Let’s talk about how to engage men.
I’ll be referring to some of my notes because this is a little technical. First of all, why am I even giving a class on how to engage men? How many of you have ever entered a lecture entitled how to engage women? Why is engaging men such a resonant issue? The answer to this question, as would be safe to answer most questions, is because of patriarchy. Okay, we got that. Now what does that mean? Well, let me quickly review the three rings of patriarchy. Remember those? First is the halving process. You take one whole human being. You say all the qualities to the left are feminine, all the qualities to the right are masculine. Then you divide human traits into two different halves.
The second I call the dance of contempt. That is that the masculine half is exalted, the feminine half is devalued. The essential relationship between these two: domain. The essential dynamic of patriarchy is that the masculine holds the feminine in contempt. The masculine is one up, the feminine is one down. This plays out between men and women, but it also plays out between two men. Look at Kevin Spacey and his victim. It plays out between two women. It can play out between a mother and a child. It can play out between two races. It can play out between two cultures. It is ubiquitous. This dynamic is everywhere.
Then the third aspect of the three rings of patriarchy is that whoever is on the feminine side of the equation, man, woman, boy, or girl, has a profound impulse, if you remember, to protect whoever is on the masculine side of the equation, even while being mistreated by that person. Whoever is on the masculine side of the equation has disowned their fragility. Whoever is on the feminine side of the equation has a hyper-empathic relationship to that person’s disowned fragility, losing touch with their own fragility in a process that would commonly be called codependent, but which I think is actually much broader.
Anyway, what does that have to do with why we have to engage men in therapy? The answer is really simple. Under the rubric of patriarchy, intimacy itself is coded as feminine. Intimacy itself is a chick flick as I say. We do to intimacy what we do to many things being feminine. We idealize it in principle and we devalue it in fact. What does that have to do with therapy? If intimacy is deemed as feminine, then couples therapy, relational work, is also deemed as a feminine endeavor.
Yes, there are some couples who both agree that things were bad and they both bring each other in. I’m not saying that this is across the board, but I am saying far and away the majority is women who are carrying the dissatisfaction of the relationship. It is women who tune in Oprah. It is women who buy books on relationships. It’s women who bought my book on depression. I like to say my book on male depression appeared under pillows all over America. It’s women by and large who drag men into therapy. Men are by and large perceiving this in one form or another as if it were a foreign territory, as if it were a feminine domain, a woman’s domain that they don’t really quite belong in.
Now what we do with that traditionally, and as a therapist, is we try and minimize men’s discomfort. We try and act as if therapy was gender neutral. I like to say, “Sure, we appreciate male forms of intimacy, whatever that is here, and we’re equal in terms of both of your values. Now guys, I want you to get vulnerable, open your hearts, share your feelings, and connect.” Give me a break. That’s feminine under the traditional rubric and we’re not fooling anybody. In RLT we don’t soft pedal the assymetry between the two genders, we put it on the table. We take sides as many of you have heard over and over again. What women are asking for is legit. Look, the research is clear. Egalitarian marriages breed happier, more satisfied people than traditional hierarchical marriages do. This is not a matter of opinion. This is black and white. We are clear that we are born for intimacy. Look at all the attachment stuff going on right now. It is our natural state, it is our birthright. It is the state in which we thrive.
What we RLT people say to the guy is “Do it.” Do you want to hear that again? Was that too technical? Do it. We don’t want women to stand back from their demands for increased intimacy. We want to empower men to stand up and meet these new demands for intimacy with empathy. “Look, Harry,” I say, “you’re a statistic. There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of guys just like you being dragged into offices just like mine so that guys like me and gals like me can render you a more livable, relational person. That’s the agenda that you’re being brought in for and it’s good for you. You’ll be healthier. You’ll live longer. It’s good for your marriage. It’s good for your kids. It’s a good thing to do. Let me teach you how to do it.”