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 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.