In my recent article Re-Imagining Masculinity: Transcending the culture of conquest and embracing compassion, that kicked off this series, I stated that the very first step toward a wholehearted path for men is to listen to women. To begin re-imagining masculinity into a wholehearted way of living that men can experience, we must first listen openly to women; listen to their stories, their ideas, their insights, their joys, and their pains. We must also own the pain men have caused women. No more hiding behind defensive –‘what about men’s rights,’ or ‘not all men,’ or ‘all lives matter,’ or any other excuses for the toxic behaviors that have come to define masculinity. We must sit with this, hear it, know it, own it, and allow it to begin to transform the culture and us.
There is a Bahá’í teaching we should embrace, “Humanity has two wings—the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not of equivalent strength, the bird will not fly.” Humanity is wounded attempting to fly with a broken wing.
Cultural stereotypes characterize women as more talkative, yet research shows that women talk less than men. In a meta-review of findings on the topic Marianne La France and Clara Mayo reported in the Western Journal of Speech Communication that for husband-wife verbal interactions the man talked 79% of the time. Similarly they described a study on jury deliberations that found men take up 80% of the talking time during. Yet another study asked people to describe three pictures – men talked nearly four times longer than women.
In conversations between men and women, it has been shown that male dominance in speaking time is achieved through interruptions. A number of studies show many more interruptions occur where men interrupt women. For example, the study “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations” by Don Zimmerman and Candace West, sociologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found during 11 different man-woman conversations that the man interrupted the woman 46 times, while the woman interrupted the man only 2 times. It was shown in a 2014 study at George Washington University that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking with other men.
Even the women serving on the highest court in our land are not immune to this dynamic of being interrupted by men. A new study by Northwestern Law professor Tonja Jacobi found that female Supreme Court justices are interrupted about three times more frequently than their male counterparts.
So, how do we seek balance for the male-female dynamic in our times?
If you are a man, you start simply by listening.
Learning how to actively listen is a powerful skill. I work on becoming a better listener every day. Frequently I fall short and fail. Most days it feels like two steps forward, one step backward. It takes dedicated practice. I’ve become intentional about making it part of my daily journey.
Here are three tips for how you can start today with the intention and purpose of openly and actively listening to women:
- Become acutely aware of your own behavior in response to a woman speaking.
- Bring your attention fully present. You must be intentional about bringing your full self into this behavior of listening. Don’t look at your phone screen or off into the distance while she is talking. Turn off the game, and tune-in to her.
- Resist the temptation to think up a response while she is talking.
Whether you agree or disagree with what she is saying – let go of your usual knee-jerk response and lean in by asking a simple question, “I think I understand, or, I want to make sure I understand, can you tell me more about _____ ?” Be attentive and fully absorb what is being said. Acknowledge what was said, “I hear you…Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” or similar.
If it is a situation where a response is necessary and appropriate at that moment, make your response a considerate, respectful one –again, whether or not you agree with what was said. If you feel there is pressure to give an answer, or that a solution to a problem is expected immediately – if you have a really great idea share it, but don’t mansplain. Summon some courage and respond with, “I’m not sure I have a solution at this moment, but let’s work toward one together.” I’ve violated this so many times in my life, and was not even aware I was doing it. Men are culturally conditioned to fix it, have the silver bullet answer, to save the day – even when we have no solid idea of what the real solution could be. Letting go of this pressure takes practice, and takes letting go of ego.
This is radical stuff in a man’s world. It will be life changing, and will transform your relationships. You can count on it making you uncomfortable and vulnerable. You can also be certain that you are going to receive insights that you didn’t really know before, but thought you did. You are going to discover things that have never been on your radar before, but should be. This is part of increasing your emotional intelligence, healing your wounds, and is a powerful result of listening to women.
Emotional intelligence includes empathy and compassion – traits where most of us men are stunted. Brené Brown, social science researcher, has discovered that empathy is the skill set to bring compassion alive. Empathy is the ability to feel with someone through shared or similar experience, it is not feeling for someone. Brown goes on to establish, “Compassion is a deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to each other by something rooted in love.”
Listening to women and the feminine is indeed a big part of the work men must engage in to transcend the culture of conquest and embrace compassion. Start today.
In part 2 of this topic, we will be learning about the Power of Men Listening to the Earth.