“I don’t know my kids anymore,” lamented a father estranged from his teenage son and daughter. He faulted the divorce and his soon-to-be ex-wife for the chasm between him and his children. The father complained that he didn’t know his kids well enough to know what gifts to get them for their birthdays.
Granted, the tricky business of buying gifts for teenagers often gets met with disdain, so I err on the side of cash – a gift which is always appreciated. Unless of course you have the open communication to drill down and find out what they really want within your budget (not an iPhone) and values (not vaping supplies) – or you are good at guessing. One Christmas, my husband intuited well-received gifts for our teenage daughters of canvases, acrylic paints and quality brushes, which led to hours of friendly painting parties. Score! Success for daughters who love art! But the teenage boy remains a mystery to me, having none of my own and no brothers. Although, I hear from other parents that their teenage sons remain mysterious to them, too.
Nonetheless, all the gift giving conflicts aside, I felt taken aback by the estranged father’s next comment. He continued to lament that his son was effeminate. The father said this in a way that I understood his son being effeminate was a painful burden to him, perhaps a failure on his own part.
Effeminate means to demonstrate traits more often
associated with feminine mannerisms and behaviors.
In a flash of insight, I intuitively saw a behavior pattern beyond the discussion of teen birthday gifts. The father was negatively judging qualities and behaviors traditionally associated with the feminine as less desirable than those qualities and behaviors generally associated with the masculine. His judging and devaluing the feminine affected his relationship with his wife and kids – which led to divorce and estrangement.
Hold on! Let’s unpack some assumptions around effeminate behaviors.
A woman friend and I mused about why we enjoy hanging out with gay men. It’s because gay men have similar brains to us. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden conducted brain scans and found that gay men, left-handed men and straight women share common brain architecture that improves communication. The corpus callosum, the bridge between right and left brain hemispheres, contains more processing connections to integrate logic and emotion more efficiently. Straight men, right-handed men and lesbians also share similar brain architecture with larger right brain hemispheres which tend toward better spatial awareness.
Not all effeminate men are gay and not all gay men share effeminate traits. Everyone has masculine and feminine energies as two halves of a dualistic whole. The yang, expressive, masculine, out breath balances the yin, listening, feminine, in breath. Masculine and feminine qualities run on a continuum from very masculine/extreme macho to very feminine/extreme dainty with most people expressing their unique balance of masculine and feminine traits somewhere in the middle. Girls who cross the line and express a more rough and tumble nature might be called tomboys. Boys who cross the line and express a more gentle nature might be called effeminate (or more derogatory terms).
What do men experience when they don’t fit into society’s standards of masculinity?
The Good Men Project addressed that question in an article, Men Ask: ”Is it Weird That I’m Effeminate AF but I’m Straight?” Some responses affirmed what my friend and I experienced. “I’m effeminate and get along better with women.” (stronger corpus callosum and better communicator). Some answers made me feel sad. “I feel kind of undesirable because I’m effeminate.” “I hate being an effeminate straight guy. No girl would want someone like me.”
Can men be effeminate and still be good men?
The Good Men Project website states they have “pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st Century.” Goodmenproject.com
Let’s continue their conversation. It’s not just my estranged father friend who negatively judges feminine qualities in males. He shares an attitude prevalent in our culture that devalues traits traditionally considered feminine: empathy, sensitivity, caring, compassion, tolerance, and nurturance –traits that make good communicators.
The father was undervaluing a trait that would serve him if he embraced it – Emotional Intelligence- EQ – the ability to handle interpersonal relationships. Danial Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter, shares how EQ skills, more than IQ, determine success in relationships and at work.
There’s good news for my estranged father friend. Current research on the neuroplasticity of the brain and on Emotional Intelligence shows that our brains respond to outer stimulus by building new neuropathways. Emotional Intelligence can be learned through practicing social awareness skills like recognizing visual cues, listening with compassion and empathy, and fine-tuning your radar for the emotional climate around you.
If my friend practices building new brain neuro-pathways through improving his communication skills, (such as listening with empathy and compassion to his teenagers), he might strengthen his corpus callosum and develop some traits considered more feminine – and ultimately act more like his son. Maybe he can even rebuild a foundation for re-engagement with his kids.
Trying to communicate with your teenagers or your spouse can augment stress. Not communicating with the people who matter most to you will cause you more stress. Upleveling your Emotional Intelligence skills and your response to stressful situations will add to your satisfaction in life – a goal worth the effort.
Leah Skurdal has taught people to respond to stress from their natural state of Inner Wellbeing for over 25 years. In her speeches and workshops, Leah inspires audiences to envision the best version of themselves. Leah offers individual Energy Healing and Stress Resilience Coaching in person, by phone, Skype, Zoom and Facebook Live. She is author of the book, Seeking Serenity: How to Find Your Inner Calm and Joy and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her workshop Raise the Bar on Stressful Relationships 8/13/19 in Coon Rapids Minnesota.