Wednesday, December 12, 2012
An Apology To Caring Men
Relationships between men and women can be. . . . complicated. Once in awhile, there’s an opening, a new way of seeing and being seen, of understanding and being understood. The catch (you knew there’d be one, didn’t you?) is that even when we are offered what we have been asking and hoping for, we have to be able to receive.
Many years ago, a men's group asked me to meet with them to talk about the differences between life for women and life for men in our culture- obviously from the perspective of a woman. I was happy to do it. I’d done my best to raise two sons with some awareness of this difference, particularly around personal safety, asking them to be aware of women on the street- particularly at night if a woman was walking alone- and to cross to the other side of the street if they were behind her, to slow down and let her increase the distance between them. I'd reminded them that although they would never do the woman harm, she would have no way of knowing that, and might be going through incredible anxiety about the intent of the stranger behind her.
The men’s group and I had a great evening. We laughed and cried together. I told them about being raped as a young woman, about the fear that women often feel in situations where safety would be less of a concern for men. They were warm and receptive, concerned for the women in their lives, eager to be supportive, to be aware of how they might be unconsciously adding to the stress of situations that arise. Some of the men had also experience threats to their personal safety- and those stories were also shared. Because most men are generally larger and stronger than most women and our ideas of masculinity often emphasize being fearless, it can be even harder for them to admit to being frightened for their safety. The discussion was honest and heart-opening for all.
As I went to leave, several of the men offered to walk me to my car. It was eleven o'clock at night and my car was a couple of blocks down the street in a residential area. They had heard what I’d said, had taken it to heart, wanted to be supportive and protective, wanted to lower the stress of walking down a dark street alone.
Without thinking, I gave my automatic response. I said, “Oh no, that’s okay. I’m fine.”
The men hesitated, confused. And who could blame them? They didn’t want to insist, didn't want to take away my right to decide how I walked down the street or suggest that I was not capable of taking care of myself. I had asked them to understand how life for me, as a woman, was sometimes more dangerous or stressful in situations like walking to my car in the dark- than it often was for them.
And they got it.
But I wasn’t able to receive the care they offered. The inability to have something different happen that night was mine, not theirs.
In a dominator culture, needing help, accepting assistance – particularly assistance offered because of your gender- has often had too high a price, can be used as an excuse to limit our choices. In an effort to avoid the limitations sometimes imposed on a woman seen as weak or unable to take care of herself, I had wedded myself to an independence that precluded receiving care, that made being accompanied or protected feel as dangerous as taking my chances.
Don't get me wrong: I advocate that women know how to take care of themselves, that they be trained in self-defense and know they can sense and avoid dangerous situations or protect themselves and those they love if the need should arise. In fact, when we are confident that we can protect ourselves, we are less likely to have to prove it to ourselves or others, more able to simply receive what another offers and say thank you, welcoming the break from needing to be vigilant on our way home or during our walk to the car late at night.
So, to my dear brothers- I apologize. In this instance so many years ago (and no doubt in others since) you were there with your hearts open, offering what I had just told you was needed. I was not yet secure enough in myself to be able to receive from you (as I now would be more able to do.)
May we know who we are, offer what we can, and be free to receive with gratitude.