Burdensome

Billy needed to be needed, but Suzie didn’t have a need.
They battled out their conflicts over gender-bent greed.
Suzie had a job and a desire to feel love,
Billy felt it burdensome to not be burdened of.

And so this confusing battle, it raged throughout the years,
A romantic comedy, of sorts, damaging these gender-divided peers.
Billy’s needs were met so that Suzie’s also seemed to be his own,
And her need for control of herself was Billy’s Sisyphus stone.

Needs are not universal, though, and Suzie and Billy need different things,
So Billy assumed what Suzie needed were houses and children and rings.
Suzie wanted fulfillment, she wanted entertainment and freedom.
And Billy cast off all her desires, saying, “but you don’t really NEED them.”

It’s a problem with their social roadmap; with what they’re expected to be,
While Billy’s needs are not invalid, they ignore Suzie’s autonomy.
Attention should be given to their resolution because it might apply to you:
Billy had to learn independence so Suzie could have hers, too.

-Sophie M. Hirschfeld

I wrote that really bad poem to highlight the basic problem with the article that this blog post is in response to.

I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you’re already aware that gender issues debates are debates that take place in a kind of murky environment, sometimes. Though it may be tough for some to admit, both sides often have a mixture of complaints and while many reasonable people will lean towards the understanding that feminist complaints seem to be the most valid, there are a few complaints that men have that are also valid. The problem is, most of those complaints are actually tied into the complaints of feminists. As in, the troubles of male privilege are directly related to the problem of male privilege.

One link that was floating around Facebook yesterday was by Noah Brand, on the Good Men Project, called, “Men Must Be Needed Because We Can’t Be Wanted.” I admit, I think that while this article addresses a problem that I think many men have complaints about, I am not convinced that the article is really a summation of the problem. But, because I tend to think that all complaints with a valid basis need addressed, I’m going to try to consider the complaint of the no-longer-needed-man and walk us through it so that maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to deal with it.

The summary of the article basically says that men feel the need to be needed in certain ways, possibly because they are socially conditioned, to feel that way and that new social constructs that exist because of the feminist movement get in the way of that. The thing is, they’re partly right. In fact, there are other issues men face that probably suck pretty badly, primarily because of the feminist movement. Men don’t have a social advantage as much as they used to, when it comes to dating. Workplace dynamics have also changed, forcing men to compete with women in order to obtain jobs. The net gain, in these cases, benefits women. But, it benefits women who were previously at so much of a disadvantage that while they gain from these social changes, the women are still at a social disadvantage. Sure, men have to now deal with the absolutely confusing set of social messages that they get from the media (that is mostly produced by men). Men are still portrayed as breadwinners and kings-of-castles and fatherly advice-givers and incapable parents and irresponsible sex-seekers. At the same time, the feminist movement has made way for women to not allow those things to be the norm, no matter if it were ever really the norm to begin with (in some cases, it wasn’t).

So, I totally understand how it might suck to deal with a society that bombards you with messages about what you should be while also having to deal with social changes. I was raised being taught that a woman was supposed to have kids, stay at home, cook and fulfill her husband’s sexual needs. Obviously, that kind of upbringing is compatible with the kind of social messages that men get. The big difference is that what men get as a message about what they should be is a bit more appealing than what women tend to get. So, I can understand that a man might want the kind of life story that Hollywood says that they should have, but that would require that women submit themselves to the life story that Hollywood has written for them. If men don’t want that kind of story, why would it be fair for them to want women to have it?

That isn’t to say that men aren’t suffering because they can’t be what the media wants them to be. Instead, that’s to say that women have a much bigger problem to deal with when it comes to expectations and it is literally the case that the expectations that the media has for men are directly responsible for unreasonable expectations for women.

All that being said, there are some other things to note. For example, while some men may be uncomfortable with the realization that they can’t play the role of the superhero for women, the superhero storyline in movies assumes that what a man does for a woman is absolutely what she wants and needs. Just as Billy’s desire to be needed by Suzie is problematic because he can’t give her what she actually wants, the desire of men who want to be needed is unlikely to have perfect compatibility with the wants and desires of their love-interest. In most healthy relationships, a couple would adapt together, in order to meet the needs of both parties. Yet, the idea of men as people who need-to-be-needed seems to imply that the need-to-be-needed aspect of a man is expected to trump the desires of the woman, which is the basic problem behind most sex and gender issues and is, thus, why we have feminism to begin with.

Noah Brand, who seems to be unsure of where to go from his own realization of the problem, pretty much left the conversation open. His piece was an acknowledgement of something, it hinted at that something being problematic, but it didn’t really take us to a solution. Admittedly, the solution is kinda rough for most men who have expected to be comfortable with the way things have been, historically. The solution is, even though it is admittedly inconvenient to them, they have to let go of that fantasy and they are, then, responsible for helping us to write new ones. Sure, past media has written an unfair story for you, but media is based on us. We have to be the ones to change that narration.

There seems to be this fatalistic idea that is promoted in many magazines that target men that says that the male identity is falling victim to progress. But, that seems to be an absolute myth. While more women are being employed in positions that were historically male-oriented, the men who remain in those fields don’t seem to be suffering from an identity crisis. Instead, men are creating new identities. There are male nurses and there are stay-at-home dads and there are men who have learned that needing to be needed sounds a bit too much like a recipe for co-dependence issues. There are men who manage single fatherhood and men who juggle careers and children and who take on neutral roles with their wives. Men are surviving with the current changes going on in our society and many of them are happy with it.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I think the thing that really bothers me about Brand’s article is it states that men are not needed anymore. But, that’s actually not true. Men are still needed, but that need is different, now. Basically, for men, the job description has changed. That happens in social roles pretty much constantly. For women, that means that we get more options for our futures. For men, that means, well, you have more options for your futures. You don’t have to be the breadwinner, anymore. You can be needed as household support, now. Instead of being needed as a general repairman, now you might be needed as a father when the wife (or husband) is at work. Brand’s article may have a valid complaint, but the complaint is still about dealing with social change and that social change may be rough, but it actually improves the sets of options that men have.

Yes, irrational social expectations of women have also been assisted by irrational expectations of men.

Yes, it is inconvenient to cater to the desires that women have, when it comes to equality.

It is totally true that feminism has changed life so much that men can no longer have the same kind of life that they are told they should have.

Because the consequences of catering to this idea of needing-to-be-needed would be a loss of progress for women, the solution to Brand’s complaint is likely to feel pretty harsh: Adapt.

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