This one’s for my guys. But pretty much everybody needs to hear this.
I’m a little embarrassed that I’m writing about Frozen II (2019) again. But whatever, it’s really good. There’s psychology, there’s politics, plus cute things to laugh at. What more could you want in a Disney movie?
My girlfriend saw it after I did, and when I asked her what she liked, she mentioned a line in a scene I completely missed.
Anna, one of the main characters, is leading these massive creatures made of stone towards a river dam. (You’ll have to watch the movie to see why she’s doing it — it’s a key moment in the plot.) She trips and falls just in the path of one of the creatures’ feet. Out of nowhere comes her fiancé Kristoff, who scoops her up on his horse.
“I’m here,” Kristoff says, as they ride away from danger, “What do you need?”
I’ll let author Rachel Dickzen explain why this is a remarkable line: “Kristoff is feminist goals. He runs up to save Anna … and immediately says, ‘I’m here, what do you need?’ instead of trying to stop her or take over the situation.”
Point being, Kristoff didn’t try to control Anna. He didn’t try to pretend he knew what was best. And that’s what I want to get at in this post.
Those of us raised as boys were taught — “socialized” — a certain way.
We were given Legos and chemistry sets rather than Easy Bake ovens and dolls. We watched movies about cowboys, detectives, and soldiers single-handedly performing heroic feats.
We were praised for writing unique stories and solving complex math problems. We learned that being clever and resourceful made us valuable (and therefore lovable) in the eyes of adults.
That’s how socialization works. Messages about “being a man” are all around us, in movies, on the news, in politics. Even parents who believe in gender equality can unconsciously reinforce different expectations based on their kid’s gender assigned at birth.
There are signs that it’s getting better. More and more parents appear to be raising their kids in gender-neutral ways, allowing kids to be fully human. But it’s still the water we’re all swimming in.
Among the many expectations put on boys is a certain way of problem-solving.
Studies show that teachers often praise boys more than girls, and they give boys more opportunities to expand on their ideas. Boys are also encouraged to compete against others, while girls are encouraged to cooperate.
This leaves many of those of us who grew up as boys looking for problems to solve. If our partner or friend or coworker is struggling with something, we want to help. But not by listening and collaborating — by figuring out the problem and giving advice on how to fix it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, ingenuity is a powerful tool for any human, regardless of gender. But not when it takes away another person’s agency. Not when it’s a subtle form of control. Which is what trying to fix someone else’s problems really is.
I am guilty of this as the next guy. I get it intellectually that I’ve been socialized in a certain way. But every time my girlfriend talks to me about feeling stressed out or sad or angry, part of me wants to solve her problem. A little Kristoff in my head wants to end her discomfort as soon as possible.
And that’s the rub. I want to end her discomfort so that I can stop feeling uncomfortable. It’s about me, not her.
Instead of feeling her stress or sadness or anger alongside her — which is what happens when humans relate to each other — I want to get rid of those shitty-feeling emotions. So I try to fix her problem for her.
My girlfriend and I actually joke about how this is my inner “knight in shining armor.” It’s a part of me that was socialized to problem-solve on her behalf. A part of me that got praise for doing so as a boy.
Now, if you’re feeling ashamed about any of this, don’t.
And if you’re feeling angry and defensive, it’s probably because you don’t want to feel the shame underneath your defensiveness.
The problem with shame is it keeps us stuck in a back-and-forth of acting out and blaming ourselves. “Internalized feelings of inadequacy are a massive block to moving forward in a good and healthy way,” writes English literature professor Nora Samaran.
Samaran’s book about rape culture, Turn This World Inside Out, helped me understand the inadequacy of shame when it comes self-growth. She writes:
“To completely transform this culture of misogyny, men must do more than ‘not assault.’ The truth is that you already are good enough. You always were. Your actions can be not good enough, and your essence remains good.”
Cut the shame, cut the trying to fix. Instead, the next time someone comes to you with a problem (especially a woman), ask something like, “What do you need?” Or, “Do you want advice or for me to just listen?”
And if you’re too stretched or busy or stressed out to actually listen, let your partner know that. Say, “Sorry, I want to listen, but I can’t right now. Let’s talk about it over dinner later. How does that sound?”
Because what other people often need from you isn’t to fix their problems. It’s to show up as fully as possible so you can help them in the ways they actually need you to.
Hi, I’m Jeremy, a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. Subscribe to my weekly email on how to be more mindful at your job, in your relationships, and when it comes to politics here.
Photo from PxHere.