I was recently asked by to comment on the popularity of the Bromance movies that dominate the comedy genre in our American films, and as usual, my mind kept on unwinding why it was so popular until I landed on a feeling I often get when I hit a genuine nerve, one we need to take a look at. What dawned on me is that part of what is common in Bromances is male affection. Guys hug each other (not the pat on the back sports kind), kiss each other, sleep in the same bed, openly discuss vulnerabilities. Now, as a woman, this is all just normal, natural and non sexual behavior in this context. I couldn’t imagine a life where I didn’t regularly experience these kinds of affection with other women, and with men who are my friends. For purposes of this post, my use of the word “affection” here will be referring to the non sexual kind.
So as my mind is wont to do, it ran down that road paved by lack of affection among straight men in our culture. Gay men have no problem with non sexual male-to-male affection, so for purposes of this post, I am also referring only to heterosexual men.
Touch is vital to human life. Care and nurturing are not exclusively the domain of women. Babies who are touched regularly in the neonatal units in hospitals thrive, grow and gain weight more quickly than those that aren’t. Affection, primarily touch, is as essential to our lives as human beings as the air we breathe, yet men in our culture are almost entirely deprived of experiencing it with each other, for fear of being labeled gay.
Little boys naturally express affection towards everyone, just as little girls do. They hug, they kiss, they cuddle. It’s not a gender thing. It’s a human being thing. It’s natural, normal and not judged. At a certain age, usually around the time boys go to school, so as early as kindergarten or sooner, the social programming begins that tells boys to suck it up when they cry instead of being comforted by the same hug offered to little girls when they cry. “Be a man,” they’re often told, or “be tough,” teaches boys quickly that in order to be loved and accepted, and to be separated from the girls and considered a boy, that they should not express their feelings or desire to be comforted. Anger of course is the only socially accepted emotion given to males. All the rest belong to us. I often say that women get all the emotions, except anger, and men get none but anger. All of this containment of natural desires for affection is happening gradually over the development of a boy’s life into manhood. There’s little conscious awareness for most, if any, that they are being forced to abandon a basic human need and desire, until one day that boy wakes up in what I call the Man Box. I’ve often said that we women know we live in society’s box, but we are aware that we are in one. Men, I feel live in one, and it’s invisible to most.
That box forces men to conform to false notions of what it means to be a man, as our society defines it, and forces men to exhibit behaviors, and not exhibit others, that also define what a man is. It also determines whether other men in the box will respect you. This box in my view deeply affects the emotional interiors of men. So much of these societal dictates are borne of homophobia. I’m sure most guys reading this can think of a time in their childhood, and all throughout, where if they cried, or sought comfort in affection, they were called any of the many homophobic names that little boys who are sensitive (or simply normal, in my view) often are.
Boys grow up, as do girls, as do all human beings, learning from what they see and hear. I often speak to mothers about this in modeling the kind of woman they’d like to see their girls become, as what they see you do and how they hear you speak, ultimately informs who they become. This is true for boys whose ideas around masculinity and how being a man is defined. These modeling behaviors will ultimately determine this Man Box for him. It will determine how he feels he needs to behave in order to be accepted by all the other men in the box.
So I followed the trail of my mind to the next thought, which was that women are far less violent than men as a generally accepted belief, and much is attributed of course to the prevalence of testosterone in men as the ultimate agitator of undesirable behavior, but I had another interesting thought. What if the fact that men are deprived of normal affection causes a backlash inside them? After all, it’s the repression of expression. A withhold of care and nurturing that we all need. What if it’s a kind of male PMS? I often describe mainstream PMS (I have my own definition) as the repression of expression, and right before our periods, before the actual bleeding, that repression backs up into rage if a woman hasn’t been allowing a natural expression of ALL her emotions throughout the month. For most women, it’s anger. Remember, that’s the one we don’t get.
What if all this repression of the need and desire for non sexual touch, affection, hugs, intimacy ultimately backs up and contributes to the kind of rage that we are seeing so prevalent in our men these days; played out in gun violence and sexual violence against women and children? What if men were not chastised, criticized, belittled, judged for wanting and needing and expressing affection? What if a simple thing like natural affection between men, and non sexual affection between men and women were a key to tempering the violence in our current culture?
Here’s another thought that occurred to me as I kept meandering down this road, could lack of platonic affection also cause men to sexualize what is in reality not sexual? When the need for affection is unconsciously mixed with the need for sex, can we distinguish which we are actually craving? It’s not necessarily always both simultaneously. Women can easily do this, because we express and receive platonic affection constantly in our lives. We know what it is to just need a hug, or to cuddle for comfort. We can separate affection from sex. But for men in this culture, there is a Pavlovian response that has forced them to live with the equation that touch/affection = sex. And it deprives men of this nurturing that is so essential to us all, a nurturing that began to decline from the first time a crying boy is told to be a man. This tendency to equate touch with sex is also a concept that women have come to believe. The idea that “if he’s touching me, he must want sex,” because we aren’t taught that men can JUST want the affection. And the notion that men can only want sex from touching is one of the biggest societal mindfucks perpetrated on them. Men in relationships understand this well. They do know that there are times they want affection, to cuddle, and don’t want to have sex. Sometimes they’re tired and don’t feel like “performing.” And men who have children understand this as well. The desire to love, touch, nurture your children is innate. And that’s my point. Men need and want affection, and not just from women. Men need to feel comfortable wanting, giving and receiving platonic affection.
I haven’t done this research, and if anyone has and would like to share it with me, I would be grateful, but I wonder in cultures where men are “allowed” their affection with other men, if there is a lower rate of violence. I have traveled the world and everywhere I have been, I see hugging, kissing, hand holding, and walking arm and arm between men. But almost not at all here in America. Doesn’t it make sense that this could be part of why men are imploding and exploding all around us?
As I often like to do, I will leave you with these questions to ponder. I have discovered in my own life that the questions are often more important than the answers, as they lead us to take action, to understand, to learn, to grow and to share. To all you men reading this, please let yourself out of the Man Box if you are in it. Let yourself reclaim a powerful, beautiful part of your masculinity and your humanity. Don’t let other men’s or society’s or women’s opinions of you dictate how you live your life, how you express yourself, how you love and share your heart. And ladies, stop participating in shoving them into the Man Box. When we endorse society’s beliefs about platonic affection from men to men or to us, we place a lock on that box and invite more violence into our own lives as a result of participating in their repression.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially from you men.
With love and Blessings,