Misogyny’s Roots Run Deep, Men; it’s Time to Dig — Pt. 1
Why We Need to Tear Down with One Hand, Build Up with the Other
[To myself and to men who look like me: much work lies ahead to help repair systemic damage to all those long-excluded from full equity in every area of public and private society, particularly women]
I was born lucky. 24 years later, I married lucky. After a half-dozen more years, I fathered lucky (Fathered? Sired? They both sound off…but you know what I mean.). I am the product, the over-matched partner, and the proud father of strong women. And, while I would like to believe that I would hold the egalitarian views I do and attempt to bristle against male privilege if I had grown up or cohabitated in different circumstances, I cannot be sure. In fact, I most likely would not, if the rest of the world gives any indication. Having access to neither a DeLorean nor a crystal ball…(Yet!)…I will never know.
What I believe I do know is this: the largest of ships sailing the socio-cultural seas, displacing the most water, turning almost imperceptibly slowly, is the colossal vessel of how men view, diminish, and objectify women both on their own terms and in terms of our relationships with them.
[Obviously, straight men as a bloc have a cavalcade of issues regarding gender and sexual dynamics as a whole, but the most universal and longest-tenured tensions lie in both our historical and current misunderstanding and mistreatment of women.)
I cannot speak to how it feels to be marginalized because of my gender. I cannot speak to how it feels to marginalized due to my race. Nor can I speak to being disenfranchised or discriminated against because of my sexual identity, religion, disability or class.
What I CAN do is admit that I have knowingly and unknowingly taken advantage of my demography and leverage. I can apologize for doing so — without looking for plaudits, for they are undeserved — and write an exhortation with this mea culpa to my fellow men. And by “fellow men,” I mean mostly those categorically excluded from systemic and personal attacks due to the factors mentioned above: the white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight, presumptively-Christian men.
This is not an “all men suck” screed. I am a man. I know and admire many good men. If you are male and reading this, please know that I am not trying to attack you, attack us, attack myself…much of what will follow has to do with the millennia-old patriarchic building blocks of civilization and over 300 years of American legal and cultural writ. However, if something does feel like it hits too close to home, please sit with it, examine it, maybe even ask someone else if they notice the same thing. Self-examination is not weakness born of a lack of courage. In fact, it is a sign of quite the opposite.
This is not a Buzzfeed listicle. It is not the preamble to an online poll that will reveal your female-friendliness quotient. I bring a lot more questions than answers. There are no words on a rubber bracelet that will end functional, systemic sexism. If this were a problem with a one-size-fits-all solution, it would have been communally eradicated or legislated away long ago. Nor is this subject the stuff of bloody revolutions…it doesn’t carry with it the fear of nuclear proliferation or the savagery of slavery or the unspeakable incomprehension of the Holocaust. But it is pervasive. It directly affects half our population. It is the chronic disease that drugs and transplants can’t cure. It is the forest we often can’t see for the trees.
Men, this is an opportune time to acknowledge how we as a large group (including the even larger group of our forefathers) have been molded and protected in society and given benefits of both doubt and position not nearly as lavishly afforded to others. I hope we can vow to open our ears and eyes for the work ahead.
It is time to commit to TEARING DOWN with the left hand the structures perpetuating injustice and our unearned station that have developed over time while lending the right hand to the BUILDING UP of new paradigms and more equitable lives for those not sitting at the head of the table. It’s a good thing we each have two hands and can multi-task.
Here’s the thing though: you don’t get to be the architect or contractor on that second project, the BUILDING UP one where everyone else is continuing their long-running work of knuckle-bleeding labor to construct a fairer society. That project started without us…and largely because of us. We get to bring people water, ask with intent as to where we can help and not hurt the cause, pack and hand out lunches to the people scaling roofs and hammering nails, and maybe help haul lumber from the side of the road to the building site. That’s our job right now. [If you’ve ever done short-term volunteering at a Habitat-For-Humanity site, you get my metaphor; people don’t hand you a skill saw and the blueprints and say “Thank God you’re here, we didn’t know how to do this!]
So that’s how we can do our part for the second part of the job…
But as to the first project I mentioned, the TEARING DOWN of the good-ol’-boys network of pedestals on which we stand…well, it’s going to be a lot more effective, more swiftly actualized, longer-lasting, less resentment-inducing, and better for all involved if we DO take a humbly active role in that demolition and bring our sledgehammers and chainsaws with us. There’s work to do and this one’s on us.
We also should try to help draw up those demolition plans if we don’t want the goal of helping construct a more just and peaceful world to eventually just lead to more resentment and backlash down the road. (Obviously, this has been happening for decades, as some see as a zero sum game where both men and “traditional values” wane while social and legal progress for women wax). The more that men, though, can see that every corner of society stands to gain when the most people possible are valued and empowered — in word and deed — the more those positive effects of empowerment branch out to touch all people in the complex web of human interdependency.
It’s also Diplomacy 101: action is more meaningful and sacrifice is more impactful if both parties actually believe in the work and if they are there of their own accords. Have you ever tried to make someone do what they stubbornly don’t want to? How’d that go? (Have kids? I have three — I know what I’m talking about, at least on this count). People tend to react better to change when they can come around to believing in it as opposed to feeling it is foisted upon them. But I feel that men of goodwill have largely been too silent and too afraid of our brothers and fathers and leaders and friends to call the whole of us to account. We can’t let that happen at this moment of national and international fragility. This may be the best opportunity in many generations to help affect lasting and healthy change in our corner of the world, and a really effective place to focus attention and effort would be addressing this longest-lasting of tensions that is a reality in every nation on Earth: how men — when others are and aren’t looking — view and treat women.
A staple of our heroic stories and the backbone of our national mythology (along with Manifest Destiny) is the truism that dire times call for resolve, honesty, sacrifice and effort. We imbue these traits on our pioneers, founders, leaders and up-by-the-bootstraps heroes. Well, we need to exhubit that same resolve, honesty, sacrifice and effort now to help in the healing of our societal fissures, but first we need to add huge heaping spoonfuls of listening, learning and acknowledging reality to the mix.
Again, this involves everyone’s action…and necessitates individuals and groups being seen for both their innate potential and their impact in relation to those in their orbits. People love to categorize, compartmentalize and make appear tidy the things that are messy. It’s a coping mechanism. We all do it, often to positive effect. (Me, I’m a bit too compulsive about it…) But we also abuse this higher brain function, twisting it from a tool that allowed for complex thought and for civilization to spring from the tabula raza of the Fertile Crescent to a weapon that perpetuates division, subjugation, and chronic misunderstanding. Put briefly, we love to put people or problems or histories in boxes and subsequently shelve them to be dealt with at a later date. It is a lot easier FOR ALL OF US to either dismiss or benignly ignore an issue if you believe you’re not significantly affected by it, either in cause or effect, e.g.: Civil Rights, Disability Rights, LGBTQ Rights, 2nd Amendment Rights, Abortion Rights, Housing Rights, Voters Rights…and Women’s Rights.
If you believe that a social condition or a law that explicitly touches roughly 50% of people (women) — practically all of whom are related to, partnered with, and/or co-dependent upon the other roughly 50% of people (men) — should be thought of/ handled/ studied/ adjudicated/ legislated as “just a Women’s Issue,” then you seriously underestimate how interconnected our lives truly are and how our tendency to wall off other people-groups and their concerns hurts everyone in the process. We all have skin this game…just because some of us are often the aggressors doesn’t mean we are immune to the damage done.
Up Next: Pt. 2— How Female Issues are and aren’t Processed and Addressed Like Other Social Determinants