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. (“x” includes 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 men have done throughout history. Yet we reap unearned benefits from that same history on a daily basis.
Rape culture exists at the core of modern patriarchy. Because we enjoy privileged status in a male supremacist society, men 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.
Patriarchy’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, mostly men, while destroying our planet’s ability to sustain life.
Men like to be heroes. We are proud of doing hard things. It is often not too challenging for us to take courageous action under extreme pressure and danger. Yet when it comes to male supremacy, rape and gender justice, we most often act defensively. We feel confused and exposed. We wonder how culpable we actually are. We experience “male fragility.”
I empathize with men at this cusp of history. It is no fun to pick at the Gordian knot that centuries of supremacy have tied up inside us. We mask our gender insecurity with bravado but then suffer the consequences of our emotional illiteracy in isolated silence. We express chauvinism and privilege without knowing we are doing it. Homophobia is tangled reflexively within us. It is hard to show our commitment to “liberty and justice for all” having been trained culturally, socially and psychologically to perpetuate male privilege. 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. That is something truly hard to do.
Seating Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court is a last straw for many wxmen. I hope a lot of men are searching their souls at this moment in history.
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 ability to listen and show 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.
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, commenting or attempting to correct. As a group, men have lost our authority by abusing it for millennia. When we demonstrate support and respect for long enough to pehaps we may gain mutual reciprocal authority with women. Until then we must practice dignified support for womxn’s power, leadership and mode of expression.
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. As long as patriarchal baseline is maintained they are happy to slumber.
Inside this sleepy tangle, gender insecurity and homophobia are really big beasts. Race and heterosexual bias and fear keep close company. Alienation from nature, and from our own true natures, are anguished beasts.
We modern men don’t really know who we are or what we are supposed to be doing. How could culturally uninitiated men possibly know who they are? But we think we do. And we have clear instructions never to admit that we do not.
When a threat to patriarchal normalcy arises, such as a woman expressing rage and pain and demanding change, or, heaven forbid, a man interrupting and shutting down the use of the word “pussy” or “gay” as derogatory adjectives, 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 “fragility” 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, undignified behavior that guilt and shame encourage is just another dodge of accountability.
If you want to see what it looks like when men dodge accountability, go back and watch Kavenaugh. He lays out the whole spectrum of behavior women are so familiar with. Unfortunately there may not be any good examples of men admitting their mistakes with dignity and accountability, this author included. It is a tough thing to do.
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 at this time.
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, even when it doesn’t feel authentic. Perhaps even more so when we feel conflicted inside.
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 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 and we need to grieve. Both loving support and an intellectual framework that honestly 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 any desire to help us do our inner work, even though they desperately want us to do it. It is re-traumatizing and frustrating for them to watch us. We must resolve to talk to one another as men to get our inner conflicts about privilege and oppression worked out. We need to find the courage to do this work among sympathetic men committed to becoming culturally mature and socially radicalized, and out of the direct line of sight 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 to show up with dignity and respect beside you! Patriarchal male identity needs to be broken down. Become conscious and willful participants in its deconstruction. Start with listening to radicalized womxn then move on to offer support: childcare, cooking and house-cleaning for example. Help 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 or dresses 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. Not a kilt, but a skirt.
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. Unpacking the reasons for the phenomena that wearing skirts arouses inside us and around us can take men on a deeply decolonizing journey. Homophobia is at the root of misogyny and male supremacy and it is deeply implanted.
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.