How Gender Bias Rears Its Ugly Head In the Best of Relationships

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Deeply rooted gender bias can undermine relationships – here’s a way to make sure that never happens…

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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World

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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World – – – Gender bias can be a very sneaky, insidious thing that never serves any of the parties involved. And men can be subject to that bias just as easily as women. Now you would think that in a committed relationship with two otherwise intelligent and conscious human beings it would rarely, if ever, rear its ugly head. Well, I’m here to report that it most certainly can, and just how potentially destructive it can be.

The Setup…
As couples and relationships go, my partner and I like to think of ourselves as evolved, conscious and willing to authentically and vulnerably communicate no matter what the topic or how uncomfortable it may be. This has been the basis for our relationship since we’ve been together for over three years. And it has worked exceedingly well. So well in fact that I often use the success of our relationship and the resulting incredible emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy we consistently enjoy as the basis of my writing and speaking career on achieving extraordinary intimacy.

On top of all that, I just finished serving as the Program Director for the recent Conscious Men Summit featuring John Gray, Arjuna Ardagh and co-sponsored by the ManKind Project USA. The central theme of this four-day event (featuring some of the top speakers, authors and thought leaders in the conscious men movement) was how to help men overcome cultural stereotyping and allow themselves to fully express and feel everything without a sense of self-diminishment or shame. This includes helping men to avoid shutting down and “tough it out” when confronted with emotions that are difficult or painful. Not an easy task when male expression of vulnerability is viewed as a “weakness” within our culture rather than the strength it truly is.

The Irony is Killing Me
So it is with the height of all irony that just last week I find myself being subjected to a profound and deeply embedded gender bias. From my female partner, the love of my life, no less.

Sometime last weekend (the week prior to my writing this) I expressed to my partner some anxiety I was feeling about uncertainty now that my gig as Conscious Men Summit Program Director was coming to an end. I honestly don’t even remember what I said or when I said it –but I certainly was feeling the anxiety and she was picking it up. So clearly, I was having a very vulnerable moment.

My partner and I typically schedule our weekly lovemaking sessions on Sunday mornings so we can enjoy giving to each other without interruption or distraction. Only this particular Sunday morning my partner (who typically has a high libido) said she wasn’t feeling particularly frisky. So, we did what we always do, we talked openly about the possible reasons. What she said actually made a lot of sense. She went on to express her concern that she might not be able to climax for me and felt quite a bit of performance anxiety over that possibility. Well, this happens to be one of my areas of expertise that I speak and write about all the time. So, I shared with her what I coach others to say: “Sweetie, I’m not concerned about whether you climax or not –only that you enjoy my giving to you. Will you enjoy it even if you don’t climax?” And she responded: “Of course, but I don’t want to disappoint you.” To which I said: “I absolutely LOVE doing what I do for you, as long as you are okay with it.”

With that we proceeded to make beautiful love. And, as it turns out, her concerns were quite unfounded as she came explosively many times. Funny thing though, I felt deep down that there was more to this because our usual heightened sensual energy still felt a bit “off” –I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Fast forward one week later. After having a particularly stressful day dealing with computer issues (to which I admittedly *way* over-reacted), we had a wonderfully enjoyable evening of dancing. When we returned home, my partner felt compelled to share some feelings and insights about me. This is something I always welcome even if it is not particularly flattering. It’s one of the ways we continue to learn about ourselves from each other respectively.

Only this time, what she said, frankly left me dumbstruck. She went on to share that her lack of initial desire last time surprised and bothered her as well. It wasn’t until she left to return to her own home that she really started to consider the reasons. It eventually became crystal clear to her that my exhibiting vulnerability and anxiety about my interim financial situation was the source of the turn-off. In her words, it made me look weak in her eyes and she, like many women, find “strong” men, those who exhibit certainty in all things to be more sexually attractive. Ouch!!!

Even though she does not depend upon me financially, just knowing that at this time my ability in this arena is somewhat limited, along with my exhibited concern, caused her to feel less sexual attraction. This is very much within the realm of the default Sexual Operating System I have written about previously. And, if left unchecked, is the primary source of many relationship failures.

Let’s look at this for a moment. Her very reasons for being turned off are the very definition of the expected gender-bias imprinting for males still very much alive within our 21st century culture. Even though most women today no longer need to depend upon a man to survive, the old paradigm of the strong, dependable, emotionally stoic male provider as the ideal mate still impacts even some of the most conscious of women. It was the very antithesis of what the Conscious Men Summit was all about –and, it came from the mouth of the woman I absolutely respect and adore.

Shutting Down is a Choice
When she shared this with me in her very matter of fact way I felt stricken, diminished and frankly, angry. It was as if I had taken one right in the gut by Mike Tyson and was left reeling. For a full minute I just sat there looking into her eyes not saying a word or showing any expression at all. Underneath that façade however, I could feel the icy cold hands of shutdown and disconnect wrapping themselves around my heart. My very first impulse was to completely shut-down and disconnect from her. If she wanted a man who just stuffs his feelings and shows only “strength”, I can give her that. After all, the first 60 years of my life were like that –I had plenty of practice.

Now remember, I’m the guy that teaches other guys how NOT to do this. So, with some re-centering and internal observation of the ferocious battle my ego was having I finally chose to let my heart win instead. Later that evening (more like 2:40am in the next morning) we talked about it with candor, respect and vulnerability –on both sides. She admitted she was totally taken by surprise that those feelings emerged within her despite knowing better, despite being so conscious and aware. And I admitted just how hurtful and diminishing it felt (to my ego –not my heart) and how over-reacting to my own fears certainly did not instill confidence.

Within that darkened bedroom a space of authentic and vulnerable communication opened up between us. One where we reconciled and took full ownership for the respective parts we played in this little drama. All of which ended up being a very powerful healing process that gave us much deeper insight into the unconscious forces that are always ready to kick in under stress.

Clearly, men have every much as right to express authentic vulnerability as women. In fact, it could be argued that the very survival of our species will depend to some significant degree that we can give men the safe space needed to do so. Regardless of gender, we are all human beings. Old gender paradigms served quite well to help propagate our species. But now that we have “survived” and in fact risk over-population, these deeply embedded imprints no longer serve us individually nor collectively.

Awareness Cures All
So does this mean that my partner will no longer have her sexual attraction for me be impacted by how “strong” or not I show up? Hardly. We both know it will ALWAYS be there, lurking –waiting to spring its attack, just as my urge to over-react to perceived threats (and my own biases) will always be in the background as well. The big difference now is that we are both are sublimely aware of their nature and proclivity to emerge at the absolute worst time. And with awareness comes the ability to handle it.

This ended up being an exquisite learning / growing experience for each of us. We both believe that our relationship is that much stronger and resilient because of it. And, it is my hope in sharing this that you and your partner don’t have to risk learning these same insights the hard way. Instead, use your respective awareness to heal it when and if it ever does appear.