My Father Raised My Sister and Me To Act and Think Like Men
This post may be confusing to anyone who’s been to my blog before.
I’m writing this because it sort of ties into a post I have in Draft Stage right now about another topic.
It’s true that my mother was a very feminine, traditional values holding, devout Christian woman who raised me to be that way as well. (I may have mentioned all that in this post.)
My mother was also very codependent, because she grew up in an abusive, alcoholic home, and, as a Christian brought up under traditional gender role type views within Baptist churches, she really felt that girls and women being sweet, delicate, compliant little doormats was God’s will.
Therefore, my mother strongly conditioned me to be a stereotypical feminine girly girl (the very sort which many of my fellow conservatives value and prize), which I hated for many reasons, one of which is that I was a tom boy as a kid.
As a girl growing up, I was not interested in being my mother’s version of feminine, or what passes for womanly and feminine among today’s conservatives, Christians, and Republicans.
I was not interested in dolls, or wearing frilly dresses when I was a girl, or always just sitting quietly reading books.
One of my mother’s biggest “hang ups” around girlhood and womanhood was that, in her view, girls and women should not feel anger and should above all never, ever express anger.
It would be mean, wrong, un-lady-like or un-Christ-like, my mother believed, for a girl or woman to be hostile, be assertive, show anger, be out-spoken, or have boundaries.
Those traits were the province of ‘Men Only’ and forbidden to girls and women, my mother believed, and it’s a view that is often supported in and among the churches we went to as I was growing up, and I sadly see a lot of conservatives today holding this view, as well.
In my family, because my mother was the warm and fuzzy parent, I felt closer to her. I felt safer around her. Mom was approachable. Mom was non-judgmental, non-critical.
So, I strove to emulate my Mom, which meant I tried very hard to stifle my anger if I felt anger, not be so out-spoken, and to be quiet, sweet, compliant, and deferential to all. I tried to be like Mom and usually succeeded.
My father, though, was the total opposite to my mother, and so he emphasized different values and qualities in both my sister and myself.
My Dad was negative, critical, grouchy, very opinionated (and very blunt with people, he’d let you know where he stood), he never validated myself or my siblings.
My Dad was cold and prickly. (I love my father, but he is and has always been the opposite of warm and fuzzy – he was difficult to know.) I didn’t want to be like that, so there again, I strove to copy my Mom and be more like her – gentle, sweet, and loving.
As a kid, if I fell down and scraped my knee, Mom was the one I went to for kisses, hugs, reassurance, and band-aids.
The one lone time I went to my Dad, sipping his beer while sitting in his recliner, after I scraped my knee up as a kid (and it was quite bloody), he barely glanced at my knee from his football game on TV to just tell me, “You’ll be okay, you know where the oint-ment and Band-Aids are, so go help yourself.”
Dad didn’t give me any hugs, kisses, or reassurance – no way, not even when I came in with a scraped knee.
My mom was the one who made me FEEL loved. Not so much my dad.
You can maybe understand why, then, I mainly tried to be like Mom and act like her.
Then, of course, my mother also taught me that being a girl or a woman meant acting a certain way (that certain way being passive, meek, and a spineless jellyfish – that was all considered feminine.)
While my mom was raising me to be June Cleaver, and to be lady-like, which to her included things like, don’t express anger openly or be blunt with people, my father was raising my sister and myself to be, act, and to think like men, in some regards.
My sister and I looked like girls. I’m not suggesting that she and I looked like dudes, never shaved our legs, or sat with our legs splayed open (“man spreading”). That’s not what I’m talking about when I say my dad raised my sister and me to behave and think like men.
My mom told me several times as I was growing up that my dad was sexist. Dad thought that boys and men are superior to girls and women. Dad believed that males were smarter, more competent, and more logical than females – according to Mom.
Interestingly, though, my father did not treat my sister and myself differently from our brother.
My dad was just as with-holding, critical, and non-affirming with the boy as he was with the two girls.
My dad was not more gracious, loving, affectionate, patient, understanding, or gentle with my sister and me than he was with my brother.
My Dad was equally emotionally distant and tough on all of us, the son and the daughters. The daughters didn’t get special treatment or get a pass from him just for being female.
My sister and I were trained up by Dad to be tough, resilient, opinionated, and stoic. The role modeling we got from him was that of a blunt, direct person who wasn’t shy about speaking his mind and telling other people how stupid their opinions were.
Mom was raising me to think there was nothing shameful or wrong about me, a girl, going to her privately (or to other women) and talking about my feelings.
If I was sad, anxious, or feeling whatever negative emotion, Mom was fine and dandy with me confiding in her about all that privately.
With my dad, no. It’s a different story.
Not only does my father not want me going about admitting to others outside the family if I am feeling sad, lonely, afraid, etc, but he himself has always noticeably stiffened in discomfort in his easy chair any time I’ve gone to him upset or in tears about something, wanting to talk it over with him.
The man clearly does not want me talking to him about my emotions, either. And he’s my dad.
This sort of behavior has continued into my adulthood, by the way, and it really took a hold in my sister.
My Dad and sister believe it’s a sign of shame and weakness to show emotion in front of other people.
For the love of all that is holy, according to how my father behaves and acts with my siblings and myself, the message I always got from him is that you are never, ever supposed to admit to another person if you are feeling worried, sad, fearful, or whatever else.
You are supposed to suppress those feelings, suck it up buttercup, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and solider on, and don’t ask other people for any help, certainly not emotional support.
Only wussies and weaklings ask for or expect others to offer them hope, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on, Dad taught us.
I will say that my Dad and sister hold double standards on anger, however.
My Dad and sister both show anger whenever and however they want to, but if I show anger, they both get angry at me.
In my family, I am expected by all to repress any anger I feel, even in the midst of someone being rude, nasty, or condescending to me (I no longer play by this rule). Both my mom and dad did not, and do not, like me showing anger, and neither does my sister.
But my Dad and sister both feel perfectly fine yelling, screaming, or being critical of me or other people – it’s a do as I say, not as I do sort of thing, which annoys me the older I get.
It’s okay for THEM to have anger and show it, but not for me. Uh-huh.
At any rate, when I read articles online about Toxic Masculinity and how patriarchy can be damaging to boys and men, I understand it, because I was sort of conditioned to be, act, and think like a man by my father.
There is nothing normal, masculine, manly, or psychologically healthy about going through life with this “I don’t need other people, I’m tough enough to handle things all alone” or “suck it up buttercup” mentality all the time on every concern you face in life.
But, as I’ve read about for years now and was raised this way myself by my father, this is one aspect that a lot of boys and men are taught from the time they are kids – that it’s a sign of weakness to ask others for emotional support, to cry in front of others, to admit to feeling afraid, depressed, or lonely.
I know this blog post may seem a little weird or out of place, but it does sort of tie in with another one I want to publish in the future.
I also didn’t want anyone who’s talked to me before to be confused.
I have emphasized more in the past on this blog and on others how my mother raised me to be a quiet, docile, doormat who allows people to walk all over her – which is very true, that is how I was raised, and I tried so hard for years to live up to that.
On the flip side, though, I did have this really critical, negative father who was role- modeling and teaching my sister and me to think and act like stereotypical men. My sister really took it to heart.
Myself? I’m more in the middle. I’m somewhere between our Mom and Dad.
I can see how aspects of masculinity can in fact be toxic, though, since although I am a woman, my father raised me to be like a man. And it’s not a healthy way to exist.
One outcome of this embrace of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ (not all masculinity is Toxic, but certain beliefs or stereotypes of masculinity can be toxic for men and women) can lead to is depressed men who feel too ashamed, embarrassed, or awkward about talking about their emotions, including depression.
As a result, some men commit suicide. They never seek out proper treatment.
It’s my view that a lot of this gets back into sexist stereotypes, about how society keeps insisting women are “better” at relationships and emotions than men are -ergo, women may feel more comfortable engaging in behaviors that lead to meaningful friendships than men do.
Boys and men are not really as encouraged as girls and women are to be relational – to make friends, to be transparent with friends. They are not given societal permission in these areas.
Men, overall, just seem to have a more difficult time making friends than women do, and thus are not as likely to have a social safety net as a lot of women do.
For instance, this November 2017 study (via three sources):
Part of the problem may be that men face far more social pressure to repress their feelings and not talk about them with their peers.
But talking through things with your friends can help, and it’s something that women do better than men, according to Jack Duckett, a Senior Consumer Lifestyles Analyst at Mintel.
Women are “typically better at creating support groups with whom they can discuss their thoughts and feelings, putting less pressure on the need for a relationship,” he told Moneyish.
Men, on the other hand, have a harder time opening up—and without a partner to confide in, they could feel especially uncomfortable.
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TOXIC MASCULINITY, STRICT GENDER ROLES, AND SUICIDE IN BOYS AND MEN
Besides economic woes, some experts point to the heightened divorce rate among men in this age-range.
Whether married or single, women tend to open up to friends and family about their troubles and build a strong network of support.
Whereas men generally don’t. If they open up at all, it’s usually to their partner. But for the divorced or single, there’s no such outlet.
Hegemonic masculinity, according to Meyer, is the idea that one’s machismo must be broadcast constantly, no matter what he is dealing with or how he feels inside. It’s stoicism taken to the nth degree.
Several studies have found that hegemonic masculinity is detrimental to men’s well-being and health outcomes, including Sabo & Gordon, 1995; Courtenay, 2000; and Lee & Owens, 2002.
Psychotherapist Daphne Rose Kingma is the author of the book,The Men We Never Knew. She said, “Because of the way boys are socialized, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.”
Everyone needs to be vulnerable sometimes, and to have someone to confide in and gain support from. Yet, men are taught to feel ashamed or even guilty for doing so.
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Why are so many more men killing themselves than women? “Is it biologically set in stone that men take their own lives – or is it cultural?” Powell asks. “If you look at how the suicide rates have changed, how they go up and down, you can see that it’s cultural – it’s about what we expect.”
And this is what is so troubling about male suicide. Women are actually more likely to suffer from depression, but more likely to seek help when they encounter trouble. The uncomfortable truth is that stereotypical forms of masculinity – stiff upper lips, “laddishness” – are killing men.
…When he first told his father that he was depressed, he told him to “get over it”. It wasn’t just relatives: doctors told him to “get on with it” as well.
…This sense that men should not speak about their feelings is not always overt; nor does it necessarily manifest itself as bullying. Fabio Zucchelli, 29, has had depression since his early teenage years.
…”The main issue I’ve had with feeling able to talk about mental health difficulties is with male friends, who just find it really uncomfortable. I haven’t had anyone defriend me because of it, just a lot of discomfort.”
…”I’ve been really struck by the number of men who have come up to me – often in my constituency – like ex-shipyard workers who have struggled for 10 years, who have been keeping it quiet,” he tells me. “We do operate in a culture where men, by and large, talk about their feelings less. They’re self-conscious about talking about weakness, there’s this male sense of ‘shrug and get on with stuff’.”
This type of male identity is cemented at a very young age. According to researchby the LGB charity Stonewall, 98% of gay pupils and 95% of teachers hear “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” at school; nearly as many hear “dyke” or “poof” thrown around as insults.
…Rather than being entirely about anti-gay hatred, there is an element of “gender policing”, of abuse directed at men who do not conform to a stereotype of masculinity.
“Asking for help is seen as an affront to masculinity,” says the writer Laurie Penny, who has extensively researched mental health issues and written about her own experiences. “This is deeply, deeply troubling, because it means when you’re taking that first step when you’re suffering a mental health difficulty, reaching out for help is made doubly hard. The rules of masculinity prevent you from asking for help or talking about feelings.”
According to Penny, depression is often accompanied by a sense of shame, of not deserving help, “and when messed-up gender roles are thrown into the mix, it’s going to become even more troubling”. She has no doubt that gender policing “ruins lives across the board”.
…Challenging unreconstructed masculinity is surely a priority, too. The organisation Calm has launched an initiative called “#mandictionary”, encouraging men to take on “archaic male stereotypes” and “define themselves on their own terms”. Men speaking out – as they have done in this article – helps, too, encouraging others to come forward.
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Finally, given men’s general reluctance to seek help for suicide-related concerns, and the stigma associated with mental health problems in general, it is no surprise that suicide among men is largely invisible.
…Men’s lack of social support, relative to that available to women, has been implicated as a risk factor in male suicide. An interview-based study of men who had attempted suicide suggested that social stressors—family breakdown, overwork, employment insecurity—often combined with alcohol or drug abuse, are understudied contributors to male suicide..
…Consistent with men’s relatively low levels of help-seeking for psychological difficulties, a review of help-seeking by individuals who eventually died by suicide showed that men had lower overall rates of contact with the formal health care system (including primary care and mental health services) compared with women.
Specifically, in the year before suicide, an average 58% of women versus 35% of men sought care from a mental health practitioner…
There are many more web pages out there you can find on this subject.
I was raised under this sort of thinking by my father, so I can imagine, even though I was born female, how difficult it must be to have been born a male and constantly be held to this societal expectation that if you’re ever feeling lonely, depressed, scared (or whatever negative emotion), you are not allowed to talk it over with someone else and expect empathy.
I just wanted to clarify that although my mother was a very feminine, traditional values woman who raised me to be that same way, and I emulated her, or tried to over much of my life, that at the same time, I was being pulled in another direction by my father, who instilled in my sister and myself to think, be, and act like men. It was a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde way of being raised.
I’d have to say I don’t like either extreme. Both are harmful and a pain in the ass. On the one hand, I had my mother conditioning me to be a girly girl, stereotypical feminine June Cleaver type of girl and woman, and on the other hand, my father was raising me to be a tough, macho, Manly Man Tough Guy.
Both extremes came with their own set of problems and difficulties.
I don’t recommend anyone bring up their children under either paradigm – sadly, though, a lot of Christians and even some secular conservatives promote these rigid gender roles, with Christians calling them “biblical” and “God’s design,” even though they’re not.