by Susan Harris Howell
I’ve heard that men won’t ask for directions. I don’t know if this is true or merely a stereotype of the male gender. On the one hand, asking for help in general is often seen as an indicator of weakness so might be avoided in a society that holds men to a higher “toughness” standard than women. Yet, so many statements about supposed gendered behavior have not been supported by research (i.e., contrary to popular opinion, men actually talk more than women).
So I asked the men in my Gender Studies course whether they stop to get directions when lost or if they avoid it. As it turns out some do, some don’t, and I’m still not sure.
So to broaden the focus, I asked about help-seeking in general. I posed the following to the young men in my class:
If I were to see you walking across the street, and see that you were about to be hit by a semi-truck, would you be okay with my rushing forward to save your life?
The three men in the class pondered as the rest of us sat in silence. Seconds passed…the clock ticked away…until one brave student said, “Yes, Dr. Howell, I would be okay with that. You could save my life.” A collective sigh came from the class as I thanked him for his willingness to allow himself help from me, a woman.
I turned to one of the other young men in the class. “What about it? Would you let me save your life?” The silence continued while he struggled for a response. Then as the class broke out in laughter, he consented – with one stipulation: “You could save my life, but then we could never talk about it.”
I have to admit, I was surprised. We could never talk about it? Really? Not that I would want him to constantly shower me with gratitude, but to never talk about it? To me, that sounded odd.
So, I turned to another male class member; one who tended to be the philosopher of our group. “Would you let a woman save you?” I asked. He leaned back, stroked his chin and said “Well, yes, but only if I then married her.”
Now I was really stumped. I had gone from “Yes you could save me” to “Yes, but we can never talk about it” to “Only if I then married her”?!
I had to ask. “Why would that matter?”
“Because then it would be like her saving me was destiny or fate, to bring us together. So it would be okay. If a woman just saved me without a deeper meaning, it wouldn’t be okay.”
Our brief class discussion triggered several questions for me. Do men feel uncomfortable accepting women’s help in the church when it comes in the form of leadership because it’s harder to ignore (i.e., never talk about again). Does being ministered to by women without their being some overriding destiny or fate attached make it less acceptable to men?
Now I know we can’t make too much out of three males answering one question, but it does provide a possibility that deserves attention. I’m wondering what others think and would enjoy reading your comments.