Does intimacy means different things to men and women?
Despite the considerable advances made by feminism it remains the case that popular culture offers more time and space for women to discuss their problems with men rather than vice versa. From daytime television to weekly magazines men are often seen as objects of ridicule: daytime talk shows portray men as failing to meet bogus standards of masculinity; problem pages offer endless testimony to men’s unreliability and fecklessness. An alien coming to earth would be confused that this much derided category of being seems to be the most maligned while still holding on to most of the reins of power.
All these emotional talks about men are possible because of women’s ease with intimacy. And it has to be this way because when it comes to feelings men, as it appears in these accounts, do not seem to be able to talk about them. This then translates into the widespread notion that men ‘can’t cope’ with intimacy.
Perhaps a more profitable way of proceeding would be to consider a few of the barriers that stand in the way of men and intimacy.
Most men are schooled to develop and value their physicality before anything else. Excellence is sport remains the most prized asset for the young man. Men are taught to admire other men who excel in this regard and such admiration is strongest in those sports that offer important bonding moments in popular culture. The post-goal celebration might be worth a paragraph or two…
Men are for the most part pushed towards public displays of competence and this is more powerful than the specious value to be gained by intimacy. Why sit down for a nice chat when you can wrestle a shark, drive over ice or dig for oil in your back yard?
It doesn’t help the cause of masculinity that charmless boy-men are celebrated as rogueish Lotharios. The stereotype is much easier to promote than challenge and as our mainstream media is increasingly lazy and conservative it can hardly be a surprise that such men are poster boys for a retrograde masculinity.
Intimacy means sharing and men are not encouraged to share. In the popular imaginary men are solitary creatures, lone wolves, making their own choices and thus developing intimacy would be a waste for a man who, ‘wherever he leaves his hat, that’s his home.’ (I hope it’s a big hat. Can he sleep in it?)
When men do display their feelings and thus look capable of making the baby steps towards intimacy, they are often laughed at – the recent mocking by The Sun of the crestfallen Suarez after Liverpool conceded the title to Man City is an ideal case in point.
There are some men writing in the ideologically loaded area of ‘Men’s Studies’ who have hijacked the arguments of evolutionary psychology to suggest that intimacy is of no value to real men as it does not accord with his warrior instinct. I’ve no wish to burn this straw man here because I’m not sure how many warriors we need these days. What I do know is that the belief that men ought to reject intimacy is hurting them.
The evidence suggests that holding different views on intimacy does not help deepen relationships. When both partners feel misunderstood no fruitful discussions can take place. In far too many cases men resort to external solutions (drink/drugs/sex) while many women retreat into the intimacies offered by friends who will listen.
The paradox here is that for men to become intimate will require exactly that bravery which has previously been put to work in stories of conquest. It will mean men leaving their armour at the door not as surrender to womankind but as a way of opening to new experience. Its only by repairing the wounds of an injured masculinity fearful of intimacy that the chain may be broken and men feel able to help themselves and their sons come to terms with the challenge of the twenty-first century.