Written by Stephen James Burford & Freya Watson
The sexual stereotypes we face every day have a profound impact on our society. From stereotypes about men in relationship to stereotypes of women’s sexuality, these harmful attitudes affect us all. We must scrutinize ourselves to see if we are partaking in the perpetuation of these limiting roles.
These detrimental attitudes are deep-rooted. They begin to form through the eyes of a baby by witnessing the stereotypical roles that our family members assume. When we go to school, our friends and peer group reinforce these attitudes. They are even supported by our teachers and the arrangement of our educational system.
The modern media is especially guilty of exploiting the differences between men and women, exaggerating the differences to sell products (yes, Raw Attraction Magazine is a bit different to that!). Sex and differentiation have been exploited by capitalism.
These stereotypes portray men as powerful, masterful, paternalistic and uncommunicative. They portray women as emotionally responsive and communicative, yet childlike, helpless and incompetent.
These distortions of the sexes are divisive and interfere with our being intimate and loving in our close relationships. The social pressure exerted by these attitudes is as damaging to couple relationships as racial prejudice is to relations between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
When we look at the way society sees men and then at how it views women, we can see that society actually puts men and women against each other.
In the following love notes, Freya and Steve apologize on behalf of all men and women for playing their role in perpetuating the stereotype.
I love it when we sit like this, your head resting on my lap, my hand softly playing with your hair. It shows me the other side of you, the one you keep hidden so much of the time. I know you’re tired after another long day - we both are. But somehow it always seems to be me who says, ‘please hold me.’ It’s so rare to hear it come from you unless I offer.
And suddenly I find myself filled with remorse. Yes, you’re strong, you’re capable, you’re independent. But you started out just like me - a tiny, dependent baby who needed to be carried, fed and loved. Until someone decided that just because you had a dick, you needed to learn to toughen up, that too many cuddles and running to mummy all the time was not appropriate.
I remember the times, when I was a girl, we’d tease the guy who cried easily, or who wanted to play with our dolls instead of the ‘boys’ toys’. We’d call him a wimp, a softie, a girl’s blouse. Could that have been you? Oh my god, it could have been! Or it could have been my best friend’s man, or the cute guy at work. How could I have? I know I wasn’t the only one. We all did it and none of the adults stopped us either. In fact we probably learned it from them. But I am so sorry, my love, if that was you. I’m sorry if you ever had some precocious little girl dismiss you with an insult at a time you felt vulnerable. Now that we are adults, your vulnerability is something we women sorely miss.
And it still happens, I know it does. I still see my girlfriends who have kids doing exactly the same with their sons - laughing as they roughhouse and get hurt but dismissing the injuries with an almost unsympathetic ‘you’ll be fine.’ They even shrug them off at times with an embarrassed, ‘aren’t you too big to be sitting on mummy’s knee now?’ And have I said anything? No, of course not. Why didn’t I challenge them, stand up for the little boy in question? I’m not sure. Am I that much of a coward that I wouldn’t rock the boat or do I have some kind of vested interest in maintaining the old stereotypes?
My mind is wandering now. Is this what we women do, say we want our men to be emotionally intelligent and yet cut it off from the start? Am I still holding you in that place of emotional immaturity without being aware of it?
I think over how we interact. I dump my emotional load on you, then get annoyed when you don’t respond instantly or when you retreat. ‘You just don’t get it, do you?’ I throw at you in anger, as I turn my back without giving you a fair chance. ‘Men are all the same - insensitive assholes’, I mutter under my breath. Only I know that’s not really true. Now that I’ve been living with you a while, I have seen your sensitive side. I know you get hurt just as easily as I do. You just deal with it differently because it’s how you’ve learned to respond. I’m sorry my own stress and anxiety leads me to treat you as if you’re some sort of unfeeling oaf at times - sorry that I jump on the bandwagon of stereotyping just because I’m looking to vent. It’s incredibly unfair of me and I know it’s unhelpful.
But sorry isn’t going to make up for the parents who raised you to suppress your emotions, and it’s not going to make up for the society that didn’t equip you with the right skills to develop your E.Q. So I’m going to make you a promise instead. A few promises, actually.
I promise I will allow more space in our relationship for your emotions to be expressed. I know I’ve tended to dominate that space - that it has suited me in some ways to have you as the ‘insensitive’ one because it allowed me to be childish too. But I need to grow up too and to find more mature ways of expressing my emotions.
And I promise I’ll be more patient when you don’t seem to understand how I feel and also when you’re having difficulty bringing your own feelings to the surface. I know you may need a bit of extra time figuring out what you’re feeling - after all, it’s not something you’ve had that much encouragement for. I also know you may need some help with the vocabulary, in finding the right words to share. I promise that’s something we will do together.
But what about all the other stereotypes that I’ve helped to uphold too? I’m almost afraid to look at those. What about the assumption that I can’t trust you around other women, that you’ll be led by the cock at the sight of available cleavage or a flash of snatch? If you can trust my integrity, why do I assume that your integrity disappears as soon as you get a hard-on? Wow, that a major insult to a man, and yet so many of us women make that assumption all the time. For this, I’m also really sorry, my dear lover. I promise to deal with my own insecurities around our relationship separately and not to use this male stereotype as an excuse to project them onto you anymore.
And what about all the times I’ve sorted out your health issues, booking appointments for you and taking you in hand as if you were an incompetent little boy rather than a grown man? Am I your mother? Of course not! Though perhaps your mother should have made sure she raised you to be able to look after yourself properly! No offence to your mother - or to mothers anywhere - but part of raising a child is ensuring they can take care of themselves as an adult, rather than expecting them to find a woman who will. I’m sorry if you ever felt I was a suitable replacement for your mother, and I’m even sorrier that I have attempted at times to fill that role. But I promise to share what I know with you from now on rather than doing it for you, as one friend to another rather than a parent to child.
You’re still dozing lightly on my lap as I finish writing this and I realize there are so many other stereotypes that we’ve both carried into our love life without even knowing it. I always thought, because we’re both out working, equal partners in an equal life, that all those stereotypes were long gone. But I’m starting to see that they’re not. You still fall back into patterns handed to you by your dad and the generations of men behind him, especially when you’re under pressure or unsure. And I’ve been playing my part in keeping you there rather than helping you be the man I really want you to be - a man who can be strong, career-focused and warrior-like, and yet also be the vulnerable, nurturing, nest-building man, depending on what side of himself he wants to express.
For my part in keeping you - and me - held in those old stereotypes, I am truly sorry. I promise, from now on, to do my best to challenge them where I see them and to catch myself whenever I feel myself sliding back into seeing you that way.
With much, much, love,
Your words are making me tear up, I don’t think I’ve ever been seen in that way before. To be seen as a human and not as what the world thinks a man should be.
I am always trying to do my best for you and yes it is hard to feel your emotional pain and know what to do with it. It has taken me years to know that it is a scream for love, to be loved unconditionally. I don’t think you are an emotional basket case but it does annoy me when you don’t take ownership for your emotions and place blame on me. Does that really help me grow as a man? Both men and women need to own our own emotions. If I am sad, I must own it. If you are angry, that is you; it’s not me.
Bringing up old history and grudges never helps in an argument. It’s just a stab in the back. Let’s just concentrate on the here and now, okay? I forgive you.
You are right, as young boys it was never okay to go up to our friends at school and offer a shoulder to cry on. We never got shoulders to cry on. Boys were supposed to be men. No pain. No tears. Just emotionally bankrupt robots. Thank you for seeing and acknowledging that.
Yes, I can understand why you wouldn’t trust us around other women. Our balls have a certain energy about them and they always want something! But, I have learned to be connected to my heart, to my integrity and to Love. You can trust me now.
You spoke of how your female friends have often only helped perpetuate the stereotype of us. I am sorry too for our role in keeping the stereotype of women. The abhorrent stereotype that women can’t enjoy sex without being called a slut, how is this fair? How can we expect to live in a world of Love, fairness and integrity if we keep playing this joker card. It is a joke that we play this card, a joke on us as we are the ones who suffer from keeping you small.
Even the stereotype that men are supposed to come along and save you is keeping you down… the damsel in distress syndrome… the knight in shining armour comes along to rescue his princess. These are Disney stories that we think that you want (hell, even you think you want this too!). It’s craziness. We are not here to save you! We are here to lift you up and co-create a beautiful world alongside us… cheek to cheek… lips to lips.
I am beginning to see who you are and what you can be. When you are held by my presence and not cast with any label that has been given to you by society, only then can you be truly seen.
It has hurt me when a woman is only interested in me for sex. When I make Love, I make Love. Please don’t stereotype men into thinking they only want sex.
Let us find new ways to break beyond the rules of what we are supposed to be. Let us forget the chains and shackles of the past and let us Live and Love NOW.
I want you to be all that you can be and I want me to be all that I can be and the only way to do that is to have conversations like this, to bring light to where there was darkness. Only then can we have the awareness of what is possible between us. That’s where the REAL MAGIC IS. That’s where I want to be.
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