By Dr. Lisa Arslanian
Our protests against patriarchal disparities most commonly find voice within the feminine realm—unequal pay for women, societal expectations that undermine female potential, glass ceilings in the workplace, and so on. Daily conversations with my female patients highlight how readily beliefs of unworthiness and questions around value can seep into our unconscious. These realities, along with the human mind’s quest to categorize information and make sense of the world lead us to believe that if women get less, then men must get more. This deductive logic finds affirmation in the world of opportunity and compensation, but as a psychologist, I can attest to a different reality when it comes to our emotional and psychological worlds. In my everyday work with real people, I witness the painfully ironic “equality” that patriarchy does in fact offer—the casualties. Yes—these are the “gifts” enjoyed by both men and women alike.
When patriarchy dangles in men’s eyes the prized possessions of greater power and influence, it hides the small-print disclaimer at the end of the contract. Here’s what this disclaimer says:
“In agreeing to accept the prized role of becoming the ‘head’ of your family, in accepting society’s offer of greater pay and a louder voice, in being given implicit permission to interrupt women midway through their sentences, etc…. you also agree to a lifetime of relinquishing your right to engage with the full range of human emotions. You agree to never cry, show feelings, express need or vulnerability. Should any of these expressions arise, they are only to manifest as anger and/or frustration; any other expression shall be chastised with shame. In your moments of powerlessness and helplessness, your anger and rage may swallow you whole and leave you with a gaping void of confusion around who you truly are. The limits that come with the latter may result in a lifetime of struggle and confusion in your most important relationships and may limit the depths at which you are able to enjoy meaningful connections; nonetheless, terms are non-negotiable.
You also get to enjoy the sparkling guise of being assigned a greater sense of importance in the world; in enjoying this falsely grandiose status, you agree to give up large pieces of your true person. As is true with any inflation, a recession (in this case, depression) is guaranteed to follow. However, given the aforementioned restrictions, your depression is only to manifest as continued anger and bitterness toward life...a persistent, nagging (but sadly, true) sense of being misunderstood.
Upon reaching that moment when you realize that you have been seduced to accept an artificial and less than rewarding promise, we exempt ourselves of all liability. You will be responsible to clean the mess you find on your hands and the sadness that resides in your heart.”
My purpose in writing this, dear reader, is to offer kind, compassionate presence to the men who privately endure the pressures of the above disclaimer and feel suffocated by the constraints they never knew they agreed to. One of the most endearing experiences in my work is when a male patient shares with me that he simply does not know how to identify his emotions, feels uncertain about what showing empathy looks like, and experiences utter confusion around how to foster a deeper emotional connection with someone he cares for. I feel deeply grateful for my patients’ willingness to share this information with me—for their honesty and forthrightness. Their words are met by my great respect and admiration. Every day, I am humbled to do work that allows me the privilege of seeing courage come to life.
I respond to their “confession”—“It’s not your fault. You simply have a blindspot to something that was just not part of your experience.” Internally, I feel the truest compassion for these men. I believe their wish to learn, and most importantly, I trust the full range of their humanness. Moving forward, I feel eager for them to discover the freedom inherent to owning all parts of their inner world. Excitedly, I await the journey for us to get to know the truest version of their self—the whole self.
Often times our efforts at tackling the patriarchy involve changing the status quo. I wonder, though, if an equally important movement toward change can occur by simply acknowledging the precious realities that have existed before us for all time. When we speak to our sons, I wonder if we can celebrate the kindness in their hearts, the tenderness in their touch, the wisdom of their thoughtful choices. I wonder if we can rise to the occasion of nurturing men who enjoy the freedom to know all facets of themselves, men who wisely trust the inner anchor necessary to gracefully swim through the complex nuances of life.
The pathway is simple: allow for all aspects of humanity—struggles, feelings, needs, mercy, compassion and growth. Acceptance of our humanity affords us the greatest freedom—to live as our truest selves. And I am so happy to share with you, dear reader, that the truth of our humanity requires no disclaimer.
As published in The Armenian Weekly