If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.
– Maya Angelou
Men need to feel respected.
Our health, our ability to connect with others, and our sense of purpose are all linked to feeling as though we are respected for our contributions in a relationship. This is not culture: this is hard-wired into our brains, and carried through our blood in the form of the hormone vasopressin. Respect is the primary means by which men communicate and cooperate with one another when they work towards a common goal.
When we feel like we are getting less respect than we deserve, our sense of place is challenged, the territorial response that is fundamental to our very being wakes up, and we have three choices: flight, fight, or playing dead. If a man feels his respect is in jeapordy, or does not feel respected for an extended period of time, it starts manifesting throughout his body as illness, pain, sleeplessness, and digestive problems. It begins showing in his mood as grumpiness, an unwillingness to speak, or flashes of anger out of measure with the minor irritations that set them off.
A man is not safe to feel many of his more tender emotions such as love, compassion, tenderness, or joy in a relationship where he is not respected. This is most important in the arenas of romantic relationships, parenting, and work.
Work is an emotional minefield for a man. In the past 150 years we have slowly shunted all of a man’s sense of worth into the arena of Work. A man is told that he shows love by being a good provider, which he can only do in the context of work. A man is taught as well that his respect within work is reflected in the money he earns, the possessions he can buy, and by how little he has to sweat to earn those.
At the same time, we have slowly stripped the Workplaces’ structure of any vestiges of respect or dignity. The once sacred bond between a worker and the company that would take care of him has been replaced by the sociopathic model of “Human Resources”. Each person has been reduced to a cog in a machine; their thoughts, goals, and opinions pushed aside (with dignity in tow), and each seen as essentially replaceable by any other human being who possesses the same credentials.
Respect exists within any natural hierarchy: the subordinates respect the decisions of the leader so long as the leader in turn ensures the well-being and dignity of his subordinates and leads with their input. A leader who fails to treat the subordinates well is replaced.
However, in the Human Resources model, the executives feel no need to protect the resources: they are only interested in the “bottom line” for their shareholders. Employees are discouraged from feeling invested in the company or offering the executives opinions and guidance. Those who try are often replaced rather than listened to.
Genuine respect is stifled or limited to the personal relationships between co-workers. These relationships often exist in spite of the company’s structure, and independent of it, rather than being fostered by it.
In order for a romantic relationship to succeed a man must have his sexual needs fulfilled within it, and he must feel respected. Without that second element, respect, a man cannot feel safe enough in his relationship to engage the emotions of love, compassion, and tenderness. A man who feels disrespected in his relationship either responds with anger (fight), breaks off the relationship (flight), or emotionally shuts down, unable to expose or express his feelings of love (play dead).
This is a self-perpetuating cycle, as a woman needs to see those expressions of love to feel intimacy and safety. When a woman does not feel safe she begins testing her man or trying to make him open up with chiding, anger, or cornering him (what they call in the Game community the “spine check” or “shit-test”). Many of the tactics women use to try and get men to “open up” and share those feelings make him feel more disrespected.
One of the things we do not learn in culture today is that men and women perceive, experience, and receive respect differently for one another. Our culture has become very focused on a very feminine approach to respect, and women are not taught how to show respect to Men in a way that actually makes them feel respected. Women’s deep psychological programming itself puts up obstacles to showing men that they respect them.
This mismatch is at the heart of many of the relationship problems; the key to most long term relationships is to work around this gap. Men are often taught how to respond effectively to women’s “emotion-seeking” and testing behaviour in a firm way on the one hand, and also encouraged to learn to show emotion and affection to his partner on the other even when he is not feeling respected by her.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t actually resolve any of the issues as to men’s needs. Ultimately men are asked to sacrifice respect initially in hopes of earning it later on. Our culture, however, makes no effort to teach us how men feel and receive respect. Nor do they teach men how to ask for or demand respect on the other.
In the recent Ultimate Men’s Summit held by the Shift Network, one of the most frequent topics of discussion was the overall degradation of Men’s mental health, how rates of depression range fro four to eighteen times that of women varying by age group and race, and that overall men commit suicide four time more often than women do. Experts such as Dr. Jed Diamond, Dr Warren Farrell, and Dr. Gordon Clay have pointed to a lack of belonging in our society: that men don’t get what they need from our culture, including a sense of being wanted and respected.
Our culture tends to put the onus for change on men. We cannot expect a new movement towards treating men with respect and dignity. In fact the idea that people need to be taught how to respect each gender differently is bound to meet with intense resistance. There is a narrative in our culture that Men already receive all the respect they need, and often at the detriment of women, as if respect were a finite resource.
I believe that learning to put forward a persona that demands respect, has is one of the most important hings a man can do. Like all social skills this is entirely learnable and is more of a mindset than a set of actions. I believe the core element of it is remembering that you train others on how to treat you every time you respond to their actions. If you assertively tell people when you find their actions disrespectful, and then remove yourself if you don’t get an apology you are well on your way.
Of course, part of this is learning how each gender experiences respect, and to put it out there yourself. Respect is a feedback loop: a person who acts respectfully inspires respect in others. It is also important to remember that we create the reality we live in with every choice: an act of respect creates a more respectful world, forever, and irreversibly. If we continuously put respect out there, it will make a difference to the shape of the culture.