What do you think of when you hear the word “sensitive”? Chances are, some of the first words that come to mind are things like “weak,” “overly-emotional,” or “unmanly.” Even if your first thought isn’t negative, you probably still don’t think of words like “strong,” “masculine,” or “courageous.”
I’m using words like “unmanly” and “masculine” because today, I want to talk about sensitivity in men. At this point, you might be wondering why a female blogger is writing about how men think about sensitivity. Even with this outside perspective, I’ve seen how cultural definitions of sensitivity affect the men in my life. And even though the way that other men view sensitive men matters a great deal, how women view sensitive men also matters.
When Brené Brown started studying shame and vulnerability, she did not interview men for the first four years. Then at a book signing, a man came up to her and said this:
“You say to reach out and tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books that you just signed for my wife and my three daughters? They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.” (from Brené Brown’s “Listening to Shame” TED talk).
This man wasn’t talking about high sensitivity but I think a lot of men (including those who are highly sensitive) can relate. Our culture puts unreasonable expectations on men for how they handle anything that makes them seem vulnerable, because for them “vulnerability” (much like sensitivity) is considered weakness. That perspective really needs to change.
In the Myers-Briggs® typology system, a preference for Feeling (F) or Thinking (T) shows up as the third letter in your personality type. But what does it actually mean to use Thinking over Feeling, or vice versa?
You’ve probably heard that Thinking types tend to be more rational and cerebral than Feeling types, who are typically more emotional. There’s a lot more to it than that, though, and the stereotype isn’t entirely accurate. Keep reading to learn 5 things you might not have known about the Thinking and Feeling processes.
They’re Both Judging Functions
Thinking and Feeling are both what we call “Judging” functions. They’re used to describe the psychological process you use most often when making decisions. If you have an F in your four-letter type code, then you use Feeling to make decisions. If you have a T in your type, then you use Thinking.
If you’re a Judging (J) type, then that means you use your judging function to interact with the outer world. A TJ type uses Extroverted Thinking and an FJ type uses Extroverted Feeling as their most comfortable way of making decisions. If you’re a Perceiving (P) type you still have a judging function, but it’s oriented to your inner world. A TP type uses Introverted Thinking and an FP type uses Introverted Feeling.
I know this blog isn’t really about literature and reading, but I just finished two Shakespeare plays that I can’t resist writing about. I hope some of you will find this an interesting digression from our usual topics of Christianity, Myers-Briggs, and personal growth. And if not, don’t worry — I’ll get back to my more usual type of posts this weekend.
These last two plays are The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice and Measure for Measure. On the surface they’re very different stories, but I was surprised to find they touch on the same core themes. Lust, murder, and deception lie at the center of both plays, and these topics are handled in a way that puts me in mind of things happening today in our modern society.
Today we’re going to talk about INFJ heroes in fiction, especially male heroes. But before we get to that, let’s talk about Russian literature for a moment. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky opens with an apologetic explanation from the narrator about his hero, Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov. Here are a few highlights:
“While I do call Alexei Fyodorovich my hero, still, I myself know that he is by no means a great man …
One thing, perhaps, is rather doubtless: he is a strange man, even an odd one. But strangeness and oddity will sooner harm than justify any claim to attention …
If I, that is, the biographer himself, think that even one novel may, perhaps, be unwarranted for such a humble and indefinite hero, then how will it look if I appear with two; and what can explain such presumption on my part?” (p.3-4, Pevear/Volokhonsky translation)
As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Alyosha is an INFJ (most characters and the narrator use this nickname throughout the novel. In the Cyrillic alphabet, Alyosha is two letters shorter than Alexei, which makes this something like calling a man named Robert “Bob”). And I suspect that it’s his personality type that makes the narrator so worried about how people will respond to his hero.
It’s not that there aren’t other INFJ heroes in fiction. Just take a look at my post about 10 Stories You’ll Relate To If You’re An INFJ if you want some examples. Jane Eyre, Amélie, Yoda, and Atticus Finch are all INFJs in fiction who play a hero role. But even though there are male characters on this list, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if Alyosha was a woman with all the same personality characteristics the narrator wouldn’t have felt the need to apologize for her.
I should never have stayed here. Nay, I should never have left Italy.
If my cousin Philip had not been so like Ambros perhaps I could have left. To see his face — that beloved, tormenting face — staring into my eyes once more was more than I could leave. More than I could resist when he asked me to stay. Or I should say ordered me. They were orders, though I turned a blind eye to it then because I wanted him. Or perhaps not him, but Ambros back in my life. I know not.
I’m in such fear. It was a foolish thing on both our parts, the midnight of his birthday. He knows too little of the world to realize what I gave him was nothing more than a thank you. A birthday gift that would mean more than that stupid little pearl cravat pin. And yes, I wanted it too. A younger, more devoted Ambros to worship me once again if only for a moment.
And how could I have known that he meant marriage by his comment about lacking warmth and comfort? Or that he thought I’d agreed to be his when he took me into those primroses? Or that he would get so drunk he’d announce our engagement to his godfather and poor Louise at dinner?
I still feel the pressure of his hands at my throat. Those big, powerful hands of a man who works on his farm every day and stands a head taller than me. Stronger than the ones Ambros once put around my neck. My cousin Philip could have snapped my neck, though he wouldn’t have had to. The slightest squeeze more and I’d not have been able to draw the thinnest breath.
Should I feel guilty for bringing Mary Pascoe into this house? Surely his fury won’t touch her, too. The worst he’d do is throw her out of the house. While me … I know not what he’d do were we alone now. Would he wrap his hands around my throat again and expect me to make myself his? Would he force me and afterward tell me I liked it and must marry him?
His fantasy is as complete as the paranoia that claimed Ambrose. I half-believe in his mind we’re already married. That he thinks I’m so sure to agree it’s as if I’ve done so already. That his ridiculous present of his entire fortune will surely convince me to stay.
I must get away. I have the means to do so now, though God knows it’s not why I came here. I simply wanted to see the home Ambros talked about. The symbol of what could have been before he turned on me. The idea of our marriage rather than the reality of it. The allowance my cousin Philip gave me was more than enough. More than I expected or even hoped. To have him honor the will Ambros never signed …
Did he think he’d bought me?
Will he let me leave?
This is quite a bit different than my usual review for books I’m reading on my Classics Club Book list. But I think Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1951) is the sort of novel that invites you to look at it from different perspectives. The fact that you’re trapped inside Philip Ashley’s mind for the entire novel leaves you guessing at what the other characters are really thinking. He’s an unreliable narrator and he’s hopelessly naive, especially when it come to women, so the motives he assigns to Rachel are likely untrue. But if he’s wrong about her, then what is right? Everything we know of her is filtered through Philip. We don’t know her true motive or any of her thoughts. We can only guess, as I’m doing in my little retelling from Rachel’s point of view (which overlaps Chapter 23 of the original novel).
I watched the 2017 film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel before reading the book. I suspected I would still enjoy the book after seeing the movie, but knew if I read the book first there was a good chance I’d spend the film grumpy about how they’d adapted it. It turned out to be a very faithful adaptation, though.
*Spoiler Warning* The only major changes were made at the end. The film provides less evidence of Rachel’s alleged guilt, pointing viewers towards the idea that she was not poisoning Philip. And it also has Philip sending her to ride along a dangerous path rather than choosing not to warn her about a dangerous bridge in the garden. The film pushes you toward believing he intended her to die where the book leaves it a little more ambiguous. But then again, Philip’s the one telling the story. Of course he’d make himself look as good as possible.
Philip wants us second-guessing his cousin Rachel. But I suspect Du Maurier wants us to look at Philip just as closely. Because even though we’re getting his perspective on things and he’s certainly not putting any blame on himself, there are things about being in his mind that make me as scared of him as I think Rachel is.
Repeatedly, Philip says he wants to isolate Rachel from everyone but him. And that’s before he starts becoming overtly controlling. And when he puts his hands around her throat, it’s not in the heat of anger. He presents it as a calculated decision to add fear to the list of reasons she should marry him. Later, he barely contains his fury and indignation when (after he’s given her all his property and she still hasn’t married him) she states that she can and will invite whoever she likes to stay with them because the house belongs to her and she doesn’t feel safe alone with him.
So instead of just asking, “Did Rachel poison Ambros and/or Philip?” I think we need to ask whether such an act could be considered self-defense. Abuse does not justify murder, but even if Rachel killed someone she may not be the evil and/or misguided character that Philip (who describes himself as feeling a strange compassion for her once he makes up his mind about her guilt) makes her out to be. It might have been more of an act of desperation and fear than calculating malice.
But that’s assuming she’s guilty at all. And there’s no clear evidence that she is. Laburnum (the plant Philip settles on as the murder weapon) isn’t even all that poisonous. The most common symptoms are nausea and vomiting, and that’s after eating several seeds. “Higher doses can produce intense sleepiness, convulsive possibly tetanic movements, coma, slight frothing at the mouth and unequally dilated pupils. … [However] the MAFF publication ‘Poisonous Plants in Britain and their Effects on Animals and Man’, says that all stories about laburnum causing serious poisoning and death are untraceable” (The Poison Garden).
Perhaps Du Maurier believed her chosen poison really was deadly based on the rumors that have made it one of the most feared garden plants. But perhaps she did her research and knew that Philip was jumping to unjustifiable conclusions. Maybe she would have known, as Rachel surly did with her expertise in herb lore and gardening, that most gardens are home to far more reliably deadly plants (like foxglove and oleander). Perhaps Du Maurier meant for her readers to realize that a brain tumor (for Ambros) and a relapse of meningitis (for Philip) are the most logical explanations for symptoms both men attribute to “Rachel, my torment.”
There’s an argument to be made that Philip isn’t really concerned about whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros at all. He decides her guilt based on whether or not she “conforms to his desires and whims” (from “My Cousin Rachel (2017) and Male Entitlement“). After all, he already possesses everything else that belonged to Ambros. Why not Rachel as well?
The question of whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros consumes Philip only until their first meeting. After that he’s quite certain she’s innocent until she makes it clear she won’t marry him. All his worry about whether or not she’s guilty of murder covers the fact that his inability to deal with rejection brings out a desire to posses and control her. He and Ambros call Rachel “my torment” because she brings out the ugliest side of their natures and they blame her for their darkness rather than looking to the true culprits. Themselves.
There’s been a big push culturally to erode traditional gender roles; to prove that men and women are equal and equally capable of filling roles that were once assigned to just one sex. For example: that women can pursue successful business careers and men can care for children. Or that women can display strong logic and men can be emotional and nurturing.
But somehow this has backfired on us and cultural expectations of gender are just getting more rigid. That statement probably raised a few eyebrows. We’ve come a long way, many will argue. Women are now accepted in traditionally masculine professions. They don’t have to just stay at home and raise children any more. We have freedom, equality! Besides, gender is just a cultural construct and we can redefine it however we want so those roles aren’t so confining.
That’s not what we’ve done though. Take, for example, the problem of people pushing young children to identify as transgendered (which the American College of Pediatricians defines as “child abuse”). If a child displays traits outside the gender associated with their biological sex, they’re encouraged to get their sex changed. Instead of making it acceptable for a little girl to embrace femininity and enjoy “boy things” like superheroes and tractors, she’s told she’s not really a girl. She’s a boy. In a fit of mass cultural insanity, we’re making social constructions of gender more rigid while trying to make a person’s biological sex something that’s flexible.
Stranger Things’ New “Mom”
I started thinking about this topic (at least in the context of this blog post) when I came across this image while scrolling through Pinterest:Like many Stranger Things fans, Season 2 turned Steve Harrington into one of my favorite characters. For those of you not watching the show, Steve was a stereotypical character in the first season but in Season 2 he got some spectacular character development. He grew from a standard jock into a hero who has a great relationship with the younger main characters. And for some reason that gets him labeled as their “mom” by the Internet.Read more →