On Cultivating a Compassionate Understanding of Family Conflict
Half the homeless in Orange County are children. And the root of homelessness for many adults lies in childhood—things that didn’t happen that should have, like learning to read; and things that shouldn’t have happened but did, like abuse. In 1994, my personal compulsion to understand men converged with my personal and professional commitment to children. I realized one of the best ways I can help children is by altering the way their parents relate to each other. By shifting those relationships from the adversarial context we inherited, to the partnerships that are now possible, parents can create home environments in which their children flourish.
On Common Misperceptions Between the Sexes
I realized that as a woman, when I looked at a man, I didn't see a man. I saw a hairy woman. I interacted with him like he was a hairy, more muscular, uncouth woman. I expected him to know what every woman would know and do what every woman would do. I expected him to be motivated by the things I was motivated by. I expected him to use words the way that I use words. But honestly, when men look at women they see a softer, more lovely, multitasking, emotionally-indulgent man. And they interact with us as if we're men! Ninety-nine percent of the confusion and frustration between men and women is because we assume we're versions of each other.
On Celebrating Masculinity
Over the years, I've come to value masculine and feminine energies, expressions and points of view in both women and men. I wasn't always that way. Like many women, I was proud of my own masculinity, though I didn't call it that. And I would quickly deprive men of theirs, though I didn't call it that either. I called my own masculine ways of being and expression, "self-sufficiency" and "independence," "competency," and "wherewithal." If I ever thought about emasculating men, it was in terms of "keeping men in line" or "not letting them get too full of themselves." Like our culture, I celebrated masculinity in women, but denigrated most things male. Letting men be masculine was the beginning of balancing the yin and the yang for me. It was also the beginning of a fantastic journey that has spanned almost two decades. In the process I found out that men are both the prince and the frog. And that we have a lot to do with which one we get.
On Understanding the Roles of the Critical Male & the Encouraging Female
The masculine is responsible for survival and survival comes first. Hence, the masculine relationship to judgment. Someone is either good enough or not. It's not a fuzzy line. We'll all live because of their demonstrated talents and skills, or we'll all die for the lack of them. The masculine never bets on potential. There is too much at stake.
The feminine is driven to enhance the quality of our experience of life. It's concerned about flavor and beauty; it creates experiences of love and partnership, joy and play. It pays attention to people feeling good about themselves and about life.
The conflict between judgment and encouragement has been raging now for decades. It's a battle between the masculine and feminine. One could say the self-esteem movement was a feminine reaction to anything that was perceived to diminish people or make them feel bad. The feminine hates for people to feel bad. But what if it's sometimes necessary? To balance the masculine and feminine relationships to judgment vs. encouragement, I suggest paying attention to context. Problems arise not because there is anything inherently wrong with either the masculine or feminine approach. Conflicts occur because both are on 'automatic' and both often fail to notice if the response is appropriate to the situation.
© Alison Armstrong. Used with permission.