartered water in this culture. Men have been constrained by our accepted outlets for emotional expression. This is the root of any emotional crisis, as opposed to some biological disposition. How else do you explain the passion and tenderness of Dante's love poetry, or shakespeare's sonnets? Or Mozart's music? Bach? These are the ones that come to mind. All are beautifully tempered examples of a refined emotional sensibility, and there are hundreds more examples.
The problem is cultural, not neurological or biological.

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