Friday, October 10, 2014

The Humiliation of being "Harmless."

In my previous post, I wrote about my thoughts that a large part of my difficulty with a certain sort of opposite-sex attraction, that which acts as a real drive, such as many "straight" men are said to have, is because of my feelings of inadequacy as a man, particularly how I expect women in general perceive me--as if a woman like my wife is a saintly exception to the rule.  I said:

I think that a lot of men--including me--have the need to know that women see them as heroic, virile, and "dangerous" in an attractive way.  There is a part of being "man" that includes being wild, unpredictable, and most certainly not "sweet" or "safe."

I want to clarify something.  I am not saying that I, nor most men, want women to see us as He-Man or a macho Alpha-male.  I don't mean that I want women to look at me and have the impression that I'm a civilized version of Tarzan, with some sort of jungle man hidden right beneath my exterior.  Because that would be false.  I do have the sort of personality that most would associate with being "nice" or "sweet."  I take joy in the occasions when people feel safe around me.  I can be warm, very empathetic, and nurturing.  These are all important facets of my personality, and in my last post I did not mean that I want to project, to women, an image that downplays those things.  I'm proud of them!

But not that kind of "proud."

I think there are two things that I meant to portray, with that quote (and with the blog post overall), one that's a general principle, and one that deals with a deep insecurity that I think many men feel.   I'll deal with the first one here.  The second I'll save for the next post.

The first thing is that I wish I felt more confident that, when women see me, with my more immediately visible traits, those that are not compatible with an Alpha-males bravado and machismo, that they don't make the mistake of assuming that means I'm "tame."  Even the "sweetest" man, I believe, has a lion inside of him, and is at heart a lion.  He may be a gentle lion, and it may be true to say that gentleness is an integral part of his particular character, but he is still wild, still a lion.  Anyone would be a fool to not take even the gentlest lion's potential for unpredictability and strength seriously.  If a wild lion were found to be actually rather gentle and receptive to people, it would still be a mistake to forget that the lion isn't tame.  It is, after all, still a lion.

It's the same with us men.  The jolly old Santa Claus types, the meek bookish types, the mild mannered types, they are all--just as the gentle lion found in the wild is still a lion--still men; still made in the image of a God Who, to borrow C.S. Lewis's popular storybook analogy, is not to be mistaken, because of His kindness, goodness, and ability to be gentle, for a "tame lion."  So too, no matter how shy or saccharine or affable a man may tend to be in his disposition, he's not a tame man, for to be man is to be wild; and it is so, not because he fits some stereotype or archetype of a fierce soldier or a wild man swinging on vines and conquering enemies and lovers alike, but simply because he's a man, and so he naturally carries all the wild and unpredictable potential that entails.

But I think a man like myself often worries that women won't see that.  I've been called "harmless," before, and perhaps that's the most emasculating thing ever.  It was meant as a compliment, but it's totally incompatible with masculinity.  I fret that women have divided men up into personality-types, and that those of us with more nurturing or warm personalities will be mistaken, by the average woman, for not being a lion, for not being someone to take seriously.  It's a sad consequence of our culture, not the fault of women as a gender, that many women might indeed see a guy like myself as "harmless."  They may like that about me.  They may even prefer "harmless" men.  But it's still emasculating.  And there's a thin line between "harmless" and "not worthy of respect," and I've experienced just how blurred that line is, in some of my past interactions, which only served to deepen my insecurities about being a man that women could truly respect.  I'll talk more about that in the next post.

You see, that's the problem with "harmless."  It carries implications of having no capacity whatsoever to respond to threats or attacks, nor to command due respect, not even in self-defense, defense of loved ones, or defense of a noble cause.  And a man, like a lion, always has the capacity, no matter how deeply buried, to be "dangerous," to show that he is not to be messed with.  This doesn't mean that he should be feared in the way that a psycho or evil man should be feared, but rather that he should be taken seriously.  St. Anthony of Padua, who was by all accounts mild and gentle, was called "The Hammer of the Heretics," a very manly image that showed that he was not to be taken lightly:  He was gentle, and in his particular case he was even pacifistic, and would probably not have fought back against a physical attack, but if you needed to be symbolically "smashed" in the name of righteousness, he was both able and willing to do so, and everyone knew it.  There was an understanding that, if he was gentle or passive, it was because he chose to be, not because he was "harmless."  That's the respect due a man, the recognition that he is a force to be reckoned with, that even when he's non-threatening, it is by choice, not because he couldn't pose a threat even if he tried.

Don't underestimate me; if I wanted to I could school
you in 10,000 different ways of pain!!!

As before, I'm not sure what the answers are.  Aside from some rather hurtful past experiences with women (more on that topic in the next post), women by and large have not given me concrete reasons to believe that they see me as "harmless."  My wife has certainly not given me such reasons.  So I want my female readers to know that I am not blaming your gender as a whole, by any stretch, for my fretting.  I know it's likely that, somehow, this is a problem with my own self-perception, my own fears about how women perceive me rather than how they actually see me; or at least I sure hope it's in my head!  But knowing it may just be in my head is only half the battle.  I need to know how to get it out.

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