Years ago I had a friend, let’s call her Anne. Anne was very impressed with the advice I used to give her about men. In a tirade about her latest failed relationship and how understanding men seemed like an impossible task, I gave her some advice (which I don’t remember now) that turned out to be excellent. Anne wanted to know how I had come to understand men so well. Though I still have a lot to learn about men, during that time she felt as though I possessed astounding insight into male nature. She wanted to know how she could increase her knowledge, improve her relationship and simply understand this foreign species called men. I told her one of the ways I had come to understand men better was by listening to them and being receptive to their views. I also had been privy to the kind of conversations that men have when no women are around; spaces where they can express themselves freely without censoring or editing their thoughts.
You see, before I began practicing Islam, I often had male friends. I would accompany them to the aforementioned gatherings with other men. Eventually when the conversation turned to relationships, women, and their daily lives I sat still and listened. I didn’t interject or call attention to myself- even when they used less than p.c. words- I simply remained quiet. (They usually forgot I was there). Meanwhile, I soaked up all the information I could, feeling fortunate to have the access and insight. Other times I would encourage male friends to express their thoughts and feelings to me without censorship. I tried very hard not to judge them or to discount their experiences. I did not give unsolicited advice. Most importantly, I did not impose my personal beliefs or feelings about men and relationships onto them. What I was essentially doing, without realizing it, was creating a safe space for men to talk- really talk- about what was on their mind and I was actually listening to them!
But back to Anne. She begged to accompany me to one of these male gatherings. I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure if she was quite ready and I was concerned about her ruining my informal male observational opportunity. She agreed to do whatever I said, “just let me come with you!” she pleaded. I reluctantly agreed but warned her: (1) you cannot interrupt them when they’re speaking (2) there will most likely be some offensive language used- look past it (3) do not call attention to yourself (especially when the conversation is getting good), just listen. She agreed. After a hour of “kicking it with the fellas” the conversation started moving in the direction of women, relationships, sex and the latest guy’s baby mama drama. I flashed Anne a warning look and she nodded. No sooner than 20 minutes into the conversation, Anne interrupted one of the guys who referred to his baby’s mama as a “dumb bitch”, reminding him that he shouldn’t speak about his child’s mother in that way. I groaned, slapping myself on the forehead. As you can imagine, the guys suddenly snapped out of their “man reverie” and realized two female interlopers were present. From there they eased back into their p.c. shells and all conversation ceased. Needless to say, Anne nor any other woman ever accompanied me back to these gatherings. (It took weeks for me to lull these guys back into their safe space)!
Fast forward to 2010. As I spend time on Facebook, various message boards and also engaged in conversation with men and women present, I am seeing women like Anne everywhere. Anne is telling men how to speak, how to think, what he “should be doing” and a lot more. Many women are not listening to men. Instead, we are imposing our points-of-view, feelings and experiences onto men, using those who are willing to dialogue with us as emotional dumping grounds. We aren’t creating a safe space where they can express themselves and we don’t seem very interested in hearing what they have to say. Sadly, we are even telling them HOW to be men. Is it any wonder why so many relationships are unhealthy?
I am not suggesting that women allow men to disrespect and mistreat them. Insha’allah I would never knowingly encourage such a thing. However, I am suggesting, if we want to have a healthy marriage with a man, that we try to understand men. We need to understand what male nature is, how the male brain functions, and to be receptive to hearing what men have to say- even if it’s inconsistent with what we believe or want to hear. So many times I hear women complain that a man won’t open up to her. I have to ask, are you really listening to him? Do you create a safe space for him to express himself and to be vulnerable? Or do you interrupt him, rushing to correct his thoughts? Are you trying to force him to think and behave like you, a woman?
The reality is, men are not like us. (Do we want them to be?) We have to appreciate the difference and learn how to work WITH them rather than against them. Just as we’d like for men to try to understand us (in order to better relate to us) we have to do the same for them. May Allah guide us all!
Books on the subject: