Can men be strong and tender?

Women often appreciate and rely on men’s strength, competence and rational approach to life. At the same time some lament that their men are non-expressive, unemotional and contained. Does emotional strength preclude tenderness?

One factor in the differences between male and female emotional expression is culturally programmed. Agneta Fischer and Antony Manstead’s study of “The relations between gender and emotions in different cultures” found that “the stereotype of the ‘emotional woman’ and the ‘rational man’ was fueled by the industrialization of Western societies.” They explained that women’s strong intuitions, sensitivities and affectionate care served them well as wives and mothers while men’s rational approaches enhanced them as breadwinners. These differences were not matched in non-Western societies.

These researchers surmised, “The fact that males learn to regulate their lives in such a way that emotions are experienced less intensely means that women have to compensate for this lack of emotionality in social life by being more expressive.”

Interestingly enough, Robin Simon and Leda Nath found that “the self-reported experience of feelings and expressions of emotions did not match the U.S. cultural beliefs that women are more emotional and emotionally expressive than men.” Perhaps the experience of emotions may be similar to both genders but varies due to cultural norms.

Boys and girls are raised differently. Our culture rewards boys primarily for task mastery and girls for pleasing others. In order for boys to attain autonomy, independence and self-sufficiency as men they need to reduce their emotional reliance on others. In fact, emotions may interfere with the achievements associated with male maturity.

Even with upbringing and cultural role assignment burdens of becoming the practical, rational decision-maker, many men today are much more in touch with their emotions and freer to express them to their wives than did their forefathers.

Today’s young fathers are also more involved in shared burdens of family life, are active co-parents and show greater affection to their children than previous generations’ males were able to exhibit.

A study by Patrick Coughlin and Jay Wade of Fordham University found that men who have a non-traditional ideology of manhood, do not place as much importance on income differences and, as a result, appear to have better relationships with their female partners.

Biologist Katherine Wynne-Edwards found that the father’s hormonal changes closely paralleled his pregnant wife. “We spend an awful lot of time looking for differences between the sexes and trumpeting them when we find them but our brains are remarkably similar, built from the same DNA.”

University of California at Riverside psychologist Ross Parke, quoted in Psychology Today stated, “Men are much more androgynous than we think.” He believes that men have the capability to be both aggressive and nurturing.

Men – hone your tender side:

  • Realize that being strong and autonomous does not conflict with being emotionally tender.
  • Accept that being emotionally expressive only enhances your stature and endears you to your woman, children and society.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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