In a recent interview, Aamir Khan, revisiting his two divorces, shared that he “forgot” his family was waiting for him at home. Here’s what he said: ‘I have given all my time to my work and I made that relationship very strong. I thought my family was with me anyway. I just wanted to win the hearts of the audience at the time. And, I got completely lost, so much so that I forgot my family was waiting for me.’
Khan’s forgetfulness immediately pushed me into my portal of memories of speaking to men about their personal and professional lives while working on my book, Dear Men: Masculinity & Modern Love in #MeToo India. I decided to write this book because of the plight that women experience due to the disengaged demeanour of the men in their lives. It’s so commonplace, yet such little work has been done to understand why this is. So, in search of answers, I had turned to the devils themselves – men.
Why are men forgetful?
While I racked my brains for relevant insights that might shed light on this curious case of forgetfulness, I was reminded of what Rajat Mittal, the creator of the popular newsletter Boyish, had told me in an interview: “It’s hard for men to have a sense of identity if you strip out their jobs and financial status. Men need to cultivate an identity out of that tunnel vision view point.”
Patriarchy puts immense pressure on men to be the provider, while glorifying and rewarding professional success with admiration. Young boys get innumerable messages – both blatant and subliminal – that they must grow up to be the provider. They are expected to choose subjects that make them ‘hireable’, careers that are lucrative. Financial literacy has thus far only been the men’s domain, with women being told that they needn’t bother. A good husband is defined as one who can provide well for the family, even if that means his emotional absence.
A moment here, please: Husbands, fathers and brothers reading this, your presence is the most valuable thing you can give to your loved ones.
When a man gets so drunk on professional success that he “forgets” his family’s needs, he, in some ways, is fulfilling the patriarchal ideal of the powerful, successful, independent male. And this ideal is not to be concerned with the emotional needs of his loved ones because according to the patriarchy, that’s the domain of the female.
This forgetfulness shows up in things big and small. If Aamir Khan forgetting his emotional responsibilities toward his family, taking them for granted, is level 10, then level 1 may be men forgetting important dates and events like birthdays and anniversaries. Somewhere in the middle might lie their forgetfulness of domestic chores – forgetting to take the trash out, restock the pantry, pay bills, or where their socks are kept!
But this forgetfulness is not something that suddenly appears along with a paycheque and professional liabilities.
Research confirms that men tend to be more forgetful than women, but is only speculative at best about the reasons. Plausible reasons why men tend to forget more than women include:
- Hormonal differences: Some research suggests that oestrogen may play a role in enhancing memory.
- Differences in how the brain changes over time: In men between ages 20 and 40, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory shrinks. This is not seen in women.
- Evolutionary benefits: From an evolutionary perspective, sharper memory about smaller, everyday things is more important for females because of child-rearing. Over time, this has led to women’s memories becoming sharper, and men’s becoming duller.
But the most relevant explanation for gender-based memory differences that I found was by psychologist Ariel Grysman, who told Jezebel: ‘The message that girls are getting is that talking about your feelings is part of describing an event. And for boys, emotions are something to be concerned with when they are part of a larger issue, but otherwise not. And it’s quite possible, over time, that those tendencies will help women establish more connections in their brains of different pieces of an event, which will lead to better memory long-term.’
This is in line with research that shows that women are better at multitasking than men are. It may or may not be biologically inherent, but where we know that the brain is plastic and changes with skill development, there’s no denying that there is a social component here which assigns more burden to women, which in turn, makes them work harder, which in turn, makes their memory sharper.
I write. I read. I do yoga. I hula hoop. I love cats and dogs in equal measure. I'd say the same for wine. My zen motto: "Eat kale for the body, cake for the soul." Find me on IG: @prachigangwani87