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November 10, 2020

‘Emotional PPE’ and Other Takeaways for Guys in a Pandemic: Part Two

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Feature image by Jeff Perera.

In the second of a two-part series, Healthy Manhood speaker and writer Jeff Perera shares with fellow cis-hetero guys some takeaways from navigating COVID-19 to help us better navigate our interactions with people of other genders.

Layers of Emotional PPE

Many men (myself included) are trying to navigate dating during a pandemic: maneuvering uncharted waters in meeting people they are attracted to, and possibly build romantic or sexual connections. Complicated at best in more familiar times, but now?

*takes off his face shield to wipe his forehead*

Some of us men tend to complain how cold or ‘stand-offish’ people can be when trying to meet them at a bar, or match with them online. Rather than fixating on ‘techniques’ to persuade someone to lower their defensive layers of protection (or devaluing the person for having them up) we can instead be more mindful around why their guard is up in the first place. Women, for example, might put on the emotional equivalent of a face mask, a N95 mask, a face shield, goggles and gloves just to prepare against the spread of harmful attitudes and behaviour they will encounter on a dating app. Proceeding with optimism, or willing to give it one last try, they are layered up in ‘Emotional PPE’ due to a justifiable lack of trust, and a whack of bad experiences you might never get to hear about.

Let’s look at one random example that is all too familiar. Say a man virtually strolls into a woman’s DM’s for an initial conversation on a dating app:

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Those last two responses were actual real life comments a friend of mine got from a man early into a DM exchange. A slightly extreme example, but sadly far from an extremely rare one. Nevermind Instagram, just being on LinkedIn can mean trying to avoid hidden DM landmines, trying to determine if men messaging to meet for coffee have hidden intentions. Talk to women you know who are single and dating men about their experiences. Talk to women and non-binary folks about what it’s like commuting on transit, or just walking around everyday. If they are open to sharing, just listen. They will have stories you probably haven’t heard, sometimes hidden within stories you may have heard. Some men will tell women to develop a ‘thicker skin’ or to “stop being so sensitive” regarding such infected moments, but go into fight, flight or freeze mode at the slightest suggestion we be invited into accountability for spreading comments and behaviour like this.

The Spread We Can Help Stop

These are the symptoms of our infected ideas of manhood which we spread from generation to generation as men. Some of us have had increased exposure to it, and it shows up in our everyday interactions, even when it comes to something as simple as wearing a mask for our collective protection.

I think we can relate to wanting the freedom to do everyday things. Unchecked freedom, however, does not free you from consequences, and increases the risk of spread and unwanted exposure of harm and hurt throughout our community. For instance, some men do not want to wear a mask because we fear admitting to any kind of vulnerability that diminishes what we perceive as displayed ‘strength.’ Some men will not mask up to help protect people they know and don’t know, nor model wearing masks and physical distancing, which ultimately protects us all in the long run. These men will not wear a mask because the infection we carry as men is the belief that being perceived as weak is worse than death itself.

Women want freedom – online or in-person – to do their thing without worrying about exposure to harmful, infected attitudes like the kind that actress Milana Vayntrub had to deal with. Videos of an AT&T commercial featuring Milana had the comment sections bombarded with numerous gross and demeaning comments about her. Perhaps the extreme unwanted attention was partly due to her playing a retail customer service employee: a person at work that might provide the closest to real-life interaction some men will get with a woman they find attractive, and with whom they confuse polite and attentive service with sexual interest or desire in them.

Adjustments.plist (2)In response, Milana actually offered unearned grace when she took to Instagram Live to have conversations with men who help men find antidotes to harmful ways of being a man, inspiring healthier paths towards manhood (like the folks at A Call to Men).

Milana is yet another example of women who are willing to show up, at the risk of their own ‘Emotional PPE’ being compromised, in order to help us dudes and bros overcome infected behaviours and attitudes that not only harm people of other genders, but hurt men directly as well. 

Think about when you had to consider who you let into your bubble this year. Who would be trustworthy and responsible enough to not put your partner, children, family, or loved ones at risk? Think about how you can be the kind of person others would allow into their emotional bubble. Are you someone whose actions and impact build and earn trust? When we want others to let us in, we can instead focus on peeling through our own layers and continuously do our own inner emotional work inside our bubble.

Want an example of what that can look like? Here is a fantastic two minute clip of a dude being very real: opening up about what he’s going through. Kier of ‘Kier and Them’ gives us a refreshingly honest take on how he’s wrestling with not having the words to describe what he’s navigating.

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Sometimes we as men layer up to hide ourselves from what we are trying to avoid, hard truths and deep emotional inner work. Whether you like it or not, people of other genders might get layered up in their ‘Emotional PPE’ in advance of a conversation or an interaction with us, So rather than get defensive, or strategize ways to ‘make them’ take off their layers of Emotional PPE and let us in, focus on the kind of energy and environment we create around ourselves, within our own bubble that inspires trust to let us in.

I know, men are always hearing that we need to ‘get it together’, but when it comes to that hard inner work, you don’t have to do it alone. Let’s get it, together.

No shortcuts. When we focus on carrying ourselves in a way that is mindful, compassionate and present, it will build trust and comfort giving someone the freedom or choice to slowly let us in their ‘bubble’ and not have to layer up around us. They might need to keep the face shield on for a while emotionally, don’t take it personally, but let’s take our responsibility to create a welcoming and infection-free environment very personally. People like Milana are willing to still show up for us everyday in spaces full of infected displays of manhood because they ultimately believe in men and our ability to grow and do better. Being a better man is not about being better than everyone else, it’s about being better than our yesterdays.

They deserve better, we deserve better.

Let’s slow the spread of hate, and build layers of trust and faith in us as men. Right now, that’s the kind of community spread we need.

image1Jeff Perera has been speaking to people of all walks of life across North America since 2008 about mindful versus harmful ideas of manhood. Jeff’s work helps nurture spaces for real discussion: inspiring people to challenge our gendered ideas of success and failure, and to be the lesson in action. You can read written pieces, listen to podcast conversations, and check out TEDx talks and interviews with Jeff over at HigherUnlearning.com, an online space exploring how limiting ideas of masculinity impact us all in everyday life.