We can do better. So let’s get started.
Got a minute, brother? Fellow straight white man? Because I want to talk to you about a few things that have been gnawing at me.
Just a warning, though. Some of what I’m about to say will make you uncomfortable. I know; I’m sorry. But hear me out. I think it’ll be worth it in the end.
First, I want to acknowledge something you’re probably already aware of, if you’ve been paying attention: Things are broken. This pandemic is simply shining a light on what’s been true for a while now — that many things in the world are no longer working. Systems. Structures. Rules. Relationships. They’ve been that way for some time. I mean — take a second to think about the moment just before the crisis hit. Were you happy? I mean, genuinely happy? And what about other people? Did they seem happy to you? Nope. That’s because so many things are broken right now.
Why is that?
Here’s what I think, and it’s difficult to say this: Because we fucked it up. You and I. Straight white men—we fucked it up. We held the reins of the world for a long time, but over the years we rode it into a ditch, shattering its legs and dashing its head against the wall. We did that. Men broke the world. We didn’t mean to, but we did.
If you don’t agree with that, I invite you stop reading right now. If you’re not sure, or still with me, let me clarify a couple of things and possibly move us toward some solutions.
First, without getting into the details right now, let’s agree that straight white men (let’s call us SWM for short) fucked things up in three big ways:
1. We harmed our relationship with nature.
This one is simple. Natural creatures, you and I, we inhabit a planet that has sustained life for more than three billion years. Three billion years. And yet we occupy a moment in its history when countless species face the strong possibility of extinction. Our life-bearing planet is becoming more unlivable by the day.
And yet if we trace this craziness back to its source, it’s happening because of men. Turns out that those things we desired — a fish dinner, wooden ships, an SUV — we went after (in the way that men do) with full focus and commitment, even as we failed to acknowledge How Things Work in the natural world. We did all this innocently enough, at first; soon, though, we were blindly chasing those things we wanted, against all reason and good sense. Because of our ingenuity, our desire, and our short-sightedness, we’ve nearly succeeded in destroying the very organism that sustains us.
2. We harmed our relationship with other human beings.
This one is more specific. Long ago, SWM decided that we were more important than others. We’d already decided we were more important than nature, so it was no big stretch to conclude that we were also more important than women, more important than those who didn’t look like us, and more important than those who didn’t procreate like us or share our beliefs about gender.
This I’m-better and me-first thinking wormed its way, virus-like, into the society we created. It tainted our economies, poisoned our politics, undermined our schools. It undercut every point of potential human progress, from science to the arts. When we weren’t perpetuating it at work, we were modeling it for our sons and teaching our daughters to accept it at home. As a result, men have impeded human evolution, snuffing out a billion tiny flares of possibility that could have benefitted our species and the planet at large.
Someday we can talk about why we did this, you and I. For now, the point is: We did.
This too is crazy. What other systems in nature prosper as a hierarchy? I’ll save you the trouble of googling it: none of them. Nature thrives on diversity — an interdependent arrangement in which no one living thing, from bear to bee to buttercup, is more important than the next. Nature is hierarchically flat and inherently collaborative.
3. We have harmed our relationship with power.
Because of #1 and #2, men have created an unhealthy relationship with power— which, in capitalist culture, is really just influence or money. Because we lacked the foresight to curtail our desires and check our consumption, and because we chose to oppress those who didn’t have a penis and who didn’t look or have sex like us, we have now settled into a familiar yet very precarious place of power. We’re holding on to power, yes, but everything and everyone we have power over is suffering — and suffering because of us. Men are balanced at the tip-top of a giant, teetering, human pyramid, with each layer below us feeling more and more ignored, marginalized, abused, resentful, and angry.
This is not a good place to be, brothers.
Here in the U.S., the primary sources of male power align with four geographical nodes:
- Washington, D.C., where (mostly) SWM write the laws that solidify their grip on power and fortify systems that enforce it; where the men attached to these ideals devote all their time to gaining, controlling, and consolidating power
- Wall Street, where (mostly) SWM work in service to a single god — money — often created and accumulated to the detriment of social, cultural, and environmental good
- Hollywood, where (mostly) SWM, terrified of stories that might threaten the status quo and their own pyramid-peak place of power, shape pop culture and what we often call “art,” fighting tirelessly to keep power safe in the hands of the few
- Silicon Valley, where (mostly) SWM are even now creating and perfecting the technology that will steer and shape our world, prioritizing it for its price as a commodity rather than its value to the greater society
These nodes create, amplify, and circulate male power, in America and around the globe. They are four of the batteries on which toxic maleness runs.
And, brothers, that’s the only word for it. Masculinity as it exists today is toxic to the health of our environment; it’s toxic to our spouses, our families, and our workplaces; it’s toxic to our relationships with other humans. And so, before we inadvertently kill ourselves or find our throats cut by one or more of the folks we’ve been oppressing and whose rage is mounting, it seems imperative to do things differently.
But what does “differently” look like? How does it start?
It starts by acknowledging that we have a problem. That’s what this article is about.
It starts by listening. Trust me, brothers, when I tell you that our voices are too loud and we talk too much. Others’ perspectives are just as valuable as our own — often more so. Seek them out and listen to what they have to say.
It starts by looking beyond ourselves. Step outside your SWM bubble. Make new acquaintances. Learn what life is like right now for women, for Black or Brown people, for those across the gender and sexual spectrum. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen to their answers.
It starts by standing in the face of others’ rage. When these folks finally get the chance to tell you how angry they are, stand there and take it. Period. You’re not being weak; you’re validating their feelings without undermining them with denial or defense. This is important. Picture in your mind what it might be like for them to feel this way. Feel what it feels like for them to feel this way. Their chance to express anger, and your capacity to hold it, will mark a long stride toward healing.
It starts by holding other SWM accountable. Among your peers, don’t quail in the face of bad behavior. Hold the highest possible standards. Racism? Misogyny? Homophobia? Call that shit out. If you lose a friend, he wasn’t worth it. And you’ll gain the respect of those on the receiving end of his bullshit.
It starts by supporting those we have oppressed. White men are neither devils nor saviors. We can, however, put our privilege to work in support of those we once dominated. In another post I’ll make suggestions about how to do this, but in the meantime, you’re a smart guy: come up with an idea, then move on it.
It starts by joining other conscious men. Need help finding a progressive men’s community? Want to weed out toxic masculinity in your workplace? Want more resources on how to be a better man? Want help becoming a full diversity partner in your company? Want to teach young men how to overcome gender violence? Want to be an advocate for racial equality? Luckily for everyone, these possibilities are blossoming.
Finally, it starts with compassion. You weren’t born to break things, SWM. You were taught this by your father and by the male culture that’s run the world for too long. You’re a good person. Learning to treat yourself with compassion is how you learn to have it for others. For the natural world. For women. For those whose race or identity doesn’t match your own.
Here’s where we are, brothers. This is where we stand. Things are broken and we broke them. And yet in this moment I propose we break something else: the pattern we’ve been stuck in, the way we’ve been living, the ways we’ve treated the earth and each other.
Straight white men, it’s time to open our eyes and uncover our ears. It’s time for the pyramid to fall. It’s time to build things, not break them. It’s time to stand, shoulder to shoulder as allies and advocates, alongside the rest of humanity as we collectively and collaboratively get about the business of saving ourselves and the planet that sustains us.
This is a call for change — our change. This is a call for revolution.
Who’s with me? We have no time to waste.