Trapped: An Apology To Men

The title of this column may seem misleading to my regular readers. So, let me be clear from the beginning: this column is not my attempt to apologize to men for their difficult, horrible lives. I have said this before in many columns and I’ll say it again: it is a great privilege to be a man in our culture. Male privilege is alive and well. And as a man, I can tell you that on paper, it’s fantastic.

But male privilege is something I am not happy about nor proud of.

Because the patriarchy within which we all live ultimately comes with incredibly high costs for women. And it also comes, ultimately, with high costs for men, costs that may not be readily apparent, and yet, are only compounding the plague of the patriarchy. So while we may have an easier road at work, in moving about in our day, while we don’t have to deal with the direct and subtle sexism women face on a daily, hourly basis, the old adage, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” certainly rings true.

So what’s price we directly pay as a result of patriarchy?

There is a look on the faces of men that I always see when they are confronting a decision about whether or not to be vulnerable. They look trapped, they look like they’re in pain–because they are. You see, many of us men are trapped by the patriarchy, trapped by our social conditioning. What traps us? We are trapped by our difficulty with vulnerability, by our emotions, we are trapped by the constructs of masculinity.

The inability of many men to express vulnerability isn’t just a personal consequence that directly impacts the men and perhaps those closest to them.

The consequences of men having great difficulty with expressing vulnerability are not only widespread in all facets of society, but also ravage the strengths of human relationships. When men can’t admit and express their fears, discomforts, vulnerabilities, it causes unnecessary wars, dysfunctional leadership at the highest levels of government, incompetent leadership in public and private companies, and worse, behavior that leaves too many women AND men feeling lonely.

In a piece he wrote for the New York Times about how men communicate, publisher and writer Ben Schrank best describes the emotional constraints of men:

“Men no longer know how to fight. Don’t get me wrong — we know how to confront strangers when they cut in line at the butcher’s or block the door on the subway. What we don’t know how to do is have the kind of unpleasant talks that articulate feelings to real friends when those friends ignore our wives at a dinner, or don’t think to call us when we are fired. Instead, we either shrug off the slight or end the friendship.”

I realize that not every man face these difficulties and that not every man has trouble with talking openly about their insecurities or dissatisfactions. I also recognize that men are beginning to and throw away the arcane rules of masculinity.

But let’s be honest with ourselves, many, many men are still stuck, still entrapped by their conditioning.

And it’s is really about one thing: the ego. And in the case of this column, the ever-present exploding male ego.

I don’t mean to imply that all incidents of vulnerability have to do with ego, some people have been shut down so much they have a difficult time expressing vulnerability for fear of getting shut down yet again, but in adulthood, it’s rooted in ego.

So, is there even a possibility of a solution?

In my mind, there is no more powerful force than empathy. And the first step of healing any wound, solving any problem, is to have empathy. Without empathy, nothing will happen. So that’s why this column is entitled “An Apology To Men,” because I understand why so many men are trapped.

Let me be clear, I am not apologizing on behalf of men, I am not apologizing for their/our actions, I am not stripping accountability from us men for our bad behavior or the pain we may have caused others.

What I’m doing is apologizing to the little boy inside all of us men who was willing to show our vulnerability, but was subsequently shut down. I am empathizing with the pain, frustration, and fear caused by the messed-up social conditioning and training, we men have received, which makes us feel compelled to abide by a set of rules with regard to maintaining masculinity.

So here it goes, gentleman….

I’m sorry that you can’t admit your feelings are hurt because such admissions would make you feel and look weak (and yes, your feelings can be hurt when you’re 40, 50, 60 etc…having your feelings hurt doesn’t end when you’re 12). Instead you say you’re angry.

I’m also sorry that anger becomes your alternate emotional solution because there is a difference between the two.

I’m sorry that you have to constantly say words like “Dude,” “Bro,” “Bra,” “Broseph” and call everyone–even people you’ve just met–“buddy,” in an effort to show that you’re a man’s man. Side note: You can’t call 100 people “buddy” and have it mean something.

I’m sorry that you can’t adequately express your insecurities about your image and so, I’m sorry that you won’t be able say that you feel uncomfortable in your clothes or that you feel fat to your male friends. Men have insecurities about their bodies, just like many women–and you should think about expressing those insecurities in a different way than “I want to get ripped.”

I’m sorry that your man-training, the set of rules you either consciously or unconsciously take on when you grow up, has taught you that in an effort to remain and appear manly, you have to act like a jerk to women.

I’m sorry that you’ve been taught that treating your girlfriend with respect is equivalent to being “whipped” or not manly.

I’m sorry that you ignore or retreat from situations, arguments, emails, text messages that require any admission of guilt or culpability, because all of those things require being vulnerable. It’s called cafeteria responding and it makes the people in your life feel like shit.

I’m sorry that your most heartfelt emotional, loving moments often come when you are shamed or guilted into apologizing. Wouldn’t it be nice (and also powerful) to say the things you say in those moments when you are happy and say them unsolicited?

I’m sorry that you feel heterosexual pressure from your male friends to have sex with someone when you don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable. And I’m equally sorry that you feel the need to lie about your sexual exploits to make you seem more manly, more heterosexual, as a way to appease your male friends.

I’m sorry that “your way” of expressing that you like someone is to make fun of them or use sarcasm. It’s not cute, it’s not helpful, and it’s very unattractive.

I’m sorry that you have to deepen your voice when you answer the phone (you know exactly what I’m talking about). We may laugh about this, but it’s actually just indicative of your conscious or unconscious belief that you somehow need to “man up.”

I’m sorry that you refuse to be the soft-hearted, vulnerable man around your male friends and I’m sorry that the women in your life feel as if you’re a different man in the presence of the male friends in your life.

I’m sorry that it makes you feel uncomfortable to see someone cry and that sometimes you may say or demand that the crying stop, instead of letting that person whom you purport to love express their genuine feelings.

I’m sorry that you can’t remember the last time you cried or that you have to pretend that you don’t remember the last time you cried.

I’m sorry that you are constantly living in anxiety or fear of being seen as gay, even though you’re not.

I’m sorry that you can’t come out of the closet because of all the real and perceived implications that such honesty has on your life, especially the fear you will no longer be seen as a real man.

I’m sorry that you have to use phrases like “let’s hug it out” or “bring it in for a hug,” in a way to diminish the anxiety you have around showing other men affection. It’s as if saying those phrases somehow envelopes you in a cloak of absolution from the masculinity gods.

I’m sorry that you have to have “your way” of saying “I love you” and “I’m sorry,” instead of really just saying those words.

I’m sorry that your dog gets your sweet, vulnerable side only because you know your dog isn’t going to call you “gay” or “weak” or say you’re not a man enough. Your dog, like all the people in your life, just wants “you”.

I’m sorry that you need alcohol to express vulnerability.

I’m sorry that you have to act like nothing happened after a breakup in an effort to insulate yourself from the pain and frustration. I’m sorry because that only means the pain is only going to get worse and it will only carry forward to future relationships.

So here’s a message to men…it’s time to change…now.

Without expressing a full range of emotions, you are missing out on life. Without expressing a full range of emotions, your ability to empathize with the people you love and with all humans will greatly dissipate as each day passes. Read: You are losing not only the connection to yourself, but you are also losing your connection to others.

I find it incredibly frustrating that people believe that the difference between a woman and man’s ability to engage in emotional communication is a consequence of biology. Or, that it’s (and here’s my least favorite phrase), ”Just the way things are.”

Our behaviors are learned, and a man’s inability to express authentic vulnerability have nothing to do with biology and everything to do with conditioning.

But now, you have a choice. Because we can’t blame our conditioning forever. Once we have become aware of how cultural conditioning impacts our tendency to be emotionally closed, the onus is on us men to get out from underneath our traps.

Men who are trapped share a common pattern where all the people around these men are constantly yearning for some sort of emotion, attention, validation from them. These relatives, partners, friends, co-workers just want to hear words with some sort of emotional intensity behind it.

The usual response coming from the men are:

“They know I love them”

“They know how I feel”

“They know I appreciate them”

and my least favorite:

“I love you more than you know.”

But the reality is, they really don’t know, they’re waiting for you to tell them, and not when they ask or beg for it.

Empathy is not a one-way street. Now that you have been the recipient of empathy, you have the responsibility to be more emotionally explicit to the people who have been yearning for the real you. You don’t have to wonder what it has been like for them, you know exactly what it’s like, it’s the way you’ve felt for most of your life: trapped.

And they’re waiting to get out just as much as you are.


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19 Responses to “Trapped: An Apology To Men”

  1. Avatar of lauretta
    lauretta February 23, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    I’m sorry too !

  2. Avatar of elfen_berzerker
    elfen_berzerker February 11, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    I’m male.

    I do not apologize unless I mean it. Your feelings are hurt but I meant everything I said? I WILL NOT apologize for speaking my mind?

    I do not get upset when someone does X, Y or Z to me not because it’s not manly. I don’t get upset about it because it doesn’t matter.

    I’m fat and I’m ok with being fat. If I wanted to I could stop drinking soda for a week and drop ten pounds. I’ve done it before. I dress appropriately for my size and look damn good in the clothes I wear.

    I do not drink so you can take that stereotype and stick it somewhere unpleasant.

    My dog gets my affection because they are real and will always have my back. I’ve never met a human that could make that claim and if you say you can make that claim I’ll look you square in the eyes and call you a damn liar. As long as you have higher intellectual functioning you will never unwaveringly have another person’s back in the face of any and all adversity because to do so would be foolish.

    I didn’t get upset after a break up when I was still available because it doesn’t do any good. You can call every number in the phone book and cry to them all for hours and nothing will change until you quit crying and make things change for yourself.

    I don’t call guys bro, broseph brah or any of that infintile garbage. I will call you by your name if I respect you enough to remember it. If not you’ll just get a hey you or me pointing at you. But I will be damned if I will address you like a drunken frat boy.

    I have never had sex with someone I didn’t want to have sex with because of male pressure. I have never known any man that did. I’ve had sex with women I didn’t want to for the simple fact that they were coming on to me and I hadn’t been with anyone for a while but there was never any male influence during any of those encounters.

    If you send me an email or text trying to talk about something you will be ignored. If you confront me about something in an angry manner throwing insults or accusations at me you will be ignored. When you can approach me like an adult we an talk but as long as you’re going to act like a child you get nothing.

    Heartfelt emotional, loving moments coming from being shamed or guilted? Those aren’t heartfelt emotional, loving moments. Those are a man telling you to shut the hell up. Ladies: If those are common occurrences in your relationships you might want to take a look in the mirror and figure out a couple things. Why are they common and what are you doing to make sure they remain common?

    Guess what… treating women with respect used to be the norm. It still is with men that are secure in their masculinity. MEN. Not boys. I notice that the majority of women that post their complaints about relationships on these threads describe dating boys and not men. Ladies: Look at yourself and what you’re attracted to.

    Who the hell says “let’s hug it out”?

    I express what I’m feeling if it is important to express what I am feeling. I’m sorry I don’t spend every waking moment tweeting about my experiences at the grocery store and how bummed out I am that they don’t have my favorite brand of tofu in stock today.

  3. Avatar of CoffeeCrazed
    CoffeeCrazed January 31, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Similar to the comments by t3d, what I see happening here is far from an apology but just another “man-up” sermon. “Here are all the things that I think you have been told, that further I think are wrong. I am sorry you have bought into this but you must change.”

    I have heard this all for, how long? All my adult life, I think. Nothing new here, just re-hashed post-feminist propaganda targeting the aforementioned straw men.

    It is nouveau to deny that men ARE different, that we are in fact the same as women. Note that I did not say that men and women are the same, but that men are the same as women, as this is the subtle distinction which subjugates men to the superiority of women.

    What I would like to see is an apology to men for making men apologize for being men. I am tired of apologizing for masculinity. I work really hard to no suppress my being but am still far too steeped in capitulation for this not to be hard work.

    A recent study was publicized that showed that in hetero couples, they enjoyed better sex lives when the man did NOT do housework or more specifically, when he did man stuff – fix cars, mow the lawn, etc. It can be argued two ways. 1) Simply that housework is a libido killer (merging of male/female roles, or 2) that a more dominant man just doesn’t do that stuff.

    Either way, whether we in our feminized views want to admit it or not, women who are willing to be married respond better in a marriage where there is a masculine/feminine dynamic. This of course is going to propagate to the selection process – courtship, dating, etc. And yeah, sex and attraction are great barometers for the health of a relationship.

    This goes to my dismissal of all the “teaching” I have received, all the propaganda I have read, in favour of re-integrating traditional masculinity. Personal philosophies are too complex for a blog comment so I’ll leave it at that.

  4. Avatar of nerdette27
    nerdette27 January 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    Great post – you are going to help a lot of folks (men) on the way to healing and a new perspective, Yashar. Also wanted to share a book I found that expresses a similar set of ideas – I found it helpful as a woman but I think it’s perfectly suited to help men.

    thanks for writing and keep up the good work!

  5. Avatar of akenawolf
    akenawolf January 30, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    I know not all men do all of these things, I really don’t think thats what you were trying to convey. Thank you for broadening peoples state of mind and helping them articulate their feelings. You have helped my own personal relationships in a way and made me look a little closer about how I raise my children.

  6. Avatar of empathologicalism
    empathologicalism January 30, 2013 at 6:04 am #

    Thankfully some other men have jumped on this too. This article is a damned shame for a man to have written. You are histrionic in your view of the so called patriarchy. In the very best case you are trying to ride the coat tails of someone who actually may have had a point decades ago, to be a part of a movement that will afford you some sort of inclusion. You are no different than every generation that has its group that think they are going to remake Woodstock.

    You are missing something. Reality. I have to go low here and suggest that maybe you would struggle with math and statistics, choosing instead to allow emotions to bend them to your false reality, because there are none that show the evil patriarchy is in place and a growing problem. NONE. You and your ilk must find the silliest things to rail about. Vulnerability. Come on MAN. How many institutions are there that are not steeped in feminism? Don’t even think the church is immune. That would be a fail.

    This kind of pandering to women will definitely get you some positive feedback from women and other supplicant men, and that feedback is likely to grow, because in an atmosphere where an ideology is winning, those adherents must create ever more outrageous things to whine about.

    I ask you, please describe a world where you and other feminists could say, well, we’re done here, its all fixed”…..You would be unable. You have no goal other than the emotional feedback you are addicted to. Fact is men like to please women and make them happy in general, that is a biological imperative. Yet no matter what men do someone like you will poo poo it but you are following that same imperative, you are just misguided and arrogant about it.

  7. Avatar of zigzee
    zigzee January 30, 2013 at 5:06 am #

    I see a lot of women engaging in these “male” behaviors too. Are we (women) just participating in a male-dominant culture because our empathy has been rejected or ridiculed? Men are often the forgotten side of feminism. Glad to see you have addressed them, Yashar. While I do agree with Stevenav that the vehicle had a passive-aggressive tone, I found that most of these points resonated with me and reminded me of the men in my life. The next challenge: How do we help men? How do we not become them?

  8. Avatar of Famaroux
    Famaroux January 30, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    What a totally fantastic article !! So pertinent… so clear.. so on the ball. Thankyou.

    I can sort of understand why some men take umbrage at what you say Yashar…. when what you are describing is Mens Secret Business…. info that just must not be allowed to see the light of day….. that no guy worth his (manly) salt would ever admit to. But heck there is something very cleansing to have this outed. Its hopefully part of the beginning of the disappearance of the old Patriarchal/Dominator forms of Masculinity.

    Bring on the ‘New Men’… with you at their helm. ;-)

  9. Avatar of Tassles
    Tassles January 29, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    aMEN. Seriously. Everything about this.

  10. Avatar of Stevenav
    Stevenav January 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    I usually am pretty silent here Yashar, simply because I generally take what you say as your opinion and thus something you’re entitled to and it’s always interesting to read someone elses opinions and draw content from them. Food for thought if you will.

    Frequently you’re very militantly anti male or perhaps more accurately anti-classically male. You tend to see everything through a lens firmly set against men who you feel are privileged above others in a way that you find socially unjust. That’s fine and laudable. Speaking out against injustice is everyone’s responsibility. But this article really went over the line in terms of being insulting and casting hugely negative stereotypes on men in general.

    I remember you writing an extensive article about men gaslighting women, that men trot out all these “You’re just being an irrational women” garbage lines designed to belittle and marginalize and I agreed with it. Men in the past and even today DO sometimes gaslight women. So I was like “Okay, totally fair. sometimes that’s pretty accurate for jerky guys”

    But I look at this article Yash… I’m sorry but fuck, man. You just pulled the same exact despicable gaslighting tactic on men that you claim guys do to women. Casting men as stereotypical strawmen made of bad habits that you associate with being male… and then burn them on a pyre of overblown selfrighteousness, never mind how grossly inaccurate and insulting they are.

    You pull out all these stereotypes and apply them all to men. Drinking being a surrogate for emotional expression… yeah, like women don’t do the exact same freaking thing in ridiculously equal numbers?
    The social standards of calling someone Buddy.
    Blaming men for their upbringing and social norms? Come on.

    All these add up to nothing less you engaging in the insulting stereotyping belittling you accuse men of, only repurposed in a calculated attempt at gaslighting your male readers.

    I’ll simply say this. Shame.

    • Avatar of t3d
      t3d January 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

      Stevenav’s comment definitely captures some of my response.

      Just to add to what Stevenav noted, the main vibe I am receiving from the long list of “I’m sorry that X” is one of insincerity and passive-aggression.

      As though the “apology” part is something to be rushed through, so that blame can be assigned to its rightful target – namely, to men.

      Indeed, many of these so-called apologies end with blunt accusations of mens’ misbehavior:

      “you have to act like a jerk to women”
      “need alcohol to express vulnerability”
      “[makes] the people in your life feel like shit”

      If you’re going to trot out the old stereotype and accuse men of being insensitive, emotionally shut-down assholes, just step up and do it. Don’t cloak it in an non-apology of dubious sincerity.

    • Avatar of empathologicalism
      empathologicalism January 30, 2013 at 6:06 am #

      Yes! +1

    • Avatar of elfen_berzerker
      elfen_berzerker February 11, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

      You just described almost every single post he makes and I’ve called him on it before. I’ve called the women that comment in the threads on it before.

      It’s gas-lighting and stereotyping. BUT they feel justified because it is them doing it. Their self righteousness does not allow them to admit it either.

  11. Avatar of irjewett
    irjewett January 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    This was the first post I have read by you and it definitely resonated. I’m almost 29 and told my wife last week that I’ve just started to access my authentic self with confidence and security. I have always been “emotional” and have often been shamed for that. Now, I am able to see that the empathetic and reflexive self is more true then the self that tries to be what our culture wants him/her to be to be comfortable. The most reinforcing aspect of this shift is that if you find the man inside in a wholesome and real way, others are affected and even the most cowardly/defensive of men will crumble under that truth. Without sounding arrogant, I have gotten more support and positive feedback in the past few months then ever before…it is about being who you are, not who others want you to be. The apology that you speak of us so true and finding the true self is contagious as hell.

    • Avatar of Mersci
      Mersci January 30, 2013 at 9:04 am #

      Wonderful, you have found your true self, others in your life will thank you, but beware as the two comments above go to show, searching ones soul to find the answers is a lonely endeavor not many care to join. In the business world its even worse, the use of cut throat shrug and laugh later is how the wage gap has maintained a strangle hold on womens economic equality, stonewalling against higher aspirations, holding potential down, denying progressive change or culture shifts away from misogyny into a more enlightened age.
      With mass shootings, wrath violence rising against women and children, and genocides(eg.Syria, even Palestine), the irrationality of profits over well-being has led to a culture that manufactures wholesale harm with zero accountability to those caught in the cross fire. Until that realization hits home for all men and consciousness is raised to the point where understanding these connections is inevitable and undeniable, the future of all human beings portends more torment than aught to be experienced by any person in a lifetime, female or male.

      • Avatar of Chriselda
        Chriselda January 30, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

        DeeMers …… I just signed up only so that I can give you a virtual high 5. You’ve articulated my thoughts in a much more elegant way than I could have. Like many women (and some men I know) I am exhausted with the tantrum-throwing resistance from the mainstream masses who have a very backward, warped idea of what masculinity is.


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