Several weeks ago, I wrote an article titled “Do Women Get Meaner As They Grow Older?” Essentially, it was my contention that they do. That, in effect, many women have lived their lives subjugated by men: physically, as has been brought to our attention in so many recent articles regarding domestic abuse; emotionally, by the tirades and anger displayed by men toward women throughout the ages; and financially, by keeping them ignorant of family income, expenses and savings. I further suggested that, later in life, men often lose their sense of confidence and importance because they no longer have their careers or jobs to bolster their self-image. As a result, they tend to mellow, and women take that opportunity to step up and express hidden anger and unconscious resentment toward men that they’ve harbored for numerous years.
No other article I have written in recent years has elicited so many responses!
For the most part, men totally agreed. I received numerous emails stating such things as, “I resemble that”, “You took a page out of my own life”, “Don’t know about other women, but my spouse did.” Usually, their responses were brief and to the point.
Conversely, women had a great deal more to say about the subject and, as you might suspect, their comments were generally negative. One individual wrote, “As a content, happily married woman, who is a professional working outside the home, I totally disagree. If you’d like to talk to me about it, here’s my telephone number.” Another said, “I’ve read your articles for a long time, but I want you to know that this one is total garbage.” Some attributed my position to the premise that I was being sexist and expressing my own hostility toward women. Another woman stated that, in her opinion, it was generally men who became crotchety, irritable, irascible, stubborn and difficult to deal with as they got older. Still others suggested that they understood my position, but strongly disagreed with it. They felt that I see a skewed population of individuals in therapy and, as a result it causes me to harbor an opinion based on my unique perception of women, as opposed to the way they really are. Lastly, another woman said, “You sound like one of those men who give little credence to what women say, and attribute anything they disagree with or feel is negative to PMS.” My retort is, “There is undoubtedly some truth in what each of you wrote. But, if 50% of the individuals who contacted me about my last article were men who agreed with my statement, shouldn’t women give some credence and consideration to their opinions and reevaluate their own reactions or positions?”
To all those women, I only ask they consider why they reacted so strongly. I acknowledge that I do see a skewed portion of the population. Not, however, as one of the respondents indicated, i.e., that I see “sick people”, but, rather, that I see people who are more willing to look at themselves, to acknowledge and own their behavior and feelings, are more honest introspectively, and less defensive emotionally. It’s my belief that most of us have a great deal more going on inside us emotionally than we sometimes realize or are willing to admit, even to ourselves. Many of us harbor thoughts and feelings that we intellectually perceive as unacceptable and, therefore, can’t accept. Consequently, we deny, rationalize, or project what’s in us onto others because it’s too painful to look inside and ask ourselves, “where am I coming from?”
I should add that a few women were willing to concede that men possibly do change for the better. One said, “Men are like wine, they mellow and develop deeper feelings as they get older, but women don’t age quite so well.” Another suggested that it’s all a physical thing; that over time, many men develop lower testosterone levels. As a result, their behavior improves.
Now, let me explain where I’m coming from, personally. On a daily basis, I see more women than men in therapy. Most of them are very bright, insightful individuals who hold professional positions such as doctors, lawyers, ministers, dentists, veterinarians, businesswomen and educators. Despite their education and the fact that they are frequently very successful and earn more than their spouses, they still allow men to subjugate them. I counsel them and encourage them to speak up and to stand up for themselves. Not against men, but for themselves. Not in a vitriolic or hostile manner, but in a proactive fashion. Why? Because I believe that equality of the sexes is, and should be, a major factor governing the way men and women interact in the workplace and in marriage.
My original purpose for writing that article was to say to everyone, male or female: talk to one another, have positions and opinions. Take stands. Don’t be too quick to defend yourself to the point that, even as you’re interacting, you don’t hear the other person. Instead, you’re consumed by thinking of what you can say to defend where you’re coming from. You have the right, and even the responsibility, to be proactive and to behave on the basis of your own rational self-interest. But you also have an obligation to be introspective. Not to judge yourself, or your partner, but to discover where you and your partner are coming from, what the two of you believe, where you want to go, how you feel, and what you expect or require from each other. That will only come about when you respect each other and are able to communicate honestly, without fear. It requires that you be able to see yourself and your partner through eyes that can read between the lines and understand that no one is perfect, that we all make mistakes, and say things we really don’t mean. The problem is, we often talk in codes, and ask our partners for love in ways that too often push them away, rather than pulls them to us.
Overall, I am saying that we need to remember that every one of us has faults and limitations, but we also have hopes and aspirations. Most of all, we all share at least one fundamental emotion in common: the need to be loved, to feel that there is someone in the world who cares, forgives, understands and holds us close to their heart. That’s what I want for each of you. And that’s what I hope you will direct your attention toward. Life is too short to lie to ourselves, defend ourselves, or to estrange ourselves from others. So, run toward your fears, take emotional risks, own your shortcomings and, in spite of them, value yourself and openly love and value each other.