Late last night and somewhat under the influence, I found myself looking at Instagram and experiencing jealousy towards women’s inspirational media. It struck me that there is a difference in tone between how men typically motivate each other, and how women communicate empowerment specifically to other women.
I don’t want to spend too much time interrogating this perceived difference, because I think it’s likely a case of me reading my own state of mind into patterns in the world around me. But it seems worth reflecting on what, exactly, were the feelings behind this perception.
I think the difference I imagined boils down to this: men’s inspirational media is about winning, whereas a lot of the women’s inspirational media is about breaking free. Men say to each other: “look, I am crushing it, and you could be crushing it too”. It’s about accomplishment, where the accomplishment might be career success or just six-pack abs. Women, I sensed in that moment, spend more time saying “look, I’m not doing what they told me, and you don’t have to either”.
Which isn’t particularly surprising, if true. Women in our society have plenty to break free of. Whereas men are assumed to already be free, and just need to get their asses in gear to accomplish their dreams.
Anyway, back to the jealousy. That says to me I have some strong, unaddressed needs to break free of constraints in my life. Somewhere deep down, I wish someone were saying to me: “you don’t have to do what they told you”.
And I can understand why those needs haven’t been addressed, because the narrative I’m mostly told myself is that I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do in life. How can I be repressed if I’ve been following my desires?
So, OK, self: secretly, deep down, what do you wish you could break free of?
- The expectation that I am and always will be reliable.
- The expectation that my life will revolve entirely around my kids. I’ve really enforced this one on myself; being completely child- and family-centric is a big part of the identity I’ve constructed for myself.
- Repression about my sexuality. This one has been triply reinforced in my life: by a fundamentalist upbringing; by repeated shaming in a prior relationship; and by a sense (however misguided) that being a man who is open about being a sexual being is incompatible with being feminist.
Those are the things that come to mind right now. I’m sure there are more.
The first one, that expectation that I am always reliable, will always come through, will always show up, will always keep promises, no matter what the cost… that’s the one that really stands out. Sometimes I feel like I’m nothing but a big bundle of commitments.