It has struck me over the past few weeks and months that the term ‘emotional immaturity’ is being misused and misappropriated to disguise inappropriate male behaviour. From my girlfriends’ breakups to President Trump, it seems to be reasonable to excuse men’s behaviour by relegating them to children. Strong women are being undermined by their wilful blindness; men are allowed to walk away from responsibility scot-free.
A few weeks ago, I sat at a St Kilda café watching my girlfriend cry over a cup of coffee after a bad breakup with her long-term boyfriend.
“It’s not his fault,” my girlfriend sniffed.
Through my murmured consolations, I had an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu.
“He just wasn’t ready. He just needed to do a little growing up, you know?” She continued.
And there it was. The reason this conversation seemed so familiar to me. I’d just had it with another girlfriend, in another country, about another guy.
Then, just as now, my answer was the same. No, I did not know what she meant. From my experience, age had nothing to do with maturity or a person’s ability to be in a viable relationship. It seemed to me that they were using age as a veil to dismiss their partner’s laziness, selfishness and unwillingness to engage emotionally.
As I thought more deeply about it, I realised that the ‘emotional immaturity’ excuse was a form of self-protection. Both breakups had been long and arduous, and everyone but the women in them had seen it coming a long way off. Both relationships had also been of significant duration, and the women had invested a lot of time and effort. They feared the social backlash of breaking up, so left themselves the option of one day having the fairy-tale ending – just when he’s a little older.
In an age of ever-increasing awareness of women’s independence and equality, it seems odd that poor and demeaning male behaviour is not blatantly pointed out for what it is. Instead, phrases like ‘emotional immaturity’ and ‘man child’, and even the popular psychology term ‘Peter-Pan Syndrome’, hide the truth at all levels of our society.
When President Trump was caught bragging about his shocking sexual assaults in October 2016, he released a statement dismissing it as “locker room banter”. Trump tried to justify his behaviour by comparing it to teenage boys. It is alarming enough that many believed that teenage boys are entitled to covert sexism, but Donald Trump is far from a teenage boy. At 71 years-old, it is beyond baffling why we allow a fully grown man to dismiss his behaviour by calling it childish.
This instance of infantilising Trump is far from a one-off. On the 15th of May, The New York Times ran the headline “When the World Is Led by a Child” and again on May 19th, A.V. Club ran the headline “Spoiled man-child Donald Trump to be served well-done steak with ketchup on overseas trip”. While it is obviously belittling to call Trump a child, it enables him to be held to a lower standard of behaviour. Men are the ones with the bad behaviour and women are the ones enabling it. Behind every Peter Pan, there is a Wendy, mothering him, forgiving him, and justifying his behaviour. In Trump’s case, there were many Wendy’s. 42% of female voters to be precise. As I sat opposite my girlfriends, I wondered if they could see the parallel between the widespread dismissal of Trump’s behaviour and their own actions.
We need to be less forgiving. Let’s get rid of the excuses. They are excuses made by men and by women. Call a man a man and a child a child. At the end of the day, this man-child/Peter Pan/pathetic-people syndrome is just another barrier that prevents equal relationships and hides abusers.
Age is not an indicator of maturity and maturity is not the realm of the old.
After all, growing up is not the cure for being a dickhead.