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April 13, 2024

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Dear men: a love letter to the unseen and underappreciated

I like men. I like them so much, I married one, and regularly tell him how much I appreciate him. According to X, this makes me anomaly. That’s an issue.

I posted on social media about relationships. The gist being whether or not men feel seen, heard and supported. Or more to the point, that we’re proud of them. The response I received was significant. Firstly, many men said they never had a loved one praise them, and secondly their want to share this experience with me was immediate.

“Your post about being proud of your partner struck a chord. I have many friends and almost all of them struggle with their wives. They just don’t seem to have any gratitude for the men in their lives. The idea that you tell Shane how proud you are of him is not normal. But it’s wonderful.” (Luke)

“It’s interesting, because I don’t think there’s been anyone who has ever pushed me up. My ex made me feel like I wasn’t an amazing person. And it sent me into a chronic depression. I couldn’t understand how someone I loved could put me down.” (Ben)

“Often, we are made to feel like our emotions are not top priority. That’s not to say my mother or wife aren’t supportive, because they are. I just don’t think they know how to deal with a man expressing emotion.” (Paul)

These are only a handful of the comments I received, with men citing everything from feminism to toxic masculinity as the issue. One gentleman who overheard me talking about this article said that women have each other, while men have alcohol, meaning we’re forcing men to numb rather than helping them to live. What’s wrong with us? And what’s the impact of our apparent silence?

I think men get a hard time. That doesn’t mean women don’t or that injustices haven’t been and remain to be real. But we shouldn’t use that as a stick to beat men with. A somewhat controversial character, the Canadian psychologist and public intellectual Jordan Peterson has a strong opinion on the status of men in society. I’m paraphrasing, but I think it’s fair to say that to Peterson, men rarely hear an encouraging word. Worse still, they are discouraged from being themselves because of the vilification of masculinity. The fallout of this narrative is far-reaching.

While this doesn’t speak for all men, it’s no great leap that some who don’t receive emotional support may struggle with feelings of inadequacy, leading to increased rates of substance abuse, self-harm and even suicide. In the family context, discouraged and unsupported men could become absent partners, while in the workplace those who feel disillusioned become less productive. All of this adds up to a societal resentment. A man who feels blamed might develop hostility toward those they see responsible, which in turns could lead to harmful behaviors and attitudes.

And who does that damage other than men? Women.

It must acknowledge that gender issues affect everyone. When men aren’t supported, it perpetuates unhealthy stereotypes and an unequal distribution of emotional labor within relationships. Moreover, all this undermines efforts toward gender equality because it fosters an environment where nobody thrives.

So, what do we do?

It’s possible I’m projecting my needs onto the lives of others. Two responses to my original social media message went as such:

“Disagree with him (Peterson). Women cater to our fragile egos all the time.” (Mr Pink)

“I think understated appreciation at the appropriate moment, in the form of actions not words, is preferable for many blokes.” (Cameron)

Confused, I went back to the source of my pride, Shane.

“I think women seek emotional support more than men, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. I just want to know that you value what I do. Affirmation can make some men feel uncomfortable. But maybe that’s less a gender trait and more a product of society? In short, I think there’s an assumption that men don’t need validation at all, and that makes us crave it even more.”

I’m worried some people will read this as an “us versus them” debate. So let me be clear: I’m pro people. And just because women suffer, doesn’t mean men should. Thinking otherwise is akin to shoving all of the human experience into two boxes, and it can’t be done.

Ben, Cameron, Chris, David, Hamdi, Ian, Jaap, James, Joe, John, Kiel, Luke, Mark, Paul, Rob, Sam, Scott, Shane, Stuart ... I see you. And I am proud to know you, and many more men like you. You matter, and the world is a better place because you are in it. Whether this is something you want or need to hear: Thank you. Thank you for all that you are and everything you do.

To the rest of the world, however you identify, if you cannot handle this message of appreciation, I suggest you man up.


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