Men are actually the more sensitive sex.
It isn’t easy being a man (or a woman) these days. Roles are changing. The world is changing. It can feel like the very foundation of who we are has been built on an earthquake fault.
Just when we think we can walk around safely, the ground begins to move and we are knocked off our feet.
My parents tell the story of my circumcision (one of the many hazards of being male, and still a hazard for many women in the world). My father was behind me as they spread my new-born legs and cut away my foreskin.
It was supposed to be a ceremony of celebration of manhood. Not for me and not for babies who are abused in that way. I let out a scream and arched a stream of urine over my little head, which hit my father in the eyes.
I’ve been fighting assaults to our humanity ever since. Here are a few things about being a man that I’ve learned along the way:
1. Males and females are different in every cell of our bodies.
According to Marianne J. Legato, M.D., Founder of The Center for Gender Specific Medicine, "Everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different not only in their internal function but in the way they experience illness."
This difference goes right down to the cells in our bodies. David C. Page, M.D., professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says, "There are 10 trillion cells in human body and every one of them is sex specific."
2. We're less choosy about who we have sex with.
Like many, I grew up with images of men being strong, silent, and violent. We needed to be courageous and fight for our country against other men who were the bad guys.
Men had to be manly and try as hard as we could to have sex with beautiful, womanly women. If you were a smart guy (like I perceived myself to be) you went to medical school. If I had had a sister, she would have been encouraged to be a nurse.
But we realize now that these gender stereotypes had little to do with being a man. There are real differences, but they are not what we’ve been told.
For instance, men have more testosterone than do women. It makes us more aggressive. Women carry babies in their bodies. It makes them choosier about who they have sex with.
Being XY (male) or XX (female) has implications for how often we get sick and what medications can help us heal.
3. We feel really pressured to be 'manly.'
When I got my first pair of "big boy shoes" when I was 4 years old, I wanted the red Keds. I was told red was for girls, that what I really wanted were the blue shoes. I insisted on the red, and have been wearing red shoes ever since.
When I got my first bicycle, I insisted I wanted one without the bar across the front. Even as an eight-year-old it was clear to me that falling off the seat on to a bar would hurt my man parts. When kids teased me that I was riding a "girl’s bike," I told them that was impossible.
If it was my bike and I was all boy, it had to be a boy’s bike.
4. Our fathers matter.
My mother thought my father was clumsy and she refused to let him hold me when I was a baby. She was also concerned that his depression and mood swings made him an unstable parent.
Gradually, I became to be more attached to my mother. My father, I’m sure feeling the mother/son pair-bond, felt excluded. He gradually pulled away, spent more time alone. For most of my life I felt it didn’t matter that my father and I weren’t close.
I now know that fathers matter more than we ever thought and too many fathers feel excluded from the loving connections in their families. I made a vow to change that when I had children.
With 5 grown children and 16 grandchildren, I’m still working to teach them the importance of fathers.
5. Our mother's view of our father was never totally accurate.
Most of us were raised by mothers and so drank in a woman’s view of our father and of men in general. For a long time I "knew" my father was emotionally unstable, a poor "bread-winner", less caring about my well-being than my mother.
I still remember my mother talking with a group of her women friends about the sorry state of "our men".
It took me a long time to realize that my view of my father was filtered by my mother’s view of him, which was in turn filtered by the wounds she experienced growing up in a family headed by her mother, because her Dad had died young.
It’s vital to recognize the filters we wear and to find our own connection with our fathers.
6. We're still trying to undo gender-role conditioning.
One aspect of the conflict between men and women comes from the gender-role stereotypes that taught men to believe that women were there to serve them.
This, coupled with the abuse that many of us experienced in childhood, caused some men (and more women than you might expect) to become violent towards their mates. In response to that, we’ve tried to be kind and gentle with one another, which is definitely a good thing.
But we have also tried to be nicey-nice, to pretend that men and women don’t have differences. This is not good. It takes a lot of the passion out of life and out of our relationship.
My wife, Carlin, and I battle regularly, a lot of it on things that come from her womanly ways that conflict with my manly ways. We’ve been together, deeply in love, for 35 years now and we honor our differences and even our occasional battles.
7. We're actually the more sensitive sex.
We are taught that women are the sensitive and gentle sex, that they are more emotional. But I’ve found that isn’t true. Men die sooner and live sicker. Most of this has to do with our lifestyles, but it is also the result of the male body/mind/spirit being more sensitive.
It breaks down more easily and is more susceptible to disease. Further, when there is conflict in the family, men’s nervous systems register it more strongly. One of the reasons that men withdraw and become silent is not because men are not as emotional as women.
Often, men withdraw because we are overwhelmed by emotions, but don’t know how to talk about them or how to sooth ourselves. We withdraw in order to get away from the conflicting energies that come from being in a relationship.
8. We NEED male friends.
Most men have few close friends and as we age we often lose friends and don’t form new friendships. Women do better at both and as a result live longer and healthier lives.
I believe that all men need to be in a men’s group where they can be with other guys to share their worries, hopes, and desires.
I’ve been in a men’s group that has been meeting regularly now for 36 years. The group has been a source of support that I’ve found nowhere else and both my wife and I attribute our successful marriage to my men’s group experience.
Visit Jed Diamond at www.MenAlive.com.
This article was originally published at MenAlive.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.