Rape is funny. Rape can be downright hilarious — when it happens to men. We laugh at prison rape jokes. But people who joke about women getting raped are rightly denounced as sexist creeps. Yet, if you include prison rape, American men are raped as often as (or more than) women.
It’s obviously sexist when people are insensitive to women, hence the focus on men not being empathetic enough. The male protective role requires men to show greater empathy than they are shown by others.
The agenda for claiming that hiding your vulnerability is “toxic masculinity” becomes clear when men who show their vulnerability are met with “ironic” hashtags like #WhatAboutTehMenz, #MasculinitySoFragile, or #MaleTears.
It’s not that men shouldn’t show their vulnerability, it’s that they should do so skillfully. After all, a man who can’t protect himself — emotionally or physically — can’t protect women or children. He’s seen as useless. Even feminists want men to protect women by calling out sexism in other men.
A zero sum game
Empathy is often framed as zero sum — showing more empathy for men is implied as less empathy for women. We witnessed an outpouring of international concern in 2014 when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls. But very little attention was paid to the 10,000 boys Boko Haram kidnapped, or the boys they killed by burning them alive.
But for macho men, guys who need empathy are pussies. And some feminists mock concern about the gender empathy gap as “himpathy,” even sometimes complaining about “unpaid emotional labor” provided to men. In other words, he clumsily revealed his vulnerability to her, made himself look weak, and lost her respect.
What’s a guy to do?
For good emotional health, men need someone they can show their vulnerability to. A key question men must ask is: What has this person done to earn my trust?
That other people must prove themselves to you prevents you from being at their mercy. And it keeps sight of the fact that it’s still your responsibility to solve your own problems and to achieve the outcome you want, even if you need support.
Don’t play the victim. Remember that you don’t control what happens to you, but you do control how you respond. Do so with dignity.
Men must look reality in the eye. Stoicism done right is a virtue, not a vice. Don’t expect society to equalize empathy for men and women. But society can tell the truth about why we are less empathetic toward men — that being empathetic toward men is at odds with expecting men to accept their expendability.
There’s little concern over 9 out of 10 workplace deaths being male because we expect men to risk their lives to provide us with the comforts of modern society. But we can encourage society to restore the respect for men who take these risks.
This is especially true for national security. Hillary Clinton’s statement that women “have always been the primary victims of war” would have been more honest had she noted that while over 95% of combat deaths are male, civilian deaths are disproportionately women and children.
Threading the needle
With traditional gender roles and feminism inadvertently working together to disincentivize men from showing their vulnerability, men must find creative ways to thread the needle.
Don’t show your cards when you’re first getting to know someone. Observe and take note of how they treat other people. Are they empathetic to some people or in some situations, but not others? If you don’t think someone has your back, then keep that person at an emotional distance.
Start small. If you think you can trust someone, then reveal a small vulnerability. If the response isn’t positive then pull back. If it is positive, then reveal a slightly greater vulnerability. Stop when you’ve reached the zenith.
Further, learn to control your defensiveness. Even if someone is mocking you, teach yourself to react stoically. Remind yourself that you don’t need this person — you are only emotionally dependent on them if you choose to be. If you can’t put your irritation aside, then you’re too dependent on their approval.
And remind yourself that this person’s mockery is a strategy to hide their vulnerability. But don’t confront them with that — this is their problem to deal with. Because support must be mutual, there is nothing you can do for them. But you don’t need to add fuel to the fire.