We make heroes of men who conspicuously face and overcome fear for a good cause. But there is one fear that we not only want men to run from; we punish them if they show any bravery at all. That is the subject of today’s talk on An Ear For Men.
There is one fear, above all others, that unites men in what we have come to regard as modern masculinity. It’s a fear that affects almost all men, whether they are meek and timid by nature or the kind men who walk into burning buildings to save people’s lives.
It includes professional boxers, commercial fishermen, inner city police officers, government whistleblowers and law enforcement agents who infiltrate organized crime.
It is not a fear of death that cripples them, nor of torture or personal ruin. But it is a fear so great their refusal to face it has driven them at worst to kill themselves and others, at best to trade in personal dignity and self-respect for life as a servant and court jester.
The set up for this is both complicated and almost indescribably powerful. There is a solution to it for many men that requires an understanding of how we get set up for this fatal weakness. That understanding itself requires courage to face. So much so that most men never will.
That fear is the fear of losing a woman’s love and approval. It is a fear so deep and so pernicious that men will go to insane lengths to preserve it, even when being bitch slapped with the fact that the love and approval aren’t there and never were.
Let’s look at some anecdotes that form a rather uncomfortable picture.
Why it is that so many soldiers who lay dying on the field of battle call for their mothers, or whose last words when fallen are “tell my wife I love her.”
Why do so many men work so hard on salvaging relationships with women who are beyond salvage; women who have proven not only that they don’t love those men but in many cases that they feel deep hatred for them?
Why do so many men never develop the skills to defend themselves from abusive women, men who volunteer to become financial marks, throwing their hard earned cash away to impress women who could not be less interested in them?
Why do men continue to volunteer labor and personal resources to women, even after they have been wiped out by them in a divorce? Speaking of divorce, why is the tendency toward suicide so overwhelmingly dominated by men during a divorce or breakup?
Why do men seem so incapable of change when it comes to how they approach getting involved with women? In short, most men’s criteria for taking an emotionally, psychologically and financially invested leap with a woman hinges solely on whether she returns his physical attraction.
Why don’t we, as a rule, ever talk to our son’s about this? Why do we conspire, men and women together, to keep them in the dark and to keep them so vulnerable to women?
We are pummeled with the answers to these questions every day of our lives. They slap us in the face and scream in our ears. They grab us by the lapels and shake us violently, trying to get our attention, and yet most men, nearly all of them, invest everything they have in not seeing, not hearing and not feeling any of it.
That too goes back to the fear of loss.
I talked to a young man once who came to me for advice. He had saved up to buy his girlfriend a birthday present. It wasn’t something expensive. He was 21 and just starting out in work life. His girlfriend scoffed at the present and told him she had hoped for something a little nicer.
My advice, of course, was to get a better girlfriend or to do without till he learned to land one who was a bit less of a whore, but he was unable to hear any of that. He just kept circling back to his dilemma that he wanted to please her but could not afford to do so. He even asked questions about career paths, with the inference being that he did not ever want to feel so inadequate again.
When I tried to pin him down on what terrified him so about her rejection, he opted to seek advice elsewhere. He exited the conversation in a bit of a huff, telling me that he wasn’t, by God, afraid of anything.
It is easy to write this off to the naivety of youth, but it is now about 15 years later and from what I hear he still lives the same way, in an endless cycle of trying and failing to make a woman happy enough to keep him around. Even though he is now married and with a child, he still allows her to keep him running on the performance treadmill, constantly sweating and pushing for crumbs of occasional, transient approval.
I am pretty sure he has no idea what is about to come, now that there is a child, and he has pretty much maxed out on his income potential. When the other shoe drops, and it will, he will be devastated. When and if he recovers, he will set about finding a woman much in the same way he found his wife, by overextending his means and offering it up on a silver platter to anything pretty, hoping for another crumb of approval.
How did this level of irrational, destructive fear ever become the default setting for men? Well, I think my theory on it has some weight.
The critical, formative years of every child’s existence is dominated by the female presence and the female will, which is often self-serving, unhealthy and for boys, emotionally incestuous. Fathers, whether absent or present, contribute to the problem.
Where there is no male influence, the mother often runs amok. She teaches her boys that they better please her or she will punish them with rejection, physical pain and often psychological humiliation. For boys that have already lost one parent, this is a soul-killing, developmental nightmare and you can bet that their minds adjust with compliance.
Where the father is still present, he is often the enforcer of the same sick agenda. The term “you just wait till your father gets home,” is the young male child’s first experience with proxy violence, instigated by the woman who will shape his view of all women for life, enforced by the man will shape his view of himself and all men.
At some point, he enters the female dominated primary education system, where his coercion into satisfying the will of women is institutionalized. By the time he reaches middle school, his preparation for how to handle his budding attraction to girls is fixed in cement.
And there is yet another key factor that puts the icing on this misandric cake. Romantic chivalry.
For every man’s entire life he is inundated with the message of sacrificial, unconditional male love and dedication in exchange for the appearance of approval. In fact, his willingness to place himself on the altar of female acceptance is tied directly to his ability to feel worthy as a man.
As we know, an unworthy man is just about the lowest thing you can be in this culture.
The mantras of “Happy wife, happy life,” and “When mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” or their sentimental equivalents have been drilled into his consciousness from the time he is old enough to understand what “big boys don’t cry” means.
Once you sweep away all the false pieties of “good man” and “a man who knows how to treat a woman,” what you have left is the groveling servant produced by romantic chivalry.
You see, and it is very important to get this, Chivalry was once a military ethic. It was a code that demanded sacrifice for the unprotected. It was an honorable warrior’s code. It was embraced as a romantic model in the 12th century by the aristocracy, then later emulated by the masses.
The mindless, servile action of men with women was just a social trend that stuck around for a long time. Men weren’t born fools and puppets; it was social pressure that caused it. The human being’s innate tendency for gynocentrism made it all the easier.
And it continues to this day.
I recall another event from decades ago, but it will be something very familiar to you, right now.
I lived in a duplex. The man who lived above me was a huge sports fan, especially baseball. I could often hear the games through the thin floor of the building. One day his girlfriend was there. They were arguing because he was, according to her, watching too much baseball. I heard her clearly say, “You care more about baseball than me!”
The next thing I heard was the door slamming and her footsteps going down the stairs. A few seconds later he was coming down the stairs, screaming “Stephanie! Please wait!”
At that moment, his baseball game was still coming through the TV in his living room, unwatched. He was on the street at this point. I could see him through the window, pleading with her to stay. Just a few moments later they left together after he went back into his flat and turned off the game.
And that is how they get you, guys. Doesn’t everyone know that her threat to abandon him was her ace in the hole? Don’t most or all women know this? Don’t they play that card like a boss?
Stephanie’s threatening to leave wasn’t just a minor manipulation. She was triggering every ingrained fear he ever had, from the time he was old enough to talk. Her rejection was his mother’s rejection, his teacher’s disapproval and somewhere in his mind there unconsciously lurked a proxy agent to punish him for his failure at romantic chivalry.
Of course, he wasn’t consciously aware of any of this. All he knew is the thought of her abandoning him left a hole in his gut big enough to swallow him up.
She may not have been totally conscious of her actions, but you can bet she knew enough to know that in walking away she was ripping him to pieces.
When she left, she was taking his manhood with him. Just as the young woman who sneered at a less expensive present from a lovelorn young man had turned his masculinity into a cruel punchline. The only way either of these men could redeem themselves was to lose themselves. Their only path to love was self-hatred.
And that is the moral lesson of today’s talk. Romantic chivalry isn’t love. Often, it is the opposite. It makes narcissists and children of women, and hapless pawns of men, who on close inspection do not resemble anything of what we have ever really honored about men.
In my way of thinking, the only way men can overcome this is by walking into the heart of their fears and rebuilding their self-image on their values instead of on their willingness to sacrifice them. In a way, it requires rewriting the narrative of your life. It is harder to do that for most men than to face a hail of bullets or to walk into a burning building when everyone else is walking out.
The good news is that you can start doing this anytime you make the choice.
Paul Elam’s Video “What Men Fear Most.”