I’ve been thinking a lot about white men. Yes, the state of affairs in our country kind of begs the question, but I’m not just thinking about the out-of-work, ‘forgotten,’ rust belt men who voted for Donald Trump. I’m also thinking about the creative, smart, progressive 18 year old son of a friend of mine who confides in his mother that it’s hard to hear so much about how “white men” have screwed everything up. As a woman, I’m angry and anxious about what’s going on in this country, but I’m also concerned about men.
Trust me, I am a feminist, tried and true. What that means today is very different than what it meant 20 years ago when I started turning over the stones in my identity, searching for a voice I could call my own. It’s been a journey, for sure: I’ve been a lesbian for ten years, married to a man for 10 more, and, most recently, mother to twin boys. I was at the Women’s March this weekend and reveled in the rich, ‘nasty,’ diverse groundswell in Oakland, a grand public statement that gummed up the BART stations and moved like rolling waves along the edge of Lake Merritt. It was a sea of billowing, rousing consciousness. Fantastic! I, with others, am digging into questions about how those throngs become a movement, but I’m asking another question… one which many may respond to with, “who gives a f(*&!.” The question: What about men?
What about the men, the white men, who know that the patriarchy is bankrupt, or who don’t quite know what they know, but feel the wrongness, (just like so many of us women felt in the 50s and 60s before we began finding our voice). Men who don’t really have a viable sense of themselves as a different kind of man, don’t have a new story to tell, but are out there nonetheless. Women of many stripes and colors have been crafting their own stories for over 30 years, rich narratives that have burst forth from the voices, pages and paintbrushes of so many who were formerly silenced. By contrast, white men who care don’t have a story. …And white men who don’t care, have a story that doesn’t work for them any more, either. That’s why they voted for Trump.
We’ve done a pretty good job in the last 30 years of taking a hatchet to the white, male metanarratives that got us here. There’s a lot of good that’s come from that, but it’s also led to a crisis. You could call that crisis the next frontier. We have a nation of men who have no narrative to be proud of, no role that allows them to have dignity, a sense of pride in there ability to protect and provide, to partner, to care, to be meaningfully embedded in community, to stand for a different set of priorities, to connect with one-another — men who have no story that gives them a sense of being needed, valued, critical to the future as men.
Eh, you might say, they don’t need a story. The patriarchy is their story. They’ve had it for over 2000 years! Yes…but here’s the deal. The patriarchy screwed THEM over too.
My husband is reading a book now called The New Manhood by Steve Biddulph. It is a page-turner on this topic, helping men open their eyes to just how miserable so many of them are in their limited roles. If they really stop and acknowledge it, their lives feel empty, are devoid of inner reflection, they are isolated, maybe mildly depressed, maybe more so, and anxious. Some are even jealous that they don’t have a chance at telling a story. The one they were given just sucks, but, let’s face it, we’ve been telling them for a while to keep a lid on it. (Also see any of Michael Kimmel’s books, or To Be A Man, Robert Masters.)
There’s a lot of story to tell, too. Look at the lousy options most men have these days for ‘being men.’ Their entire worth hinges on a paycheck. They often work at jobs that aren’t inspiring in a culture that tells them (white, privileged men, at least) that they should be able to realize their dreams. They bond through watching other men on TV — super-heroic athletes — highlight after highlight, while they, themselves, are disconnected from themselves and one another, as if this state of affairs were inevitable to manhood. They have a sorely limited inner life, they are strangers to their own hearts. They struggle with being fathered by men who were part of an old story that doesn’t work for them, and they struggle with being fathers, not knowing how to do it differently. Straight, white men at least, are supposed to live up to all the new found/newly expressed needs of the women in their lives, women who have spent a good chunk of years learning how to express these needs, while they are still relatively mute, having grown up being taught that the very act of acknowledging a need was “unmasculine.”
Where are these new men’s stories that parallel women’s and minorities’? Stories that chronicle the broken promises of a patriarchal, capitalist, oh-so-limited set of options for feeling REAL. Stories of men who have discovered their emptiness, their voicelessness, feeling broken and then finding something anew, something that feels vigorous and true to the vitality they take themselves to be. A new purpose. I wonder if these stories haven’t been written because so many men don’t even know how much they are suffering and certainly, in today’s climate, they don’t feel they can talk about it.
Ok, so before anyone accuses me of a pity party for the patriarchs, I want to clarify that this isn’t about pity. It’s about concern. Concern about a lot of things most of us on the progressive side of things are concerned about now. For one, we need to be honest with ourselves about whether we, as women, run the risk of doing to decent men some version of what’s been done to us. I heard some powerful speeches from the stage at the D.C. march over the weekend — those women were on fire! But what is it like to hear that as the average, progressive, democratic voting guy? I don’t know, but if I was him, I’d start really not liking myself. To care about this, you have to be willing to look beneath the surface of the men we actually see. Pull back the veil (or rather the armor and posturing) and you can see that there’s a lot that’s not working there, a lot of hurt and loss of humanity. If we are to be honest with ourselves as women, we might choose to see that. We know a lot about what it is to lose your sense of personal dignity and value and ironically, one place that’s happening is in the deeper hearts of men.
But the other reason I’m concerned is because we actually need these guys! What I wish those rousing speeches said to men at the end this weekend was “Join Us! We need you!” “We’re pissed, but we need those of you who are beginning to see what’s going wrong to care, to stand up with us and figure out how you can help.”
We need you to proudly show America what the new man for our times really looks like. Who is he if not Donald Trump?
I wish those fiery, nasty, powerful, enraged, wise, strong women had issued forth a call to men to find the deeper meaning in their lives, to give up on making the job/higher wage a priority and to look to how they relate, parent, live in community, to look to other parts of that life can be rich and meaningful. The capitalist machine they’ve been channeled into is headed for disaster anyway. It’s unsustainable for this planet. Really. (Read any of the great writings of Charles, Eisenstein.) There’s no way we can continue the way we are going. At the very least, and most immediate, Millennial men in America don’t even have a chance at their parents ambitions. So let’s start hearing about the alternative!
What would a new, post-patriarchal vision of manhood even look like? What does partnership with women look like? Especially now, under a Trump presidency? What does it look like to realign your strength and nobility to protect this generous “mother” earth of ours? What does it look like for men and women to find the common ways in which they are oppressed by the existing culture and join arms together? What does it look like to 1.) listen to a “nasty woman,” 2.) not give up on your masculinity, and 3.) ask yourself who does she need me to be now? What does it feel like for a man who knows how to step aside and let a strong women in his life lead? There are many remarkable, post-patriarchal men out there already doing this. Be proud. Be partners. Tell your story. Let us know about it!
We, on the identity politics front, have spent a lot of time making sure the many distinctions in politics recognize our respective uniqueness. We were gay, then gay and lesbian, then gay and lesbian and bisexual, then questioning, then transgender, and that’s just in one category. But what about the distinction between patriarchal men and the men that are searching in the wilderness for something else? Shouldn’t we consider distinguishing between the men we really need to just plain shame out ofexistence, and the new men who can work in partnership to help create the better, sustainable world we need on this planet? We need to give men a shot at doing something differently, invite them to step into their shoes and claim their own, new story — a story where they can take their kind of lead in the fight we must take on. Perhaps these men have stories to tell about learning to listen, about learning to be leaders in partnership, leaders in showing how men can be followers, leaders embedded in coalitions, leaders not buried or bullied by others — be they patriarchs or be they … nasty women.
The men’s movement has been around for a long time in its various chapters, but it hasn’t got anything like the traction us women have in the last 30 years. I’m sure there are plenty of debates to be had about facets of that movement being more or less palatable to women, but maybe it’s time to start opening the door because, at the end of the day, as much as we’ve been under the spell of some crack-pot ideas that men historically had about women and some truly oppressive systems that grew out of their ideas …we need men. We need them in partnership — we need their respect. The planet needs their protection. At this crazy juncture in the democratic experiment, we can’t save the things we cherish without coalitions. The fight to overthrow the old order is just too great to take on with out them.
This great trajectory of women finding their strength, their voice, is a revolution unfurling. I invite men to begin a revolution of their own. One that doesn’t exclude us, like the last one did, but one that listens and includes us. One that they can proudly author. I can’t write that story, but with Donald Trump in the White House, and my two, young sons at home, I really look forward to reading it.