PROFESSOR HIGGINS’ famous song, ‘Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man’ resonates today more than 50 years after it was written for My Fair lady. I have had an increasing number of male clients complaining that their partners are trying to turn them into women. I hasten to add this isn’t via the surgeon’s knife or metrosexual beauty regimes but in areas particularly around communication and emotional intimacy.
For too long now, men have been portrayed as unfeeling, unemotional socially inept Neanderthals who can’t even perform the simplest task without clear instructions that must be followed to the letter by their partners. The media in all its forms reinforces this stereotype usually for commercial purposes leaving men wondering what the hell they have done that is so wrong. This is a very serious situation.
Male suicide rates remain high
In the recent past we have read and heard about tragic deaths and suicides involving men of all ages. We may also have been close to these men. The very high percentage of men taking their own lives is evidence of the alienation many men feel from either their partner, their children, their family or society. They have been ridiculed, devalued and humiliated to the point where they feel they have no purpose or value.
Being something of a rarity – a male counsellor – an increasing number of men are coming along to share with me their feelings of despair. This is often expressed in anger, tears and silence. Too often, these men can’t find the words to express how they feel – and if they try, and it is a struggle, they are immediately slapped down, usually by their partner, because they are told they can’t communicate properly. It’s not that they can’t communicate; it’s just that they do it differently from women.
There are many august academic institutions studying issues around male suicide. I am sure they feel they are doing a good job. One of the many problems with this academic exercise is they are the wrong people to be asking the questions. They are even asking the wrong questions and they are being given the answers the interviewees feel they should give. The interviewees will answer but know that it won’t make the slightest bit of difference, and the people asking the questions don’t understand anyway. The answers will be fed into a machine and the machine will say more research is needed.
Different ways of communicating
Relationship breakdown is a major cause of unhappiness, low mood and depression. Men feel they are unfairly targeted by women and the media. They are constantly criticised for ‘not talking’. We do talk – but in a different way. I’m astounded by the number of men who are ‘sent’ by their partners to learn to communicate. I can honestly say I have never met a man who cannot communicate. But they can’t communicate like a woman.
Men can feel belittled because they don’t like shopping, for example, or they are not big into fabrics and furnishings. I use this as an example because it is just one of a myriad of complaints against men that eventually leads men to give up and then their partner says they are not interested and need to go to counselling because they have withdrawn emotionally and she doesn’t know why.
Men have self-esteem and self-worth issues just as women do – they just mask it better than women. When they cannot bear to put the mask back on they destroy themselves and their lives and tragically, sometimes the lives of others. Then we hear the usual cry ‘why didn’t they talk about it?’. But it’s because they have been told for years on end they can’t talk about it, they have been made to feel small, and their self-worth is six feet under the ground.
Both men and women need to be listened to and valued. These are fine words and easy to write but it is much harder in the real world to act. We must work harder to hear the voice of men for all our sakes. We need to bring these issues out of the closet, lay them bare and have an honest discussion.
Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland provides affordable confidential counselling and support services that offer you the opportunity to understand and resolve difficulties in your relationship. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380 or firstname.lastname@example.org.