Anger is a part of all our lives whether it comes from inside or whether we experience it from other people. Anger is a recurring theme in relations between men and women both on a personal and cultural level. The recent shooting in the US has generated countless pages both about the shooter’s anger and the anger of those reacting to him and what he did. Much of that anger has been directed at a perceived battle between men and women, some of it has been about the pressure of men’s entitlement and the effect this has on women.
Dixie Gillaspie wrote a powerful piece on ‘Why #NotAllMen is Irrelevant’ here. In its conclusion she said,
[…] the cultural norm of the alpha male, the superior male, the entitled male […] no more allows men the freedom to fully express themselves and embrace their lives than it allows women to do the same.
She is right in what she says, but is that the problem? Is the issue that men and women face about ‘;alpha males’ or is it simply about anger and inadequacy? Is the desire for men to find the freedom to express themselves about what they feel about women or is it simply about what they feel about themselves?
I attended meetings at Al-Anon for a number of years to deal with my reaction to alcoholism in family members, in particular my wife and my brother. Like most members, I went to learn how to ‘fix’ the alcoholic that was ‘destroying my life’. I wanted to know what I could do to get my life back on track. I was a man, a problem solver, I knew how to make things work. I had not been able to cure the alcohol addiction in my wife. I was sure I was missing something. If I could just find the key, I could help resolve the issues behind the problem.
I had spent some years in personal development work and had learned how to resolve personal issues, I thought, and how to help others create an empowering future for themselves. I had enabled a number of people to see a great new future and let go of what was blocking their move forward.
This didn’t work in my family. There must have been been something I was missing.
I’d started with the simple ways of dealing with the situation, like looking for hidden bottles and not having alcohol in the house. I worked on the daily schedule, helping the alcoholic deal with the low points in the day, suggesting routes that avoided the liquor shop. I tried deeper approaches, working on their past stories, what caused the drinking. Nothing seemed to work.
My awareness started growing. Eventually my friends at Al-Anon helped me to see that all I could do was take responsibility for my own life. I had to focus on me and what I could do to change my life. I had frequently expressed my anger against the alcoholic, my wife. I had never been physical but I had put enormous emotional pressure on her. The pressure came from my inability to deal with my anger at the effect the alcoholism had on my life.
I remember speaking to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) conference about my addiction and the effect that was having on my family. It was an addiction to control that affected my personal and my business life. It was as destructive as alcoholism but it was well hidden.
Once I took back control over my own life, and let go of the idea that the failings of others were controlling it, I was able to let go of my anger at the situation and able to separate myself from it. I did the only thing I could, which was to change my life not hers. I followed the mantra that all alcoholics learn,
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The key realisation was that my anger was at myself and my inability to deal with the stress in my life. This anger came from my frustration with my father and my elder brothers, something I have talked about previously in ‘My Father Was an Angry Man’. For me the source of the anger was a male against male problem, it was a problem stemming from a lack of a good male role model. It was my problem borne out of my lack of understanding of how to be a man.
I see a lot of anger in this world, in both men and women. I see a lot of that anger taken out on other people, a lot on members of the other sex. But I rarely see anger that comes from any sense of entitlement or injustice stemming from the person’s sex or gender. What I see and what I have experienced in my own life is anger about oneself and about the life choices that have been made. That anger is often taken out on a weaker person, often a woman, but has nothing to with any kind of discord between the sexes.
We too often rail against cultural norms when it is simply how people are brought up that is at fault. Men frequently grow up with expectations that are not fulfilled by the lives they lead. They feel they should be superior, they feel they are entitled, not against women but against how they are in reality. What we fail to do is educate these men about how live and how to take responsibility for themselves and their aspirations.
My point in all this is that things are not always what they seem. What, in my life, appeared to be a tension between a man and a woman was really about a man and his ability to understand his lack of masculinity. I took it out on a woman because of my inability to deal with my issues. It happened because of our proximity not because of any sense of entitlement or superiority on my part. It was part of what goes wrong with life.
We need to understand the issues both men and women face and see how they often stem from their problems as people rather than jump into seeing them as battles in a gender war. We attribute too much to cultural norms rather than to inadequate upbringing. For me the power of The Good Men Project is its ability to look at the issues men face outside the concept of a gender war. Men frequently need to deal with their father’s inadequacy and need a place to express what that feels like and how to go about taking responsibility for themselves.