I am a really big fan of the TV show Parenthood on NBC. Parenthood follows the lives of the Braverman family. Its patriarch Zeke had a heart attack this season, and it has been pivotal for everyone. In a recent physical therapy session, his son Crosby stepped in to watch part of the session.
Zeke was walking on a treadmill and his therapist decided to challenge him by increasing the elevation. Then, Zeke slips and nearly falls off his treadmill. Zeke has an internal freakout and quickly gets out of the room before his dad can see.
He is flustered and uncomfortable. He isn’t quite sure how to handle watching his father slip and fall. This is his life long hero. He even tells us the audience after the session when Crosby recalls a story where Zeke scared off a bear from their campsite in Yosemite. This man is a real man, he recalls.
And yet right now Zeke is fragile, recovering from major surgery, and facing death. Even real men have weaknesses.
This moment made me think of something I had heard in a Brene Brown lecture. It was titled Men, Women and Worthiness. Brene Brown is a revolutionary researcher with two of the most popular TED talks of all time. (watch for yourself here and here)
She studied how women deal with shame and vulnerability. She tells a story about a lecture at a book signing and a family approached her. She was worried that the man approaching her was going to let her have it and accuse her of being wrong. Instead, he told her that she should really study men because his family would rather see him die instead of watching him fall off his high horse.
That line stuck with me so much I memorized it. Men feel a completely different kind of shame and vulnerability compared to women, and in some ways it is worse. Women can show their vulnerability, when we feel awful we can let people know. Men can’t. It is never acceptable in our society for a man to be vulnerable. We have given them this identity as strong and silent, anything less is weak. And that’s a bad thing. Apparently?
When I was having my recent break up conversation, I wept openly when I felt like it. I saw the guy visibly choking back tears. I told him it was ok, he could be sad and feel however he wanted to feel. We knew everything about each other anyway, so there is no need to hold back.
I still think he held back. I think it is just ingrained in men to not show emotion.
I don’t know what the bigger solution to this is other than we women need to get a little bit stronger and make a little more space for men to feel. We have to make it safe. They won’t do it otherwise.
I think about making space in a very visual way. I think about stretching out my arms and wrapping them around a barrel and then stepping away from the barrel but the space is still there. That’s how I picture making safe space.
I imagine being strong enough to hold that no matter what. I think people need that sometimes. Hell, I think people need that all the time. Sadly I can’t be strong enough to do that for everyone.
But in my own way, that’s what I am hoping to do here. Make a safe space where you can just let it all out. We all feel. It’s ok. Just be honest and true to yourself.
That’s what I ask of the people in my life. Sometimes it is really hard to hold that space for them. When I really love a person, I am happy to do it though because I know how good it feels to have a safe space. And I think it is a gift that we give each other. I have a few people that I call on to do that and I am so thankful for them.
I think it is easier for two women to do that for each other because it’s this feeling of I cry, you cry, we all cry! It’s all even. It’s harder for men. Maybe they don’t cry. Maybe even in a safe space they don’t feel ready for that. It’s not tit for tat. But I don’t think that means we stop holding space. I think it’s going to take a lot of time to show men that it is ok. And it is going to take a lot of work for women to be ok with it.
I think we would all be a lot better off if we let men be more vulnerable.