Kindness

Foreigner, come.
Enter my house.
My door has been tightly closed in these times.
Plagues are about,
and there is much pain to fear.

You have been there, outside,
for a thousand and more days now.
I catch you watching me through the windows.
Patient, attentive, and curious.

Yet I keep out anyone new.
Those I don’t know well enough,
to trust,
to rely upon,
to admit to my shelter
against the pain.


Today, though, something changed.
Today, my fears were upended
for one brisk moment,
worn down,
by a curiosity
of my own.

I suppose I could not hold back the smile on seeing you.
How, after all, could you wait so long?
so patiently?
so interested?
so willing?
yet so peacefully un-insistent?

What in this world does that?

I can see now,
you have been the friend all this time
who came knocking
because of the grave circumstances.

And all the while, I closed my door to your goodness,
I guarded myself against the unfamiliar.
How foolish to keep out
the best friend I will ever know.

You bring no danger.
You are generous and ask for nothing.
You are gentle, spirited, and light-hearted.
Your touch is so delicate
it breaks hearts open
to God.

Come then, friend,
enter my home.
Become the warm tea I will drink
and the comfort we discover as
– in meeting –
we arrive at our true purpose together.

After all, we were made for each other
you and I,

pain

and the kindness that waits for it.

I made my soul familiar — with her extremity —
That at the last, it should not be a novel Agony —
But she, and Death, acquainted —
Meet tranquilly, as friends —
Salute, and pass, without a Hint —
And there, the Matter ends —

– Emily Dickenson

In Rumi’s Fields

In Rumi’s fields
beyond the contours
of right and wrong-doing
you can find me
finding my true self.

For years I searched the earth
navigating for answers in the knotted wind-blown grasses.
But this mid-morning
in place of answers, a peacefulness reaches me there.
Beckoning from the far edges of my awareness,
from the home of all I don’t know.

Perhaps it traveled on the vibrating hum of the bee song?
Or, in the wind that filtered up through the old oak tree,
the underbelly of its spring leaves flashing and flirting with the sky?
Perhaps it came from the heart of the world.

Beyond right and wrongdoing, you are what you are.
Neither oak nor bee, but human.
Irreplaceably, individually, humanly you.


Understand. These words were not spoken.
They were signals cast across consciousness
making clear
in bee song
how bees sing bee,
(not the sharp alarm of the falcons
also circling the skies,)
making clear
the oaks dress this way in the spring,
(not pining for the pine needles that hold on
tight through the winter,
sap-laden and Cyprus strong.)

You are only what you are.
In the great network, long ago,
your own sovereignty
was already chosen.

And this was how I listened today,
in Rumi’s fields,
where languages I don’t know
I don’t know
were spoken
and I found myself fallen open,
beyond answers or questions,
to the listening.


It was as a child in Europe
where I began to search for answers in the fields.
I hoped, myself, to become the language between seasons,
the sentences that could tie things together,
that could tie my family together,
one precious season to the next.

In those fields,
a generation earlier
men’s bodies had lunged forward into battle.
And were lost.
The men who returned
were lost to their bodies.
In those fields,
mothers turned cold,
their lips tightening,
holding back the truths of their
broken hearts. (One doesn’t talk about it.)

But this hidden history called out, “see me!”
through my parents’ and grandparent’s eyes.So I navigated the knotted, wind-blown grasses,
gathering up ghosts and abandoned memories on my back,
offering my shoulders to the grief.
I ate the poison others couldn’t,
believing If I swallowed it all,
it would give me the understanding others had lost,
…and with understanding
I could find the words others refused to speak,
…and with words
I could form sentences for the stories I would write
…and with stories
I could make us whole.
I could mend the loss.
I could keep us safe.
I could bind us together.

I was a child.
A collector of bullets.
A lover of words.
A lover.
But I took
what wasn’t mine.


Five decades later,
a continent away in California,
the bee song reaches me for the first time.

Perhaps I can hear it today
because after all these years
my shoulders have finally tired of gathering ghosts.
Perhaps because my eyes are weary of the search
and the steady chorus is so velvety,
so enticing,
I can’t help but surrender.
Perhaps, it is because I am becoming the girl I was,
before the girl I became.
Perhaps because the real world reaches us,
only when we are readied to receive it.

You can’t carry what belongs to the lives of others… the grief they cannot bear is not yours to carry… what they abandon is theirs for the reclamation… be who you are in this one, precious life… love simply, what you love, simply.

And this is the part in my searching I had missed all these years.
Not that their weight wasn’t mine to bear,
but that this is OK.
It is more than OK.
It is my birthright.
This family of trees and insects greets me.
They buzz and flicker — “What took you so long? Join us in the homecoming!”

Like the Great Oak, that king of the open field,
whose seasonal thirst draws up through taproots,
and whose outreached branches flutter and flirt their new growth,
my heart now tends to its own sovereignty.
I need only enjoy the play of the wind
on my own arms, uplifted,
outstretched palms turned open to the sky.
Take me as I am.

I see, drawn out of the ether,
that it is kindness and honesty
that allow me to be delicate,
innocent,
human,
this way.

A thread circles down along the seams of my awareness
rooting me gently,
into the top layer of the earth.
How many of us have carried the weight of our forebearers’ unthinkable losses?
How loyal we have been in the carrying.
How loyal in our love.
How many of us have spent all our lives searching for bullets and ghosts
in the battlefields of our ancestors?
How our forebearers would surely wish for us to be free!


Beyond right and wrong-doing,
seeing, now, what is simply mine,
I lay down the losses, the bullets, and the ghosts.
I am worth it.
Worthy of my own irreplaceable weight.
No one asked me to hold anything together.
The holding is already here.
It is part of the Great Design.

This, then, my greatest generosity.
Not that of a child hoping,
against hope,
to tie the broken world back together.
But the gift of a woman

receiving my birthright.

My one life.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about. — Rumi

Looking over an Adirondack chair into a valley edged by wooded hills.
Bell Valley Retreat, Boonville, CA

Witches and Wild Fires

For too long we have been silenced
by voices that wrongly speak to what is “natural.”
For too long
we have fallen asleep to ourselves.

For too long
we have taken what they have taught us
about “women,” “men,” and “nature”
to be true.
We have abandoned our courage
losing knowledge of our true power.

We have left it to the “men,”
who saw through the eyes of war and trauma,
the ones who lost their way,
and taught their sons to hold back tears with “strength.”
These men who began to take what wasn’t theirs for the taking,
who assumed the abundance around us,
was simply there, like breast milk,
for our survival and benefit alone,
we have left it to these men
…to build our world.

For too long we have closed our eyes and settled,
saying “boys will be boys” and “men will be men,”
we have failed to say
“No.”
“No.”
“This must happen with reverence.”

For too long, we have settled for a world
forged by this “strength” and “power,”
billed as “natural,”
but built,
instead,
on fear and cowardice,
against nature.

For too long
even the strong woman among us
have been asleep,
even those of us
– like me –
who once believed ourselves awake.

For too long we have betrayed ourselves.
Our earth.
Each other.
All of us have.


In the dreams of our deep sleep,
modern priestesses have been gathering.
Witches in hippie robes
carrying crystals and herbs
have stirred up archetypes
in a brew for our awakening.
We brush them off with scorn and ridicule
believing ourselves the ones who know.

Nevertheless, they have persisted.
Working against the tide,
they resurface the old stories and wisdoms,
studying the body and nature from old,
anew,
because they have seen clearly
that if we are to save ourselves
nothing else matters.

For my five decades
I have mocked this tribe as others have,
for their fringe, womanish, heteronormative, freakishness.
But what if the Witches know best?
And who is paying the price,
as we approach our slow and steady extinction,
for staying asleep while they awaken?

The tribes of Witches know, after all,
that the path to true power
is birthed not in deviance,
but from heartache and despair.
Those chosen to walk it
are taken into the dark,
pried open to the truth,
anointed in the deeper currents.

Walking upon it,
bereft and lost,
we all eventually fall to our knees,
recognizing in the falling that
the great turning only happens
at the doorway of devastation.

When the courage finally finds us,
to turn towards the grief,
the tears begin to fall,
forming rivers around our ankles.
When we find ourselves able to stand again,
to stay standing,
held up in faith,
our palms turned up to the sky
…we have come home.

I join this tribe today.
Persevering, not only through my grief,
but the grief of generations past.
Allowing layer upon layer to rise up.
The anger and hate, the hurt and sorrow, the rape and denigration, the self-doubt and self-betrayal.
All this comes
with certain ferocity and Grace
as the elixir of the Great Reveal flows forward.

We, the women,
and the gender-queer.
We the “they,” and the “them.”
We, the new and noblemen.
We who have seen the contours and consequences
of who we were told we were and seen through to a new horizon.
We who have witnessed
what has been lost
and survived,
we who have cried are dissolved, then,
in the riverbeds of our tears.
Joining the rivers first cried by hippie priestesses.

… And the current is quickening now towards the ocean.

We come not only from Glastonberry and Esalen,
but from the cities and countryside.
We come from all directions,
North, East, South and West.
We walk through the water out of therapist’s offices
with reclaimed strength.
We walk out of poet-song,
with the guidance of Sophia.
We walk in the desert canyons,
with the scent of medicinal plants on our fingertips.
We walk out of meditation halls,
with the stillness of a far deeper Truth in our hearts.
We walk on the front lines of gender-queerness,
where the revolution, itself, is happening.
No matter our genitals,
we walk the path of the new,
feminine Warrior.

And somewhere, on a quiet night,
after years of walking the path to home-coming,
years when we are raw,
under sun, moon, and stars,
as the healing waters lap at our ankles,
we receive the gift of life again
that for all this time we thought lost: Our True Value, our Birthright.

That birth-right: The vulnerability, mystery, inter-dependence, tenderness and surrender within us, that constitutes life itself.
That birth-right: The Love that connects us.
The connection that loves us.

What, on our deathbed, other than these things,
what?
Beyond everything else in this man-made world,
will matter more?

Answer this.


I wake from the disorder
to this new dynamism.
I embrace the dreams of Witches
with the eyes to see the world right-side up.
I stand in the warm running waters,
ready to plant my stake in the ground.

I do not care what you see in me –
Hippie priestess
Wild woman
Heathen
Queer
Wimp
Slut
Pussy
Old hag
Nut-job
Fat
Ugly
Nasty
Witch
Bitch

I do not care what anyone thinks of me.
I do not care for anything
but
the great Care, itself.

I stand.
I stand awake in the warm running waters.
I stand for waking up.
I stand for making things right with the animals and plants.
For tending to the sick, the forgotten, the children, the poor, and the suffering.
I stand for seeing my right place in the grand design and taking it,
with strength and humility.
I stand for seeing what I have missed,
in “others,”
in women,
in men,
in darkness,
in the great deep, creative feminine,
in you.

I stand for seeing
the fields of native wild rye,
the brittle leaves,
the swarming bees,
and the wildfires that are taking them all.
I stand for discovering
in the ashes and rivers of grief that carry them,
that we are not who we have come to believe we are.
I stand for opening to this mystery
because
God damn it,
nothing else on a burning planet,
after four thousand years,
has worked.

I stand
for breaking rules,
for breaking the delusions,
for turning towards our grief,
for turning our world right-side up.



The eyes of my eyes are awakening.
The ears of my ears are listening.
For too long I have been silent
but now with these words, I stand.
Flanked by allies in the waters of the Warriors.
With Love and with fury.

I stand.

A woman silhouetted against a pink streaked sky stares into a small crystal ball that she extends out in front of herself with one hand. She is reflected upside down within the ball.
Image by Garidy Sanders (Unsplash)

The Racism/Patriarchy Connection And How We Work To Address Them Both

Until we face it, we can’t heal it.

Maybe it takes two months of restless confinement across a country beset by the stress of a pandemic and the manhandling of a delusional President before the national news headlines finally pay consistent attention. White violence against black people in America is, of course, nothing new. It was woven into the conditions of our country’s birth and lives in us, today, un-reconciled, as our worst legacy. The protests aren’t new, either, but the recent attention in the media, and especially, albeit incrementally, from more white Americans and American businesses might be seen as a bronze lining, at least, rising out of some of the direst months on recent record in American history.

But even amidst the promise that something positive might surface from the heart-wrenching death of George Floyd, something else that’s central to what is happening is not being talked about. Something so obvious, so visible, yet so internalized in most of us that we don’t even think to mention it: that is, that the violence enacted by police officers against black Americans is exclusively perpetrated by white men.

Like racism, which lives in our culture in insidious ways that evade mention, the kind of masculinity that feeds violence against black Americans pivots on a need to dominate and assert superiority in order to protect the underlying, fragility of patriarchal self-esteem. This factor contributing to the violence we are witnessing in America remains largely unconscious and absent from public dialogue.

We talk about violence as a human issue, but, if you look at who perpetrates most violence, all humans are far from equally prone to enact it. In the aftermath of these tragedies, networks stream talk about gun restrictions, the second amendment, Trump supporters debate Democrats on where blame lies for the violence on the front lines of policing; if we are lucky, we hear mention of mental illness, but what is consistently missing in all this framing is that the violence, itself, is bound up with something equally central and visible that’s calling for our attention.

To be clear, what follows is not an anti-male screed polarizing the moral superiority of women against men’s barbaric inferiority. For one, white privilege does not discriminate between white men and women, it infects us all equally. By virtue of growing up white, white women, like me, are raised with the million and one privileges of being white I have the privilege and luxury of taking for granted every daily. Racism is not a white man’s issue, but violent acts with racist overtones may be.

In pointing to men as the violent perpetrators here, I want to be clear that I’m also not claiming women are superior to men because the humbling reality of life and death on this planet is there is no superiority that any of us can claim over one-other. We are all equally, and imperfectly, human. So, in highlighting the role of white men in violence against black Americans, any assumptions here that what I have to say is no more than an anti-male screed would reflect the kind of defensive, insecure reaction white people have when we are told we are racist. If you are a man, or a woman bristling against ‘another feminist rant,’ then reading on now means you are willing to open your mind and heart to be part of the solution.

While white women with white privilege and racist templates, like me, are also police officers, it is the male police officers whose racist indignation and white privilege have crossed the line into violence, yet this is the issue that in reporting on this violence is never directly addressed. It is white men who dominate black men, their knees on their necks, seeking to express their so-called “power” over them. It is also these men, or, rather, sadly, boys, not women or girls, who have been wielding assault rifles on schoolyards and at community gatherings gunning down children in record numbers in the last four years. To be sure, not all men are violent, and yet somehow something we seem to be blind to is allowing us to avoid the reality that almost all the violent perpetrators reported in the news of late are men. Why is no one pointing this out? Why is no one asking what is really going on in men’s lives that’s pushing them, and not other men, in the direction of racist violence?

As a culture, we remain largely asleep to how norms of patriarchal masculinity promote the corruption of men and provide the seedbed for racism and violence.

That said, I am writing a screed against our widespread, unconscious, default, “boys will be boys, blame it on the testosterone, violence is just something that shows up in some errant men’s nature” perception of masculinity. This default is so effectively internalized in us — as men and women, of almost all races, genders, and backgrounds in our patriarchal culture — that even after over a hundred years of feminism, and centuries of white-male on black violence, and after four years of record level, senseless, homicidal assault in our headlines, we continue to debate these issues without mention of the ever-predictable sex of the perpetrators.

Why don’t we ask why? Perhaps we don’t take note of the glaring fact that it is always men precisely because we are steeped in a patriarchal culture that normalizes the violent behavior of men, that views it as a reality we must resign ourselves to, that fears the self-reflection that will be forced by such a question, that feels too helpless or too apathetic to change, as is, so often the case with white people and racism. But that resignation, that normalization, is precisely what obscures awareness of the problem, closing out the conscious and creative space for an alternative.

The Gender Revolution And How We Are Still Raising Patriarchal Boys

What do I mean by an alternative? To suggest an alternative to our unconscious defaults around masculinity is to come from a perspective that sees and lives beyond the gender binary, one that has been informed by the movements of courageous groups and individuals that have challenged patriarchal norms, now, for decades. These challenges started over a hundred years ago with the first wave of feminism and have proliferated, with ever greater momentum, in the subsequent unfoldings of gender-queer activism. They were born out of the damage done by a patriarchal culture that, depending on one’s genitals at birth, assigns us to two boxes of mutually exclusive, idealized behavior. Those boxes, and the social norms and shaming that perpetuate them, cut us off, once assigned, from swaths of human potential assigned to the opposite box. This conditioning happens at a great cost, far greater than we realize— for us all.

In a remarkably short time, our era’s post-patriarchal movements have had monumental success in supporting more people in claiming more of themselves and their humanity without shame. They have required courage, compassion, empathy, and no small amount of creativity. However, one area of gender identity that remains starkly untouched by this revolution is the (cis) gendered, heterosexual masculinity that continues to condition most boys. Relatively unchanged is the “man-box” that propagates a self-reliant, tough-man, uncommunicative standard of masculinity, harshly policed by societal shame.

Before another conclusion is drawn, here, that I’m heading towards a bid for the compassionate, condoning of white racist violence, I’m not. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we don’t look more closely at (white) men’s conditioning as a root problem of violence, we won’t succeed in our efforts to work our way out of this truly, horrible mess.

Men Aren’t Bad

It isn’t hard to find ourselves thinking that if the vast majority of violent perpetrators are men, male violence is really about something that just happens with the testosterone thing, right? Aren’t men just more prone to it? It comes with the territory, no? With the long, evolutionary arc of men learning how to stalk down mountain lions. It will always be with us, it’s just the way God designed it. Or, maybe it’s just those few, errant bad men, but not the rest of us. Really, Donald Trump is most to blame for fueling racist rhetoric, setting off already trigger-happy racists.

The trouble with all these perspectives is not so much that they are wrong, but that they all allow us to sidestep a closer look at men and the causes of violence. They all allow us to shirk questions and responsibly as a society for how our culture trains many men through patriarchal masculinity into becoming ticking time bombs, highly susceptible to these, and other influences.

And if that masculine conditioning does play a role, how can we progressives who are advocates of feminism, LGBTQ rights, and living beyond the gender binary continue remaining quiet about the lynch-pin masculinity that holds the whole patriarchal machinery together with such tragic cost?

Men become violent, maliciously violent, when raised in a family or culture that glorifies or hails certain attributes with manliness, hailing them at the expense of a boy’s access to his humanity. When self-reliance, dominance, authority, winning, power, superiority, control, physical invulnerability, and the denial of our all-too-human emotional and physical needs are disciplined into a child — especially when discipline with the use of force and public shaming — a dangerous and volatile machine is built. It is not just the ascription of value to these fixed attributes and to men/boys, but the hiving off of others attributes of human experience that has such traumatic impact. Human qualities including emotions, (other than anger), our inherent inter-dependence, the intrinsic value of our bodies, hearts, partnership, care, need and vulnerability, are all associated in the patriarchal gender binary with women and, tragically, also, with un-manliness. That is where the damage happens.

When boys are raised — as was our President — to believe they should be all-man and, come hell or high water, disavow anything “feminine” in themselves, they learn that to have any worth at all they must disown much of their daily experience.

This learning happens in micro-events overtime where tears are blocked by shame, arms learn not to reach out for help, bodies tighten into impenetrable toughness, and islands of withdrawn silence get created, holing men away, increasingly out of touch, even with themselves.

Yet while it is easier to see something wrong with our President’s braggadocious masculinity, or with men’s violence in news headlines, when we write this kind of behavior off as the action of errant men, we create what in family therapy is referred to as an ‘identified patient’. We isolate out in one individual a problem that is systemic, and that, on some level, touches the lives of all men. In this way, with patriarchal masculinity, all boys and men are taught they should not have feelings, their bodies should not have any non-sexual needs, and they must never, ever, should never let their self-doubt and vulnerability show.

Especially in highly alpha-patriarchal-male cultural contexts, this arrangement primes the pump for men to project the “un-manly” parts of their all too human experience out onto what then gets deemed as lesser “others.” Hiving off and ejecting parts of their experience creates not only an unstable, disembodied, unconnected, less than human, man. That man is then constantly under threat from his own experience or feels under threat from the “other” he projected it onto. Brittle and prone to cracking, men raised to assume this kind of manhood will avoid the threat of un-manliness and the shame that goes with it at any cost. Patriarchally Conditioned Men + Shame/Humiliation = Violence. We see it in male perpetrators of domestic violence as we do in violence against Black Americans. Verbally, of course, this violence takes the form of bullying and abuse. Physically, it takes the form of … putting a knee on the neck of a defenseless black man.

Until he suffocates.

[pause.

grief.

breath.

…]

The Inhumanity of Patriarchal Masculinity

These are some of the very feelings – grief, sadness, helplessness, overwhelm, wanting, despair, that many of us are feeling in America today, that patriarchal men are taught to disavow in order to secure their self-worth. When the stress arising from their own losses and failures rises up in these men’s lives, they feel they have nowhere to go other than emasculation, a total loss of self-worth. Instead, they turn to the reactivity that appears to help them avoid these experiences. In the assertion of physical strength or verbal violence, they are resurrecting the sought-after superiority of “real manhood.”

For black men who have carried the brunt (along with black women) of the projections of so much of what white men and women can’t tolerate in themselves, the problems forged by patriarchal masculinity are even more insidious. This is especially the case since violence against white men carries far greater risk for black men than the reverse risk for white men. Black men are carrying a disproportionate amount of our societal stress and trauma, often making black on black male violence a heart-rending consequence of the crushing burden of both racism and patriarchy experienced by black men.

But because the levers of cultural power still rest in the hands of white people, much of the harm perpetuated in patriarchy is leveraged from that source. When a white, patriarchally-conditioned man feels self-contempt for not living up to the tough, strong, masculine bar set for him, the consequences for others are greater. This, of course, is the situation our country has been in under Trump’s presidency.

It’s no coincidence that Trump is both a racist and the poster-child (yes, he’s largely a child in a man’s body) of narcissistic patriarchal masculinity. Trump likely lost access to his own humanity in the first five years of his life.

Raised by a father, (and later, with violence, in a military academy), who taught him through word and deed never to fail and never to show a lick of vulnerability, and by a mother who taught him he could do no wrong, Trump is the template of the kind of white man preoccupied, incessantly, with projecting out his all-too-human vulnerabilities, identifying “failure” and “weakness” in others. For the righteous, white man to live supreme, then, for him to remain “a man,” someone, either women, immigrants, Democrats, journalists or black and brown people must be forged into the inferior “other” they can dominate. In this way, the patriarchal white man’s own self-hatred gets projected out in his effort to preserve an image of himself as “good” or “righteous,” “a man” worthy of his own existence. Caught between hatred of others and hatred of himself, he is a wrecking ball and it is that kind of masculinity, especially in the White House, that is quite a price of “real manhood” that all of us pay.

Patriarchal Racism

Enter racism, or at least, as I see it, patriarchal masculinity as one of its key tributaries. What better way to reassert superiority than to craft a group of people into the shape of badness, criminality, and inferiority, to reduce them to unintelligent, diminished ‘bodies’ marked with color so that goodness, righteousness, superiority, intelligence and the power to mark others can be self-secured. And, yes, add hormones, pre-existing templates of racism, and stress to the cultural shame and humiliation a man might feel and this cultural conditioning acts like the gasoline on a pre-existing fire.

And it is this gasoline, this easily flammable substance in our midst, that no so few are talking about, the invisible, toxic substrate of patriarchal, so-called “real” masculinity that continues to shape the lives of too many boys and which we still, all too often, take for granted as a given in, and for, men. It is the single greatest factor driving the dominating imperative in Trump’s behavior, seen by many yet rarely mentioned on news panels, (along with his pathological narcissism). This highly volatile substance with such high cultural cost remains sidelined to the discussions of aging feminist academics, rarely addressed in public discourse. We wring our hands about the violence, hoping for legislation or the courts to address it, wondering why it has become so bad… and we overlook what is right in front of us.

To address the continual hurt of racist violence against black people in this country, then, I am arguing that we must address patriarchal standards of masculinity. Conversely, we also can’t champion a world beyond the gender binary and leave this territory of patriarchal masculinity un-touched. And, again, this in not about pity and a forgiving coddling of the white men who perpetrate violence. It is about exposing something that keeps these men in a cage they don’t know how to get out of because our culture, through its very definition of masculinity, throws away the key.

Racism Needs Attention On Its Own Terms

To be clear, in pointing the finger at patriarchal masculinity, I’m not saying it trumps our concerns about racism. Nor am I saying that if we address patriarchal masculinity, it would naturally solve our nation’s racism problem. White privilege and racism make up a twisted, cultural knot weaving ‘white’ and ‘black’ people together in a dysfunctional, inter-dependent, traumatically informed matrix that needs to be recognized and dismantled on its own terms, with all the feeling and healing that involves. For our country to heal its foundational racism, we need to address racism in its blatant and the more insidious forms. All of us who care about this need to risks ways of declaring “THIS MUST STOP!” and we must keep declaring it, as we never have before. We also need to step back and support those we, as white people, have failed to listen to, those we have silenced, or responded to defensively when WE have been asked to stop. We must find ways to tolerate our own shame and refuse to forget that this country’s security, health, integrity, and wellbeing will always be in question if the trauma that separates us from one another in racism is not addressed. If we do not make changes, not simply in our laws and institutions and where we invest our money, but also in our white obliviousness, there will be no change. And yet, I am suggesting here that even this work will only be partial in helping to loosen the grip of inequity, racism, and white on black violence, if we do not also address the root role played by patriarchal masculinity.

Women Aren’t Any More ‘Good’ Than Men

So, as the intersectionalists well know, the situation is complex. I’m not saying it all boils down to racism or to patriarchy, and importantly, I’m also not saying men are more prone to racism or even patriarchy than women. Women, too, can do plenty of harm and white women are hardly immune from racist and sexist cultural conditioning. As white people, after all, whether male or female, we grow up enjoying the spoils of white privilege, spoils greater still for economically privileged white women. Spoils that hinge on, and perpetuate racism. But also, as women, the vast majority of us internalize many troubling patriarchal, cultural norms. We are raised into a distorted dependency on men, men whom we then protect and protect ourselves from, subtly validating the patriarchal myth of masculine, self-reliant strength and invulnerability.

Women who internalize patriarchy enable patriarchy’s “man-box”, often cowing to their sense of privilege, fragility and superiority, too often, also, enabling their emotional arrest.

For many of us, trying to protect men’s self-esteem in some unconscious is the equivalent of protecting ourselves. Plenty of patriarchally-conditioned women, then, weave ourselves into the racist-patriarchal knot alongside our men — an insidious, complex, and troubling reality we must begin by facing squarely.

Much of What Is Now On Offer For Change Won’t Work

In short, we cannot address the issues of violence, and racist violence, without addressing the cultural norms for masculinity that create the need to dominate. Towards this end, ironically, we may need to turn towards the impact of those masculine norms with some spirit, or will, to understand them, yes, empathically, but, at the same time, not for the purpose of dismissing accountability.

Beyond blame and shame as a culture, we need to understand more about patriarchal masculinity so we can work to create alternative paths that allow more men to be more human, less volatile, less dependent on making someone else bad, less prone to preserve for themselves an unrealizable category of “manhood.”

Men need to do this work themselves, yes, but those who want it to happen need to believe in it and support it where it exists. And for those who may erroneously think that dismantling patriarchal masculinity is about ‘turning men into women’ or feminizing them, it is not. It is about having a vision for our culture and society for a more robust, purposeful masculinity that provides more opportunities for (cis)men to develop into confident, generous humans in ways that help them love and respect more — and hurt less.

David Tacey, a New Zealander academic and lecturer who has reflected deeply on the journey of forging a post-patriarchal masculinity writes in his book Remaking Men: “We live in a complex time where we (men) have to come to terms with the paradox of men’s power and men’s pain. The ability to sustain this paradox, (the ability for men to be able to become conscious of) the tension between their power and pain, is what constitutes full psychological health in a post-patriarchal world.” Towards this end, I would argue that most of the current solutions our culture holds up in response to racial violence and violence against women, are, in fact, not going to provide an adequate solution:

  • The defensive, conservative ‘solution’ that makes excuses for unacceptable behavior, casting blame elsewhere, sidestepping accountability for racism and racist violence — sidesteps the misuse of power. It clearly does not solve the problem because it fails to acknowledge it.
  • Inversely, the hope that criminal justice and the incarceration of men (white or black), blaming or shaming, will teach them a lesson and solve the problem, is also misguided. Incarceration may be a necessary consequence, but a violent or shaming response to violence only tightens the levers for men, hiving off their pain in ways that promote the violence or self-hatred in the first place.

While real-life consequences for criminal, racist activity are essential, then, they do not solve the problem; they just put it behind bars. And in terms of other punitive solutions like firing people from their jobs or publically vilifying them or calling them racist, this will also not solve the problem. It may name something, declare it appropriately unacceptable in public view, “outing” what has for too long been hidden, but it will fail to be generative without including some viable path in the aftermath for (un)learning, healing and reconciliation.

How We Can Promote Change

Foregrounding Alternatives — Raising Boys Differently — Challenging Norms — Recognizing Role Models

There are ways our culture at large can mobilize the kind of change we need to make fundamental shifts in addressing racial and sexual violence. All of these initiatives, however, require that we first directly name and acknowledge the patriarchy problem — just as we need to acknowledge more thoroughly the racism that exists ubiquitously in our white privilege.

We need the courage and strength of heart to hold in mind that it is not the person, but what that person has been taught, that is killing us, that the crime lies in how they have been tragically led to believe their value depends on defending an ill-construed, shame induced, fragile identity at any cost.

It will then take great courage and stamina, insistance, resilience and creativity, strong faith and conviction, and a huge national push, to start the hard work of acknowledging and dismantling a worldview that lives insidiously in us and that has caused such great distortions around who we are, and can be, as humans for hundreds of thousands of years.

It is no small task, but the good news is that this work is already well on its way. It is our time in human history for it to happen and we not only have momentum, but we are increasingly being shown we have no choice. Towards that end, our actions to address the patriarchy-racism complex might focus on the following:

  1. Challenging norms of patriarchal masculinity with the same dedication that feminist and the LGBTQI movements have brought to those same problematic norms for women and nonbinary persons. We need the kind of cultural challenge — the discussion, debates and activism— that creates space for alternative ways of being a (cis) gendered man, alternatives that allow for more authentically confident, engaged, compassionate, empathic and collaborative men who are able to listen and act with wisdom, maturity, thoughtfulness and a sense of their own goodness as leaders and partners. Similarly, we need to recognize the utter insufficiency of only one masculinity studies graduate program in the United States. Support for the transformation of patriarchal masculinity needs research on where it is and is not happening, and public attention, where it is. Finally, in the media, that means continuing to report on male violence recognizing that it is just that, male violence. We must not erase the masculinity problem in the same ways that both blatant and subtle racism are ignored, dismissed and rendered invisible in our public dialogue.
  2. Beyond incarcerating, we need to create real, inner change and understanding in people who commit racist (and sexist) crimes. We need a movement that seeks to require perpetrators as part of their sentence to engage in sustained, experiential learning about racism and its history. White perpetrators should be required to work with other white people to unpack their white privilege, learning to listen to, and witness, the feelings and words of people of color. They need to be able to see what the alternative looks like. If white perpetrators undergo this training and find themselves willing to become teachers and leaders, themselves, their sentence could be reduced and, on parole, they could serve as role models, receiving supported in taking what they have learned out into community-based education.
  3. Building awareness in men of the human cost of patriarchal masculinity. Educating white perpetrating men about racism, will likely not work — as I have been arguing in this article — unless male perpetrators are supported in learning about the history of patriarchal oppression, most specifically about the ways they have been raised in the straightjacket of patriarchal masculinity. This is not just head-centered learning — it is experiential, it is inter-personal, it is a process and one that, surprisingly, when men are given a safe container to engage, they are much relieved to enter. (See Peggy Orenstein’s latest book, Boys and Sex.) Unpacking the lynch pin of patriarchal masculinity ultimately allows men to have feelings without being told they are weak, it opens the door for empathy, allowing them to recognize their needs and begin to take responsibility for the hurt and scared younger parts of them. Only when that healing journey begins can a man emerge who can take responsibility for the harm he has done, or the harm done in his name. Only the birthing of empathy for their own and, by extension, another’s full humanity, will the tension be occupied between “power and pain,” the heart of a racist perpetrator opened, waking up the will to change.
  4. On a preventative level, we need more initiatives that support the development of healthier masculinity.
  • As a society, we need to foreground a discussion about the way we raise and educate boys. Educational practices that are well underway in many schools today exposing stereotypes of women, LGBTQI’s and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds should include stereotypes of masculinity. Cis-gendered, white boys need to know there is an alternative, healthier, more robust, resilient, socially engaged and compassionate self-esteem they can experience as boys. More parents of sons need to educate themselves about gender stereotypes, finding ways to themselves not shame and perpetuate the ‘man-box.’ We need to find ways to provide more boys with opportunities that expose them to healthier role modes, rites of passage and healthy mentoring and guidance around their sexuality, their relationship to the natural world, and their physical strength and anger. These cultural forms would allow them to develop a sense of purpose, value and self-responsibility providing a more authentic sense of pride, compassion and access to the fuller range of their human experience.
  • Progressives and LGBTQI/feminist movements must risk an affirmative stand on what we need for partnership with (cis)men. Feminism cannot afford to polarize negatively against men but must start engaging in a positive, collaborative vision for a post-patriarchal masculinity. We who want change must see beyond our anger and use our leadership and newfound power to articulate a vision for what we, affirmatively want, and need. Furthermore, the judgment that cultural initiatives supporting the healthier development of (cis)gendered boys simply promote more heteronormative, boy-scoutish or conservative reifications of the gender binary is short-sighted. The LGBTQI/feminist movements will ultimately suffer from vilifying cis-gendered, heterosexual men without earnestly asking themselves what a healthier, acceptable alternative would look like in those boys and men who gravitate towards that end of the gender/sexuality spectrum. That means making the distinction between men who harm and men who help, men who perpetuate a culture of violence and men who create support, recognition and partnership. It means thinking, constructively, about the health of men, for the purpose of supporting the health of us all. What role do feminists play in partnering with pro-feminist, post-patriarchal men to support better initiatives for boys? Healthy, cultural spaces and opportunities for self-identified (cis)boys to learn how to become better men, after all, support us all.
  • We need to support existing avenues, like the Mankind Project, Gender Equity and Reconciliation International, the Good Men Project, Voice Male Magazine where men are already working on their own post-patriarchal transformation. We need to recognize existing pro-feminist male leaders who have been on their own post-patriarchal growth trajectory. The work of Terry Real is one such example, or of groups like COR, and others, that provide rites of passage experiences for men in their growth towards a more authentic masculinity? There is good work underway, but as a culture, we do not tend to look in its direction.
  • Ironically, it means giving some men more of a voice. Sixty years into feminism, there are more men coming forward who have deepened into a broader understanding of themselves and the legacy of patriarchy. There are more men learning what it is to be in collaborative partnerships with women. We, as feminists, need to recognize that our need as women to foreground our own voices can inadvertently silence these men and their stories. Frequently feeling it is their job now to step back to enable women’s leadership, they do not speak. It is important for women to have space for leadership, yes, but we need to support these men in sharing their stories, men who can speak out courageously against their shame, reaching out this way to other men so the whole mechanism can move. For change to happen, these men need our recognition, our partnership, because we need theirs.
  • Finally, women need to do more of our own work seeing how we get embroiled in patriarchal masculinity in ourselves and in our relationships with the men in our lives in the same subtle ways white privilege embroils us white women in racism. This is complex, deep work, often unraveled as women reconnect with their power through healing their own patriarchal wounds. But, this is work, with all our years of feminism, that we have still not adequately tackled. Our complicity with patriarchy leads us to first place a burden on men by expecting the patriarchal ideal from them, then it often leads us to engage in the emotional labor for men that arrests their growth and maturity. Our mothers learned this from their mothers, and they taught it to us. A multi-generational legacy exists in us that will take attention and focus and healing to change. When we play a role in our families and intimate relationships as men’s exclusive emotional caretakers, mothering them as we are often taught to do, we discourage them from taking the initiative to address their wounds themselves; we short-circuiting their own journey of growth. They will not take the risk to get help from supportive peer-groups or a therapist to find the way own way out of the man-box. For this, they need, themselves, to search for the key our culture stole from them.

Tacey writes in Remaking Men that “before we remake masculinity, we must unmake it, and understand why it has to fall apart.” I have suggested that part of that understanding has to do with the terrible price we pay as a culture for a model of manhood that is killing us, which is entwined with racism and taking black lives. “In our remaking efforts,” Tacey continues, “we (men) must become self-critical and be careful to distinguish between new and old masculinities, to differentiate the new self-esteem from the old masculinist arrogance, to separate the new happiness from the old complacency, and to tell the difference between human rights and patriarchal privileges.”(Remaking Men) For white men, of course, the charge Tacey lays out is even more essential.

If we want to hope that the wheel of history will turn in these turbulent times in the direction, not of devolution, but of evolution, we will need to acknowledge that a primary cause for the current hurts, heartaches, disruptions and corruptions in our culture, including in the lives of our men, requires facing the way we raise boys and continue to reify patriarchal masculinity. While more headlines and hearts need to tend to the deep wounds of racism in our country, it is also time to raise the bar for men, to believe in, and recognize, alternatives to a failing masculinity, and to call for a more conscious and self-responsible path moving forward.

Pandemic Diary: Easter Sunday

Mourning is love with nowhere to go (…but everywhere).

It has been less than twenty-four hours since we buried our dog. It is Easter Sunday. I am sitting in our bedroom with the windows and doors open, listening to a channel of chamber music I found on iTunes. I find myself in the chancel of a European cathedral where the echo of a heavenly choir coils around buttresses on its way up to the filtered, multi-colored light. I am grateful for the time to reflect. On death. And rebirth. Continue reading “Pandemic Diary: Easter Sunday”

Pandemic Diaries / 2

The Great Invitation: On Learning to Listen to Bats and Pangolins

It is a full eleven days since we arrived at our sanctuary ‘shelter’ in the California hills. In eleven days our business — a nature-based retreat center serving non-profits, yogis and nuptials — has nosedived. The first wave of cancellations was followed by a second, then the third. Within four days, almost a third of our annual revenue had disappeared and my husband, Jon, after no small amount of hand-wringing, shuttered the business. In a matter of days, reality as we knew it had come to a grinding halt. Continue reading “Pandemic Diaries / 2”