Thoughts about manhood from an avowed feminist

At best, I’m an irregular contributor to BBS, so forgive me if I intrude after weeks of silence. I had some thoughts this week and therefore am succumbing to the temptation to posit: “Wonder what BBS would say?” Be gentle; this is my first such post.

I had some sympathy tonight for what it must mean to be a “man.” I was watching “Black Sails,” which, granted, is set during the 18th century pirate salad days in the Caribbean. Captain Flint goes through his most recent bout of cock-swinging hell and then arrives at his lady’s doorstep, battered and bruised. As he collapses at her door, she simply looks at him and says, “Take off your boots. I’ll boil some water.” In a moment of pure vulnerability, he slides down said door, looking lost and afraid, but yet comforted – this is clearly the place he can LET GO. I ain’t about to join the Men’s Rights Movement (those fuckers). But, for some reason, this scene resonated with me.

Simultaneously with my “Black Sails” binge, I’ve also been reading copious amounts of romance novels. I’m trying to write my own, so you know, “research.” The most popular by far are the ones with the feisty female who is tamed by the wild man (e.g., a Scots laird). I’ll be perfectly honest, those are kinda titillating for me. There are moments when I fantasize about a man pushing me up against a wall and forcing his lips to mine (again, forgive the romance novel jargon – I’m in deep).

I guess I’ve just been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately and what that means for all of us. There’s a lovely TED talk by researcher Briene Brown about vulnerability and its power (, but I wonder. How do gender expectations and vulnerability intersect?


This might sound odd, but my running theory about giving into vulnerability is rooted in a desire to shirk adult responsibilities. Sort of falling into step of expectation becomes a fantasy of living under a strict set of rules, but they are much simpler rules than figuring things out on your own and always fighting expectation. I don’t want to get… well graphic with some of the examples we discussed but it definitely has been lengthy conversations between my wife and I.


Oh, what a fascinating question! Alas, I’ve just gone to bed and I’m a painfully slow single-thumb typist on my phone, or else I’d compose quite a screed. I hope to have time to address this in the next day or so on my laptop, but until then I look forward to reading others’ responses. Thanks, @Jilly!


Well, then. We expect to hear your thoughts tomorrow.


I disagree, but granted, I may not fully understand your point and we may have differing ideas about the concept because it’s messy and ugly. I think giving in to our weaknesses, our vulnerability, accepting them, can actually make us stronger. That being said, I don’t on the regular do that because I’m scared. :slight_smile:


Good post. Not sure what I can offer but it’s a real interesting subject.


Surely you’ve felt vulnerable before? So I I know you have something to offer. Imma one of them pushy wimmen :slight_smile:


Yep. Often.Like, really often. It’s almost a defining thing with me. I’m just not sure if this is because of weakness, gender expectations (never been much good at doing the “bloke” or “adult” thing) or the assorted grab-bag of mental issues I’m lumbered with. :confused: :

I will say that I think I’m more open to other people’s vulnerability because of it. And I think that makes me a better “me”.


My poor grinch heart just swelled, and you’re lovely.


My take might be a little… chaotic.

Vulnerability doesn’t seem to me to be only a matter of trust in a safe space, somewhere you can let your guard down without fear of being hurt. In fact, I think I feel like allowing the possibility of being hurt by the other person is a very real part of the, hmmm… ‘contract’ of the relationship. That sounds awful, like a deal has been hammered out or something. But still, I feel like there is an, often, unspoken agreement with those around whom we can let our guard down of a continuation of love or affection or closeness in spite of and throughout apparent violations of the vulnerable zone.

This, though, is all contingent upon an actual functioning relationship which can support such an environment in the first place. And probably dependent on knowing when the other person needs that space more than you need to communicate some difficult emotion to them. Actually caring about the other, and maybe even more than yourself, under certain circumstances.

But this boils, from my perspective, down to the age old question: Is it more important that we take care to love ourselves first, for the benefit of others, or love other people so we can find it in ourselves? Is it even possible to find it ourselves without it being reflected in the love expressed by others?

Whatever cauterisation of the concept of maleness (toxic masculinity etc) has happened in paternalistic society, I feel like the chemical nature of consciousness and the way drives can emerge unbidden from that soup does mean that, without some kind of analysis, testosterone can promote a kind of laconic stoicism. I think that needs to be both addressed and accepted before it can be open enough to allow a healthy vulnerability within the context of its own existence.

A person may be macho or whatever, but without consciousness of that machismo, no growth toward change can happen internally, and for sure the requirement for open communication in a vulnerable environment will never be attained whilst only focusing on the expression of some characteristic of culturally enabled persona.

I wanted to say something about balancing acts and such but it seems kinda trite, given the deep nature of the topic. Also wanted to mention that I don’t believe high testosterone levels ‘make’ you male, but it for sure amplifies and promotes that kind of behaviour-emerging-from-chemical-soup, which we often, without the intercession of consciousness, find ourselves operating under the aegis of.


The handling that happens consensually is something entirely different from handling and more specifically, manipulation, of mra fantasies. We’re mammal animals without barbed penises or ever-present super-differentials of physical power.

There’s some “taking” involved that doesn’t involve rape. I’ve come to accept that sex outside long-term relations requires some kind of roleplay. It’s not my preference because I don’t like how much I dig the dom role, but it’s… necessary to play with, for some sexual interactions. YMMV. And it should vary.


This resonates with me very strongly.

I was a small, frail child - and steadily abused (emotional/physical) by my older brother. Add to that sensitive, artistic, and as my stepmom puts it, “a bit effeminate”. She says I made up for it with a sharp wit and a sharp tongue. Sometimes too sharp.
As an adult, I have grown to feel that there’s little use in trying to be something I’m not. I’ve done a few “traditionally masculine” things in my lifetime :unamused: (is this an eye-roll?). Built a motorcycle frame-up, done some long-distance bicycling/camping, home/appliance repair, etc.
However, I really enjoy doing “traditionally feminine” things like cooking/baking, sewing, etc. with heavy interests in painting, cinema, and always always romance.

I grew up to be slim-to-average, but I always knew I’d never be that alpha-male, team captain, wild Scotsman type. However, I began to notice that sometimes there’s some power in allowing myself to be vulnerable accepting my vulnerability. I can distinctly remember a few times in my life where despite all the posturing and feats of strength put on by the guys around me, I’d suddenly find myself alone with basically - an alpha female. The sad part is I never trusted in my own capability at the right times, and often wound up letting the girl down. Always a day late and a dollar short, as they say.

You say you find the forceful male scenario titillating. I tend to like the opposite. I like a woman who knows what she wants and is strong/assertive in both personality and representation. Of course, dominance in a non-violent way, no dominatrix or actual violence.


To clarify, by assertive I mean (I hope I can say this right) generally able to withstand inhibitive social cues?
I mean, we ought to be way past the “women don’t call men” stage in this century, but I still feel like some partners I meet could and should feel free to take charge.


Well, I think of it like this…

I like cooking, baking, painting, writing, blah, blah, blah. My only real connection to sports is bicycling, although I would attend a game more for fun with a date, rather than to support a team.

I am thoroughly jazzed when I meet a woman I find attractive who happens to be in a non-traditional field (Mechanic? Yeah. Cop? Erm, maybe…cuz cops).

I like being courted, sure. But like you say, one has to compete, and I find it sucks to realize I’m just part of a larger group of men that a woman is leading on - much like a man might do.

Which brings up another issue - vulnerability in the age of internet dating, selfies, and false personas. Knowing whether or not someone is genuinely interested, or just feeding their “likes” habit.


That’s what I get for unpacking hours of conversation in a few sentences. Let me try to reword.

Falling into the expected gender roles is easy even though it’s also heavily constraining, we’re taught the rules from birth and even see the expected gender roles in nearly every piece of media presented to us. Since we are people, and people are not perfectly shaped into the narrow molds of expectation, we are constantly under a degree of stress just being ourselves even in private. So to - for a period of time - consciously choose to live that role is a form of relaxation and escapism at the same time that can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how it is handled. It also makes the frequent tie to days gone by play into it because it was a “simpler time” in our heads, and the two fantasies work well together.

I wasn’t saying much on vulnerability specifically so much as romantic engendered fantasies, but the two are extremely tied together in a messy way as you say. Being vulnerable goes into intimacy and sex in so many ways that of course it can really strengthen us or fuck is up badly depending on the person, act, and result. I can expose all my insecurities, doubts, and proclivities freely to my partner and she does the same; and we are definitely stronger together and in general because of breaking down that wall or defense from getting badly hurt. I don’t know how much that vulnerability and exposure ties directly to gender roles, but it absolutely is tied to sex and is a big part of having a long-term partner.

We’ve talked about how some of the mechanics of sex tie into vulnerability and gender roles, but like I said I’m not trying to go graphic here.

Scenes like that resonate because we’ve all been there - at the end of our energy, physical or mental, and just needing a place to curl up and recharge. It’s the theme of so many mid-twentieth-century TV shows. The man arrives home after a day of struggle in the corporate jungle and a hellish commute, and his wife is waiting with the kids under control and dinner on the table. (Nowadays it’s as likely to be the woman coming home to a foot rub and a glass of wine, but same diff.)

But I don’t think it’s just the safe space that appeals. Picture the private eye crawling back to his ratty apartment after getting beaten up, and collapsing on the floor alone. He’s safe, but the feeling is not the same. It’s having someone who gets us that makes the difference. Someone we trust enough to expose our vulnerabilities to is someone who can anticipate them and step in to bolster us when needed. Captain Flint’s stress isn’t just from his injuries, but from the strain of being so terribly manly all the time. I’m guessing here. I haven’t actually seen the series. (Captain Jack Sparrow doesn’t seem to have that problem. But I digress.)

Yeah, we can all use some mothering at times. Not just someone to boil water - a servant can do that - but someone to make the decisions and take responsibility. In a good relationship both partners know when to be the nurturer and when to be the nurturee.

Well, maybe it can come to that, but I’m not talking about giving up all agency, more like recharging, or recognizing when a partner’s skill set is more suited to the task at hand.

Looking at Harlequin covers, I often feel that I know the answer to Freud’s question, “What do women want?” It’s “a man with no shirt and shoulder-length hair.” I also feel really intimidated.

Sex, of course, is a whole subset of vulnerability. I have to cut it short here, but I’ll try to come back later.

btw: Good topic.It took some courage to open up the way you did, so good for you. You must feel this is a welcoming enough space for such a discussion, so good for us.


Vulnerability, to me, is inextricably bound to the idea of trust.

I’m not a person who deeply trusts other people. It makes life a bit lonely, but eh, what can you do?

I mean, I trust the cashier to give me the right change; I trust my coworkers to help me when I need help at my job, and that does involve a bit of vulnerability. But on a personal level, who I am inwardly and who I am outwardly are not quite the same person (and not even the same outward person all the time).

When I leave a party, get in my car, and just start singing; when I hear a song I love come on when I’m baking, and start dancing for no reason; when I come up with an idea for a story, and spend hours starting at the ceiling, flushing the idea out: that is me being me, and it’s freeing. But it’s not me being vulnerable, because I don’t trust anyone else with it.

So, being able to take off the mask and be my true self, and be vulnerable in front of other people… It would be an incredible leap of faith on my part, and being rewarded by not having that trust betrayed would be an amazing sensation.


I can relate to this. Traditional gender roles don’t register with me too well. I’m not an alpha male, and have no desire to be one. The alpha males might as well be on a different planet than me.

When someone asks me why guys do this or that, I have no good answer. I don’t represent all guys, I don’t understand all guys, and I don’t even understand myself.

Holy Christ, equality in gender roles isn’t a fetish. It’s the way things ought to be. At the very least, it should be a real option, unlike the way it is now. Men not being the pursuer is given lip service at best, and is openly mocked at worst. This is the 21st century. I should think we as a culture would have moved on from Unfunny 90s Sitcom Dating.

Yes and no? There’s no shortage of sketchy guys who will hit on anything that walks past and think they’re entitled to hook up because they bought you a drink, and that’s why I avoid the bar scene, but that’s probably not what you meant. In order to get what you want you have to go out and look for it. It’s much easier said than done, but it’s true.

My neurological issues all but ruled out my competing in team sports, although I was able to learn how to ride a bicycle when I was in my 20s. Still, I have nothing against sports, and I would gladly go to a game.

Just curious, what if that field were something like computer programming or electrical engineering? Both traditionally male if you go by percentages, and both “male” if you go by social roles, but these are jobs that are on the analytical side of the traditional male role rather than the strength side. Maybe it’s strength, or especially strength of character, that you find attractive. I know it is for me.


Well, from a traditional northern European perspective, both men and women have a protective role, and areas of authority. It can be a really great symbiotic relationship, where everyone has value, and nobody is taken advantage of. I grew up in a family like that, and was very happy. We have tried to give our kids the same experience.
That does not mean that anyone has to get pushed into a role that they don’t want, or that anyone is ever subservient to anyone else, except the kids, who sometimes get ordered to do things. My Dad was about as much of a Type-A man’s man as it is possible to be. He was a test pilot, for one thing. And Mom had been in broadcasting before they were married, but considered herself a housewife after, but she was a lot more than that. I think they were both very happy in their roles, and nobody ever got oppressed. But our home was always the safe harbor for Dad and myself, and there was no question of who was in charge. (Mom)
Everyone has their own experiences, and I often get grief here for using mine to help form my worldview. But what I think the Men’s Rights people and some elements of the Feminist movement are arguing about are power imbalances, which do not have to exist.Also, I kind of disagree with the idea of seeing men as just defective women.
My wife has some of the same interests as you do, as far as historical romance books and TV. I think a pretty large component of it is biological, instead of something that has been imposed on her. But we are in a place where we are comfortable with our similarities and differences. I guess we are happy that we have found a nice balance where everyone gets what they need, but it does not feel like we are having to struggle against our biology. But a big part of that comes from growing up in such a home, which is not everyone’s experience.

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What I like to do is use a computer to compile two lists of adjectives that can describe people. Then when I meet someone I flip a coin and use the results to decide which group they belong to. It keeps things interesting! Every month or so I make another pair of gender roles by compiling new lists.

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