ANNIE FRAZIER HALLADAY
Minds and beliefs grow and take root based on how we tend to them. I find it important to take time regularly to sit quietly nearby my garden and simply observe what’s growing. Sometimes I observe that there are beliefs I really love- my most beautiful, prized beliefs that I poured my blood, sweat and tears (and sweet, sweet college tuition money) into the earth to cultivate. I may observe the beliefs that were planted by people I love and respect. I may find beliefs I don’t recognize but feel neutrally about, unsure of when they arrived- volunteers, as it were.
I also sometimes find weeds growing- beliefs I don’t like so much. That I’m not sure I even really believe, but that are still there somehow. Maybe they were planted there when I was young, before I knew I was in charge of my own garden. Maybe I inherited them from the evolutionary pressures or modern culture that built the garden in the first place. I might be able to weed them out if I spot them, but sometimes they are persistent- sending runners deep into the earth and sneaking back past my defenses when I least expect it.
This is an article about one of those weeds in my garden.
I am a proud feminist, committed to rooting out the patriarchy in all its forms. As a woman, I can talk nearly endlessly about the way the the patriarchy affects me every day, and the way that I am treated as a woman (Seriously. Ask me sometime about working in a trade industry.)
I try my best to work diligently to understand the way the patriarchy affects people with different identities than my own- working to become more and more aware of intersectionality and how I can support people from different backgrounds than my own, of all genders.
I am grateful that some really smart people took the time to teach me that a huge part of changing the world and dismantling systems of oppression is to look within and be honest with ourselves about our own role in them- even when it’s hard, and especially when we don’t like what we see.
And as much as I know that feminism and dismantling patriarchy is also beneficial to men, I realized recently that my own perception of the world doesn’t always align with that.
I want to live in a world in which people of any gender are allowed to live the life they like, and are able to simply be regardless of prescribed or assumed/assigned gender roles. I want to cultivate a world in which men (who are often conditioned to be distant from, or unexpressive of their emotions) are free to express that they actually do have wonderful, deep, complex, emotional lives. I want to be able to recognize and hold space for men’s emotions as they arise, and listen to them in the way that they are communicated.
But if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not always great at doing that.
I was raised in a Christian evangelical community. Emotions, feelings and deep conversations were referred to as ‘girly stuff.’ I often saw women’s emotions plainly cited by men as reasons and justifications for the oppression, belittling or othering that women experience. The few times I did see men display or talk about emotions were typically during pre-sanctioned times when they were allowed to ‘let out’ their feelings- prayers at meal times and when talking about Jesus. And… that’s about it.
My dad has always had a soft spot for romantic comedies, and would endlessly watch Ever After and Mulan with me as a kid, often tearing up during the particularly touching father-daughter moments; but it always seemed like there was a ritual around when it was safe and appropriate to display his emotions to me. My dad cried the entire way while walking me down the aisle at my wedding. I get a sweet letter from him most years for my birthday. And I love and cherish them, keeping them in a box together with a snowglobe he gave me when I was seven- but I also wish that our connection would have the space for more emotionality throughout the year, not just on special occasions.
I know that men have emotions. But this belief that they don’t or aren’t supposed to is in there, too, and the process of unlearning that belief has been challenging, to say the least.
I consider myself so lucky to be surrounded by some honestly amazing men in my community, house, and life that are emotionally expressive and allow themselves to be vulnerable and honest with others. I cherish it with my whole heart. I do.
But if I’m being really honest, sometimes my internal, initial gut reaction when a man expresses emotions or vulnerability is one I don’t like so much. It can be somewhere between surprise and dismissal. You say this bothers you, or you’re feeling this way- but… really? How is that possible?
When I’ve had male partners express feelings of jealousy that are coming up for them, I’ll admit that my immediate emotional response is not always a pretty one, often landing somewhere between dismissal- ‘you’ll get over it’- and gaslighting - ‘that’s ridiculous, there’s no logical reason for you to be jealous right now’.
There even seems to be a gap in my basic literacy of reading men’s emotions. I consider myself to generally be a very empathetic and perceptive person- but often i just don’t get it. If my emotional perception is underscored by a belief that men aren’t emotional, how can I really look for and see their emotions? It can be a struggle for me to read more complex emotional states, and recognize that men can be more than just ‘angry’ or ‘okay.’ - especially if the person happens to be large or particularly ‘manly’.
I got a bike recently and for days in advance of my first day biking to work I felt badgered and irritated with my nesting partner’s seemingly endless questioning about helmets, lights, bike safety and laws. It wasn’t until almost the moment that I was stepping on to my bike that I realized “Ohhh, he’s worried about me!” Honestly, he may have even said that at some point, and I would have been too unaware to hear it.
I suspect that these beliefs about cis men have also affected my interactions with trans and non-binary folks as well, who don’t fit so neatly into the gender binary. It’s all layered in with a whole tangled knot of beliefs about gender that probably still exist in my garden, despite my near constant vigilance to weed them out.
I’m not sure what to do with all of this, except to keep examining it- to keep working on it and noticing and trying to shift the ways that this impacts the relationships I have with people. I hope that my commitment to kindness, attempts to temper my initial gut reactions and taking the time I need to make sure I only say what I really want to say, have spared at least some perpetuation of harm.
I also want to express gratitude to the men in my life that have been part of my journey in noticing this. The times that you have expressed deep emotions to me and allowed me to see your vulnerabilities- even and especially if I wasn’t very good at holding space for you when you did. (I’m working on it, I promise.)
Thank you for being deeply honest, expressing things like “I’m feeling shy around you,” or “I don’t feel great about my body right now,” or “I’m feeling unsure of myself” and the many, many other emotional expressions many of you have made to me. Thanks to the people who have cried, asked to cuddle, or simply allowed themselves to be seen while experiencing big feelings.
Slowly but surely we might be able to undo the patriarchy. One garden weed at a time.