A call to men

This is for men. For any man who is shocked at the Weinstein allegations, the Trump allegations, the instances of harassment and assault he may know of already. For any man who wants to take concrete steps to change the world.

I know this is socially unacceptable, but I hereby deliberately challenge every single man who interacts with women or men, with girls or boys, to make a commitment, to pick a step or two from a feminist resource on how to be a good ally, to write a list of options and put it up on your fridge, or on your wall, or in the bathroom on the mirror, and do it. Every fucking day. Do it. You can help us change the world by changing yourselves and challenging other men. Do it now.

Include looking at your own actions and exploring, asking questions of yourself, figuring out where you cross lines and how, what your triggers are, what the thought patterns are which you have and which end up in behaviors like interrupting, mansplaining, persisting without consent, disbelieving women, taking credit for women’s ideas & work, allowing yourself to ride on the emotional and logistical work of the women in your life, etc. Do it because you have power and privilege, because you want to be a better human being, because you believe that we are all better off when we are all willing to do our personal work. Do it.

Here is the piece which inspired this posting:
Heather McCuen

To all the men who want to ‘stand with us’ –
Thank you
But
We don’t just need you by our side
Protection is not parity
and our armor
is already battle tested

What we need
is for you to stand
in all your usual places
without laughing at rape jokes

What we need
is for you to stand
without your usual silence
when your friends suggest
we are waiting to be conquered

What we need
is for you to stand
without your usual silence
when you hear that asshole
tell us to smile
or bend over
or just turn around
for him

Because the collective sound
of a thousand ‘me too’s
is no match
for that silence

What we need
is not
pity
is not
excuses
is not
saving
is not
protection
is not
apology
is not
‘because I have daughters’

But that silence
that seems so small
so much easier than
picking a fight
so much easier than
making a big deal

That silence
that you think we don’t see
that silence
is where men learn it’s okay
to be monsters

What we need
is for you to understand
that what we’re afraid of
isn’t just the monsters

What we need
Is for you to understand
that every “me too” posted by a friend
was born in that silence

So if you really want
to stand with us
then fight for us
in every single silence

Speak that solidarity
against every catcall
Rage the way we do
against the idea of asking for it

Fill the silence
with your outrage
and your love
for us

This is so true, and it makes me cry. Male silence kills. It enables horror. It is complicit. You want to be a good man? Challenge other men. Make it a daily habit of mind and communication and action. Choose a couple of phrases to say and practice them: “Women are people with fundamental human rights”; “You are degrading that person”; “Stop looking at her ass”; “Stop looking at her breasts”; “Stop interrupting her”; “Listen to what she has to say”; “Did she say yes?”; “What you did/are doing is harassment/assault”; “Why do you think it’s funny to joke about women being hurt?” etc., etc., etc.

And to women, if you feel like you’re observing something that’s crossing lines, “Do you need help?”; “Do you want me to intervene?”; “Do you want me to call the police?”; “I’m here if you want my support”, etc.,

Act. Acknowledge the ways in which you have crossed lines throughout your life. Acknowledge them and take active steps to make better choices. Ask questions. Apologize when you make mistakes and try again. Listen. And stop interrupting.

Do it because we are humans, like you. Do it not because women are wives, daughters, sisters, mothers. Do it because we are human and you don’t need to be led by your noses like a donkey to a path which honors and respects over 50% of the human species. Do it because you have a brain and a heart, and because you have a commitment to truth and strength and heart and right action. Do it.

“Protection is not parity.” Support and acknowledgment go a lot further. Commitment. Responsibility. Self-knowledge. Accountability. Work us to change the world now by doing your own due diligence. We cannot wait.

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The meaning and impact of trust

“I trust you.”

I have said it to children. I have *not* always said it to friends, in such friendships in which the words were not necessary, because the foundations of the friendships have been created and are renewed with mutual honesty, integrity, good will. I have said it in the sanctity of a bedroom with a beloved. I have offered it in the midst of emotional and challenging conversation, made it a gift entertwined with the feelings of love and generosity in my heart.

I have recently realized that when I say, “I trust you”, to men in a romantic context, it is not the gift my ego has taken it to be, but rather it is aspirational in nature, a wish to cast a transformational spell. It is a plea from my inner child who desperately wants to find a safe place, a nurturing place, with a guarantee that she will not be harmed, wounded. It is a tool, a way to bend reality and create that safe place, an attempt to bind one form of projection permanently into the soul of the person to whom those words are uttered, in order to prevent the other projection, fearful and destructive, from coming true/being revealed.

My trust has been focused on actions, whether bad or good. It hasn’t been trust at all, really, but a belief that a person will do things that are harmful to me or helpful to me. This belief is sometimes based in evidence from prior actions, and sometimes based in desire or fantasy. It is often tethered to projection instead of a solid understanding of who the person actually is, to the degree that such an understanding is really possible. We all project, all the time. It is part of our human nature and training.

Attempting to construct this belief about what people will do or not do is a dead-end road. It cannot succeed in its effort to make us safe. People are not predictable or controllable in that way, by themselves or by anyone else. However, using relationships in which there is a solid foundation like the ones I mentioned above as a model, it is clear to me that we can know and trust another person’s heart, their soul, their intentions, even while understanding that human beings hurt themselves and each other. It is part of our human condition.

When we say, “I trust you,” but we really mean, “Don’t hurt me,” or, “Don’t fail me,” or, “Don’t disappoint me”, or, “You owe me,” we aren’t really trusting, of course. When we say, “I trust myself,” but we really mean, “I’m counting on myself to get all the results I want and avoid all the results I consider harmful to me,” we aren’t really trusting ourselves.

With my kids, I think it’s a good thing to tell them I trust them, but only if how I treat them backs that up, and only if I’m not saying it in a subconscious effort to coerce them into good behavior by establishing an unwritten standard for their behavior. With myself, I think it’s a good thing to tell my inner child, but only as a genuine expression of true appreciation for my heart and soul and good intentions, and a recognition of my follow-through and integrity. With friends, I think it’s a good idea to express the trust I feel as a part of my expression of the love and appreciation I have for them and for our friendships.

In a romantic context? I am not sure. I think for me, at this point I can’t make global statements like that, because I am not fully aligned with them. So I think I have to get more granular and talk about circumstances, specific actions. “I appreciate that you consistently ask me if I’m done talking before responding to what I’ve said; it helps me feel more comfortable with you”, for example. Also, I want to express appreciation for a romantic partner’s heart & soul & good intentions, as I would with my friends or myself.

In addition to that, I need to have compassion for myself, for the fact that I have a hard time trusting men, and be an active advocate for myself and my well-being within the context of a romantic relationship. And I need to remember that in that kind of relationship especially, the person whom I need to rely upon and with whom build trust the most, is myself. It’s easier to truly trust others when we’re not depending on them to do the work we really need to do ourselves.

And of course, taking the risk of trusting someone is good and healthy, as long as we understand that no level of trust is a guarantee of any particular result. It’s an attitude, an extension. It can be a beautiful act of love when it is free of the weight of obligation. Essentially, I think trust, like forgiveness, is given for the benefit of oneself. It cannot be blind, and it must be free.

Dating: An Unexpectedly Positive Experience

So, it’s true. I did get called a “stuck-up punk bitch”. And a manhater. But, that was while messaging online. On the other, and much more substantial side of the coin, the four in-person meetups I have had, with four different men, have all been positive in different ways.

The first man wrote one of the kindest dating rejection letters I’ve ever received, in which he said I was awesome and listed out a couple of reasons why (easy to talk to, doing something inspiring and admirable with my divorce/keeping the family together/new partnership). He said he wasn’t the guy for me, and wished me best of luck in my search. It was a genuine note, and I really appreciated it.

The second man and I spent three hours talking at a restaurant, followed by an hour and a half of conversation later on. When he started texting me multiple times a day following that date, and then queried me about my lack of response (in one day), I told him that I’d meant what I said about not wanting to jump into a relationship, and that daily messaging like that felt too much like I was treating him like a boyfriend. He wrote an appreciative text back that started, “Wow, you’re direct. I like and respect that.” He understood and has respected my boundary, and still was willing to extend himself emotionally by telling me that he was really looking forward to our second date. I don’t know if I’ll wind up with romantic interest in him or not (way too early to tell), but so far he’s definitely someone I want to get to know better.

The third man was interesting, direct, very affectionate in nature, very interested in me. I don’t think he’s the guy for me (not a very involved parent, super sure that men and women are fundamentally different in wiring and makeup, a frequent interrupter, among other things). But he was nonetheless respectful, and asked if he could kiss me (thank god, because I HAVE to have that sort of commitment to consent, or I run the other way – too much really negative history) which gave me a chance both to say no and to thank him for asking.

The fourth man was sweet, shy, funny, shared some significant personal history with me, and is an admirable and very involved father. I am not, at least on first blush, attracted to him physically. So I replied to his post-date message telling him that I would like to be friends (which I would; he is someone I want to get to know better). In reply, he sent me acceptance, and a most wonderful compliment it took courage for him to be vulnerable enough to offer, in which he told me “you have a heart-melting smile, so someone that lights your fire should be along soon I’d think”. I was so moved.

This is all a new experience for me. Not adhering that closely to the beauty standard, and as well being insecure and sometimes downright self-hating, I have not been a person who has attracted the interest and attention and desire of multiple men at once. Doing so now feels like a challenge to my self-identity, in fact. But it is also revelatory in various ways. I weigh more than I ever have in my life. But I am as comfortable, if not more so, with my body than I ever have been in my life. I am carrying myself differently. I am inhabiting my body differently. I am more centered, more sure of myself. I am not going on dates worrying about how I look. I am not worrying about whether the guy in question will be attracted to me or like me. I am more open to possibility at the same time that I am not feeling the need for any particular outcome.

And I am meeting men who are willing to share their hearts and minds with me, who have all been kind in different ways, and who have all had interesting stories to tell, and who have been interested in mine. It’s a diverse bunch of people, too, in terms of race, background, profession, etc.

I did some internet dating in 1999, and again in 2005. This is by far the best experience of the lot overall. I think it has partly to do with age: by the time we’re pushing 50, many of us are more relaxed, more experienced, and more open. And it has to do with where I am and how I’m expressing myself.

I’m really grateful.

Dating and Other Social Conventions

I have not ever been much of a dater. I have either been single, or been paired off in a monogamous relationship. Now, at the ripe old age of 48, I am dipping not just a toe but both feet and maybe even a knee into this odd experience. Doing so is rapidly bringing me up against some of my areas of challenge, my discomforts, and the realities of our misogynistic world. It has also been revelatory in unexpected ways.

First off, filling out the “About Me” sections on a couple of the sites was an enjoyable process. I wasn’t thinking at all about how someone would perceive what I wrote or who I am: I just wrote out a thoughtful and to the point description of myself and what I like. And, to my immense surprise, my primary emotional reaction to doing so was, “Hey! I like myself! I am not just saying that I am strong and smart, etc.; I actually believe it!”

I like me. That is an enormous victory. I see that I am an extraordinary person with many gifts, and I am proud of what I have learned, the work I have done, and what I am doing.

Secondly, I am deliberately going against my historical pattern of spending so much more emotional energy on whether someone would or does like me than on whether I like them, that I over-accommodate and react and give away way too much before I’ve even realized it on a conscious level. So this time around I am consciously setting aside the question/projection of whether the guy would like me or not (and I have to keep doing so: this is an ancient pattern, hard to change) in favor of answering the question of whether or not I’m interested in him. I am swiping right whenever the answer to that question is, “Yes”, or even, “Maybe”. I am practicing “Yes”.

Doing so is showing me how automatic and firm our categories are, and how I have obeyed them over the years. Ie., “He’s traditionally handsome and fit. I don’t belong in that category. He won’t be attracted to me, and it’s totally reasonable that he won’t be.” Now I’m attempting to assess, as much as is possible, the whole person presented on the screen in front of me, and to answer my internal questions: “Would I like to have a conversation with this person?”; “Is this person emotionally/psychologically attractive to me?”; “Is this person physically attractive to me?” If the answers are yes, I swipe right, or like the profile. If the answers are no, I don’t.

Thirdly, I am encountering language from which I am usually bubbled off, and having to figure out how and why I am reacting to it in the way I am. For example, I have disliked the words “lady” and “gentleman” for as long as I can remember. One man described me in his message to me variously as, “young lady”, and “sweet lady”. To my significant surprise, when I wrote him back and said that as a feminist, the word lady is outside my vernacular, he had a direct, non-offended, and respectful response which included the following: “I like your profile because of the way you are talking about your past experiences. You write about yourself so freely that I can recognize the feminist you are. Talking about previous partners is not a common thing to see in man and woman profile; that include me too. I admire your courage and again the feminist you are.” So I wrote him back.

The exchange caused me to think more deeply about why I dislike those words. And here it is: they are associated with a morals-based code of thinking, dressing, and conduct which is problematic for all of us, in my opinion, but especially for women. Women who are “ladies” are expected to dress conservatively (don’t be a slut); act modestly (don’t be a slut); speak gently (don’t challenge the “natural” authority of men). Women who abrogate those rules can be punished in a variety of ways, from small to large. If someone calls me a lady, that is likely to tell me that he has expectations of women in particular and me in specific that feel dangerous to me. So many guys feel entitled to the attention, smiles, sexual availability, support, etc., of women. So many men feel entitled to sex if they pay for a meal. So many men feel entitled to a smile if they pay you a compliment. The list goes on.

I am not a lady by the regular definition: while I do my best to be respectful and polite to people in general, I am also direct; sometimes quite authoritative in my manner; have a powerful personality; have a pretty strong libido; don’t dress conservatively; and am only interested in having men open doors for me if they’re interested in reciprocal courtesy from me. Etc. Etc.

So my question is, if a man thinks I am a lady, will he actually respect me? And yes, that turns the traditional equation right over on its head.

Fourthly, I am allowing and encouraging myself to say no whenever I feel like it: not capriciously, but in accordance with my intuition and judgment. A man who does not appear to be interested in self-reflection is a man with whom I don’t wish to have either a friendship or a romance. A man who responds with hostility or diminishing language to my setting of boundaries or being clear is a man with whom I don’t even want to have any further conversation. Instead of accommodating, being silent on the subject, or making excuses, I am setting boundaries and saying no when I want to. I am practicing “No”.

I joked with a friend yesterday that I’m sometimes tempted to use the Evil Willow (from the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”) line: “Bored now.” I won’t do it, because I am aiming to treat others with respect and consideration. But sometimes I have to resist the urge to include the gif in my messages.

Fifthly, I am very conscious of the fact that women are quite regularly assaulted. Well-behaved women might rarely make history, but they are also frowned upon by quite a significant percentage of society. Going out to meet a man whom I don’t know feels inherently dangerous. And before you say this is an overreaction, look at the stats. I wish it weren’t so. I wish this were just a process of figuring out whether attraction is mutual or not. But it is not that simple. It just is not. And I have that voice in my head which says that if something happens to me, if a man does harass or assault me, I am to a degree asking for it by spending time in his company. That is a hard voice to quiet. So, I will have to take some precautions when I do agree to meet up in person with a man. And I will have to accept the risk. And I grieve and rage that simply by dating, I am increasing my risk. And I am moving forward anyway, because I want to have a full life, including a love relationship.

My conclusion is that dating, like everything else, presents rich opportunities for personal growth. I am hoping for some fun, too.

Matryoshkas, or, “There Be Dragons”

We think we know people. We spend our lives being surprised in ways little and large, when we discover newly observed things about them, or when our projections are revealed as coverings which prevented us from seeing who was actually on the other side. We cannot know anyone fully, but practicing openness and observation, learning not to personalize other people’s being, their actions and their words, can help us know them and us better.

Then there are the coverings we make for ourselves, the layers of person-like substance used to shield or project, to interface or to confuse. Sometimes they’re consciously designed; often they are the accretions of childhood experience, created in parts of our subconscious mind for defense or role-fulfillment, enjoyment, necessity.

I think of Matryoshkas, Russian nesting dolls. I think of dolls made not to blend, but a different personality in each layer, showing the complexities of which we all are composed.

The unexpected revealing of such layers can be a cause of celebration, of trauma, of delight, of pain, of confusion, etc. In any long-term relationship such reveals are inevitable, and can result in anything from rupture to consolidation.

A huge part of my current grief and pain is the shock I feel at discovering that my ex-fiancé was capable of doing things I would have sworn he would not. I feel betrayed, but I have to keep compassionately reminding my inner child that though some of his actions did betray our relationship, the reveal of more of his personhood is not about me at all. And really, as a grown-up I know that people are capable of all kinds of destructive action, as it is part of our human nature. When I look at the first sentence of this paragraph I realize that rather than grieving the fact that he *could* do X, Y, and Z, I grieve that he *would*, and did.

My loss is real, and not real. I did not have what I thought I did. But none of us ever do, quite. Because what we know of ourselves and of others is incomplete.

I am in the middle of a sea-change. I can’t see the shore behind me, and I don’t know where I’m going.

But I believe that we spend our lives creating ourselves, through thought and action, through the choices we make. And so as I open this self-doll to see the next one, I know I have some choice about who/what she is/will be.

As does the man who has been my beloved.

Self-care, modern and ancient

Some things of note in this time, during which I have been grieving the loss of an important relationship, my engagement to my ex-fiancé R.

The other day I was feeling quite uncomfortable in my body, walking home, feeling swollen and blistered and heavy in that self-hating way. So, I started enumerating out loud my body parts and sending them love: “I love my nose, I love my toes,” etc. When I said, “I love,” I meant, “I am sending love to”, and thus making the distinction between “I love = I feel good about”, which is not always possible for me, versus, “I love = I am treating myself with love”, which I can do even when I’m feeling self-disgust or self-hatred.

After several minutes of this, I started feeling better, more comfortable in my body, more at ease. I have to note this for the record so I remember to do it again later.

My friend Z showed me an app last night called, “Habitica”. It is meant to help you stick to your tasks by turning the whole thing into a game where you can go on a quest and get points for carrying out your list. It seems super fun, and has already helped me get this morning’s stuff done more completely than usual. You can also go on joint quests with other people, and we are going to do that. Therefore, you get community and mutual support, communication about your day, etc.

One of the things that I need and want to do, but with which I have been having a hard time getting into the rhythm of consistent practice, is my meditation/breath class homework. This class is based in Sufi traditions, and the homework includes saying repetitions of mantras. It is amazing to me what doing so brings up. This morning I actually did my homework, and it brought up for me the alienation and othering, and the sense of permanent inferiority due to my gender I feel in any context that has a religious element. “God” is portrayed as being masculine in fundamental nature. Therefore, being female, I am other, and I am lesser. This ties in with family of origin stuff. It affects me deeply. As I repeated the mantras, however, I was able to sink beneath the level of gender and access the meaning of what I was saying differently. By the end I was feeling more connected. Like any significant practice, it’s all about the long-game, and not my current mood-reaction, but I appreciate when it helps me in the moment, too.

I have been to a degree not aligned with improving my health and well-being, because getting better means (to that part of me) that it’s really over with the man who has been the love of my life. So I’m trying to treat all parts of me and my heart with compassion. And I know that no matter whether I ever get to have a powerful and mutual romantic relationship again, I am responsible for my own life and well-being, including how I approach things like food and sleep, as well as remembering to reach out and stay connected to my friends & family and wider community.

Now I am going to go buy a printer cartridge so I can print out the music for my next concert (after first tackling my intimidation and figuring out how to install said cartridge in said printer).

One step at a time.

The trap of the Asshole/Wimp dichotomy

I was recently going through Facebook posts from a few years ago looking for speech-related milestones for Joanna. Back then, I posted something every night, just about, on my blog. That is astounding to me. Such a rate of posting is now impossible in my current life. But it was neat to see. I have to remember to print those all out at some point, as a record of my kids’ early years.

Having been reminded of the existence of my blog, however, I decided that I wanted to note some of my thoughts on a topic which has been occupying my brain (and heart) lately. And that is, our cultural definition of masculinity and how it emasculates men.

Obviously, these are my own thoughts, not based on research directly, but on my personal experience and on things I’ve read over the years.

One of the cultural vices society places on women is the Madonna/Whore complex, in which there are only two options for women: be sexually chaste (and ignorant) and thus maintain your virtue long enough to arrive safely at your wedding day; or claim and express your sexuality, and in doing so embody Eve’s sin, damage your value to any husband you might trick into marrying you, and reduce your chances of ever being truly happy to zero.

This post is not about that, but I mention it to demonstrate how it prevents women from experiencing or expressing their whole authentic selves, as well as setting them up for all kinds of pain in relationships. And the answer to the problems presented by the perpetuation of that belief system (given specific life by Freud, of course) is not to attempt to find a magic spot somewhere in the middle, but to walk away from the paradigm altogether.

Similarly, I think, men are presented with two options in our society, from the very beginning of their lives as male-sex-organ-possessing babies. I’ll call this the Asshole/Wimp complex for the purposes of this post. To be more accurate in the way guys who are perceived to fall into the second category are derided, I should really use the slang term for female genitalia, but will desist for the sake of politeness.

Many other people have written about this, of course. But it has recently struck me with force how the definition of strength for men is exactly the opposite of what strength actually is, in my opinion.

I think that two of the most important lessons human beings can/should learn are: a) how to take care of themselves, and b) how to ask for help from others. In our culture, however, asking for help is viewed as such a sign of weakness, that the messaging boys and men receive is that they should resist with all their might even being aware of what they need, let alone asking for those needs to be met. And in lieu of doing so, they become focused instead on what they want, and then those wants get redefined as needs, which leads to a destructive sense of entitlement that has sometimes terrible consequences for themselves and everyone around them.

Men don’t need to rape women. But they’re told that their desire for sex is so natural and so powerful that of course they can’t be expected to contain it in the face of the provocation of all the whores out there. (And yes, of course rape is about all sorts of things, but I think it originates with a sense of entitlement to take what the rapist wants, in an exercise of power.)

Human beings do need connection. We are social animals. But we elide our need for connection with the want of having that connection be made and maintained with a particular person in the way we want it. And we respond to that elision in different ways. Men who are socialized never to admit or communicate what they actually need then sometimes just take what they want because that is the tool they’ve been taught and the tool they’ve exercised. And that is the Asshole side of the equation.

And other men who have been socialized never to admit or communicate what they actually need then sometimes pretend everything is fine while burning with building resentment; or they entirely suppress their awareness of their own needs; or they attempt to redirect those needs into a channel that feels safe to them. And that is the Wimp side of the equation.

As I said above, I believe that the answer to the gender dichotomies presented by society in the polarized characterizations and expectations of men and women is not to try to find a place of balance in between the two extremes (which is truly impossible to do, and equally limiting). Instead, we have to walk away from that construction altogether. But doing so is incredibly difficult, and cannot ever be totally managed. Patriarchy is the air we breathe, after all.

I think it takes incredible emotional courage, strength of will, psychological fortitude, and consistently practiced self-awareness to reject these paradigms.

For me, self-reliance in men looks so different than it has been characterized: it can be seen in a man who can and will put in the effort to be self-aware using both mind and heart to gain that self-awareness; it can be seen in a man who can and does communicate what he needs and wants, accepting that no one person can meet all those needs and/or wants, or is obliged to do so; it can be seen in a man who will allow and encourage other men and boys to explore the full range of their humanity; it can be seen in a man who listens to hear and not to rebut the voices of women and girls; it is a man who will stand up for himself without knocking others down.

We need to be having conversations about what we need, what we want, and what will work in any given situation and relationship. And we have to honestly state those wants and needs before we can move to practical, fair, and balanced solutions to the inevitable conflicts we humans experience.

Men, please say what you need and want. And be prepared for the fact you may not get it. But it is SO MUCH EASIER to figure out what to do with all the relevant data on the table.

Thank you. This has been my personal PSA for the week.