The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men increasing their capacity to
nurture,and becoming whole.
Violence is nurturance turned backwards. These things are connected, they must be connected. Violence and nurturance are two sides of the same coin. I struggle to understand this even as I write it. Compassion for self and compassion for others grow together and are connected; this means that men finding and recuperating the lost parts of themselves will heal everyone. If a lot of men grow up learning not to love their true selves, learning that their own healthy attachment needs (emotional safety, nurturance, connection, love, trust) are weak and wrong – that anyone’s attachment, or emotional safety, needs are weak and wrong – this can lead to two things. 1. They may be less able to experience women as whole people with intelligible needs and feelings (for autonomy, for emotional safety, for attunement, for trust). 2. They may be less able to make sense of their own needs for connection, transmuting them instead into distorted but more socially mirrored forms. To heal rape culture, then, men build masculine nurturance skills: nurturance and recuperation of their true selves, and nurturance of the people of all genders around them.
Meanwhile, the men I know who are kind, goodhearted people, but who are earlier on in growing into their own models for self-love and learning how to comfort and nurture others, have no men to ask. Growing entails growing pains, certainly, but the way can be smoothed when one does not have to learn everything alone.
Men do not talk to one another about nurturance skills: doing so feels too intimate, or the codes of masculinity make doing so too frightening. If they can’t ask and teach each other – if they can’t even find out which other men in their lives would welcome these conversations – then how do they learn?
Something odd happens when you google ‘man comforting a woman.’ Many of the top hits are about women comforting men. (try it.) The ‘suggested search’ terms too: ‘how to comfort a guy, how to comfort a man when he’s stressed, how to comfort a guy when he’s upset.’ Apparently lots and lots of people on planet earth are googling how to comfort men… and fewer are googling how to comfort women.
Could it be that a lot of men have no models for how to nurture, comfort, soothe, and thus strengthen people they care about?
These things seem connected to me. And here is where my friend Rebekah , a drama therapist, comes in, who one day handed me the books Hold Me Tight and A General Theory of Love, and blew my mind.
about 50 percent of the population, people of all genders, have a secure attachment style: they were raised by responsive, attuned parents, who recognized their need to go out and explore as well as their need to come back and be comforted, and responded in a timely, attuned way to both. According to A General Theory of Love, this experience of attunement – having all their developmental needs met by attuned parents – literally shapes their limbic brain. These folks as adults find closeness comfortable and enjoyable, they easily desire intimacy, and they know how to create a secure attachment bond in which autonomy naturally emerges and daily nurturance is the norm.
Attachment science also has learned that about 50% of the population has an insecure attachment style; this breaks down into about 23% anxious and 25% avoidant styles, which are apparently both physiologically insecure styles, but look and feel different on the surface. The avoidant style breaks down further, into anxious-avoidant and dismissive-avoidant styles. A very small percent of the population, around 3%, has a style called ‘disorganized‘ which is a mix of the other styles.
People with an anxious attachment style actively seek closeness and are afraid of losing it, and have a harder time trusting and knowing their partner will be there for them.
It is possible to change your attachment style by creating an ‘earned secure’ attachment as an adult. It is possible to create an ‘earned secure’ attachment between two insecure attachers, but it takes a lot more time, effort, and compassion: both have to recognize nurturance is entirely good and expected.
Shame and guilt over which kind of attachment style you have are completely not appropriate or called for, as one’s attachment style is wired in from an age when we are much too young to choose. It is no one’s fault.
Fundamentally, a healthy, secure attachment style is what lets people effectively protect and care for the wellbeing of others. It allows for the skill of attunement: recognizing when someone wants to come close and when they want space, not only by asking but also by reading subtle nonverbal cues.
Attachment science tells us that human beings need mirroring and containers in others. Whatever is in us that does not get mirrored, or held in a larger container of acceptance by others, becomes a source of shame, simply for not being accepted. Shame is entirely subjective, in this sense. This is all happening in the body, below the conscious level, not in a vague ‘unconscious’ but in a recognizable region of the brain: the limbic brain, which does not have language.
In a patriarchal, misogynist culture, both of these imbalances (which are common to all humans), when they appear in men, are laid in women’s laps as blame and misogyny when men do not do their own emotional healing. I am making sense of this, bit by bit, seeing the pattern emerge. For instance: men with anxious attachment styles may feel distress when an attachment figure seeks to back up a little, or a lot, and may not develop a healthy capacity to recognize and respond appropriately to someone’s nonverbal cues communicating the need for space. They may come closer or become upset as the other person signals their need to disengage. If a man who happens to have an anxious attachment style does not know how to understand and accept his own needs for nurturance, he may attack a woman for rejecting him. The typical ‘hello, cutie,’ on the street followed almost instantly with ‘fine, be that way, bitch’ is an example many of us will be familiar with.
The solution to this is not to pile on more shame and guilt. This is really tricky, because insecure attachers have limbic brains structured by shame and guilt and may hear accusations where there are none. The solution is not to shame people for feeling shame. Instead, the solution is a complete transformation of social relations to allow wholeness back into our world. Yes, models of healthy interdependence exist if we know where to find them and how to recognize them. But no one stands in a shining circle of light and no one lives in the dark abyss; it is time we finally abandon these Eurocentric, western dichotomies.
The solution, in tangible terms, is community care and a great deal of awareness of how most of us did not get our needs met at key developmental stages, which means we did not move out of those stages and must do so now. Collective healing is possible. We can heal when we can finally be our whole, unguarded selves, in human community, without shields or guards, and be liked, accepted, seen, held. This is systemic change, spiritual change, at the core levels of our culture, lived each day.
The answer to all of these difficulties is to openly discuss nurturance: how it looks, how it feels, how men can learn to practice it from the men who already know how in addition to communicating through women or fumbling around for years learning by trial and error.
Why is there no high-profile institute for men teaching nurturance skills to men? Men need to do this work with other men – not alone, not instead of doing it with women, but in addition, in accountable relationship with and to women. In other words, keep learning in the ways learning is happening now – but then share that learning with one another.
one of the great distortions of the human spirit in our culture is that each man lives in solitary confinement, thinking they can and should solve problems alone, that they shouldn’t need others. Jumping the barriers that keep men from talking about emotions with other men is itself a fundamental change, one that reduces shame and confusion.