It’s 2019, how are we supposed to be thinking about gender roles and gender stereotypes? What’s a man supposed to act like? What’s a woman supposed to act like? Where does the LGBTQA community fit in? Should women try to honor their innate femininity and men, their innate masculinity? Or are those just old sexist concepts in modern packaging? There’s a form of gender stereotyping that’s messing up our dating lives and relationships. What are the new rules around gender? I’ll share some ideas and research that might change your thinking about this subject forever.
A Point of View to Consider
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The last piece of housekeeping before we begin this exciting, important, and controversial podcast: everything I share in this podcast is educational in nature. It’s to support you in your intimacy journey. And it’s not medical or psychiatric advice or treatment for any emotional, physical, or psychological condition. It’s all just a point of view for you to consider.
If you’re experiencing any kind of serious psychiatric or psychological conditions, please get professional help. And if you’re experiencing serious conditions, please get emergency help right away. Your life is too precious to put at risk.
How Modern Brand of Stealth Sexism Cripples Relationships
Gender role confusion and gender stereotypes are crippling modern love. You know, I think that countless people’s dating lives and relationships are being crippled now by a modern brand of stealth sexism. And the result is a generation, a number of generations, trapped in this quicksand of crazy-making advice, like women should be strong and independent, but for God’s sake, don’t scare men away.
Men, you can be sensitive, but if you’re not an Alpha male, you’re always going to be the second choice. And LGBTQA people, you better come back tomorrow because we are confused enough as it is.
You know, in love, just like in every area of our lives, we’re faced with about a million variants of the same existential choice. Are we going to be us, or are we going to be a kind of prepackaged, safe, socially acceptable persona?
That’s not an easy choice because we’re herd animals, and it’s scary to be different. Tragically, strong women, gentle men, and just about everybody else are still being taught to forsake their authenticity again and again when it comes to dating, romance, and love. It’s like old sexism in a new age pop-psychology bottle. And for me, as a therapist, a coach, and a teacher, it breaks my heart to see.
A Sample Story
Let me give you an example of this. Let’s just create a story here. Let’s think about a successful woman who’s leaving a really high powered job, and she’s going out on a date. Successful women are told things like leave your fake balls at the office. They’re really told that, or they will risk a failed connection with real men. I know this sounds so 1950s, but I cannot tell you how many successful, powerful, accomplished women I know who are haunted by that fear, and how often it’s validated by dating coaches, experts, friends, and family.
So, okay, let’s imagine Susan. She’s a very successful executive, and she’s headed out to her second date with Jim. She really is excited about this guy. But she has just closed the biggest deal of her career, and she’s walking on air. She’s bursting with excitement, and she cannot wait to share her success with this guy, Jim, who she really likes. But then, she remembers the dating advice that she’s heard again and again.
If you’re not in touch with your femininity gals, you will not be able to attract guys.
If you’re too powerful, you’ll turn them off. So soften up or risk failure in love. Because otherwise, if you’re too much, too powerful, you’re not going to let the man be the man. So, Susan is torn between two worlds here.
What would she really love to do? She would love to have a fist-pumping celebration with Jim. She’s feeling really powerful and really proud and kind of fierce. But fierce and powerful don’t sound feminine.
Date Over: What Went Wrong?
She likes Jim a lot. So Susan decides that she’s going to kind of play it both ways. She tells Jim about her success, but she kind of downplays it, and she substitutes fierce and powerful with fun, charming, and kind of un-intimidating.
So, not surprisingly, the date falls flat. Awkwardness takes over. And awkwardness is like this clay-footed compromise between who you are and inhibition against that. And that awkwardness takes over. Neither Jim nor Susan finds that easy connection that they were so excited about feeling in the past. Date over. Susan leaves, and she feels kind of hollow and disappointed.
So, let’s look at this. Let’s look at what went wrong here. First, Susan was bursting with joy and ambition and a sense of personal power. She had to own that, risk that sense of empowerment, or she was going to risk disappearing. But that ran contrary to a slew of dating advice that she had read, heard, and been taught. So, in order for her to really be her, she would have had to cross what I call an electrified tripwire of gender stereotypes, and it just felt too risky.
Dating Advice You Were Told
Next, there’s wisdom in this advice of getting out of work mode before a date. But the thing is, the way that advice is portrayed to women is to get out of work mode. Because otherwise, you’ll be out of touch with your femininity.
Excuse me, folks. Isn’t it everyone’s job to get out of work mode, not just the woman’s? Is emotional availability and receptivity really just the woman’s responsibility? It’s like women are still being told to hold themselves back for fear of injuring a man’s ego. If you strip it down, it’s the same disheartening message that women have been taught for millennia.
Next, there’s a toxic message here, and the message is this: It is fine to step out of your traditional gender stereotypes for a little period of time, but you better return to it or you’re not going to find love. And that gender conformity pressure has shaped our lives in countless toxic ways. However, we really rarely see it for what it is. Hiding our authentic self is an act of quiet violence. It holds us back from our ability to love authentically. And, if we’re single, it keeps us choosing the wrong partners.
Stepping Over the Tripwires in Your Relationship
We’re herd animals, as I mentioned. Whenever we feel like we’re stepping too far away from the herd with our uniqueness and individuality, we get a little bit afraid.
John Gottman, one of the most brilliant relationship theorists around, actually said that LGBT people are about fifty years ahead of the general population in this arena because they’re less afraid of crossing those electrified tripwires of gender stereotypes. It doesn’t freak them out as much. And we’re going to see a little bit later what that means when you can step over those tripwires in your relationship; what happens in your relationship and in your inner life.
Okay. Next. There is this assumption that strength, empowerment, passion, and drive are these predominantly male attributes. And receptivity, expressiveness, kindness, and gentleness are the domain of the female. It’s the gender binary folks, a simple dusty on-off light switch. It’s on or it’s off, as opposed to a beautiful lighting console that has endless variants of lighting possibilities, which our gender expression can and should be like. We are fluid beings. I’m going to share a story here.
Feel Your Grief
Way back in the 90s when people were dying of AIDS, my best friend, Michael, was dying of AIDS. I felt frozen, and I couldn’t grieve. Well, not that I couldn’t grieve, but I couldn’t really grieve like I knew I needed to for the closest friend I had ever had in my life. And so I went into therapy. So this brilliant therapist named Harold Gouden said to me, “Can you feel the part of you inside that’s allowed to grieve?” And I guess I kind of felt it. And I said yes. Then he said, “What’s an image of what that person looks like?”
Well, the image that came up was a very kind of wide-hipped, very feminine, very emotionally connected woman, which freaked me out a little bit. And I told him about it. And he said, “It’s really okay, Ken. That can be a part of you.”
When I accessed that part of me, the tears came. The tears poured out. I needed to touch that part of me to be able to feel my grief. That’s just an example, but I guess in a way, it’s a kind of a gender binary example because it was a woman that was able to do it.
There Is Someone for Everyone
But hey, it was my inner life, in my inner world, and that was what came up. The point is that we have an endless variance of self inside us and a lot of them break gender rules. So anyway, going back to this concept of gender stereotypes and terms, a lot of researchers are using terms that are not based on genitalia.
So they’re saying instrumental traits include assertiveness, decisiveness, independence, dominance, and ambition. And then, there are expressive traits, which include sensitivity to the needs of other people, altruism, warmth, and cooperativeness.
Come on, folks. We all know both of those are really rich aspects of all of our beings. There are countless women with predominantly instrumental natures and countless men with predominantly expressive natures.
And there’s someone for everyone, folks. I promise you that whatever your self-expression is in this arena, there are people who are looking for somebody just like you.
And it’s just really true that healthy, wonderful people of all genders are attracted to all of those types. There really is someone for everyone. And the bottom line is that if we’re not us, who the hell are we going to be? So, keeping all this in mind, let’s reimagine Susan’s state with Jim in two different scenarios. Okay?
This is Part One of a two-part series. Find Part Two here.
Transcript Notes: This article is essentially a direct transcription of my talk or interview. Subscribe and listen to the podcast here.