Jenna Brown

Jenna Brown

Where do the men fit in feminism?

I grew up around a lot of strong women. I grew up thinking that men were out to do bad things and women were the victims of this, so unless you stayed staunch in your feminism, you would get got. I was raised thinking that women could not only do anything, but they could do everything and boy, did I try to do everything. It didn’t serve me well all the time because, actually, I don’t want to do everything. That kind of pressure and self-expectation weighs heavy. The narrative of “not needing a man” is good in theory, but it sure is easier and more enjoyable working as part of a team.

In this blog, I am referring to my own life’s immediate experience with the divide of the sexes as a heterosexual woman living in NZ in 2021. The reality of feminism is very different in the current lives of others, as was it different a century ago or less. This is how it is for me in my life right now.

So what is feminism? If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have told you that a feminist is a female who stands with the other females as a collective, equal and, of course, more able than men. When I think about feminism now, I think of it as more of a flow state which works in partnership with men. I think of the men doing good in the world to help promote women’s rights, men who respect women and men who can help us become the best versions of ourselves.

I have just finished a book called, “he’ll be OK”, written by Celia Lashlie, who is an ex NZ prison guard, author and the project lead of an 18-month snapshot into what it is to be a man in NZ. It has really piqued my interest and caused me to think. This is a predominantly women read blog, and you might be wondering what this has to do with my life experience or yours. Reality is. It has everything to do with all of us.

An array of men are woven through our lives as fathers, brothers, sons, past and present relationships. Yet, I am now asking myself what I really know about them, how they operate, why they act the way they do and how this moulds us as women. We can all agree that men think, behave and react differently than we do. In my experience, women cycle through the months, and I, for one, have a harder time maintaining my emotional state through cycles like menstruation. Men seem to maintain some steadiness to their emotional state, or at least it appears that way on the surface.

At different times I have felt deep hatred toward men in my life and have often tried to understand why they did this or did that. Why have they behaved in certain ways, which have hurt me, I am yet to get any answers on this, and after reading Celia’s book, I wonder if I ever will. Instead of feeling constantly disappointed about it, I have decided to feel instead curious to learn why men behave differently from women. There is sometimes such a huge gap in understanding one another and how we are hard-wired for differences.

I had this idea that men have a plan, an agenda, a role to play and all actions they take are calculated with the consequences known and discarded. But, maybe sometimes they aren’t? Maybe this line of thinking that manipulation and lies are on the menu isn’t true. Maybe men, like women, are just trying to get through life and deal with their emotions, forge connections and enjoy themselves. Maybe they take a different route to achieve this than we women do. Maybe what I perceive as a lack of responsibility and recklessness is a form of being free to them.

Men are looking for a safe place too.

One of the lines in Celia’s book which struck me most was that until men know whether or not their father truly loves them, they will never stop searching for the answer; regardless if the answer is a resounding yes or a no, they want to know it. This has such a profound effect on men that it can make or break their entire adult lives and their ability to be present and show love to their own partners and children … in effect, continuing the cycle in a healthy or unhealthy trend.

Of the men I have been close to within my life, it rings true, the loose cannons who can’t seem to “get it together” have strained relationships with their fathers. The connection seems very obvious to me now, but it made me feel quite emotional as I read this and pieced it all together in my mind. I guess it leaves me feeling less annoyed at these men’s actions and more empathetic to their quest for an answer.

This is not to say there aren’t bad men out there or that all men who have done us harm due to a bad relationship with their fathers would get automatic forgiveness; that’s not how it works. Sometimes men hurt us so badly that they no longer get a seat at the table of our lives, and this boundary is set to keep us safe. It’s also not a single theory to fit every man on the planet but more a recurring theme discovered by Celia through her studies in Men’s prisons and boys schools in NZ.

As far as relationships go, this dynamic dance between the sexes can often become strained because of these differences in thinking. I watched a video a while back about containment; you can watch it here; it was a simple explanation about the role that men play for women in holding space for them to feel both safe and free. It’s actually quite the balancing act. When I first watched this, I felt instinctively uncomfortable with the title. Being “contained” by a man? My inner feminist wildly screams NO way! But there were some good insights and nuggets of information in there which made sense to me.

I am fortunate that my partner can hold this balance very well; no easy feat. It’s not about control or domination or anything other than a way of being in a relationship that makes a person feel safe, seen and free to be themselves.

For me, the learning in all of this has been in starting to let go of negative feelings toward men as a collective by rewriting the story my brain has created through my past experiences and dealing with PTSD (you can read more about that here). By not letting them negatively affect me in the future as well as becoming more aware of men’s emotional health and how they feel. I will be mindful of creating a little more space for the men in my life, leaving them to their natural way of existing instead of trying to change it.

I always felt a little trod on by men, like they were all trying to take something away from me, but now I see that they, too, are just trying to survive in this crazy world. Trying to find their purpose. There are plenty of wonderful men out there; you probably know a few, so go on, tell a man in your life today something that you admire about them, they deserve celebrating too.


Disclaimer: The J Word NZ and its media content are created based on my own experiences and opinions, as well as those individuals who share their stories with me. I do not have any formal medical or mental health qualifications. If you are experiencing any issues with mental health, please consult your doctor or a medical health professional for advice.

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