Alison Armstrong is an educator dedicated to helping women and men understand each other. She provides programs and seminars where men and women learn to understand and appreciate each other. She is a guest on The Dennis Prager Radio show 4 times a year on the Wednesday (2nd hour)) Male/female hour. Dennis Prager describes her as “a person who looks for patterns in life and tries to understand those patterns and then explains them to others”*. She has a website understandingmen.com.
On her recent visit she told Dennis that “we always assumed that girls/women are more emotional than men. It just maybe that boys/men just control their emotions better than women.” ** Dennis inquired how she came to this conclusion. Alison related that she experienced health issues and after many tests it was discovered she had very low testosterone. (Women typically have 10% less testosterone than men.) She was placed on testosterone therapy and during that therapy she experienced an incident where she was overwhelmed with anger. She described it as an out of control rage that could have taken out the entire state of Colorado. She went to another room to calm herself and reflect upon what had happened. Her conclusions were:
- She related the intensity of her emotion to the testosterone therapy. Her testosterone levels were now well above normal.
- OMG could this overwhelming intensity of emotion be what it was like to be a boy/man.
- This is why men are so committed to getting a grip on their emotions.
- Boys/men don’t get enough credit for controlling their emotions (from women who don’t experience this intensity of emotion and therefore can’t fathom/relate to the intensity or the self discipline).
- I need to learn more. The research began.
Her first inquiry was, Do men experience all emotions with the same emotional intensity?
Male response: there are safe emotions and there are emotions they have to control.
There were 3 emotions men experienced the most intensity—anger, sex drive and shame. “Men regarded these emotions as dangerous because if they didn’t keep a tight grip on them, they would hurt people. Love, joy, happiness and sadness might be embarrassing; men did not consider them to be dangerous. As a result, they do not keep as tight grip on them. These are safe emotions that can be allowed to be leaked out.”** For example, it is acceptable for a man to cry because his child is suffering from__________. Tom Brady cried with happiness when his team won the 5th Super bowl. It might be embarrassing because the loss control of emotion, but it is endearing to his family, friends, fans.
The dangerous emotions:
When girls are angry or frustrated they cry. Girls don’t get in trouble for crying. They are given space to get themselves together, sympathy and maybe talk with a counselor. Women/society are accepting when girls/women cry. That is what they do. Imagine a teacher/principal telling a female student, “to stop that crying right now!!” Girls/women don’t see crying as dangerous so we don’t suppress it (even though it can make others uncomfortable and crying is a female a tool used to manipulate others (primarily men).
When boys are angry or frustrated there can be an explosive behavior — yelling, throwing or breaking things, aggression toward others. There is no accepting or sympathy nor should there be. What is an acceptable way for boys to release their anger/frustration in school, on the job or in relationships? We don’t want boys to cry. We DO want boys to have an acceptable release of their anger and frustration.
So how does that relate to school?
A boys’ natural response is to settle it /fight in response to a threat; girls will go to a teacher to solve her problem. Boys can / will get in trouble. A teacher will try to come to a girl’s rescue, but she will have to deal with two versions of a stories. (In middle / high school some girls with support from friends will grab hair and fight. They will get into trouble.) School policy is NO FIGHTS. I get that. I also get, we are asking boys to act like girls. When we expect/tell boys to just calm down, an adult will handle it (we are not giving them credit for containing an explosion or helping them channel the intensity of those emotion into something productive), we are taking their power away and many times we don’t solve the problem which creates more anger/frustration (and possibly a fight in/after school).
Alison uses the analogy that “our boy’s emotions are like steam engines. Steam engines have pressure valves to release pressure. If pressure isn’t released the engine blows. However, If you release all the pressure, you have NO POWER.” In school, most of the authority figures are women. When a boy experiences anger/frustration and a woman tells him just calm down, she doesn’t realize it is not that easy. It translates into they have to be apathetic. The only men who don’t get mad are apathetic. We don’t want our boys to fight in school, cry, or be apathetic. Once upon a time boys settled their disagreements on the play ground. When a boy or girl have to rely on a teacher or school to solve their problem, they have no personal power in that environment, but the anger is still there.
For example, a girl was being harassed by two boys at my daughter’s high school. The school couldn’t /wouldn’t solve the problem. The harassment continued; the parents complained and the girl complained. Nothing happened except continued harassment. The school didn’t have sufficient evidence / power to stop the boys. The father solved the problem. During the summer, his daughter was enrolled in a self-defense class. Next year, the boys started up their harassment, she performed a HI YA move, and landed a couple karate chops. The result: two boys, two broken noses, everybody in the Principal’s office but no more harassment.
The biggest challenge for parents has always been in teaching their sons to keep their emotions in check. Fathers modeled behavior and monitored expectations. At a certain age boys did not cry; girls and sissies cried. When a hard hit ball bounced off their body, the other guys would tease/challenge while saying “don’t rub”. Part of the transition from boy to man was keeping their emotions in check so their physical aggressions and sexual drives were in check. Now, so many of our students don’t have fathers to model how a man acts, what his roles in life are and how to successful fulfill those roles. Our kids are getting that instruction from various sources of media showing angry people taking their anger out on others instead of using that anger as a motivation to achieve, to persevere, to prove someone is wrong, to succeed.
So what do we do as teachers/administrators in a field dominated by women to empower our male/female students to channel the intensity of those emotions into a good thing?
- All boys PE classes with Men teachers.
For one hour in the school day, get the boys away from girls/women. Let them be boys in the company of boys. Reality — boys are 100% boys when girls are not around. I’ve come to believe the worse thing we ever did was having coed PE in middle/high school. In all boy PE classes, their play will be more aggressive because DAH boys are more aggressive than girls. Sports are about controlled aggression. The play is tougher, more competitive, aggressive and most importantly more satisfying. Their emotions are in check for a positive good purpose — to win. When they lose, they congratulate the winners for another positive good — it’s manly to be a good sport. There is discipline in putting disappointment / anger aside, and funneling it toward improving performance instead of complaining, blaming or striking another. In coed PE, guys have to hold themselves in check so a girl doesn’t get hurt. Boys aren’t supposed to hurt girls. (In so many places we expect boys to be passive (which are characteristics of a girl) — sit still, be quiet, go to a female teacher to solve a problem — let’s give them an hour to be all boys.
2. We teach our health / teen living / wellness (etc.) students about the dangers of drugs, you don’t want STDs, need to improve decision making skills, nutrition etc. but we have never talked with kids about anger and how to deal with it. Yet, we have fights is school. We’ve got angry kids provoking other kids, teachers, campus cops, you name it. I don’t know which is more vicious the girl fights or the boy fights. We have a lot of angry kids who may live in homes with angry parents. I think it is time to spend a day or two talking about anger — what it is, and how to deal with it. Anger can be used as a force for good. For example, anger is a great motivator to:
- achieve more than you thought possible
- to accomplish a difficult task because someone said, “You can’t do that!”
- prove someone wrong — “You’ll never amount to anything!”
- perform beyond self-imposed limitations
- propel self to succeed academically, in the school yard, athletic because some people didn’t like you.
Or anger can be used destructively where lives are damaged.
I inadvertently touched on controlling anger with a concept called the Law of Attraction within a Self Esteem unit. The unit was about Self Esteem where it was important to control one’s thoughts. The most important thing you possess is what you think.
What you focus on or give your attention to, expands / gets bigger and generates feelings —anger, frustration, humiliation, fear, vulnerability or love, joy, happiness, contentment. What you do with that feeling can be used destructively or for good. Everything that happens to you (good or bad), you are actually attracting to yourself. The most important thing you can do is to Control your thoughts. When you begin to focus on what you are getting or what is happening to you in life, you are going to be angry / complaining / miserable. Since like attracts like, you’ll attract angry / complaining / miserable people into your life. Your topic of conversation (which is a type of action) will be:
- what you are getting is not enough
- what you are getting is not what you want.
The magic formula — Thoughts — Feelings — Actions have to be firing in the same direction for you to get what you want. What do you want most in life? That should be nailed down within a Goal Unit the 1st couple days in health / teen living / wellness class. Everyone experiences anger / frustration. Funnel it / channel it productively to accomplish your dreams.
* Dennis Prager