It’s Not Just Racism That Killed George Floyd
As so many have written this past week, the verdict in the George Floyd case has almost been hard to believe for those whose hope long since hardened within the cruel and human legacy of racist violence in our country. The Derek Chauvin verdict, nonetheless, offers evidence that America is beginning to ‘see’ the trauma invisibly emblazoned and inherited within the souls of black Americans. Each morning as the prosecution laid out its case, the trial brought the unspeakable grief — not just of the Floyd family, and the witnesses, but of generations of black Americans — into American households, black and white. This immeasurable grief, too long unrecognized and uncared for, has not had a welcome ‘home’ in our country within which it can be released.
It is too early for this white women to speak to what this might mean, to the ripple effects it might have in our country in repairing a history of white violence against black people that was woven into the conditions of our country’s birth. No doubt, the protests against George Floyds death, the widely televised trial, and the growing attention of more white Americans and American businesses might be seen as a bronze lining, at least, rising out of some of the direst years in recent record in American history. However, as a long-time member of the gender revolution, I feel I can speak to something that has not been addressed sufficiently in the coverage of violence against black and brown people in Amercia. That is, that even amidst the promise that something positive surfacing from the heart-wrenching death of George Floyd, something else that’s central to what is happening is not being talked about. Something so obvious, so visible, yet so internalized in most of us that we don’t even think to mention it. That is, that the violence enacted by police officers against black Americans has almost exclusively been perpetrated by white men.
Like racism, which lives in our culture in insidious ways that evade mention, the kind of masculinity that feeds violence against black Americans pivots on a need to dominate and assert superiority in order to protect the underlying, fragility of patriarchal self-esteem. This factor contributing to the violence we are witnessing in America remains largely unconscious and absent from public dialogue. So too does a more uncomfortable topic: What really caused Derek Chauvin, born as innocent as any baby, to grow up and, while in uniform, murder a black man?
To answer this question we have to first look at our own blind-spot as a culture in failing to collectively recognize each time it happens that the violence perpetrated against black and brown people in our country is almost exclusively perpetrated by men. Then, we have to ask, why. I mean, really ask why.
As a culture, we remain largely asleep to how norms of patriarchal masculinity promote the corruption of men and provide the seedbed for racism and violence.
We talk about violence as a human issue, but, if you look at who perpetrates most violence, all humans are far from equally prone to enact it. In the aftermath of so many recent violent tragedies, networks have streamed talk about gun restrictions, the second amendment, mental illness while Trump supporters debate Democrats on where the blame lies for the violence in policing. But what is consistently missing in all this framing is that the violence, itself, is bound up with something equally central and visible that’s calling for our attention.
To be clear, what follows is not an anti-male screed foregrounding the moral superiority of women against men’s barbaric inferiority. For one, white privilege does not discriminate between white men and women, it infects us all equally. Racism is not a white man’s issue, however, violent acts with racist overtones may be. After all, while white-privileged women are also police officers, it is male police officers whose racist indignation and white privilege crosses the line into intentional violence. It is white men who dominate black men, their knees on their necks, seeking to express their so-called “power” over them. It is also men, or, rather, sadly, boys, who have been at the helm of the alarming increase in gun violence in schoolyards and at community gatherings. To be sure, not all men are violent, yet we so seldom hear mention that the violent perpetrators reported in the news of late are almost exclusively men. So, first, our question might be, why? But then, even more seldom do we hear mention of the deeper question that lies lurking beneath this occlusion: What is actually going on in the psychological and emotional reality of these men that pushes them, and not other men, in the direction of racist violence?
Of course the immediate answer most may give is “racism” — they were raised as racists and this is the cause. Others might side-step the racist explanation and simply draw on a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, blaming violence on testosterone as, ‘just something that shows up in some errant men’s nature.’ In both explanations, the role of patriarchal conditioning remains largely un-examined —and we see this even in academic circles. As a culture, we remain largely asleep to how norms of patriarchal masculinity have promoted the corruption of too many men and have served to provide the seedbed for racist violence.
Perhaps we don’t take note of the glaring fact that it is almost always men who perpetrate violence (against women, gender minorities and people of color) precisely because we are steeped in a culture that normalizes the violent behavior of men, that views it as a reality we must resign ourselves to, that fears the self-reflection that will be forced by asking deeper questions, or that has resigned itself, or is too apathetic, to engage the work of imagining change. Has this not also been the same default for too long for white people resigning themselves to our culture’s racism? The subtle acceptance of a norm — like racism or male violence — obscures awareness of the problem, closing out the conscious and creative space to imagine and craft an alternative. As James Baldwin so astutely wrote, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The Gender Revolution And How We Are Still Raising Patriarchal Boys
An alternative to male violence? What would that be? To suggest an alternative to our unconscious defaults around masculinity and the violence that is linked to it is to come from a perspective that sees and lives beyond the gender binary, one informed by the movements of courageous groups and individuals that have challenged patriarchal norms now for decades. These challenges started over a hundred years ago with the first wave of feminism and have proliferated with ever greater momentum in the subsequent unfoldings of gender-queer activism. They are about more than identity politics. They were born out of the damage done by a patriarchal culture that, depending on one’s genitals at birth, assigns two boxes of mutually exclusive, idealized behavior. Those boxes, and the social norms and shaming that perpetuate them, cut us off from swaths of human potential assigned to the opposite box. This conditioning happens at a great cost, far greater than we realize — for all of us.
In a remarkably short time, our era’s post-patriarchal movements have had monumental success in supporting more people in claiming more of themselves and their humanity without shame. They have required courage, compassion, empathy, and no small amount of creativity. However, one area of gender identity that remains starkly untouched by this revolution is the (cis) gendered, heterosexual masculinity that continues to condition most boys. Relatively unchanged is the “man-box” that propagates a self-reliant, tough-man, uncommunicative standard of masculinity, harshly policed by societal shame. I’m suggesting that if we don’t also look more closely at (white) men’s conditioning, what actually goes on for men, for white men, for the white men who perpetrate violence, we won’t actually succeed in our efforts to work our way out of this truly horrendous cycle of violence. As much as prison sentences offer much-needed validation for an un-speakable history of trauma and injustice around racism, it will not provide the kind of ‘solution’ that might be found when we look more deeply at the cause of the problem.
Men Aren’t Bad
It’s isn’t hard to find ourselves thinking that if the vast majority of violent perpetrators are men, male violence is really about something that can happen with the testosterone thing, right? Aren’t men just more prone to it? It comes with the territory, with the long, evolutionary arc of men stalking down mountain lions. Won’t male violence always be with us?
When boys are raised — as was our President — to believe they should be all-man and, come hell or high water, disavow anything “feminine” in themselves, they learn that to have any worth at all they must disown much of their daily experience.
The trouble with all these perspectives is not so much that they are wrong, but that they allow us to sidestep a closer look at men and the causes of violence. They allow us to shirk questions and responsibly as a society for how our culture trains many men through patriarchal masculinity into becoming ticking time bombs, highly susceptible to these, and other, influences. And if that masculine conditioning does play a role, how is it that we who are advocates of feminism, LGBTQ rights and living beyond the gender binary remain relatively quiet about the lynch-pin patriarchal masculinity that holds the whole patriarchal machinery together with such tragic cost?
Men become violent, maliciously violent, when raised in a family or culture that glorifies or hails certain attributes with manliness, hailing them at the expense of a boy’s access to his humanity. When self-reliance, dominance, authority, winning, power, superiority, control, physical invulnerability, and the denial of our all-too-human emotional and physical needs are disciplined into a child — especially when discipline with the use of force and public shaming — a dangerous and volatile machine is built. It is not just the ascription of value to these fixed attributes and to men/boys, but the hiving off of others attributes of human experience that has such traumatic impact. Human qualities including emotions (other than anger), including our inherent inter-dependence, the intrinsic value of our bodies, hearts, partnership, care, need and vulnerability, are all associated in the patriarchal gender binary with women and also, tragically, with un-manliness. And that is where the damage happens.
When boys are raised — as was our latest now-ex-President — under the extreme hand of patriarchal conditioning, they come to believe they should be all-man and, come hell or high water, they should disavow anything “feminine” in themselves. They learn that to have any worth at all they must disown much of their daily experience. This learning happens in micro-events over time where tears are blocked by shame, arms learn not to reach out for help, bodies tighten into impenetrable toughness, and islands of withdrawn silence get created, holing men away, increasingly out of touch, even with themselves. Fathers enact this discipline in highly-patriarchal families as it was enacted on them — often with violence and shaming. A boy who is beaten is taught he is ‘bad’ by the father he admires and loves. He is told not to cry about it, he must hide his feelings of hurt, grief and anger at his father’s betrayal of his son’s and his own humanity. More often than not he comes out the other side, identifying with that father, feeling the need to be the righteous, powerful one in control. He will be the “good” one, the real man who doesn’t show feelings, doesn’t do anything “wrong”, isn’t vulnerable … and the cycle continues. (Does this description remind you of the posture of Derek Chauvin and the tone of his defense?)
While it is easy to see evidence of this in our last President’s braggadocious masculinity, or with Derek Chauvin and other men’s violence in the headlines, when we write this kind of behavior off as either only racist or the action of errant men, we create what in family therapy is referred to as an ‘identified patient’. We isolate out in one individual a problem that is systemic, and that, on some level, touches the lives of all men. In this way, with patriarchal masculinity, while some conditioning may be more extreme in some contexts, all boys and men are taught they should not have feelings, their bodies should not have any non-sexual needs, they must be in control and they must never, ever let their self-doubt and vulnerability show.
It’s no coincidence that Trump is both a racist and the poster-child (yes, he’s largely a child in a man’s body) of narcissistic patriarchal masculinity. Trump likely lost access to his own humanity at the hand of his own father in the first five years of his life.
Especially in highly alpha-patriarchal-male cultural contexts where racist ideologies are especially strong, the arrangement around raising boys primes the pump for men to project the “un-manly” parts of their all too human experience out onto what gets deemed as a lesser, ‘wrong’, ‘criminal’ of ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ other. When (white) men hive off and eject parts of their human experience onto others it creates not only an unstable, disembodied, unconnected, less than human, man, but that man is then constantly under threat from his own experience or feels under threat from the “other” he has projected onto. The system built on a fragile sense of identity founded on rejecting whole swaths of one’s experience for fear of shame.
Brittle and prone to cracking, men raised to assume this kind of manhood will avoid the threat of un-manliness and shame at any cost. And here is the formula: Patriarchally Conditioned Men + Shame/Humiliation = Violence. We see it in male perpetrators of domestic violence as we do in violence against Black Americans. Verbally, of course, this violence takes the form of bullying and abuse. Physically, it takes the form of
… putting a knee on the neck of a defenseless black man.
…until he suffocates.
The Inhumanity of Patriarchal Masculinity
These are some of the very feelings — grief, sadness, helplessness, overwhelm, wanting, despair, that many of us are feeling in America today. It is a lot to ask anyone touched by this grief to consider this, but they are also the feelings that patriarchally raised men are taught to disavow in order to secure their self-worth. Is it not possible, then, that when the stress arising in such men from their own losses and ‘failures’ rises up, they feel they have nowhere to go other than emasculation: the equivalent in what they have been taught at the hand of a violent father (or sometimes mother, who is transmitting the patriarchal lineage) of a total loss of self-worth. Instead, they react in ways that appear to help them avoid these experiences. In the assertion of physical strength or verbal violence, they resurrect the saught after superiority of “real manhood”.
For black men who have carried the brunt (along with black women) of the projections of so much of what white men and women can’t tolerate in themselves, the problems forged by patriarchal masculinity are even more insidious. This is especially the case since violence against white men carries far greater risk for black men than the reverse risk for white men. Black men are carrying a disproportionate amount of our societal stress and trauma, often making black-on-black male violence a heart-wrenching consequence of the crushing burden of both racism and patriarchy experienced by black men.
But because the levers of cultural power still rest in the hands of white people, much of the harm perpetrated in patriarchy is leveraged from that source — from white men -in the culture. When a white, harshly, patriarchally-conditioned man feels self-contempt for not living up to the tough, strong, masculine bar set for him, the consequences for others are greater. This, of course, is the situation our country was in for four gut-wrenching years under the influence of Trump’s presidency.
It’s no coincidence that Trump is both a racist and the poster-child (yes, he’s largely a child in a man’s body) of narcissistic patriarchal masculinity. Trump likely lost access to his own humanity in the first five years of his life. Raised by a father, (and later, with violence, in a military academy), who taught him through word and deed never to fail and never to show a lick of vulnerability, and by a mother who enabled this worldview and taught him he could do no wrong, Trump is the template of the kind of white man preoccupied, incessantly, with projecting out his all-too-human vulnerabilities, identifying “failure” and “weakness” in others. For the righteous, white man to live supreme, then, for him to remain “a man,” someone, either women, immigrants, Democrats, journalists or black and brown people must be forged into the inferior “other” they can dominate. In this way, the patriarchal white man’s own self-hatred gets projected out in his effort to preserve an image of himself as “good” or “righteous,” “a man” worthy of his own existence. Caught between hatred of others and hatred of himself, he is a wrecking ball and it is that kind of masculinity, in the White House but also within police forces, where the brown-skinned men get punished for their ‘crimes’ like the little white boy was, that the terrible price of “real manhood” is paid.
Enter racism, or at least, as I see it, patriarchal masculinity as one of its key tributaries. What better way to reassert superiority than to craft a group of people into the shape of badness, criminality, and inferiority, to reduce them to unintelligent, diminished ‘bodies’ that are ‘bad’ and marked with color so that ‘goodness’, ‘righteousness’, ‘superiority’, ‘intelligence’, and the power to mark others can be self-secured. And, yes, add hormones, pre-existing templates of racism, and stress to this cultural conditioning a white man might feel and we have gasoline getting poured on a pre-existing fire.
And it is this gasoline, this easily flammable substance in our midst, that so few are talking about, the invisible, toxic substrate of patriarchal, so-called “real” masculinity that continues to shape the lives of too many boys and which we still, all too often, take for granted as a given in, and for, men. It is the single greatest factor driving the dominating imperative in Trump’s behavior, seen by many yet rarely mentioned on news panels, (along with his pathological narcissism). This highly volatile substance with such high cultural cost remains sidelined to the discussions of aging feminist academics, rarely addressed in public discourse. We wring our hands about the violence, hoping for legislation or the courts to address it, wondering why it has become so bad…and we overlook what is right in front of us.
Beyond blame and shame as a culture, we need to understand more about patriarchal masculinity so we can work to create alternative paths that allow more men to be more human, less volatile, less dependent on making someone else bad, less prone to preserve for themsleves an unrealizable category of “manhood.”
To address the continual hurt of racist violence against black and brown people in this country, then, I am arguing that we must address patriarchal standards of masculinity. Similarly, a genderqueer movement can’t champion a world beyond the gender binary and leave this territory of patriarchal masculinity un-examined. This is not about pity and coddling white men who perpetrate violence. It is about exposing something at the psychological level — at the level of cultural conditioning in our hearts and bodies — that keeps these men in a cage they don’t know how to get out of. After all, to get out, they would need to talk about their experience. They would need to have words for their feelings. They would need to be able to make sense of their own trauma. But they can’t. Because our culture, through its very definition of masculinity, throws away the key.
Racism Needs Attention On Its Own Terms
To be clear, in pointing the finger at patriarchal masculinity, I’m not saying it trumps our concerns about racism, nor am I saying that if we address patriarchal masculinity, it would naturally solve our nation’s problems with racism. White privilege, racism and nativism make up a twisted, cultural knot weaving ‘white’ and ‘black’ people together in a dysfunctional, inter-dependent, traumatically informed matrix that needs to be recognized and dismantled on its own terms, with all the feeling and healing that involves.
For certain, for our country to heal its foundational racism, we need to address racism in both its blatant and more insidious forms. Those of us who care about this need to take new risks saying “this must stop!” and we need to keep declaring this. White people also need to step back and support those we have failed to listen to, those to whom we, as liberal progressives, have responded defensively when we have asked to stop. We must find ways to tolerate our own shame and refuse to forget that this country’s security, health, integrity, and wellbeing will always be in question if the trauma that separates us from one another in racism is not addressed. If we do not make changes, not simply in our laws, institutions, and where we invest our money, but also in our white obliviousness, there will be no change. However, what I am suggesting here is that even with this renewed commitment, this work will only be partial in helping to loosen the grip of inequity, racism, and white-on-black violence if we do not also address the root role played here by patriarchal masculinity. Just as there is a deeper need for white people to look to themselves to address the perpetuation of racism, we cannot heal the inequities of our history and present, without a deeper understanding of, and reflection around, men and masculinity.
It’s Complex: Women Aren’t Any More ‘Good’ Than Men
So, as the intersectionalists well know, the situation is complex. I’m not suggesting here, as I mentioned earlier, that men are more prone to racism or even to a patriarchal worldview than women. Women do plenty of harm perpetuating the norms of patriarchy, raising daughters to disavow their voice and looking the other way when fathers beat their sons. The vast majority of us internalize troubling patriarchal norms. We are raised into a distorted dependency on men, men whose emotional vulnerability we protect, or whose authority we protect ourselves from with subservience. Women who internalize patriarchy enable patriarchy’s “man-box,” after all, often cowing to men’s sense of privilege, fragility and superiority, too often enabling their emotional arrest and subtly validating the patriarchal myth of masculine, self-reliant strength and invulnerability. Similarly, white women are hardly immune from racist cultural conditioning. The spoils of privilege, especially when combined with class privilege, hinge on, and perpetuate racism. Plenty of patriarchally conditioned women, then, weave ourselves into the racist-patriarchal knot alongside our men — an insidious, complex, and troubling reality we must begin by facing squarely.
Much of What Is On Offer For Change Won’t Work
In short, we can’t address the issues of violence, and racist violence, without addressing the cultural norms for masculinity that create the need to dominate. Towards this end, we may need to turn towards the impact of those masculine norms with some will to understand them, yes, empathically, but not, at the same time, doing so to dismiss accountability.
Beyond blame and shame as a culture, we need to understand more about patriarchal masculinity so we can work to create alternative paths that allow more men to become more human, less volatile, less dependent on making someone else bad, less prone to preserving for themselves an unrealizable category of “manhood.”
Men need to do this work themselves, yes, but those who want it to happen need to believe in it and support it where it exists. And for those who may erroneously think that dismantling patriarchal masculinity is about ‘turning men into women’ or feminizing them, it is not. It is about having a vision for our culture and society that offers a more robust, purposeful masculinity that provides more opportunities for (cis)men to develop into confident, generous humans in ways that help them love and respect more — and hurt and disregard less.
David Tacey, a New Zealander academic and lecturer who has reflected deeply on the journey of forging post-patriarchal masculinity writes in his book Remaking Men: “We live in a complex time where we (men) have to come to terms with the paradox of men’s power and men’s pain. The ability to sustain this paradox, (the ability for men to be able to become conscious of) the tension between their power and pain, is what constitutes full psychological health in a post-patriarchal world.” Towards this end, I would argue that most of the current solutions our culture holds up in response to racial violence and violence against women, are, in fact, not going to provide an adequate solution:
- The defensive, conservative ‘solution’ that makes excuses for unacceptable behavior, casting blame elsewhere, sidestepping accountability for racism and racist violence — sidesteps the misuse of power. It clearly does not solve the problem because it fails to acknowledge it.
- Inversely, the hope that criminal justice and the incarceration of men (white or black), blaming or shaming, will teach them a lesson and solve the problem, is also misguided. Incarceration may be a necessary consequence, but a violent or shaming response to violence only tightens the levers for men, hiving off their pain in ways that promoted the violence or self-hatred in the first place.
While real-life consequences for criminal, racist activity are essential, then, they do not solve the problem; they just put it behind bars. And in terms of other punitive solutions like firing people from their jobs or publically vilifying them or calling them racist, this will also not solve the problem. It may name something, declare it appropriately unacceptable in public view, “outing” what has for too long been hidden, but it will fail to be generative without including some viable path in the aftermath for (un)learning, healing, reconciliation and a deeper, more meaningful and, yes, loving, humanity.
How We Can Promote Change
Foregrounding Alternatives — Raising Boys Differently — Challenging Norms — Recognizing Role Models
There are ways our culture at large can mobilize the kind of change we need to make fundamental shifts in addressing racial and sexual violence. All of these initiatives, however, require that we first directly name and acknowledge the patriarchy problem — just as we need to acknowledge more thoroughly the racism that exists ubiquitously in our white privilege.
We need the courage and strength of heart to hold in mind that it is not the person, but what that person has been taught, that is killing us, that the crime lies in how they have been tragically led to believe their value depends on defending an ill-construed, shame induced, fragile identity at any cost.
It will then take great courage and stamina, insistence, resilience and creativity, strong faith and conviction, and a huge national push to start the hard work of acknowledging and dismantling a worldview that lives insidiously in us and that has caused such great distortions around who we are, and can be, as humans for hundreds of thousands of years.
It is no small task, but the good news is that this work is already well on its way. It is our time in human history for it to happen and we not only have momentum, but we are increasingly being shown we have no choice. Towards this end, our actions to address the patriarchy-racism complex might focus on the following:
- Challenging norms of patriarchal masculinity with the same dedication that feminist and the LGBTQI movements have brought to those same problematic norms for women and nonbinary persons. We need the kind of cultural challenge — the discussion, debates and activism — that creates space for alternative ways of being a (cis) gendered man, alternatives that allow for more authentically confident, engaged, compassionate, empathic and collaborative men who are able to listen, lead and collaborate with wisdom, maturity, thoughtfulness and a sense of their own goodness as leaders and partners. Alongside the proliferation of feminist and gender-queer studies in higher education, only one masculinity studies graduate program exists in the United States! Support for the transformation of patriarchal masculinity includes research on where it is, and is not, happening, with more public attention where it is being researched. Finally, in the media, that means continuing to report on male violence, as male violence. We must not erase the masculinity problem in the same ways that both blatant and subtle racism are ignored, dismissed, and rendered invisible in our public dialogue.
- Beyond incarcerating, we need to create real, inner change and understanding in people who commit racist (and sexist) crimes. Incarceration, without rehabilitation, is the patriarchal tool that shames and blames, that punishes in much the same way fathers have been taught to punish their children for centuries. There is not deep change without … deeper change. We need a movement that seeks to require perpetrators as part of their sentence to engage in sustained, experiential learning about racism, its history and their own history as it relates to becoming a “white man”. White perpetrators should be required to work with other white people to unpack their white privilege, their male conditioning while learning to listen to, and witness the feelings and words of people of color. They need to be able to see what the alternative looks like — and what it can feel like to inhabit it. Protocols could be developed where white perpetrators undergo this training and if they find themselves willing to become teachers and leaders themselves, their sentence could be reduced and, on parole, they could serve as role models, receiving support in taking what they have learned out into community-based education.
- Building awareness in men of the human cost of patriarchal masculinity. Educating white perpetrating men about racism, will likely not work — as I have been arguing in this article — unless male perpetrators are supported in learning about the history of patriarchal oppression, most specifically the ways they have been raised in the straightjacket of patriarchal masculinity. This is not just head-centered learning — it is experiential, it is inter-personal, it is a process, and one that, surprisingly, when men are given a safe container to engage, they are relieved to enter. (See Peggy Orenstein’s latest book, Boys and Sex.) Unpacking the lynchpin of patriarchal masculinity ultimately allows men to have feelings without being told they are weak, it opens the door for empathy, allowing them to recognize their needs and begin to take responsibility for the hurt and scared younger parts of them. Only when that healing journey begins can a man emerge who can take responsibility for the harm he has done, or the harm that has been done by others in ‘his’ name. Only the birthing of empathy for their own and, by extension, another’s full humanity, will the tension be occupied between “power and pain,” will the heart of a racist perpetrator opened, waking up the will to change.
- On a preventative level, we need more initiatives that support the development of healthier masculinity.
- As a society, we need to foreground a discussion about the way we raise and educate boys. Educational practices that are well underway in many schools today expose stereotypes of women, LGBTQI’s and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, these practices should include stereotypes of masculinity. Cis-gendered, white boys need to know there is an alternative, healthier, more robust, resilient, socially engaged, and compassionate self-esteem they can experience as boys. More parents of sons need to educate themselves about gender stereotypes, finding ways, themselves, to not shame or perpetuate the ‘man-box’. We need to find ways to provide more boys with opportunities that expose them to healthier role modes, rites of passage, and healthy mentoring and guidance around their sexuality, their relationship to the natural world, and their physical strength and anger. These cultural forms would allow them to develop a sense of purpose, value, and self-responsibility providing a more authentic sense of pride, compassion, and access to the fuller range of their human experience.
- Progressives and LGBTQI/feminist movements must risk an AFFIRMATIVE stand on what we need for partnership with (cis)men. Feminism cannot afford to polarize negatively against men but must start engaging in a positive, collaborative vision for a post-patriarchal masculinity. We who want change must see beyond our anger and use our leadership and newfound power to articulate a vision for what we, affirmatively, want and need.
- Similarly, we must not succumb to the belief that cultural initiatives supporting the healthier development of (cis) boys are simply promoting more heteronormative, conservative reifications of the gender binary. The LGBTQI/feminist movements will ultimately suffer from vilifying cis-gendered, heterosexual men without earnestly asking themselves what a healthier, acceptable alternative looks like. That means seeing the value in making the distinction between men who harm and men who help, men who perpetuate a culture of violence, and men who create support, recognition, and partnership. It means thinking, constructively, about the health of men, for the purpose of supporting the health of us all. What role do feminists play, in short, in partnering with pro-feminist, post-patriarchal men to support better initiatives for boys? Healthy, cultural spaces and opportunities for self-identified (cis)boys to learn how to become better men, after all, support us all.
- We need to support existing avenues, like the Mankind Project, Gender Equity and Reconciliation International, the Good Men Project, Voice Male Magazine where men are already working on their own post-patriarchal transformation. We need to recognize existing pro-feminist male leaders who have been on their own post-patriarchal growth trajectory. The work of Terry Real, is one, such example, or of groups like COR, and others, that provide rights of passage experiences for men in realizing a more authentic masculinity.
- Ironically, it means giving some men more of a voice. Sixty years into feminism, there are more men coming forward who have deepened into a broader understanding of themselves and the legacy of patriarchy. There are more men learning what it is to be in collaborative partnerships with women. We, as feminists, need to recognize that our need as women to foreground our own voices can inadvertently silence these men and their stories. Often these men think it is their job now to step back to enable women’s leadership, so they do not speak. It is important for women to have space for leadership, yes, but we need to support these men in sharing their newly unfolding stories, in their stepping forward as role models, men who can speak out courageously against their shame, reaching out this way to other men so the whole mechanism can move. For change to happen, these men need our recognition, our partnership, because we need theirs.
- Finally, women need to do more of our own work seeing how we get embroiled in patriarchal masculinity ourselves and in our relationships with men in the same subtle ways white privilege embroils us as white women in racism. This is complex, deep work, often unraveled as women reconnect with their power through healing their own patriarchal wounds. But, this is the work that, with all our years of feminism, we have still not adequately tackled. Our complicity with patriarchy leads us to first place a burden on men by expecting the patriarchal ideal from them, then it often leads us to engage in the emotional labor for men that arrests their growth and maturity.
After all, women, our mothers learned from their mothers, and more often than not, they taught it to us. A multi-generational, enabling legacy exists in us that will take attention and focus and healing to dismantle. When we play a role in our families and intimate relationships as men’s exclusive emotional caretakers, mothering them as we are often taught to do, we discourage them from taking the initiative to address their wounds themselves; we short-circuit their own journey of growth out of patriarchy and into a more authentic, more human, more humane, manhood. They will not take the risk to work their way out of the man-box with supportive peer-groups or a therapist if we do the work for them. For this, they need to search for the key our culture stole from them — the key that opens the door to themselves.
Tacey writes in Remaking Men that “before we remake masculinity, we must unmake it, and understand why it has to fall apart.” I have suggested that part of that understanding has to do with the terrible price we pay as a culture for a model of manhood that is killing us, which is entwined with racism and which is ongoingly taking black and brown lives. “In our remaking efforts,” Tacey continues, “we (men) must become self-critical and be careful to distinguish between new and old masculinities, to differentiate the new self-esteem from the old masculinist arrogance, to separate the new happiness from the old complacency, and to tell the difference between human rights and patriarchal privileges.”(Remaking Men) For white men, of course, the charge Tacey lays out is even more essential.
If we want to hope that the wheel of history will turn in these turbulent times in the direction, not of devolution, but of evolution, we will need to acknowledge that a primary cause for the current heartaches, disruptions, and corruptions in our culture, including in the lives of our men, requires facing the way we raise boys and continue to reify standards of patriarchal masculinity in them. While more headlines and hearts need to tend to the deep wounds of racism in our country, it is also time to raise the bar for men, to believe in, and recognize, alternatives to a failing masculinity, and to call for a more conscious and self-responsible path for our country’s men and their sons moving forward.