Ramy Has Finally Stopped Crying.
His little four-year-old face is now a delicate shade of pink.
His cheeks are swollen like thunderclouds threatening an imminent downpour. His older sister is stroking his long caramel blonde hair away from his forehead. Stroke, stroke, stroke.
Ramy is calming down. On his left sits, Leena. His father’s first wife. Not exactly Ramy’s stepmother… but a motherly figure. Leena has an arm around Ramy’s shoulders, slowly caressing his back in gentle upward and downward motion.
In the center of the room – stands Ramy’s father.
With his hands on his hips, the Father is telling us what happened.
Just an hour ago, Ramy and his father were riding home on one bicycle under the moonlight. All of a sudden the bicycle tire got punctured. Ramy refused to walk in the pitch-black darkness. The father had to carry him and tug along the bicycle while holding out a flashlight. In the chaos, the father lost his footing. Father and son fell into the bushes. Ramy ended up with a grazed knee and a lot of tears.
Leena is listening intently to the Father speak.
“Let me get you a glass of water,” she says.
Leena starts to get up from her seat. Ramy puts out his arm. He is holding her back.
“Noooo, no Eeeeeeena. Eeeennna you stay here.”
He Has an Ouchie. And It Hurts.
I’m an observer of this family. I sit on the opposite couch, just watching these dynamics. I’m struck by just how tender Ramy is. He has an ouchie. He wants love from everyone around him.
He is flanked by Leena and her daughter who are sugary with their love. Pouring, dripping their care through fussy sighs and the warm embrace of their bodies.
Yes, his ouchie hurts. It hurts him a lot. He wants everyone to stay with him. To kiss him. To place tiny kisses on his forehead. To be with him in his pain. To be nearby.
If Big Boys Don’t Cry – What Do They Do?
I wonder about the strength of little boys. Right now, baby Ramy is given space and permission to cry.
But, soon…there may come a moment when he is told the lie… that boys don’t cry. What then? What happens when Ramy has ouchies? And when someone who should comfort him leaves his side… how will he react? How does he find the voice to say: “Nooo, Eeeennna! Eeeeena you stay here with me.”
What happens in a few years?
What happens when he is 14? 25? 65?
What happens in the boardroom, the bedroom, the church, or the mosque?
When men are hurting, tender and raw just like this red-cheeked baby boy – what recourse do they have?
She’s Just Better at Dealing With That Emotional Stuff
What is the role of gender in this? Emotional Labour and Expectations.
It is important to note the role gender, race and class play in the situation. We must ask why is it that the father was standing with beads of sweat on his forehead, fists on his hips with an air of exasperation?
The most obvious answer? Fatigue. The father had to deal with the brunt of the situation after all. Walking in the darkness with a bawling boy. Trying to administer an antiseptic ointment to Ramy’s open wound. No easy task for anyone.
And still, I am familiar with the established dynamics of this particular family. This isn’t a one-off. Was it expected for the women in the room to take on the emotional labor of soothing the child and the father? Yep.
Why is that? Maybe it is because this particular woman is an incredible powerhouse. Leena’s bookshelves are stocked to the brim with tomes of conscious parenting and spirituality. She’s worked with children professionally and personally for years.
And…she’s been socialized as a woman.
So – here we are, back at the vicious cycle. The person who has been socialized as a woman continues to deepen their emotional intelligence… the one who hasn’t, stands in the room with his hands on hips. In a state of disregard. There is no acknowledgment of the very real labor it requires to be a caring nurturing woman. No. Being empathetic ISN’T a natural biological characteristic women are raised with.
The term weaponized incompetence comes to my mind. Why don’t more men develop their emotional intelligence? There is nothing soft about these supposedly ‘soft skills’ are not soft at all. No, it isn’t soft. It is critical. It is crucial. For ALL genders.
The Time for the Stiff Upper Lip Is Over.
I’m not castigating men. No. It isn’t that straightforward. At all. When men do attempt to develop their emotional intelligence it isn’t met with support or acceptance. As the magnificently late bell hooks notes in The Will to Change, men are VICTIMS of patriarchy. When men are denied emotional intimacy with themselves and with others – they are blocked; cut off.
Can we not draw a straight line between what a man is expected to do, man’s inability to receive emotional intimacy, and the most depraved violent behavior?
I believe in a world where we are all radically alive. Where we begin to interrupt the kind of narratives around what a man has to be. Asking for easing up on the patriarchy, is asking for more space and support for women, non-binary folks and ALSO men…too. A new way forward would allow men to receive more love, care, and nurturing. For men to develop the emotional intelligence and language to articulate what they need clearly without causing harm.
Enough is Enough.
Let’s acknowledge once and for all that the times of toughness are over. The time when a man needed to suppress his emotions for his ability to survive. When a man had to conquer or be killed. When a man had to go against the fiercest of elements. Can we all agree once and for all, that the time is over?
There is and has been for a long time now the heralding of a completely new open and encouraging moment of history.
A time when men can rise up.
Be listened to.
I’m here for it.