Famous European and Japanese male painters, such as Monet, van Gogh, Hiroshige and Renoir, are revered for their interpretations of flower gardens and composed arrangements. According to My Modern Met, the French painter Edouard Manet loved to be gifted floral bouquets and, for the last six months of his life, the only things he painted were still lifes of the flowers he received.
If art imitates life, then why in American culture is the first time most men receive flowers at their funerals? Shouldn’t Earth’s natural gifts be enjoyed by all, regardless of their gender identity?
Overwhelmingly, flower deliveries are sent to female recipients to express a variety of emotions such as love, friendship and appreciation or to celebrate an achievement. How do we express these same emotions to the men in our lives? Typically, men are gifted things that our culture deems useful to a stereotypical man, such as tools, a new razor, a desk plaque or ties. However, a poll from the Society of American Florists found that more than 60 percent of men polled would “love” to receive the gift of flowers.
So where is the disconnect between what men want and what we give? After interviewing Brenton Rueger, the community leader coordinator for the Mankind Project’s Charleston Community, the answer seems to go much deeper than the material gift itself. It’s not about the thing. Rather, it’s about the ability for men to receive love and the pressures in how they give it.
According to Rueger, men typically demonstrate their love and appreciation through acts of service — by “being big” to be seen. Historically in our culture, men are pressured to be the “providers,’’ to base their worth on what they can bring to the table. Unconsciously, to do for others or to attempt to be ‘useful,’ can be an internal way for men to prove their worthiness and that they are loveable, no matter the personal cost.
As a consequence, this imbalanced societal pressure has left most men with the inability to truly receive. Rueger explains that fully allowing yourself to receive from another requires being “small” and vulnerable, and allowing the giver to express their love or appreciation in the way that they would like to show it. Because of our accepted societal structure, it can be uncomfortable for most men to allow themselves to be served, let another do something for them or be given something the gifter deems valuable, Rueger said.
I’ve personally given flowers to a man who had helped me greatly and while I could see that he thought it was a kind gesture, he immediately replied, “Thank you. I’ll put it by my secretary’s desk.” In the seconds leading up to his comment, I can only guess the discomfort he felt was because his judgment was that flowers weren’t traditionally for men or that he was undeserving of my thanks. While the true reasons are unknown, he immediately decided to re-gift the gesture.
The radical acceptance of love, respect and appreciation is like a muscle that needs to be flexed. Rueger suggests if a man receives flowers (or any gift) that makes them feel uncomfortable to consider the intent of the gift and hold it for a moment in their hearts and minds, accepting that they are worthy of the notion.
It’s time to shift the dynamic of gifting flowers. Gone are the days of rigid gender stereotypes that pigeonhole people’s identities and link their worthiness to an outdated hierarchy that serves no one. All people deserve the opportunity to enjoy receiving gifts of flowers and the intentions behind them.
Studies show men who receive flowers are more communicative and more open. Their partners feel safer, more seen and more loved when they show this side of themselves. Perhaps the gift of flowers can truly change a man’s notion of himself because the power is in the practice of allowing oneself to be seen and loved, and to feel worthy. If men can change their internal narrative, perhaps it could change the world.
For men interested in becoming the “truest versions of themselves,” Rueger can be reached at the Mankind Project’s Charleston Community or through his new human development consulting business at email@example.com.
Toni Reale is the owner of Roadside Blooms, a unique flower and plant shop in Park Circle in North Charleston. It specializes in weddings, events and everyday deliveries using nearly 100 percent American- and locally grown blooms. Online at roadsideblooms.com. 4610 Spruill Ave., Suite 102, North Charleston.