Men’s Problems Are Real Problems

There is a worrying trend of denying that the problems men struggle with exist or are important. Loneliness, sexual frustration, confusion over what is appropriate, pressures to conform, difficulties in dealing with emotions, are all routinely trivialised and dismissed.

Doing so is not helpful and only creates more distrust, hurt feelings, and unwillingness to improve. We need to admit men’s problems are real problems and start actually solving them.

How many articles have you read that make fun of men’s loneliness? How many #MenSoFragile tweets commenting on guys clearly battling with their emotions? How often does a guy speak his pain only to hear: ‘Oh yeah? Well, women have to deal with [insert bigger pain here]!’

Guys struggling to find their place in a world that is not what we were told it is, are assumed to be unwashed neckbeard man-babies living in their parents’ basement and dismissed. And don’t forget the classic: men don’t struggle with sexual frustration, they just have ‘blue balls.’

Every time I read that men should allow themselves to be more vulnerable and talk about their feelings, I think: well, maybe if there wasn’t an army waiting to invalidate them, they would.

Do we deserve it?

I know where this comes from. When men talk about their problems, we typically don’t really want to solve them. It’s hard work! We’re humans and humans are lazy: the best person to do hard work is anyone but me.

And we certainly don’t want to admit any of those problems might be our fault. Why, that would certainly imply it’s us who should solve them! It’s so much easier to blame somebody else.

And thus we say we’re lonely and in the same breath, we blame women or demand state-mandated wives. We struggle with our emotions but instead of working on them we just demand others to stop making us feel bad. We can’t find our place in the world so we force others back into a world that was more convenient for us.

Instead of solving our problems, we just try to make them other people’s problems. And what’s worse, we often do it in a way that threatens them and their interests.

Women in particular don’t want to become sexual servants just so straight men don’t experience sexual frustration. Neither do they want to return to oppressive gender roles so we don’t have to figure out our emotions and place in the world.

As we try to ‘address’ our problems in such ways, perhaps it’s no wonder that others refuse to engage and instead trivialise them or deny they exist.

It goes both ways

But that’s not to say that men are just wrong all the time.

Many of us genuinely want to improve but are disheartened when we see our very real problems treated with condescension. We hurt, we struggle, and those we’d appreciate help from are rubbing salt into our wounds while mocking us: ‘Oh no, poor fragile man-baby, it hurts?’

We hear that feminism, despite the name, is not just about women’s issues — it’s about gender equality. It’s about making the world better for all genders.

But when men struggle, feminists tend to say: ‘not our problem.’

It often seems that they aren’t really interested in resolving the systemic issues that cause men’s problems. They just want men to stop acting those problems out in annoying ways. They don’t want to cure the wound, they just want to slap on a plaster so we stop bleeding on them.

I guess they are just as human as men are, laziness and all.

So the truth is: we all need to step up.

What are men’s problems?

You might be reading this thinking: Wait, do men actually have that many problems that aren’t just, you know, human problems? What’s all this about anyway?

Well, let me offer you a short list of what I see men struggle with. Note that some of those are problems faced by men who want to date women, but most are not. Note also that I intentionally omit what the MRA guys love to bring up.

  • How to live in a world that professes all the lofty values but still rewards us for being dominant, aggressive, and outright toxic?
  • How to not feel useless when traditional male roles are not needed anymore?
  • How to develop new values and beliefs when our social group pressures us to stick to the old ways?
  • How to deal with loneliness, either by accepting it or by finding a partner?
  • How to deal with sexual frustration and how to know when we want sex and when sex is a proxy for other needs?
  • How to feel desired and wanted in a world in which women are still very unlikely to actively pursue men?
  • What do different women actually want from us — as long-term partners, as short-term lovers, as friends, colleagues, people?
  • How do we express our desire and admiration for women without being creepy?
  • How do we remain sexually confident and pursue sex while respecting other’s consent?
  • How do we become more emotionally intelligent and allow ourselves to be vulnerable when others (including those who want this from us!) exploit it to call us fragile and make us feel horrible?
  • How do we raise our sons to be better, but also ensure they’re not bullied by those who would exploit their vulnerability?
  • How do we listen to women and make them feel heard but without implying that they are always right?
  • How do we stand our ground when we think we’re right but don’t want to mansplain or abuse our priviledge and power?
  • Which of our behaviours are really inappropriate and when are people just being overly sensitive over nothing?

None of those questions have easy answers and there are dozens more. I invite you to share them in the comments.

Solving problems is like developing skills

What is annoying about all of those problems, is that they can’t just be solved once and for everyone. When we had a problem with dying from bacterial infections, Alexander Fleming showed up, created Penicillin, and now you can just take it, job done. But that won’t work here.

It’s not even that we are all different, so the way those problems come up is a bit different for all of us.

Rather, it’s because dealing with them is a skill and skills are something each one of us needs to develop for himself.

It’s like figuring out how to be an inspiring leader, a good friend, even a great gamer. You can’t just take a pill or read a definition and suddenly you’re sorted. You need to gain the skill yourself: think it through, read about it, talk about it, and most of all: practice it.

And most importantly, nobody can do it for you. If you want to be a great gamer but can’t be bothered improving, you can’t just ask a friend to do it for you. Even less so, ask everyone else to stop playing so well so you don’t feel left behind!

No. Just put some goddamn effort in and get better at it yourself.

So what do we do?

Like I said, those problems won’t solve themselves. We need to step up. All of us.

To break it down a little, here are several steps each one of us should take:

  1. Acknowledge that these are genuine, real and serious problems, and our emotions around them are valid.
  2. Men: Resist the urge to push them onto somebody else, blame others for them, or otherwise avoid having to deal with them.
  3. Others: Resist the urge to deny their validity or importance.
  4. Men: Work out how to sort out the problems in theory — read, think, meet to discuss. (Shameless self-promotion: read the Man’s Compass!)
  5. Men: Put the theory into practice. Again and again.
  6. Men: When needed, ask for help.
  7. Others (especially those who profess they fight for gender equality, not just to make life better for women): Actually offer help and support men who are doing the work — i.e. be an ally.

This all sounds easy, but as with everything that matters in life, it’s incredibly hard. Don’t expect to succeed immediately. Have patience for those who are doing the work. Inspire, kick and motivate those who are not.

In the end, we are all in the same boat. We all want those problems solved. And as much as human laziness makes us all want to demand that others should do all the hard work, we really need to do it ourselves.

The good news is: like with any hard work well done, it feels great once you’ve done it.

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