“Feeling safe would seem to be a pretty basic right in a so-called civilised society”
I’m a writer. An introvert. A naturally quiet guy. Sometimes when I’m in a shop or restaurant I’ll speak so quietly I can’t even hear myself talk; the staff have got no chance. But there are benefits to being quiet. For example, when you do say something people tend to listen. It also means you hear more.
People like to talk. But if you’re talking you’re not listening, and listening is an opportunity for learning. People like to be listened to. Offer an ear, and people will tell you about themselves, whether directly or indirectly.
This doesn’t happen to most men because we have that man thing going on
Men often interject, contradict or belittle their female counterparts in conversation. It’s probably some kind of in-built control strategy, male insecurity, or both, or more. I’m a natural listener, but make a point of listening to women. By listening, I’ve learned that in mid-life women can feel like they’re losing their voices, and that they become invisible. Imagine becoming invisible and silent. You’d feel like a ghost.
This doesn’t happen to most men because we have that man thing going on – even though most of us don’t realise it. And even those of us who do are probably blissfully ignorant of the level to which it permeates our existence.
But it’s not just about listening: it’s important to act upon any insights that might be gained.
…all she could see was this shadowy figure ahead of her. Waiting.
I was out walking the dog recently. I was wearing jeans and a hoody. It was cold so I had the hood up. It was early morning, and still dark.
I stepped from the field we’d walked round into a country lane, then stopped to wait for the dog, who’d found something interesting. I glanced to my left and saw a young woman approaching. I could sense her tension: some sinister-looking bloke had just appeared from nowhere and was now standing in the road. There was no one else around. No houses nearby.
She didn’t know I’m harmless. Didn’t know I was just waiting for a Labrador who’d stuck his nose into a clump of grass or found a stick or something: the dog was out of sight – all she could see was this shadowy figure ahead of her. Waiting.
I moved towards the edge of the lane to give her some space, but it’s quite narrow so I could only go so far. I said good morning, hoping this would put her at ease, but it could just as easily have been perceived as a subterfuge. I suppose I should have told her why I was waiting or taken down my hood, but neither of those things occurred to me at the time.
The dog came trotting from the field as she passed behind me. I let her walk on a distance before following, talking to the dog and making deliberately noisy footsteps so she’d know I wasn’t close behind.
Why did I do all this? Because I’d listened. Listened to how women say they feel about men. About how men make them feel. Listened to them say they don’t feel safe when they’re out on their own. Heard stories of being cat-called and glared at and commented on from their early-teens. That they won’t take certain routes after dark in the car let alone on foot. Of incidents they’ll never forget.
How they just want to feel safe.
Feeling safe would seem to be a pretty basic right in a so-called civilised society.
Men get bad press. “Man Does Nice Thing” is not a headline. This is our fault and isn’t going to change any time soon. Being quiet has its downsides, but listening is an easy thing to do. You don’t have to be a quiet guy to listen. I reckon if more of us listened we might learn how we’re perceived. And if we acted upon what we learned, it’s possible things could be better for everyone.
Who wouldn’t want that?
I’m a writer, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Subscribe to updates, unique content and sneak peeks.
3 thoughts on “On Listening to Women, and Being a Quiet Man 👤”
loved this – so insightful
So touched by the sensitivity in this article, listening is a core life skill. What a handsome Labrador!
Thanks for the kind words. Didn’t somebody once say about owners looking like their dogs? 😁 This photo was taken a few years ago; he’s nine now. We both have a lot of grey whiskers. Hope to see you soon.