When people hear about The Pillow Talk Project–and that it mainly focuses on men–they get excited. But it doesn’t take long before they ask another question, “Well, what about women? Aren’t their voices important?” My reply is always the same: Absolutely! I’m working on it.
The Pillow Talk Project is as much about women as it is about men because women play an invaluable role in the lives of all men, from being mothers to besties to crushes to sisters–you name it. There is no powerful story about men that doesn’t mention the presence and impact of women.
The goal was always to also include voices often omitted from the conversation of masculinity altogether, which includes women, those who identify as genderqueer (non gender-conforming and gender fluid), trans, and intersexed. But in order to understand the true impact of this work and fully experience and focus, I needed to start with men first.
Now, I’m a big believer in timing. And after two years of exclusively interviewing men, in a moving interview with Pillow Talker Shane, I had the privilege of accidentally interviewing the first woman ever to be featured on The Pillow Talk Project– Shane’s fearless mother, Michelle.
As you’ll read in an excerpt from my conversation with her below, she reminds us that, if we are serious about rethinking how we see our men, we have to also be brave enough to explore how we see our women, and their vital role in the production of masculinity.
Michelle: Mother. Wife. Daughter. Friend. Siren of Justice.
I have an interesting perspective as a mother, as a woman, but also as a family law attorney. Kids are very dear to my heart. In particular, I advocate for the participation of fathers in their children’s lives. I fight tooth and nail to help move families to a place of mediation, understanding that co-parenting is one of those relationships you want to preserve, even through divorce. You are still a family unit. Fathers matter.
My parents divorced when I was very young and my father came up during the process of the civil rights movement. And even though he was a musician with a lot of creative energy, he never had an outlet where he could really vent, be vulnerable–many men of color didn’t–which caused things to reach a point where he became abusive. It got so bad my mom had to make the tough decision to divorce.
But what I’m so very thankful to my mom for is that even though my father had abusive tendencies, she had the courage to leave what wasn’t healthy for her as a mother, but she never shared with me the problems between them as a married couple.
For me, my mother found a way to not make her problems with my dad my problems with my dad. So, I grew up knowing that my father was someone who loved me more than anything on this earth, and I never felt like a fatherless daughter.
Even though I look for “daddy’s love,” like most women do, I don’t have this anger towards men out of a feeling of abandonment. And I believe a lot of those types of problems stem from men not being allowed to be sensitive or show their emotions. Because they are never allowed or taught to, they don’t know how to unless they grow up in an environment where men are comfortable in their skin.
I hope that women will take the time to read the stories on The Pillow Talk Project and recognize the role that we play, and can play in creating a sanctuary and comfortable place for our men.
That means being able to learn from examples created by other men or having the courage to forge a new path for themselves, finding an example in someone other than himself, or using the negative examples as guidance on what not to become. When that doesn’t happen, men are forced to repeat the same abusive and painful cycles as the men before them. All of us do. But I was pretty fortunate because my mother gave me a good headstart.
I chose a good man. I knew I didn’t want someone that raised his voice all the time or had an inability to listen, love, and raise our children with a firm, yet gentle hand. More than anything, I didn’t want destructive behaviors passed down to my son, but I also didn’t only place the burden of doing so on my husband. I feel we, as women, have to be willing to give some guidance to our men and men have to be willing to receive that. But it goes deeper: we have to be willing to give room for that.
There’s been a shifting of roles nowadays and you would be hard-pressed to find women who find it desirable to be nurturing, want to cook and clean, or want to stand by their man, which has made it harder for men.
By nature, men want to be protectors and providers. But to find yourself in a relationship with a woman who is wounded, either from her own experience or projected onto her from her mother’s experience can be quite difficult.
Without knowing it, women repeat the same damaging cycles of their parents. So, even the best of men end up paying for wrongs they didn’t actually commit. I think that a lot of it is incumbent upon us as women, mothers, and companions to our men, to hold and create space for them to be vulnerable, without judgement. It’s crucial. For ourselves, but also for them.
I started dating my son’s dad when I was 16. He had such a wonderful balance of who he was as a man. He didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. You would have to know him well to know he was angry. He was truly a sweet person, and it took a lot to get him to a space of anger.
And even though his dad was a wonderful and balanced man, I can remember I would always say to him, “You’re so quiet. You aren’t very expressive.” He would often reply saying, “What do you mean? If you ask me a question, I’ll answer it.”
But I wanted something else. I wanted to dwell inside of his world. I wanted to think about what was inside of his head. I wanted to experience everything that he was because I loved him so deeply. But he didn’t know how to express that.
Even the best of men end up paying for wrongs they didn’t actually commit…It is incumbent upon us as women, mothers, and companions to our men, to hold and create space for them to be vulnerable, without judgement.
During the the last argument we would ever have–before he would have a massive stroke that he would eventually pass away from–he said to me, “I love you. Can you teach me? I don’t understand what you’re saying. I want to open up. I want to be that man. Can you teach me?” Again, that’s the kind of man he was.
Loving him taught me that we, as women, have to allow those moments for our men to admit what they don’t know and where they want and need help. We have to be willing to not allow our wounded-ness to prevent us from being able to say what we need and have a man that isn’t afraid to listen and walk that journey with us.
As a result, I made it a point to communicate with my son about everything. We are so close and sometimes we knock heads like rams because the relationship between us is so crucial. And a lot of the men coming in after the fact haven’t been able to understand our relationship. But I wanted my son to understand it is okay to be in touch with his feelings and to express to a woman that he needs something to.
A dear man to my heart that recently passed told me that the best thing he could do for his daughters and son was to allow them to see the man in him. He did such a great job being a wonderful father, but he wasn’t doing a great job showing them the man behind the great father.
We, as women, have to allow those moments for our men to admit what they don’t know and where they want and need help. We have to be willing to not allow our wounded-ness to prevent us from being able to say what we need and have a man that isn’t afraid to listen and walk that journey with us.
When he went through the divorce with their mom, even though she left him and would talk negatively about him to the children, he never said anything. So, I told him, “There’s nothing wrong with saying to your children that you are a man of integrity. And that if anything happens that interferes with that you can’t compromise and for that reason, you had to divorce their mom.”
In other words, once they become old enough to understand, sons and daughters need to know that a man’s role is not only to satisfy the needs of a woman, but to be satisfied as well. Being honest about who he was as a man could prevent his son from becoming jaded by the notions of having to stay in a relationship that wasn’t good for him. More importantly, it prevented his daughters from having an expectation of a man staying under such circumstances.
I hope that women will take the time to read the stories on The Pillow Talk Project and recognize the role that we play, and can play in creating a sanctuary and comfortable place for our men. Women are talkers and share information, but men need to know that if they make this change and open up their world to us that we’re going to hold it as sacred–it’s just between you and him. I hope that happens because it takes a leap of faith on a man’s part to be received without judgement. We must realize that.
Women say they want a strong man that is sensitive. But it’s time we ask ourselves, “What does that mean for a man? And how can we make it safe for him to do so?”