In the wake of Kavanaugh and the #MeToo movement, Mr. Trump and others have said that these are “Hard times for men.” He’s right, but not in the same way that times have been hard for womxn living in male supremacist societies for the last 10,000 years. After millennia of getting away with it, men are finally being pressed to own up for the ways that we prey upon, degrade and disrespect womxn. (The x in womxn is used to indicate inclusion of trans women.)
We males did not choose to be members of a privileged class. We are not personally responsible for all the horrible things that powerful elites have done throughout history.
Yet rape culture exists. Because we enjoy privileged status in a male supremacist society, we are being expected to account for our conduct with the highest degree of integrity. We are also being challenged to do something about the conduct of all males.
Patriarcy’s institutions and cultural norms rob women of their power, labor and dignity worldwide. Corporations owned by men and governed by patriarchal values and agreements ravage the earth for raw materials and exploit the vulnerable. Overall, this concentrates obscene wealth in the pockets of a tiny minority while destroying our planet’s ability to sustain life.
Men are being told to make it our responsibility, as men, to end all of the injustices of male supremacy. That implies ending patriarchy.
These are difficult asks.
We like to be heroes. We are proud of doing hard things. It is often not too challenging for men to take courageous action under extreme pressure and danger. Yet when it comes to male supremacy, rape, harassment and gender justice, we most often act defensively. We feel confused and exposed. We wonder how culpable we actually are.
I empathize with men at this cusp of history. It is no fun to pick at the Gordian knot that centuries of misogyny have tied up inside us. Our gender insecurity is masked by bravado. We enjoy our entitlement but suffer from our emotional illiteracy. We express chauvinism and privilege without knowing we are doing it. Homophobia, sexual objectification, habitual sexist language, derogatory “humor” and other complexities of masculine training are all tangled reflexively within us.
It is hard to be committed to “liberty and justice for all” having been trained culturally, socially and psychologically to perpetuate male supremacy. That is why I agree with Mr. Trump that these are hard times for men. But that is where my agreement stops. He encourages men to see themselves as victims of feminism and longs for the good old days when women weren’t challenging men. When I say it, I’m calling for men to tear down patriarchy forever, inside and out.
Since the invention of male supremacist societies in prehistory, privileged ruling classes have built up armies and waged genocide against hunting, fishing and gathering peoples in order to steal their land. They have divided people into class hierarchies organized to funnel wealth and power vertically to the top of a social pyramid. They have devoted vast resources to war against competing patriarchies. They have invented elite priestly institutions that act as middle men to their gods. They have raped, tortured and enslaved their enemies while occupying and pillaging their expanded territory. If we stand for “liberty and justice for all” and a habitable planet, then ending patriarchy seems logical.
The end of industrial patriarchy is guaranteed by natural law, anyway. Globalized, violent, expansionist, extractive social systems are as inherently unsustainable as the earth is finite. Perpetual war, climate collapse and mass extinction are inevitable under modern patriarchy.
The core behaviors, attitudes and beliefs of male supremacy are patterned into the psyches of all people from the moment we are born into “civilized” society. The word “civilization” derives from Latin “civitas” meaning “city,” and “civis” meaning “citizen.” Thus “civilization” includes cultures and norms of city dwelling people and implies the exclusion of people who organize themselves in villages or who are nomadic and live in temporary camps. All civilizations are supremacist by definition. And where supremacy is a thing, there is always male supremacy.
Supremacy is hurtful to everyone. Males get hurt by their gender conditioning under patriarchy and win privileges. Womxn get raped, exploited and degraded and are systematically robbed of rights and power.
Feminist writers, activists and philosophers have deconstructed patriarchy with greater and greater clarity for more than a century. Women have come together to change culture. For over 100 years, each generation of feminist women have built upon the gains and insights of the previous one.
Not so, men. Labor unions, political parties, civil rights and environmental organizations have mirrored the male domination of their opponents.
Womxn around the world are gaining unity and visibility, shaking institutions of male supremacy to their roots. In contrast, the call to men from other men to shed supremacy and become active supporters of women’s power and equity is only decades old.
My first contact with men holding other men accountable to change our sexist and homophobic attitudes and behavior was working with the Movement for a New Society in the mid-1970’s in anti-nuclear civil disobedience campaigns. over the years, in response to feminist demands, male behavior has become less offensive overall. But men taking a forthright stand against patriarchy and rape culture and interrupting and naming male entitlement, aggression and chauvinism remains a rare occurrence forty-five years later. Male silence is the norm. Men are still having a party! No one likes a party pooper.
Womxns’ many social and political gains have not brought them corresponding economic progress as a group. Women have won the right to compete with men on patriarchy’s terms, but male supremacist cultural biases remain clear and present everywhere. Overall, men and patriarchal values still control the money, political machinery, media and religious institutions. Concentration of wealth is getting worse, not better. Seating Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court is a last straw for many. I hope a lot of men are searching their souls at this moment in history. I hope other men are really feeling how hard it is to be a man today, in our consciences.
Womxn are not soul searching, they are mobilizing. And it must be our first priority as men of conscience to show up among the mobilized. This is our moment in history to lead by listening, following and being of service. Put more bluntly, it is time to “Show up and shut up!” Our soul searching is important, but it cannot be done without our feet in the street with the womxn who are demanding change.
We men need to learn how to handle being emotionally and mentally uncomfortable with grace and dignity. It is not dignified to act defensive. It is not dignified to act ashamed or guilty. It is not graceful to shut down or run away from emotional intensity. We need to dramatically raise the level of discomfort we can handle and keep intact our composure, compassion, self esteem and respect for others.
Women want men to be able to listen attentively to what they have to say, in the way they need to say it. Everyone deserves this, yet few modern men are capable of delivering this basic need to radicalized womxn.
(Note: The womxn”s movement is really struggling with race right now. White supremacy cannot be separated from male supremacy in any euro-centric, colonial or post-colonial context. Please assume that everything stated about patriarchy and male supremacy applies by extension to white supremacy and the mechanisms of personal, cultural and institutional racism.)
Women are not always right, nor are they always respectful. We do not always need to agree with women or like how they express themselves. But still, at this point in history, we must listen without arguing or attempting to correct. As a group, men have lost our authority by abusing it. When we demonstrate support and respect for long enough, not by intention but by behavior, we will gain mutual reciprocal authority. This will be a whole new experience for all of us across the gender spectrum.
Few men today have done the work required to cut deeply into the knot of our inner patriarchy. Fears, prejudices, beliefs and reactions remain tangled up inside us. We justify our entitled behavior with rationalizations, urgency, flat denial or “good intentions” and march on, privilege as usual. This is the pandemic drama of Kavanaugh.
It is as if at the core of modern civilized male identity lies a tangled nest of wounded but mostly sleeping dragons. Gender insecurity and homophobia are really big fellas. Racial bias, fear and hatred keep close company. Alienation from the natural world, and from our own true natures, are giant anguished beasts.
When a threat to patriarchal normalcy arises, such as a woman expressing rage and pain and demanding change, these dragons awaken and take the helm of consciousness without consulting us. We then behave fearfully, irrationally and offensively.
Men don’t like to admit we are privileged or irrational and we don’t like to admit mistakes. We rarely admit that we feel threatened or “not in control” of ourselves. Then, if we do admit privilege or disrespectful behavior, we tend to crumble under guilt or shame. This is immature and undignified.
Feelings of shame and guilt are understandable. Perhaps they are even necessary for the growth that we need. But the helpless behavior that guilt and shame encourage is just another dodge of accountability.
I learned more than three decades ago that the best way to change my interior world was to change my behavior. Respectful, attentive listening without reacting, commenting, criticizing or proposing solutions is very much needed. If we men can overcome our gender and race insecurity, we can stand powerfully with womxn as they become an unstoppable force for change. To accomplish this we must insist on our own respectful, empathetic, dignified and compassionate behavior at all costs.
No man I know can succeed at the practice of “show up and shut up” without outside support. Feelings which come from the trauma of our gender indoctrination need a place of safety to be explored, unraveled and extracted so that we can become the authentic masters of our own behavior. This is simply a fact of nature. Healing trauma requires safety and the ability to cry and to grieve under the loving witness of others. Yet our patriarchal training judges and rejects the need for safety as “weakness.” Tears of grief are “unmanly.” Dragon says, “I don’t need a sissy support group! I’m fine! . . . . .” Isn’t that clever?
But we have to talk. Both loving support and an intellectual framework that truthfully deconstructs patriarchy, oppression and colonialism are necessary for us to change.
Patriarchal masculinity only permits emotional vulnerability with women. That’s ironic. How can we find safety with the people who are rightfully demanding greater accountability, fueled by rage over generations of violent oppression?
Women don’t have much desire to help us do our inner work anyway. It is re-traumatizing and frustrating. We must resolve to talk to one another to get our inner conflicts worked out. We need to find the courage to do this work privately among culturally mature, sophisticated, radicalized, sympathetic men, out of sight of women.
Womxn are angry right now, and we must not interfere with their rapid and effective mobilization for change. Drawing attention to ourselves and our struggles as men is undignified. We must use our resourcefulness to keep listening and keep showing up no matter how conflicted we may feel inside.
If you really want to help womxn, organize your brothers show up with dignity and respect too! Patriarchal male identity deserves to be broken down. Become conscious and willful participants in its destruction! Start with listening to radicalized womxn then move on to offer childcare, cooking and house-cleaning to free up womxn’s energy, time voices and activism.
Then escalate to wearing skirts.
This has become a practice for me. I like the experience of wearing a skirt. It is freeing, comfortable, swishy, twirly and beautiful. But growing up male in North America, it is an insult to manhood to wear a woman’s garment and enjoy its wonderful qualities.
If you want to root out the patriarchal dragons that have been installed inside you as a man, consider this. Wear skirts in public with dignity and without explanation. Not with silly, mock-fem affect. That is offensive. And not like a deer caught in the headlights. That just means you aren’t ready to be you in a skirt.
Wear a skirt and go about your ordinary day. Do this and you will bring out other people’s dragons, too. Many people close to you will be uncomfortable and express their discomfort in interesting ways. You will find yourself thinking about what every trans woman lives with every day. It is dangerous for a person with a male body, or who once had a male body, to dress in women’s clothing and go out alone. Like all womxn, you will find yourself profiling people and situations constantly for safety.
Wearing skirts is as potent a practice as “Show up and shut up.” But it isn’t “quiet.” It gets people’s attention. It stirs the pot of patriarchal training to the bottom. Unpacking the reasons for the phenomena that wearing skirts arouses inside us and around us can take men on a deeply decolonizing journey.
Even the consideration of wearing a woman’s garment can act as a catalyst. There is no rational reason why it should be difficult or unusual for a man to wear a skirt or a dress. Women fought and won the right to wear pants a hundred years ago. I encourage every men’s support group in existence in America to take up this conversation. Use it to cut through the knot of culturally implanted directives, both inside and out, that perpetuate male supremacy. We men really must change our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behavior to the very core.
To commit to ending patriarchy is ultimately a commitment to universal equity, social and economic justice and and to protect and restore the earth. It is a commitment that reaches from the darkest places within us to the furthest reaches of our social institutions and our technological behavior on our planet. Time has run out for anything but an all out effort to meet our social and ecological challenges with a radical rejection of male supremacy and all of its derivatives.