What do these women want anyway? That was the question men frequently asked when the Women's Movement began decades ago. I was a 20-something guy and, like nearly every man I knew, acknowledged that equal pay and career opportunities for women were long overdue. We fully supported women in their pursuit of equality in the workplace. In truth, that was the easy part for men.
The difficulty for men was that there were no guidelines on how they should behave with "liberated" women in relationships, and men came under a lot of fire. With nothing taken for granted and nothing off the table, men suffered from considerable confusion and anxiety about relationships. The lack of a clear message about what women really want from men appears to still be problematic today.
As women coalesced to support each other's reproductive rights in the 70's, many began barreling through the barricades that had defined sexual behavior for centuries. Inspired by the possibility of the uninhibited, commitment-free "zipless f*ck," as described in Erica Jong's 1973 bestseller, "Fear of Flying," they stepped boldly into the formerly all-male arena of sport sex.
And lots of guys weren't very happy about women enjoying gratuitous sex. Sport sex was a men's domain, wasn't it? While it was cool -- or at least perfectly acceptable -- for guys to have as much casual sex as they wanted, women who behaved similarly were labeled sluts and whores. And it appears that times haven't changed much, because recently, a radio shock-jock called a young woman law student who spoke up about health insurance and reproductive rights not only a slut and a whore, but also a "feminazi." His credibility is questionable, however, because this guy is a confessed drug addict on his fourth marriage. His popularity is limited to all but his mostly disenfranchised male listeners -- and his misogynistic outburst caused more problems for him than it did for women.
Despite the misogynistic views of this prehistoric throwback and his frustrated male supporters, the balance has already tipped in favor of women's equality, and women are competing on an equal basis with men -- and succeeding -- in politics, education, the professions, and business. And the scale isn't tipping back. But that still leaves relationship issues between men and women unresolved. How does the success of women translate into relationships?
Relations between the sexes are changing, and it still isn't clear to many guys what women really want or expect from them. Some embittered men's comments reflect their confusion and frustration. They express their outrage that women won't commit to them, or that women dump them for guys who are better-looking or wealthier -- in short, that women are treating men the same way men treated women for as long as I can remember. Some guys feel that the empowerment of women must mean their demise -- strong women equal weak men, right? Wrong.
My sense is that what women want most from men in relationships today is emotional honesty -- to know where they stand with their partners on a feeling level. In more than 20 years of working with men, I've learned that men absolutely are capable of being emotionally open and honest, but that getting there requires focus. "I like you. I'll call you soon," after a first date, when that isn't really a guy's intention, is an example of emotional dishonesty.
Too many guys are still uncomfortable venturing into the emotional arena. They needn't be. Emotional honesty is actually a very manly characteristic, and one sure to open doors with women. It's quickly developed, particularly with help from other men. Relating to other men on a feeling level also deepens the bond of friendship. This is a win/win in every arena.
If you don't feel comfortable opening up and sharing your emotions with the woman in your life, consider starting out by getting together with other guys who're in the same boat. Create a safe, trusting atmosphere where you can explore a better way of being a man and a partner to an empowered woman. Acting like a man includes being emotionally open and honest. There's great personal strength in that.
Men who insist that women's rights have hurt them in relationships reflect their unwillingness to look deeper into their own behavior. There's a strong and inexplicable desire to maintain the status quo, even though it's a losing position. Warring with women is foolish. Remaining stuck in an anachronistic relationship paradigm, isolates men. Some join men's rights groups to counter women's rights, an ineffective reaction to empowered women. They might consider what kind of woman wants to be in a relationship with an angry, frustrated man who's stuck in the 20th century.
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