A Love Letter to My Brothers

Miki Kashtan
45 min readJan 6, 2023

No. patriarchy is not about men. No, it’s not your fault. It has actually happened to you no less than it’s happened to me. Yes, it affects us, women, very differently. And no, we are not immune to internalizing it and passing it on, like you. Even if differently, we all suffer from it.

What I want, what I am putting all my efforts into, is to create, with others, a field of love strong enough to surround the patriarchal field. To surround patriarchy with love. Because nothing else will do. Because fighting against patriarchy is still within the paradigm of scarcity, separation, and powerlessness that patriarchy is made up of. There is no way to “win” against patriarchy, because against-ness, in itself, is a patriarchal orientation. Until and unless we can subvert the logic of separation through bringing in enough love, we will remain, all of us, locked within it even as our collective experience, on a superficial plane, may be made up of benefits for some (not all of whom are men) at the expense of most (not all of whom are women). The difference remains superficial, in my way of seeing it, even as femicides are increasing, because all of us suffer and all of us participate in a system that is destroying life on our precious planet. And that includes you.

“Holding the dragon with love”

Patriarchy isn’t about women against men, though I can’t count the number of times that just my use of the word “patriarchy” has convinced this or that man that there is blame in the word itself. There is no more blame of anyone in the term patriarchy than there is in racism, antisemitism, privilege, oppression, or genocide, because none of them are individual characteristics of anyone or any group. All of them are systemic phenomena that can only change, in full, systemically, though we can do things individually and at the community or organization level that mitigate and subvert them locally.

When it comes to patriarchy in particular, all of us enact patriarchal patterns to various degrees. This means that even though patriarchy isn’t about any individual man or even about men in general, most if not all individual men continue to act in ways that have ongoing impacts on women. Those impacts range from the mild, chronic, and ceaseless impacts that we absorb routinely without men even knowing and without even telling each other, to the actual femicides that are mostly done by individual men who intimately know the woman they kill. My guess, in this moment, is that it’s extremely demanding for any man to actually look at and take in those impacts without feeling the weight of them on his shoulders. I think it’s just too much to bear when the inside is so damaged from being raised to be a man within a patriarchal society. Which brings immense tenderness to me, and the determination to find pathways to co-hold the devastation with you, at least some of you, instead of just with other women, especially when I know that patriarchy isn’t even about gender, because gender, itself, is a patriarchal construct, nor even about sex per se.

Why patriarchy and not “domination system”?¹

“Patriarchal culture consists in a manner of living centered in appropriation, domination and submission, mistrust and control, sexual and racial discrimination, and war.” — Humberto Maturana

Often enough, the consistent minority of people, mostly though not only men, who take issue with the word patriarchy, suggest some other word for what I am talking about, such as “domination system,” “culture of domination,” or “culture of exploitation.”

The reason none of these work for me is that they are abstractions that function at the conceptual level, whereas what I point to in using the term patriarchy happens on the material plane, starting with the basics of how we orient to material resources. Patriarchy, as the word itself suggests, is about paternity, which is a precarious relationship that happens on the material, biological plane and isn’t an automatic given.

There is a huge amount that has been uncovered about our biological and social evolution by those willing to question the assumption of universal patriarchy that is prevalent in most mainstream academic institutions. One utterly unique feature of humans in terms of our physical evolution is the extremely long period of material dependence on others, coupled with a biological feature called “neoteny,” which is the retention of juvenile traits well into adulthood. The combination of these two features is key to what Humberto Maturana called “the biology of love” and why Genevieve Vaughan refers to us as a “mothering species” and speaks of the “maternal roots of the gift economy.”

We are entirely dependent on unilateral giving to be able to survive the first few years of our life, and we continue to be dependent on love for the entirety of our life. Mothering, in this context, means an orientation to others’ needs. Early human societies, prior to the calamities that brought us patriarchy, and tiny pockets of indigenous societies to this day, have abided by the mothering principle and lived in peaceful coexistence with the rest of life and with each other.

This is not only in nomadic, foraging settings. For a while, like many others, the idea that it was agriculture that brought us patriarchy felt compelling. I no longer think that. There is a growing body of research that points to peaceful societies coexisting with the rest of life even once humans settled down and began to cultivate foods. I have been profoundly transformed by my encounters with the work of Genevieve Vaughan, Heide Göttner-Abendroth, and others who have learned from and are continuing the work of Marija Gimbutas. Neolithic Europe, according to their understanding which I follow, was inhabited by humans who lived in stable, peaceful, and egalitarian matriarchal societies, where distribution of resources was based on needs and gifting. These were societies that were growing food and even had cities, relied on complex technologies, and left behind many artifacts, including many thousands of female figurines that have been discovered and which formed a part of how Gimbutas and others have reached their conclusions.

How and why it came to be that from these beginnings we ended up in patriarchal societies based on separation in most of the world is something we are likely to never know. From what I have read, it seems to not have started spontaneously or through internal evolution based on complexity. That theory, in any event, is only a variant on the assumption of universal patriarchy in which all complex societies must be stratified and patriarchal.

Instead, what I have understood to be proposed as the mechanism of the initial transitions to patriarchy is massive collective trauma from physical and climatic calamities. Clearly, when the people who were traumatized enough to take the patriarchal turn took it, they were not thinking that they were starting patriarchy and I imagine they were also not very preoccupied with trying to have men dominate women. They simply wanted to survive in the face of extreme calamity and the ensuing collective trauma. What seems likely is that, in being so traumatized, they lost trust in life and exited the way of living based on orienting to needs, which is the basic mothering principle.

This is where I see the significance of agriculture. My intuitive understanding is that turning away from life happened many times before the more recent ones that completely transformed humanity. Losing trust in life creates a drive to hoard and accumulate, and, in the absence of dried goods such as grains and beans, there is little that can be accumulated over time. The drive to accumulate is likely to have surfaced many times, and, over time, the strength of communities and the peaceful ways of being would reintegrate those who stepped away.

When accumulation can continue over time, and especially intergenerationally, it gets anchored more deeply and reproduced, generation after generation. It is this moment that makes turning things around ever more difficult as accumulation takes root. This is, also, the moment in which calling it patriarchy begins to be meaningful: the moment in which it becomes important who someone’s child is in order to pass on to them what has been accumulated.

All of these are material events. They took place on specific days involving specific human beings not too different from us, with similar feelings and similar needs, caught in unimaginably difficult situations. When, individually, we encounter such situations, we go into full-blown fight-flight-freeze response. When this happened to a whole collective of humans, it shifted the course of our social evolution.

Mother goddesses

All this explains, to me, why naming this global phenomenon in any way that is based on ideas or cultural elements won’t work. It still doesn’t explain, fully, why I am invoking, specifically, patriarchy. Given the complexity of both the phenomenon of patriarchy and the challenges that arise when trying to name it, I turn next to what may appear a bit of a detour.

Why are there poor people?

As soon as accumulation and exchange become how we orient to resources, the delicate mechanisms of gifting and flow are disrupted. From then on, some people have had more than they need while others don’t have enough. This is the seed from which a class of “poor people” emerges. This is another aspect of thinking historically that challenges deeply held and unexamined notions such as that “poverty” has always existed and is “natural” to human societies, and/or that there is something about this or that specific group of people that explains why this or that group of people lives in poverty. Instead, I join a long list of people who see poverty as a result, and impoverishment as the material process that creates it.

The material process of creating poverty begins with accumulation. Accumulation converts natural abundance based on sufficiency, reverence, humility, and regeneration into the twin phenomena of artificial surplus for the few and manufactured scarcity for the many. This means, in very blunt terms, that by the few taking more than they need and storing it away from the whole for their own benefit, the many no longer have enough left to care for themselves. From then on, they become conscripted into the endless task of producing food, shelter, and clothing for the few, and, over time, attending to more and more of the needs of the few based on coercion rather than generosity, with minimal access to the fruits of their labor. This, too, is an aspect of living in poverty: invisible labor that feeds those who have access to more resources through accumulation.

This movement of resources from the many to the few has continued and deepened. Once states, markets, money, taxes, debt, and slavery came into being, class societies entrenched themselves. Through coercive systems of taxation and extraction that have only gotten more capable and sophisticated, the gap in life experiences has deepened. This is, also, where socialization becomes paramount, even before the recent invention of compulsory education. The purpose of socialization is to prepare people for the society in which they will live. Being of different classes meant, since very long ago, that each new generation was trained for the same station in life that their community and context were part of. We’ve never yet managed, collectively, to find a way to turn things around, and, on some level, we are further away from resources flowing to needs than ever before.

The current levels of extreme wealth and extreme impoverishment, and the gap between them, are beyond my capacity to imagine even though I know the numbers. There is much conversation about how to eradicate extreme poverty that is going nowhere. And only few have made the simple connection that the most direct way to eradicate extreme poverty is to eradicate extreme wealth.

Dear brother, I am still thinking of you, I am still holding the tenderness towards the impossible task of being a man in the present moment, especially in global north countries, especially if you are of the middle or ruling classes, especially when so many women and marginalized men are rising up, especially when there is so much hostility against “white men” in particular. Nor is it easy to be a man if you are, actually, one of the world’s poor, equally trained to be a man, and crushed by the impossibility of doing it. It’s not surprising to me that 250,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in response to horrific practices by Monsanto that left them with debt and without the capacity to feed and clothe their families. I am still thinking of you, dear brother, and I still want to continue and expose it all, because I want so much to hold it together with you, with all of you if at all possible, so we can weep together and start making changes. Please take a breath and pause for as long as you need, and please continue.

War, and why more poor people are women

Patriarchy is what brought us war. As with patriarchy overall, I want to stay away from thinking of war as emerging from ideological or cultural factors, or from some amorphous idea about our “human nature.” I have found immense relief in understanding the very concrete and material reasons that have led to the need for expansion beyond where a given society initially exists. In the simplest terms, when we live within the flow of life, we use what is available, we are in relationship with all beings, and we develop patterns of sustainability and sufficiency that tend to be stable for centuries and millennia. Ever since we turned away from and began the endless attempt to control life, especially as accumulation has deepened, we have tended to outstrip local capacity and engage in invasions, expansions, colonization, and conquests.

Given that the original trauma that led to the patriarchal turn was never metabolized, human societies, even if not all individuals, have been functioning in chronic threat activation. As much as I find the existence of wars devastating beyond any word that can capture it, I simultaneously fully believe and understand that, in most instances, each start of each war, and each response to it, has felt entirely necessary to the people that initiated it. I find this way of making sense of war very simple, compassionate, and simultaneously stark in making visible the tragedy.

Every patriarchal state has pushed outward in an endless cycle of finding new resources — minerals, food, and people — to sustain the practices of the ruling classes and their protectors, the armies and the police, who need to be fed and clothed even while not producing anything on their own. One of the ways of making sense of why we are having such enormous environmental crises is because there is nowhere else that any of the existing empires can push into or conquer. The entire planet is ablaze with the intensity of current extractive practices. And war continues.

From early on, war has had everything to do with women.

Piecing together evidence from many fields, Gimbutas and those who followed her reached a conclusion later confirmed by genetic studies: the peaceful societies of ancient Europe were subjected to several waves of invasions from Indo-Europeans who had already taken the patriarchal turn. This is the beginning of the multigenerational trauma that is at the root of European history and, from there, has subsequently spread around the globe.

As I am about to share more details about the horrors of these invasions, I want to remember again what I just said above: the purpose of the accumulation, the invasions, and all that then happened was entirely about survival². As Heide Göttner-Abendroth says, “It is not a special form of culture that tends toward brutality and brings forth war by itself, but the necessity to survive that generates such effects.”³

Again, I want to remember, also, that all of it happened on specific days. In village after village, specific human beings came one day into the village, killed the men, and forcibly separated the women from each other and incorporated them into the invading group. This is supported by DNA research which concludes that the male line of ancient Europe, and only the male line, was disappeared in those waves of conquests. From then on, the children have always been born into continued trauma. I have known about this for some years now, and I am still struggling to take in this information, to believe that human beings did this. I am slowly connecting dots in the grief that this brings. Survival drove wave after wave of human beings westward towards violent invasions. Competition necessitated the killing of the men. And the need to preserve the new male line required controlling the women.

There is a fundamental biological asymmetry which is at play in the establishment of patriarchy. While it is always clear who the mother is when a baby is born, there is no simple way (absent modern DNA research, which is a human invention) to know who the father is unless women are controlled. This is why I say that patriarchy isn’t about men, because patriarchy is about fathering. Patriarchy emerged from turning away from life and aiming to control the processes of life, not women. Eventually, in the quest for passing on what has been accumulated and protecting the invading group, controlling women became necessary. In addition to establishing a new male line, and in the aftermath of the trauma of invasions — which is brutal for the invaders, too — the women also became a threat, a link to what came before, to what the incoming invaders had lost and came to fear, a symbol of all they couldn’t trust any longer. From then on, women’s work, experience, wisdom and knowledge, ways of being, needs, and contributions have been devalued.

One key and difficult chapter in this historical set of transitions is the period in which women in Europe were persecuted as witches. The complexity of how to make meaning of it is quite beyond the scope of this piece. There are two main elements that are relevant to where women are today. One is that this was an assault on whatever wisdom and connection with life women had been able to still retain, in pockets, despite many centuries of Christianity, which, among much else, has been suppressing any pre-patriarchal knowledge and women in particular. We have never recovered from this. The other is that much of the reason for the witch hunts was specifically targeting reproductive freedom, in part as a way to increase the pool of people available to be hired for work, which was necessary for the transition to capitalism.

At present, in many parts of the world, there is a thin commitment to “equality” for women, though it is continually undermined in many places and ways. And, even within that, it is still the case that women do the bulk of the work that it takes to sustain life, all over the world. Although I want to fully transform market economies into gift economies, within the way the world currently functions, and even in the wealthiest liberal democracies, women’s work is often unpaid and, when paid for, garners smaller wages. It is still the case that women who, prior to patriarchy, were holding the whole and entrusted to make decisions to care for everyone’s needs in societies that worked well for everyone and were sustainable in reverent relationship with life are not trusted to make decisions and are kept outside primary decision-making bodies. It is still the case that women are treated differently every step of the way, taught to doubt themselves and defer to men, just about everywhere and in all classes. It is still the case that violence against women is prevalent the world over. And, with all this, it is still the case that women are the majority of the world’s poor as subsistence, gift-based economies collapsed and remaining ones continue to collapse, which means that all that was happening through relationship to land and people is now happening as either unpaid work in a context where money is needed to buy things, or is commodified into “care work” that is invisible, underpaid work that continues to be mostly done by women.

Again, dear brother, I am asking you to stop and see that there needed to be no intention on the part of anyone to harm women, children, or the precious web of life we are part of. All of it happened out of trauma, collective trauma that then filters into each of us, generation after generation, reaching you, each of my dear brothers who is still reading this. Please stay with me, with your heart open, not closed, to what has happened to us, even if it’s unbearable. Having been on both sides of oppression myself, I have some inkling that on the moral plane it’s easier to be the victim, because morality is on our side. This is why I believe that my people, in Israel, are still seeing themselves primarily as victims when in actual fact I see us, Israeli Jews, as severely oppressing the Palestinians. Please, dear brother, look at this, with me, with all of us who look at it with open eyes. We need each other.

Why are so many poor people darker skinned?

While invasions and conquests were commonplace, and enslaving people through conquest and through debt was prevalent in multiple parts of the world, the scale and brutality of the period during which capitalism began to establish itself is quite extreme and I believe unprecedented, with impacts continuing and deepening to this day.

One of the ways that the current social order persists is that the bloody history that has made it possible is mostly hidden from view. This takes a few forms. One is that things that happened and which are generally considered incontrovertible and fully known by anyone who studies history are not included in regular education. As a result of this one, many people simply don’t know what happened that brought us capitalism and how much violence was and continues to be involved in sustaining it. Another is that the significance of the events is downplayed, or the dots are not connected. This could be as simple as claiming that the events in question didn’t play a significant role in the unfolding of capitalism. An example is that the link between the colonization of the Americas and the wealth that made possible the move to capitalist production in Europe is not seen. Another is a tendency to look at what happened in the past as an unfortunate mistake and assume that it would have been possible to get to where we are without that violence. An example of this is the view that the genocide and enslavement of millions that is part and parcel of the establishment of the US was incidental and that, in any event, all of it is in the past and doesn’t affect the present. All of these combine to sustain the view that capitalism is natural, that it unfolded organically, and that there is nothing inherent about it that requires violence to maintain it.

I have always sensed that there must be violence inherent to capitalism, because I couldn’t imagine why, otherwise, the vast number of people whose work lives are one endless, unremitting misery would choose to continue doing this work, day after day. Like most people, I, too, lacked knowledge. Until someone brought me the book Caliban and the Witch I referenced in the last sub-section, which helped me understand the violent foundation of capitalism as well as the complex and difficult way in which physical force is gradually replaced with economic forces that keep people in place.

I see the colonization and slave trade that became significant engines for the development of capitalism as the next example of all the wars and empire formation activities that happened before. Given that patriarchal states outstrip the resources available within them and require dominating other regions, there is nothing that seems to me unusual in what the Europeans did starting in the 15th century and what continues now in a new incarnation as global neoliberal capitalism. Capitalism, as Immanuel Wallerstein’s World Systems theory makes plain, was from its inception a multi-regional phenomenon in which some people in some regions gain material wealth at the expense of most people in the same region and at immense cost to almost all people in other regions (and to all life forms, soil, air, water, and the totality of our planetary life support systems).

The amount of information that is hidden from general knowledge is staggering, and the bounds of what I, as a non-scholar, can bring in are weighing on me as I write this. As one example that I happen to know about, in 1493 the Vatican issued what is now known as “The Doctrine of Discovery” which gave Portugal and Spain the authority to take over any land not previously inhabited by or claimed by Christians, and to use what’s on it and subjugate any people on it. I find considerable horror in many specific statements within the original papal bull, especially knowing that they were specifically used, all around the Americas, Africa, what is now Australia and New Zealand, and elsewhere, to justify all the horrors of colonization. And in case anyone reading this is thinking that this is a thing of the past and we are now beyond it, the church has never rescinded this doctrine even though apologies have been made. And, what’s more significant, it’s still being used in Canada and the US by governments and corporations when encroaching on indigenous populations.

The majority of the world’s population has been subjected to colonization, genocide, formal and informal enslavement, other forms of exploitation, displacement, and more over hundreds of years. Materially, their ways of living have been rendered impossible, many being forcibly converted from active participants in sustainable subsistence economies to becoming so-called “unskilled laborers” in an economy designed against them. Spiritually, they have been treated as less than human for this entire time. This is several hundred years of unbroken trauma. Even if a magic wand were to shift the material conditions that continue to keep so many people around the world living unspeakably difficult lives, I don’t know how anyone but a very few extraordinarily strong individuals would be able to surmount the external and internalized humiliation and powerlessness that such conditions generate. Despite it all, individuals and communities who are in dire conditions continue to find resilience, creativity, and even the capacity to stand up to the largest institutions in the world.

While exploitation and impoverishment existed and continue to exist within Europe, the degree of violence that Europe brought to other places could only be justified by making the target populations less than human. Initially, they were seen as less than by virtue of not being Christian. Once many converted to Christianity, which was an awkward proposition even though it was actively pursued by missionaries, a different justification was necessary, which is currently available through racializing all humans and through training all of us, everywhere, to see those with lighter skin as superior. In this way, extreme impoverishment, starvation, and violence are normalized and invisible when they occur in the global South or within darker-skinned communities in the global North while they become top news when they occur within white populations.

The result of all this is that the vast majority of the world’s poor are dark-skinned. Across the world, Black people and indigenous people are particularly affected, dramatically overrepresented in the ranks of the impoverished and the extremely poor. The recipients of hundreds of years of extreme forms of mistreatment continue to bear the impact of what has been done to them, with no end in sight. Nowhere do I see any signs of reckoning with this legacy, nor any serious consideration given to how to restore dignity, well-being, and realignment with non-patriarchal ways of being to the people on whose backs the comforts that the few of us enjoy have been created.

Dear brother, are you still here? If you are white, in addition to being a man, you have the double weight of both sex-based and race-based impacts to carry. And if you are dark-skinned, I am talking about what has been done to you and your people, while simultaneously holding it as an aspect of patriarchy, which asks you to complexify your experience instead of only focusing on where you yourself are oppressed. Because it’s both, so often. Brother, please keep going, because I want you to take all this in fully, and then I come to what has been done to you as a man to get you to agree to be any part of this. We’re almost there, and I am still here, my heart with you, wherever you are on the power map of the world.

What about the many poor white people?

The fourth violent mechanism that Silvia Federici mentions as supporting the transition to capitalism is land enclosures which took place all across Europe at the same time as the witch hunts, colonization, and the slave trade.

The land enclosures were forceful ways of interfering with people’s direct connection with land, roughly during the 15th to 17th centuries. While the peasants of the Middle Ages in Europe often struggled, they lived in communal settings, in villages that were generally economically self-sufficient, where they could feed and clothe themselves without needing to buy things. Once forced off the land, they were reduced to making themselves available to work for wages, a new concept for most, and, since then, have lived at the mercy of employers. Wage labor has become such a norm that, at least in the global North, most people fully equate work with jobs, such that “jobs for all” is seen as a visionary possibility.

Colonization and racism were chillingly effective at exporting violence, degradation, brutality, and impoverishment while sustaining and enhancing the material and cultural well-being of most Europeans. It has been potent in hiding impacts from sight and making it possible for many Europeans and many of their descendants in colonized lands to continue to believe in the universality and goodness of European ways of being.

This move, however, wasn’t immediate. The transition to capitalism was bloody within Europe as well as elsewhere. In addition to the enclosures and the witch hunts, there was massive warfare, starvation, suppression of revolts, breakdown of attempts at creating collaborative communities, and immiseration of those who worked in the newly established factories. Capitalism was established, in part, as an assault on many Europeans and what came to be known as “white people.” Over time, the exporting of violence and misery has become progressively more pronounced. And, still, to this day, it has never become fully successful.

“In the name of labor”

In the US, for example, people who are the descendants of enslavement and colonization are significantly overrepresented in the ranks of the poor, and, still, the majority of those living below the poverty line are white. The results of capitalism and the modern racism that it gave rise to are complex and terrible. Generally speaking, people of European descent, anywhere in the world, have significant material benefits in relation to the groups they have colonized, enslaved, and decimated. This is true in terms of health and life expectancy, in terms of infant mortality, and in terms of access to the “goodies” of education, jobs, and comfort. And it’s not across the board. There is a significant number of people of European descent, both in Europe and at least in the English-speaking former colonies, who are seriously not doing well. I am thinking in particular about the phenomenon of “deaths of despair” (drugs, alcohol, and suicide) in the ranks of low-earning whites, where life expectancy has been on the decline even in comparison to the trends for non-white populations, at least in the US. This decline can precisely be attributed to such deaths growing in numbers over the last decades, coinciding with the capitalism on steroids known as neoliberalism. The complexity of the phenomenon is daunting and this isn’t the place nor do I have enough knowledge to engage with it in full. What feels important to say is that in order to have liberation for all I want us to have some humility in relation to the experiences of white people and to recognize the danger of lumping it all together in one category of “white privilege.”

Dear brother, are you, family members, or friends carrying these secret wounds? Are you someone who didn’t know that this is going on, that there is suffering of this magnitude that is mostly hidden? Or are you one of those who have been looking down on the white working class and the unknown impoverished white people as less than you? Are you open, with me, to look at all of this as a collection of tragic human phenomena that none of us yet know how to address? Are you ready to now look at what has been done to you, as a man, to be where you are? Please take one more breath with me, or maybe even put your head on someone’s shoulder, maybe even another man’s shoulder, and cry, before continuing.

Patriarchy, still: why do men suffer so much?

Almost all of what I have described in the previous pages was done in the hands of men, although women have been supportive in complex ways many times. All patriarchal societies are male dominated.

Any of us who want to believe that anything other than what we have now is possible bumps up against a profound question: what has made it possible for some men to act in the ways they have, and for most men to accept being in positions of domination relative to women? This, for me, is absolutely key to any efforts we would engage with to shift the course of events we live in.

One version of an explanation rejects the possibility of anything else. According to some, what we have is the natural state of affairs and therefore doesn’t need explaining. I find no solace and no interest in this pathway. I feel blessed to have been on the receiving end of enough courage and wisdom from enough people to not be pulled into that way of seeing things. I also don’t find helpful a variant of this approach which isn’t specifically focusing on male domination. This is the general narrative that makes us all out to be selfish, competitive, and willing to negatively impact others in order to get our needs met. In this story, male domination is near natural and given by virtue of men’s greater strength and other capacities. There is no moral or spiritual dimension to either of these approaches that would show a path of liberation.

Another approach is some version of a narrative that looks down on men, or, in some variants, only on white men. In this version, the reason for male domination is something inherent and essential about men that is the issue or the problem. This can be aggressiveness, lack of care, cluelessness, or any other flavor of some quality that is associated with inhumanness. This, sadly, is something that I have picked up on in many conversations and written articles, though it rarely is as blatant as I portray it here. There are similar versions of it that apply to white people, to rich people, or to any other group that is in a position of domination. I attribute this way of thinking to the immense amounts of mourning that don’t happen and then are expressed as anger, helplessness, and deep despair. Within these narratives, the pathway to having a social order that works for all is through some version of legislation, regulation, social pressure, or enforcement that would keep these tendencies in check. I see this as tragic, because all of these methods are, themselves, patriarchal in that they rely on some form of control. I also don’t believe we can ever have anything that works if it relies on any form of control. There is plenty around to convince me that any individual or group who is in some way forced to do something, even if many benefit from that something, will hold a deep resentment and unwillingness that would erupt at the soonest opportunity. There are too many horrific examples of this happening on large scales for me to want to entertain such a pathway to a future.

If we accept that we are all kin, all of us human, truly with the same needs and feelings, the question then presses itself on us ever more strongly: how can anyone born tender, sensitive, loving and eager to be loved, curious, and full of play become someone who can inflict harm on others, or even just passively accept the impact on others of comfort and material benefits? I want to end this section with my own musings on how this is possible.

No baby is born an oppressor. In each generation, quite freshly, the systems we live in prepare each of us for the roles we will each play in keeping them going. All adult male humans are first babies and then boys, and they are trained, in whatever culture they are born into, to become men. While the qualities associated with being a man vary considerably within and between cultures, all patriarchal societies, which, again, is just about all current human societies, train little boys to accept this position in which their needs are attended to at cost to others. I have been in many countries on all continents. Everywhere that I have been, men speak much more than women and are usually the first to raise their hands in group events. In some cultures, women don’t speak at all unless men are not in the room. And this is only one small and tame example.

Where I do find solace and a picture of possibility is in Erica Sherover-Marcuse’s thinking. Although we never met, both my sister Inbal and my friend and co-mentor Victor Lee Lewis worked with her closely, and thus her thinking came to me through them. Known to all as “Ricky,” I feel kinship with her and anyone else who upholds the simplicity of the idea that none of us chose to be conscripted into whatever role of privilege or dominance we have any more than any of us chose positions of oppression or victimization.

What I have learned over the years from many conversations and some pockets of reading is the very simple idea that we need to be brutalized in order to accept these roles. In the societies I know most, a key element of the brutalization of boys is the intensity with which they are ridiculed, taunted, and even physically attacked for displaying vulnerability, for having feelings, for caring for others who are weaker. The result, in adult men I know, is perpetual numbness, a deep separation from others, and immense struggles with shame. It makes total sense for me: in order to be able to treat anyone with less than the full care and reverence that we would otherwise, in order to see anyone as less than fully human, in order to justify the reduced access to resources and well-being that anyone else might have, it is necessary, first, to lose touch with the fullness of our own humanity.

The soft qualities

If you have gotten all the way here, dear brother, then maybe I have been successful at communicating to you with sufficient love so you can actually feel it and trust it. Perhaps you can sense that I am in mourning rather than anger about all that has happened to all of us, including you, the very particular you that you are and that, mostly, I don’t know. Maybe you can truly rest in the awareness that it’s possible to, and that I can and do, hold it is as wrenching and tragic without making what has happened, nor anyone who has contributed to it, including you, and me, as wrong. Maybe the passionate tenderness that I want to bring to any of us who has contributed to impacts on anyone else is registering with you as real. And when I say “any of us” maybe you can believe and derive solace from the reality that I am including truly everyone on the planet, including those of us with serious blood on our hands. There are no exceptions to tenderness, because the exceptions then become the new enemies, and we are then right back to the same cycle.

Perhaps you are also seeing my own willingness to expose myself, somehow, to you, even as I don’t know you. To the possibility that you might judge me or walk away from me, as so many have done over the course of my life. Or simply dismiss me and call me naïve. Or not believe me and think I am being inauthentic and am hiding my agenda. Or tell me that somehow I am not walking my talk because of something I did or didn’t say or how I said it. Or maybe get upset with me because you are not white and you want me to be less soft towards white men. Or maybe you have somehow taken on a harsh version of what it means to be a male ally and you think I shouldn’t be tender towards any men, including yourself, because your own self-judgments are so loud. Do you see the risks I am taking here? This, too, is part of what I have come to call the soft qualities, this one being core to nonviolence: this very willingness to embrace the fullness of the consequences that might come to us from living with the integrity of courage, truth, and love that are the foundations of nonviolence. I have said, already, that I don’t see us ever fighting patriarchy and winning, nor do I want to win, because then there are, again, losers. It is the soft qualities on which I put the full weight of my longing. It is the soft qualities that I believe may melt the patriarchal legacy.

If you can take in the love, if you can trust the seriousness of my commitment, if you see that I stand by what I say and take actions that are risky, every day, for you as well as for everyone else, then let us proceed together, in humility and with open eyes, even if we never meet, towards a future that may still await us if we walk together and with others, too.

What I ask of you as my ally

It’s now time to make some requests of you, because if you have gotten all this way, I can rest a little in trusting the sincerity of your own commitment to liberation for all, enough to believe that you know it includes your liberation, my liberation, and everyone else’s liberation. And I can imagine that you would want to know what there is to do if you want to offer your support to what I and a very few others are trying to bring into existence: an island of love, an island of commitment to liberation for all, without any exceptions.

For this, I want to share with you what a dear man I have known for many years said to me a few days ago which finally led to my writing this piece I have been contemplating for a few years, what I have said to him in response, and what I believe you can do, wherever you are, to participate in the local subversion I mentioned as possible at the beginning of this piece.

This man, whom I will call Leo Greenberg, is someone with whom I have had several generative and meaningful conversations over the years, though none about this. Here’s what he said in his email in response to my announcement about a course called “Liberation for All: Integrating a Power and Privilege Lens into Basic NVC Training” (which you can still access, though only as a recording at this point).

“I find some of the terms that you use frequently in your emails off-putting and I must consciously reel myself in [in] an attempt to hear the rest of your message. The terms are patriarchy and privilege. While I might not disagree with you at all on the cultural forces that offer advantage to certain people (especially white people and especially men), and while I might also want to address these effects in society, the terms turn me off because they suggest a good deal of blame and wrongdoing (even dislike) for people who might otherwise share your beliefs. I’m not sure you mean to blame or offer judgment. But unquestionably that is how it comes across to me, and I am fairly confident to most men and many white people. I think those terms inspire many of the traditionally downtrodden, and offer them hope and strength (often through anger), but at the same time alienate otherwise natural allies. In my view, they are on the whole not only ineffective but counter-effective.”

If you have read closely so far, perhaps you can already pick up some of the bits and pieces I responded to. Much of it is what I expanded on in this piece: that the forces that keep us separate are not cultural in my understanding, because the cultural primarily emerges from the material, and what I want to change is the material arrangements, so that everyone’s needs are fully part of what unfolds in human societies. I see this as an order of magnitude different from his statement that he “might also want to address these effects in society,” because addressing effects is not the same as addressing root causes. Nor did he say that he is committed to addressing the effects; only that he might want to address them.

What I want to share from what I responded is what I said in response to his thinking about my terms turning off “people who might otherwise share [my] beliefs” and that I might “alienate otherwise natural allies.”

In simple language, my belief is that anyone who reacts to these terms, which for me are descriptive and analytically accurate, is not likely to be actually motivated to create the changes I believe are necessary to shift those societal patterns. I am not looking for people who share my beliefs. I am looking for people who are willing to join with me in fundamental change within and around them. As far as I am concerned, there is no way to address the “effects” you are talking about without overhauling the roots that cause them. That is the work I am dedicated to.

A natural ally for me is someone who is happy to look at his (usually) conditioning with immense tenderness and willingness to learn and shift patterns, to support others in doing the same, both those with and without his privileges, and to take risks in the process along with standing up to the larger structures that would otherwise protect him. It’s a huge deal, not just a feeling of wanting to be supportive.

This is what I am now asking of you, yes, you, each of you reading this. I have wanted to send you the message that I won’t give up on you, that I will continue to mourn, with you or even without your participation, what has been done to you along with mourning what has been done to me, to all women, to all men, within our patriarchal societies. And if I don’t also stand firm and tell you what I want from you, I will be, once again, only focusing on your comfort. And I don’t want to do that. I want to also challenge you, with love, to turn towards me, towards women, towards those — both women and men — with less of the comforts and privileges that you have, whatever they are.

I have very specific requests of you. They are all simple. They are all difficult. Nothing less will do if you really want to be an ally.

Learn about what happened to all of us, especially women

I have tried to do my part to make this history known in condensed form. I have written a 30-page article called “From Obedience and Shame to Freedom and Belonging: Transforming Patriarchal Paradigms of Child-Rearing in the Age of Global Warming” which situates modern parenting within the history of patriarchy and focuses on how patriarchy is reproduced and what parents, in particular, can change. I have also written a 60-page learning packet that goes into more depth about the topics and links everything happening today to patriarchy, including environmental degradation, religious oppression, capitalism, war, and more. It’s called “Why Patriarchy Matters: Making Sense of how We Got Here.” I have a bibliography that you can look at and pick and read. I have not written much about what has been happening to women in particular because it isn’t my primary focus given that I see patriarchy as a much larger phenomenon than the impacts on women. I still would like you to learn. And if you know something about it, I would like to ask you to learn even more. I want you to be able to notice, on your own, what is happening, whether you are contributing to it or not, and be able to meet me and the women in your life in holding it. I want you to reach a state where you take initiative, where you pause yourself or another man and invite a woman to speak while you listen. You won’t get there without knowing what it looks like. All too many of us, women, have participated in hiding it from you. I want you to find out.

Learn about what happened to men, and what happened to you

This one is yours to find out about, beyond the preliminary notes I have included here. There are, thankfully, men who have done this work and who have opened themselves to the mourning and anguish of discovering their own oppression, as boys and even as men. Their own fear of violence if they don’t tow the line, because becoming conscripted into accepting any privilege is all too often done under the threat of violence, and mostly not physical. It’s the violence of shame and humiliation, of being ridiculed, shunned, or being alone. I want you to open your heart to yourself and to your brothers, to see the trauma, both the collective and the very personal, that is at the heart of it all. Please cry as you do this, even as so much of male training tells you not to.

Mourn the limitations and patriarchal patterns you carry

The more we can mourn and the more tenderness we can all bring to bear on the horrors that have befallen us since the patriarchal turn in Eurasia, the more we can hold our own patriarchal conditioning with softness. I want you to make the effort to recover that softness, to counter what Ian Suttie has so aptly called “the taboo on tenderness” so you can rejoin with your sisters, at least those of us who haven’t also succumbed to harshness, in bringing tenderness to yourself.

I want to remind you what I said at the very beginning. Patriarchy isn’t about men. It’s not your fault. There is really and truly nothing wrong with you. You have been traumatized, and the result is that, most likely, you act like most men. Which means you will continue walking and implicitly expect a woman to move out of the way on the street. You will not notice the dust, or something being out of place, or needing to buy more milk. You will remain numb when confronted by horrors. You will become defensive and closed down in all too many circumstances. When in groups, you will likely speak more often and for longer than the women in the group and be less likely to aim to integrate with what has already been said before. And, if we up the intensity, you are likely to look at women as sexual objects or not look at them at all if they don’t fit the “perceptual grid” (more on this in a moment) because of looks or age. And, for some of you, you may have forced your sexual desire on women, maybe even without knowing, because how would it otherwise happen that so many of us are assaulted in some way by the time we are eighteen?

Yes, at least some of the above is likely to happen to you. And yes, there are impacts on us, grinding, daily, all the time. And, if you are also white, or have access to material resources, there will also likely be impacts on men with less privilege than you. And yes, you are not likely to even notice it much of the time. And, if you lack access to material resources, are of the working classes, a lower caste, are darker skinned and oppressed as a result, or in any other way not of the dominant group of men, you are also likely to imagine that this neutralizes your male privilege when it does not.

So, please, dear brother, take that deep breath again, because I can sense, in this moment, how difficult it may be for you to take all this in. And not only do I want you to take it in. I also, in addition, want you to do what may appear impossible, which is to bring as much tenderness to it as you would bring to an infant who is in need, a wounded animal or bird, or a dear friend who has just lost a loved one. Because you are that in need, that wounded, and you have lost a loved one, early on and indefinitely, which is you yourself. The trauma that created you as you are is that huge. The more you can hold your own limitations as a bit of tragic information that we can mourn together, the more you can be my ally.

Get support so you can stay with me and others when we name patriarchy

After responding to Leo the first day, I continued to think about this all day. I went to bed still thinking about it, beginning to organize this piece you are reading based on what I said to him. While I managed to fall asleep, I woke up an hour later and there was no going back to sleep. In a rare event, I got up at 1 am, and continued to write to Leo. Here’s what I said to him in the middle of the night, and I am saying it to you, too, especially if you are still concerned about my use of the word patriarchy.

This has continued to percolate within me. There is something that remains somehow deeply confusing to me and has been for years now in relation to people raising this concern. And you are someone I trust and whose way of thinking I generally respect a lot, and so I wanted to actually engage with you through/from that confusion.

I’ve had this one question for a couple of years and so far haven’t found the moment to ask it of anyone. Do you actually believe that patriarchy is over or was never in existence? And if you don’t believe that, then what other way would you refer to it? It may sound like a rhetorical question, and it isn’t. I am puzzled to the core by this kind of reaction.

Leo is also Jewish, like me, and so I added one more question to him that may not apply to you, dear brother, if you are not, also, Jewish. If you are not Jewish and you are a person of color, you can replace antisemitism with racism.

Would you also want us not to use the term antisemitism because it may alienate our natural allies?

I have already said, amply, why the various other suggestions that have been given to me over the years won’t work because they don’t catch the material basis of patriarchy. I am not actually asking any more for new possibilities. I am asking you, instead, to accept my lead, my scholarship, however limited it is, and to do what you need to do to release whatever it is that would put you, like Leo, in the position of having to “reel yourself in” to hear the rest of what I say. I want you to get support, from anyone who is already relaxed about it, so that I and others get to choose what to call the system that is destroying us and that has such particular devastating impacts on us women. Maybe reading my blog post “Why Patriarchy is Not about Men” could help, or my piece called “#MeToo and Liberation for All,” where I totally question the punitive response of that movement and also speak of the pickle that men are in. And if not that, dear brother, please find a way without asking me to change what has been so helpful to me, and please, also, find a way to trust that there really is love and no blame, tenderness for all of us.

Mobilize to co-hold the challenge with women or with men of less privilege

This is my last request of you, and it’s likely the hardest. I want you to take one extra step to walk towards me, towards all your sisters, and ask us to tell you what we have been trained to keep from your awareness in the thick web of deception that is constructed to care for your comfort.

And while I have worked within me for years to be able to mostly say it with the love and tenderness that live within me, many sisters won’t. And I, too, have been known to lose it. I don’t get angry, when I lose it, I get sarcastic, and that may be even harder to take in than anger. I do it less, and not never. And many of my sisters are likely to have had less support to be able to integrate, at a body level, how vitally important it is to speak with love and to increase the love the more difficult the message. This is true especially if they are, also, from marginalized groups, such as the working classes, the impoverished, those from the global South, or the involuntary immigrants or decimated indigenous people in the colonized countries of the global North. I want you to be strong enough to not demand it of them as a condition for being heard. I want you to want to hear the message even when it’s difficult. I want you to remember, even when it’s searing pain to hear, that it’s for your liberation no less than theirs.

If you start taking this journey, dear brother, I rest within the conviction that we can do something together to support liberation for all.

Epilogue: my own allies

I have two special brothers who know, on the deepest visceral plane, the truth of all I am saying, and who see it as their liberation to be allies to women. I want to end this article by speaking of each of them briefly.

One of them is Victor Lee Lewis, whom I have already mentioned earlier. Victor started his journey of liberation as a young man during the heyday of second wave feminism. More than thirty years ago Victor told me about having read Robin Morgan and others from that time, getting the deep kick in the stomach that being exposed to the history of patriarchy can be, and recognizing that everything he knew back then about being a man, his entire identity in that regard, was resting on the oppression of women. Victor went on to participate in various men’s projects specifically focusing on being allies to women and working to end violence against women. Victor benefited from many sisters, including my own blood sister Inbal who was his partner for a few years (which is how we met), and has become a crucial part of my sanity. Victor is a Black man. He is also my ally in relation to antisemitism, not the topic of this article and still instructive. He took years of his life reading about both the oppression of women and the oppression of Jews. He knows things about both that I didn’t know. He holds me and is with me. Victor continues to be a man and he definitely sometimes acts like other men within patriarchy in many instances, and I have found him fully present and ready to hear feedback.

The other is Eddy Quinn, one of the people I live with, along with Emma Quayle, as the seed of a community we are slowly building in which we aim to create this field of love I am speaking of. Eddy is Irish, male, white, tall, and middle class. Emma is Cornish, female, white, small, and working class. Eddy came to us already primed by previous encounters to look critically at his own male training. Eddy is the one who coined the term “perceptual grid” and is holding with us the excruciating nature of how each woman ticks or doesn’t tick this or that box, and how men orient to us through the grid. Eddy is also fully male trained, and between the class and gender elements, Emma has been absorbing immense amounts of impact. Eddy and Emma have now been connecting for over a year in a concerted effort to subvert what society has slotted them for, to make visible the impacts, to bring a systemic lens and tenderness to the exploration, and to increase capacity in both of them. As this piece is written, they are deeply into their second exploration.

The first one started with Emma bringing forward all the impacts on her from absorbing invisibly the work of planning and executing our transitions, which have been many given our vagabonding life (which is about to end with a one-year stint in Turkey). The result has been creating a transition system that Eddy is now holding and a system they call “watering shoots” in which Eddy is supporting Emma to increase her capacity to move away from emergent needs and care for her own learning and writing.

The second one is more recent and is still in the early active phase. Emma has been opening second and third layers of impacts, not all from Eddy, and sharing them with Eddy in various ways. Little of it has been elegant. The pain and the anguish are immense. And Eddy is taking it all as part of his liberation. I am going to let Emma speak of this in her own words in a piece she’s written about this called “Transforming patterns of internalised sex and class oppression, part 1: How post-its can support liberation.” I find their work with each other truly transformational, leaning on layers of trust and love that I have rarely seen, especially across such thick lines of impacts, and opening pathways that I dearly hope many will join. I feel blessed and honored, at nearly sixty-seven, to live with these two much younger beings (Eddy is twenty-eight and Emma is thirty-four) who are serving as a vivid example of what is possible when we commit to uncompromising truth with love and within togetherness.

So, dear brother, if you have reached the end, I hope you can see and sense what a blessing of liberation this tough journey can be, how much strength it can give you to join with us, and what is possible, for you, for all of us, if we fully open our hearts all the way to say “yes” to liberation for all.

Notes

1 This section and a few that follow it are taken from the “Liberation for All, Part One: Understanding Liberation, Power, and Privilege” learning packet, which is available without a paywall, with minor edits and additions for the different context that this article is.

2 In my paper that provides a more detailed introduction to what could have happened that led to it, there is more detail that provides more clarity than is possible here. See “From Obedience and Shame to Freedom and Belonging: Transforming Patriarchal Paradigms of Child-Rearing in the Age of Global Warming,” especially page 16.

3 “Notes on the Rise and Development of Patriarchy,” p. 37 in Cristina Biaggi (ed.). The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy.

4 The book that speaks of this history in a way that organized everything for me is Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch.

5 Almost all, and not all, as there are always those in the exploited regions who find ways to benefit personally.

6 The full text of the main papal bull can be found here: https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/T-04093.pdf

7 Even a well-loved liberal judge in the US, Ruth Ginsburg, included mention of this doctrine in an 8 to 1 ruling of the US Supreme Court against the Oneida nation as recently as 2005.

8 These communities came together during and after the plagues that swept through Europe and stood up to feudal lords. As Federici points out in Caliban and the Witch, the 15th century, prior to the establishment of capitalism, was a rare time of deaccumulation and redistribution.

9Liberation Theory: A Working Framework

Photo credit

“Holding the dragon with love”, drawings by Vesta Kroese (left) and Emma Quayle (right)

“Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük”, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey, picture by Nevit Dilmen, on Wikimedia

“Mother goddess nursing twins, in limestone”, from Megara Hyblaea necropolis west, 550 ac. Regional Archaeological Museum of Syracuse Paolo Orsi. Picture by Sailko, on Wikimedia

“A mother goddess statuette from Canhasan”, picture by Noumenon, on Wikimedia

“The protectors of our industries”, Mayer Merkel & Ottmann lith., N.Y.; Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, on Wikimedia

“One-sheet print of a witch burning in Derenburg (county Reinstein) 1555”, by R. Decker, on Wikimedia

“Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two.” Nipomo, California, by Dorothea Lange, from The New York Public Library

“Slave hands”, Free public domain CC0 photo, on pxhere

“The Negro in American history; men and women eminent in the evolution of the American of African descent”, by Cromwell, John W, on Flickr

“In the name of labor”, by Keppler, Udo J., 1872–1956, artist, on Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

“Grayscale Photo of Man’s Face”, by Pranavsinh suratia, on Pexels

A Boy Surrounded by other Children, by Вениамин Курочкин, on Pexels

“Unity Is My Community” , by Cecilia Castelli, on Thegreats

“Dualtonic Mourning”, by rui barros, on Flickr

“We, heart, solidarity”, by Izabela Markova, on Thegreats

“Hands”, free public domain photo on Pikist

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Miki Kashtan

Miki Kashtan is a practical visionary pursuing a world that works for all, based on principles and practices rooted in feminist nonviolence.