In Defense of the Sensitive Black Man

My Thing Is: Everyone knows it’s wrong to shame women for defying gender stereotypes. So what about men who show feelings? Can we live?

Matthew Lyons Courtesy of Matthew Lyons

Antonyms: Insusceptible, invulnerable, unexposed, unsusceptible.

I’m sure there are times when people should be unsusceptible or invulnerable. However, in day-to-day interactions with people, acute, perceptive, quick, sharp and even delicate are useful and appealing personality traits.

I think the culprit is the way most of us have been conditioned, from childhood, to look at gender roles. Girls play with dolls and tea sets. Boys eat boogers and throw rocks. Girls wear pink and are allowed to cry, but boys are shamed for doing the same. If that line, even remotely, is crossed, boys are admonished to “stop acting like a girl.” We’ve all come to realize that it’s wrong to chastise a woman for being assertive, athletic or angry. But the way we accept the variety in men’s personalities hasn’t caught up.

As a result of this, women lose out, too. That tweet I mentioned above? The first thought that ran through my head when I read it is that this woman risked getting exactly what she asked for in a partner: a hard, insensitive man who she’d likely complain didn’t tend to her needs. So many couples don’t really know what’s going on, emotionally, with their significant others because of strict adherence to the “man up!” principle.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are plenty of times when I feel like there’s just too much talking. However, when it comes to trying to get to the core of what’s going on with my wife, my son, my family members or friends, I know that the best path for me is to listen and show sensitivity.

I’m sure some will read this and scream, “Man up!” And that’s OK. I’ve been slowly moving to a place where I’m more confident and comfortable with just being who I am: a non-self-righteous, nonaggressive, straight black man. And maybe this means that when it comes to all this backward criticism, I’ll be a little less “sensitive.”

Matthew Lyons lives in Washington, D.C., and blogs at He is a husband, proud father, attorney and photographer who loves jazz, old hip-hop and deep house music. Follow him on Twitter.

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