Ladies, I’ll be the first one to admit to doing this. I catch myself all the time not listening to Rob as deeply as I could. Cutting him off when he’s talking, or speaking before he’s had a chance to fully reflect. He does a great job of letting me know when he feels cut off, fortunately. But it’s even easier to notice when I see another woman doing it to ‘her’ man. Rob and I were visiting one of my favorite relatives and it was quite a lesson for me. Unfortunately I didn’t feel comfortable enough to bring up how I was feeling about the conversation dynamics, and the language barrier certainly didn’t make things easier for me. After reflecting on the encounter I became inspired to write something about it, and fully explore my feelings.
It happened again and this time my emotional alarm bells sounded with visceral volume and clarity. As soon as she cut him off in mid-sentence, wildly gesticulating and invalidating the soundness of his perspective, I felt a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat forming. At the time I didn’t have the words to describe what I was feeling, so I just watched. I quietly mourned the loss of quality and dimension in conversation which moments before had flowed from his deep listening and intuitively opposed impressions. Another beautiful masculine creature had been shut down and silenced. I had heard it many times before in different flavors; the interrogating detective: ‘ she asked you a question, did you hear her?’, the multiple choice teacher: ‘ is it just that you dont know how you’re feeling or that you’re uncomfortable telling me?’ the ambassador shrew: ‘no one wants to hear your story for the twentieth time!’ This time it was close to home and yet strangely distant. If I had had more familial intimacy with my Italian relatives I would have spoken up about my preference for a round table discussion where everyone was given the opportunity to speak their thoughts uninterrupted… These are the moments I kick myself afterwards about not speaking up in the moment. Staying engaged in the conversation was easy as I was excited to discuss in a non-political way, the state and direction of our global humanity with an older generation. What was difficult was when I would ask my uncle for his thoughts or opinions. He would take a moment to collect himself and then after only speaking for 30 seconds or so, his 70-something year old matriarch of a wife would think she knew where he was going with a thought, cut him off, and resteer the conversation to her liking. She had strong opinions and knew how to pitch her voice to be heard among others. I never really did get to hear him complete a thought in her company.
A few years ago I had learned a beautiful way of sharing conversation from a Maori tribesman and it includes asking each individual ‘and what do you think about everything we are discussing here so far?’ I employed this technique in an effort to hear all perspectives, but sure enough, when it was my uncle’s turn, he did not have the space to reflect without my aunt speaking for him; ‘ ma no, eh, things have changed, that’s not how it is anymore! We’re old now, they dont care what you have to say, let’s hear what the young ones have to say.’ By the way this behavior is actually physiologically demasculinating, studies show that men get a boost of testosterone when reliving the hunt through story. Later, after having suspiciously busied himself with household chores, my aunt led Rob and I through a passionate discourse on the nature of spirituality and human development; she was eager to share with us her brand of truly wholesome living! It was quite refreshing to connect with her in this way but I felt sad that my uncle wasn’t in the conversation anymore because what points he did manage to squeeze out about work ethic, ingenuity, and social agreements seemed compatible with her thoughts regarding consciousness expansion, if only emphasized from his differing needs. In any case, he was flexible on his points and it seemed to me that his perspective offered the perfect antithesis to his wife’s thesis in which we all could form a new synthesis. Although they had been married for many years, they lived very different lives and therefore had formed very different views of the world. He had been a merchant, traveling to France, Japan, China, Holland etc to provide for his family while she had created their home and raised their children. He was Catholic and she was not. She had an emphasis on education while his was on regulation. As more of a connector she hadn’t ‘earned’ much in the monetary realm while he had a strong entrepreneurial spirit. When Rob and I were alone with my uncle, I took the opportunity to hear him. He told us that he was extremely grateful to his wife because he believed that he would not have been able to be so successful in his business if she hadn’t encouraged him to do so. She had held down the fort while he was away. I was really touched that hearing him fully allowed me to see how deeply he honored her for the life they had built together.
This experience reminded me how prevalent this demasculinization in communication is across generations. It is nothing less than a lack of understanding about masculine characteristics, and a feminization of information processing, sharing, and listening. I’d like to qualify this subject matter by recognizing that there are plenty of abusive relationships that silence the feminine as well. I also recognize that I am oversimplifying into two gender categories what is instead a multitude of gender shades. Some beings that identify as ‘woman’ may identify with what I’m describing as common to ‘men’ and vice versa and everything in between. I have personally seen dismissive communication not only within heteronormative relating but also in lesbian, gay, and transexual expression. Whatever you have heard about slaves and masters in the mainstream, it is the farthest thing imaginable from an exploitative relationship. Even in and especially for kink power dynamic play, a thorough recognition of each players’ value is foundational to BDSM. It appears that power-over dynamics of suckers v.s. assholes, top dogs v.s. wimps, infiltrates all gender types and all relationship structures. I propose that honoring each other, through fostering bilateral influence between masculine and feminine ways of communicating, is how we can love more and be happy. What this article is looking at specifically, are the ways in which empowered women belittle and demasculinate men in conversation. From this place I ask; How long are we going to talk about feminism without discussing the ways that women lack respect for men’s voice? How long are we going to dishonor the masculine’s unique information retrieval system by compressing mens’ space and time to express themselves? Learning the ways in which we participate and perpetuate exploitative, unilateral, coercive, imposing, intimidating, and forceful communication styles, we opt out of the supposed war of the sexes. By empowering rather than overpowering each other, we have an opportunity for true egalitarian relating.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that, with patience and positive regard, has changed my life and my relationships to men. The masculine, which frequently means men but not always, has a very different way of answering questions than women do. In fact –although it is beyond the scope of this article– If you truly get to the bottom of how men and women’s brains are different in a way that seeks loving understanding, you will disolve most of the predictable strife and conflict between genders¹. If things like asking for directions, taking out the trash, eating a snack while dinner is about to be served, and being communicative are a source of irritation in your intimate relationships, then know that this frustration can be a thing of the past. If it bothers you to hear of playboy men physically or emotionally intimidating women from ‘backtalking’, know that aggressively assertive women and timidly complacent men are the flipside of the coersive relationship coin. Rather than accepting ‘bitchy’ behavior as the inevitable pendulum swing of male oppression, we must also recognize this more subtle form of exploitative dynamics. If all of this sounds like a nightmare to you, then try the following guidelines to have more fun! By committing to unconditionally validating different communication styles, you can be one more woman and/or man that values relating over ‘might makes right‘.Today, by simply trying a different tack, you can discover what the masculine has to share.
1. Listen for what is important to them and prioritize connection over ‘being right’.
Is it possible that we could grow more by listening for what the other’s heart is communicating to us rather than listening for whether we agree/disagree, like/dislike what they are saying? By getting in touch with the needs and feelings behind what the other is saying, you have the opportunity to go beyond a debate and move into the realm of knowing their heart more intimately. People often invest their worth and identity into their opinions and beliefs. This means that what people are actually doing is negotiating their worthiness and sense of self through their opinions while keeping their driving fears, hopes, feelings and needs below the surface. By relaxing your listening from analyzing the correctness or incorrectness of their view, and instead listen for what important thing they are expressing, the other is invited to relax their vigilent defence of personal identity. By focusing on unconditionally accepting what the other is choosing to share with you, because you know they are worthy of sharing themselves regardless of their opinions, you have an opportunity to really connect with them. You also have a greater likelihood of creatively building a new perspective that honors both your and their needs in the long run.
Ex: You believe it is important for women to invest in their career while the other believes it is important for a woman to invest in her kids. You may be expressing your need to contribute meaningfully to society in a way that honors your freedom and creativity. They may be expressing their need to nurture and guide societies’ inheritors in a way that honors their love and connection. How much more can we learn from each other if we focus on this rather than fighting about which rights are right? Is it really necessary to invalidate another’s perspective in order for ours to have value?
2. Be aware of domination in conversation and invite bilateral influence.
Everyone has a need to be heard, understood, honored and respected. The question of whether one speaks up or not is a matter of whether they feel communicating will be an effective strategy. Do they feel safe to express themselves or will they be criticized? Do they believe that by doing so they are likely to meet a need or desire or will they feel even more disconnected? While nobody likes being invalidated, different people have different tolerence levels for rejection. If a person in conversation doesn’t seem to be piping up, take the opportunity to invite them in. By asking them for their feelings and/or opinions from a place of true curiosity, eager to realize the heart of their sharing, you are offering an opportunity for them to express themselves without fear. You are giving them the gift of connection just by demonstrating that you desire to know something deeper about them.
Ex: You notice that someone in your group of friends has become silent and you decide you would like to ‘hold the space’ necessary for them to safely share themselves. So you ask ‘ Has what’s being discussed so far brought up any thoughts or feelings for you? I’d love to hear anything that you are inspired to say right now.’ You are now a champion of perspective sharing rather than a participant in a battle of egos.
3. Be Clear and Ernest that you desire a response.
When someone is not used to sharing their opinion, they may view your invitation as a rhetorical question; unaccustomed to being asked to participate in a vulnerable way. Further, they may be unaware of the depth they have ready to share because they are conditioned to being interrupted. Others, used to their silence, may start talking over you as you are posing your question to the one who isn’t getting a chance to discuss. If this happens, it is important to reestablish that space by being clear and ernest.
Ex: ‘ Now hold on a minute. Im asking so-and-so a question and I would like to hear them right now, so let’s just slow this thing down so we can all weigh in here, OK? Sound good?’
And this is where men and women tend to deviate. Because women tend to be multi trackers (engaged in many streams of thought simultaniously) while men tend to be single minded ( giving their full attention to whatever is their priority at the moment), a man who has really been listening to the conversation will need time to switch gears in order to touch base with their personal perspective. It is essential that once you have established that they heard your question and accept the sincerity of your invitation that you do not interrupt them by doing the following: 1. Rephrase your question in a different way 2. Suggest possible answers to your questions. Instead it is vital to wait.
4. Do not say another word and wait until they speak.
Do not speak, do not start thinking of something else, just stay actively engaged in a state of reception and wait. No matter how long the silence, wait….Until when you ask? Until they actually speak again. With all the female teachers we have had in elementary and high school, we have been conditioned to respond to questions in a particularly feminine way. A long pause before a response is typically interpreted as a symptom of being lost, confused, or stupid. What is actually happening during this period of waiting, is that the masculine is sending his bucket down into the depth of his well of being to draw up the water of his truth. He is shifting his attention to connect with himself and draw forth his inner knowing to share with you. This takes time and if they are interrupted during this process you will miss an opportunity to commune with this unique being. If you actually get this far, you may be profoundly impressed with the quality of thoughts and feelings you are honored to hear.
5. Do not assume you know what they mean.
Another way that the feminine denegates the masculine is by thinking she knows where he is going with something. This attitude sometimes prompts an interruption in their expression to complete their sentence and/or invalidate their perspective. Sometimes this takes the form of rejecting the masculine’s ideas without having heard the complete thought. Before he has even finished she is already rejecting his impression. She has already said ‘No’ before she has connected with what he was truly attempting to share.
Ex: He: I was listening to an Osho recording where he was talking about how the master has no business being politically correct. That by telling the truth, by being authentic, you naturally make enemies.
She: (Quickly rebutting) Well, I dont agree because HeatherAsh is absolutely authentic and yet she takes the time to answer a student in a way that connects with where they are at in the moment without hammering ‘The Truth’ down their throat.
He: (slower now) Well yes, that’s true. I’ve heard Osho talk about how he contradicts himself and…
She: ( cutting him off) Yes, yes yes, I know. I’ve heard him talk about that too and I think it’s a load of crap.
He: You didn’t even let me finish. You don’t know what I’m going to say, and even if you do, I’d like for you to listen to what I’m sharing. I was trying to tell you something about the nature of authenticity.
She: I’m sorry, I got triggered. Please, go on, I want to hear what you have to say. I’m really listening this time.
It’s never too late to see someone’s message through. This is an excellent use of patience that can take you
to new dimensions of understanding about the self, the other, and our collective reality.
I invite you to experiment with these principles because I only learned them to be true by actually trying them out. I learned that I had been in a complete fantasy world expecting others to communicate as fast as myself. I have made a commitment to celebrate masculinity and waiting is a small price to pay for this. I have waited 5 whole minutes before, astounded to realize that what I would have previously thought of as confusion, was him indeed tapping into his feelings and thoughts to collect and express his inner being. In a world where women frequently complain that men are emotionally inattentive; is it possible that part of the block to intimacy is women who dont know how to listen to men? Is it furthermore possible that many men are not even aware of their own capabilities in expression because they have been corralled into communicating in an incompatibly feminine way? What I have personally discovered, is that by empowering the masculine I empowered the feminine.
I take after my grandmother a lot, she is a strong willed woman; a force to be reckoned with and I have learned a lot from her. But to this day I feel sad that I cannot have a conversation with my grandfather when she is present without her piping up to speak for him. Is he unpracticed in sharing conversation in a mutually supportive way? I also sometimes watch my father struggle to think ‘fast enough’ in conversation with women, simultaneously frustrated at the weight of self-advocating. I see in myself the ways I take power over my male partner by overriding his contemplative process. The buck stops here, and when I forget, I recommit to honoring men in conversation. I treasure masculine expression because I have seen how valuable it is in my own life. I have seen how vibrant and developed men’s thought process and feeling connection can be when I create the space for them to complete their process uninterrupted. I can only begin to fathom what we lose as a society when we demasculinize men in conversation, but in my own life cherishing and respecting the masculine mode of conversation has been a huge enrichment. I invite you to see it’s value for yourself.
¹ The Queen’s Code by Alison Armstrong is a fantastic book for exploring gender differences more deeply.