A Peek Inside the Male Brain

As a woman, what do you want from life? What’s important to you? Each of us is different so I imagine you all have different answers to those questions. Some of you want to feel financially or emotionally secure, especially if those are things that have been denied you most of your life. Or you might desire a lot of friends, an active social life, and to be known as a delightful person. Perhaps some of you want to make a difference in the world whether it’s through service (think Mother Teresa) or skill (you might be an artist, inventor or scientist).

Do you want to discover a new vaccine to save lives? Help struggling villages in third world countries? Maybe you want to be a famous singer, author or dancer. To discover lost civilizations or simply travel and photograph them. Or perhaps you want to stay right where you are and raise responsible, kind-hearted children who give back to the community? Grow the most beautiful garden anyone has ever laid eyes on? Develop a lifelong love affair with your man? There is no wrong answer to my original two questions, but you will see that if you ask men the same things, their answers and the list of possibilities might look very different.

Men don’t always prioritize their dreams for the future based on interaction and relationships the way we do. If you’ve ever heard the song New York, New York that was made famous by Frank Sinatra, you will be familiar with the classically masculine desires he sings of:

I want to wake up in a city

That never sleeps

And find I’m A number one
Top of the list
King of the hill

Stop for a moment and ask yourself: As a woman, is this what I dream of? Is my main goal in life to be “King (or Queen) of the hill”? How important will it be to me, as I lay dying, to know that I was “top of the list” among the people I know? Even if that sounds nice to you, other things are probably more important, such as making a difference in people’s lives and in your community, improving yourself, being part of a loving and meaningful relationship, or perhaps creating something that brings joy to others. Women look for enrichment, growth and experiences that build character. We prioritize relationships, putting them first whenever we can. Hierarchy might enter into our life-goal equations, especially if we’re in a competitive career, but it’s rarely the top of the totem pole for us.

But that’s US.

Did you know that while it’s extremely common for females to have dreams about being rescued from danger, it’s just as common for males to dream about doing the rescuing? Of course, men and women are much more complex than just the statistically typical differences in our dreams, but perhaps you get where I’m going with this? If you keep your eyes open, you can find very basic differences between the genders that commonly make themselves known in involuntary situations, such as while dreaming. There are fundamental things that are important to women, and those can differ compellingly from what men value. For example, hierarchy is extremely important to men. To be admired, looked up to, respected—sometimes even feared—can be even more important to a man than knowing he was loved.

A great example of this is in the film Gladiator starring Russell Crowe as the slave and former soldier Maximus. As a man who has lost everyone he loves and has been cheated out of being named the next Emperor of Rome, forced to fight battles to the death for the whims of a bloodthirsty crowd, Maximus manages to somehow maintain the admiration of the good men he knows and has fought beside. He is able to shine light on the corruption of the sitting Emperor who has cheated him, winning skeptics to his side and cheers from the bloodthirsty crowd when all seems lost. Even in death, Maximus is never abandoned by those who respect him, and is mourned as if he were a king.

A lot of women have told me that they’ve slept through large chunks of this movie, or that they simply found it so violent and stressful that they didn’t want to ever see it again. Personally, I found it worth watching but have to brace myself any time Bob has it on because people suffer so much in the story.

On the flip side, I have never seen a man watching this movie who was not touched deeply by the whole thing. This is a movie written by three men, directed by a man, and starring a whole lot of men (with a couple females in smaller roles), so you could say that as far as what men go through in life, the movie is going to be fairly accurate as well as poignant. The subject matter is geared toward understanding the male life experience and shows motivations and situations that are more common among men than they are among women, things like:

  1. gaining the respect of a “pack” of males (or peers)
  2. loyalty, comradeship and sacrifice in battle
  3. the physical ability or inability to protect those you love, and the resulting feelings involved
  4. the devastation of being cheated out of your rightful place in a competitive hierarchy
  5. the value and honor attached to physical prowess, and the shame of not possessing it

Any time you see a film like this, you can be pretty sure the men who made it really want to show us what’s going on in their heads and hearts. My son-in-law says it’s his favorite movie ever. My husband tells me that to be known and respected like this is the dream of almost any man. To be known as exemplary in skill, valor and fortitude, and to have been seen as achieving great things in life, is something men desire beyond almost anything.

If we want to inhabit this world and get along well with men (and ideally have lasting, loving relationships with them), it’s not just important for us as females to understand the male perspective, it’s vital. Many of us are guilty of expecting men to prioritize feelings and relationships over all else and getting angry or hurt when they don’t. We often want them to be softer, to show more understanding for the needs and concerns of others, to regularly exercise more empathy. But think of it this way: have you ever had a man expect you to supress your natural female attributes? Ever had one suggest that you bottle your feelings or take on aggressive attributes you don’t possess? Have you experienced a man telling you that you’re too dramatic because you express honest feelings? That you cry or talk too much?

Do you enjoy hearing these things?

Well, men don’t enjoy being told they shouldn’t value hierarchy or winning something competitive. They also don’t enjoy being told they’re not competent at something they desperately want to be good at (hey, nobody likes that, but the devastation usually burns more fiercely in the male heart than it does in ours because being “top of the list” is just a bigger deal to them). I’ve heard women say “That’s dumb. Men shouldn’t need so much validation.” Who are we to say what they should and shouldn’t feel, or what they should value in life? If we want to be validated for our own priorities and desires, we’d better be willing to walk the talk as far as empathizing with men.

When we prioritize our dreams, we as women tend to put people and relationships first. Whether we are saving them by inventing medicine, painting beautiful portraits of them, traveling with them or entertaining them, we are very plugged into the lives of the people around us. Our connection to the human race gives a woman meaning and purpose, and when we die we want those we love most to be at our bedside. These are all desires that are noble and good. But they are not the only valuable things to strive toward, and I think we sometimes forget that.

We don’t tend to aspire to the things men do, but that doesn’t make those things insignificant or unimportant. To them, we females sometimes get caught up in the minutae of feelings and relationships in life and lose sight of what they see as a bigger picture, a more sweeping purpose. It’s extremely unfair and even duplicitous of us to consider our own paths more worthwhile. If we value harmony in our relationships and interactions above all else, we’re not being very true to our cause if we harshly judge those who don’t share our exact vision. Never discount what a man (or anyone, for that matter) dreams of achieving, or tell him he doesn’t have the right kinds of dreams. He simply brings something else, something valuable and honorable, to the table.

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