Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reason #3 – US vs THEM paradigms destroy gender equality

Reason #3 – US vs THEM paradigms destroy gender equality

Generally speaking, societies make the most collective gains from highly creative, diverse, and cooperative human endeavors.  Unfortunately, the “us vs them” paradigms that so easily infect those environments can quickly and completely undermine those achievements.  When we separate ourselves from one another, we are prone to threaten, posture, marginalize, and ruthlessly compete for the resources we think will bring greater security and power to ourselves and those with whom we closely identify.  When our objective is to destroy or correct our opponents, we escalate conflicts rather than resolving them.  We get drunk on our own self-righteous indignation and lose sight of how our anger, discouragement, and contempt are all borne out of our less-than-righteous desire to defensively protect our own interests (or moral superiority).  

This battle rages between factions everywhere, but it rages on a global scale between the two of the largest factions on earth – men and women.  Ironically, even though we have profound structural differences, I’m pretty sure that most men and women have the exact same interests.  We want to love and feel loved.  We want to feel important, safe, and at ease with those closest to us.  We want to trust that our partners are loyal and honest with us.  We want to feel pleasure, connection, and purpose in that unity.  We both want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, have fun, and build things that will outlive us.  There is a profound opportunity for feminists to frame each of their quests for equality as a cause that will unify and help both men and women achieve what we fundamentally want.  I see some starting to use this approach, and I hope that new wave gains traction.  Sadly, I often see feminists hoping to right the wrongs of countless generations with blame, coercion, and guilt.

While there is plenty of blame and guilt to pass around, that’s not how wounds heal, that’s not how humans build trust or respect, and that’s definitely not how we nurture equality.  Rather than employing empathy to better understand how we can all get more of what we all want, we push men into silence with indignant insensitivity.  We tell them "Don't be weak, scared, or insecure" and “How dare you speak of pain. You know nothing of my suffering.”  In many ways, they don’t.  But as I mentioned in Reason #2, that road goes both ways.  If we want men to hear our pain, then doesn’t it make sense to help them to talk about theirs?  Wouldn’t that be a great way to start a dialogue, not just a sermon?  Isn’t that what equality is all about?

Perhaps this is why I feel so protective of both genders.  Perhaps that's why I feel like I can't identify with a group who refuses to empathize with or address BOTH men and women's struggles with feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and shame.  I know and have seen how hard men and women work, how much they ache, and how deeply they feel the need to love and be loved.  They want to feel capable, powerful, and purposeful in their personal and societal contributions.  Cultures and religions do influence and help shape how we measure and achieve those contributions, and I am not ignorant of the violence and heartache some of those measuring sticks have created, but I think we underestimate the power of this deep desire for love/to be loved.  We ignore how the ever popular “us vs them” paradigm obstructs the love, affection, and respect that would naturally nurture more egalitarian cultures, religions, and relationships from the inside out. 

That being said, I’m not blind to the wounds and problems many if not most women around the world face.  Generational habits, sexual dynamics, and physiological consequences have not favored the empowerment of women.  And it is not my objective to overlook the very real issues of domestic abuse, wage gaps, and sexual assault. I know there are men who can, have, and do use their size and superior strength for abusive and controlling purposes.  I know there are men who use their economic and political advantages for selfish and shortsighted purposes.  I think rather than dwell on these stories though, it would be more productive to point out and discuss the root of these poor behaviors and address those causes. 

For instance, fear is a common root of misogyny (More on this in reason #4).  Rather than shaming men for feeling fear, what if we were to provide them better coping strategies and outline ways of creating safe spaces within intimate relationships?  What if we were to ask why do men fear?  What do they fear?  Why are they willing to hurt others to make themselves feel more powerful?  What are they actually trying to achieve or what internal need is being satisfied by their current behavior?  What if we humanized men and encouraged them to explore their own emotional complexity and vulnerabilities?  What if we allowed them to step out of the role of protector and provider long enough to listen to what they really want most? 

This is speculation, because I’m not a man, but I think, more often than not, men really just want love.  I don’t mean sex, though they may want that as well.  I mean love.  I mean the “I trust you, I admire you, I can rely on you” kind of love.  The kind of love that makes you feel seen, understood, useful, and like you’ve got a partner in crime – all at the same time.  This kind of love does not have to be romantic.  It’s bigger than that, or at least, broader than that.  It’s the kind of love you feel when you clearly see another’s divine identity.  It’s that deep sense of an eternal connection, a reverence for their potential, excitement for those possibilities, and a joy that comes from journeying together. Their wins are your wins. Their pain is your pain. They are your team, and you know it.  We all want this.  We all need this.

Something that hurts me, is realizing how few men continuously experience this kind of love.  I think they get glimpses of it when they play sports or go on missions (ya know…the whole male bonding thing), but many of those bonds are limited.  They are bound up in heterosexual scripting and expectations of stoicism.  Where girls have been given cultural permission to hug, kiss, gab, and bare their soul to one another, men have been boxed into icy containers of personal space and emotional isolation.  They have been for so many generations they aren’t even aware of how emotionally repressed they feel.  They ‘compartmentalize’ or just ‘turn it off’ and think that’s normal, even healthy. 

I’m going to say this once and in large font and all caps in order to convey the degree of passion I feel about this statement: 


Why would we ever try to limit ourselves to such?  We are gods in embryo.  We are meant to experience the full spectrum of emotion and understand how those feelings are connected to eternal laws and truths.  We only avoid emotion if we fear it or don’t understand it.  Avoiding feelings is how trauma victims pathologically cope with their emotional scars and it is well documented how that actually destroys them from the inside out.  Numbing out is an awful way to live life.  We are all emotional beings.  We all have a limbic system.  It is an integral part of our ability to perceive peace, happiness, and love.  We have been charged to care for that system and treat it like a temple, just like the rest of our body.  Boarding up the doors to that temple because we don’t always know what to expect does nothing but remove us from the possibilities of understanding and stagnates our growth.

We need to emotionally liberate men, and we’re only going to do that if we are willing to sacrifice some of our own preferences.  Namely, we have to see men as more than our protectors.  They are our companions, our confidants, and our complements.  We need to remind them that they are enough because, just like us, they are a human worthy of love and belonging.  The differences that define us are also capable of exalting us.  But we have to practice affection, collaboration, patience, compassion, and vulnerability with men who fail, men who feel weak, and men who disappoint us or don’t meet our expectations in some way.   I see the same anxiety in men that I see in the many of the over-achievers I’ve known in my life.  They believe that that failure = weakness = worthlessness = hopelessness.  Despondence, anger, and depression soon follow.  But since men aren’t supposed to feel things, they don’t deal with the root of that emotion.  They ignore it.  They numb out or cap it until it explodes in sporadic fits of rage and pain.

Even as I write that, my thoughts go immediately to many of my friends who have had to cut people out of their lives for emotional and physical abuse (4-5 just within the past year – so if you’re reading this as your own story, know you are not alone).  I feel the need to add that when men and women abuse one another, I think they often do so to avoid facing their own pain, personal failures, and feelings of self-hatred.  They feel powerless, worthless, and much like a victim themselves.  In victimizing their own experience, they blame those they abuse rather than confront the demons that spur the abusive behavior. 

As long as they blame their victims, I’m not sure there is anything that the victim themselves can do other than seek shelter somewhere and nurse their own wounds.  What their abusers need is professional help and group support.  They need a safe environment full of strong boundaries where they can confront emotional demons, practice vulnerability, learn to be more accountable, and seek healing themselves so that they can become capable of nurturing emotional and physical safety in more intimate relationships. 

Yes, men are more often the aggressive abusers in intimate relationships, but I don’t think these men are evil, awful, or sociopathic.  Abuse is a cycle and those who abuse have probably been abused or abandoned in some way themselves.  I know most are disgusted by their own behavior but can’t really run from the turmoil that propagates it.  They want to stop but they don’t know how.  They genuinely feel like they are the victim in these situations.  They blame their circumstances for the loss of their temper and destroy relationships because somebody they love did something to hurt them or make them mad.  They see themselves as victims of others insensitivity, lack of love, or lack of understanding.  Their feelings of deep worthlessness and powerlessness have convinced them that they are not fully responsible or accountable for their actions.  They react with violence and vitriol to everything that hurts, and since they are so deeply and catastrophically wounded – everything hurts. 

To those who abuse: there are resources out there (Addiction recovery programs, groups like, psychologists, psychiatrists, non-traditional therapies, etc).  If you are not actively using them, then the likelihood is you will continue to destroy all of your most intimate relationships.  Sure, you might maintain your casual friendships.  But if you want to be vulnerable, open, and safe with your partner, you need to go inside, heal, and become safe enough for them to be vulnerable and open with you.  Please resist the urge to isolate yourself into fixing all your own problems.  Please seek help.   

To the abused: The insidious nature of abuse is that until you heal, those contagious feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness, and powerlessness will continue to destroy your life and relationships.  You may not respond to those feelings with the same violence as your abuser, but they will have the same destructive effect on your life and relationships.  Empower yourself to stop the cycle of abuse by finding the healing and help you need as well.

Wow, this got heavy.  I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry.  I want men to stop hurting in silence.  I want women to stop hurting in solitude.  I think if we can ditch the us vs them paradigm of yesteryears feminist dogmas, we might find more success in stopping both.  Men and women would both do well to see one another as allies not enemies.  Imagine how differently we would talk to one another if we saw the internal tumult each of us are trying to navigate.  Imagine how our expectations would shift from ‘You’re supposed to save me’ to something more like ‘Hey, lets team up and help one another do this life thing.’   Imagine if instead of us vs them, it was just…us.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

We interrupt this message...

I’ve been trying to write the next 3 posts for almost a year.  I’ve written and re-written countless pages, trying to figure out how to accurately describe my perspective, but it just hasn’t felt whole or right.  I realize there was something I danced around in those three posts that I just need to address separately.  So before I can get into the rest of my divergence from popular feminism,  I need to talk about fear.  I need to delve into its causes, consequences, and forms.  

We are mortal.  We feel pain.  We get sick.  We die.  We know these are always possibilities because of our ability to imagine and anticipate, and many of us go to great lengths to avoid, mitigate, or put off those events.  This aversion to death and pain is deeply rooted in our primitive brains and has helped to perpetuate the human race through countless dangerous and traumatic circumstances.  It’s a useful tool and an extremely powerful motivator, meant to help us avoid unpleasant and deadly circumstances.  But I strongly believe that fear itself is a poor companion and guide.  Like our sex drive, fear is just another survival process built into our physiology that doesn’t give a lick about our overall sense of peace, joy, fulfillment, or even love.  The process is there to propagate our carbon-based existence, not our spiritual or temporal happiness or wellbeing.  Thus fear must be perpetually and properly managed, or else it will pathologically influence and control our choices. 

Sidenote: those that haven’t seen Inside Out need to stop reading this and go take care of that right now.  It does an incredible job of creating a verbal framework around some of the intangible and often unintelligible concepts I’m going to be describing.   

If you think about your different emotions and rationale as the team that runs your cognition and decisions, fear is the absolute worst kind of team leader. It is neither concerned with nor capable of things like trust, faith, or forgiveness.  Its 100% interested in self-preservation and its sole focus is avoidance of unpleasant things.  It has no long-term vision and is bad at managing priorities.  It avoids transparency and vulnerability and is constantly in competition with others for greater security and safety.  It forms relationships to find protection and assurance, not love or progression.  

If fear is the driving emotion or motivator in our lives, it’s the white-knuckled crank that refuses to enjoy the drive because to it, the purpose of that drive it to survive, not thrive. It is overly reactive, easily stressed out by any unexpected circumstances, and it absolutely abhors chaos, risk, or getting too close to others.  It refuses to take detours for scenery or pleasure, and it doesn’t want any new thoughts or other emotions distracting it from the task at hand.  The irony is that fear's ‘task at hand’ is to avoid conditions that are ultimately inevitable; namely, pain and death.

We are complex, gregarious, and mortal creatures, and full joy is rarely achieved in the absence of pain.  Often we find fulfillment, happiness, and peace by trudging through perilous circumstances.  Fear would steer us away from all threats, but much of that effort accomplishes nothing.  Life is hard, unjust, and temporal.  Pain is a part of that life.  Fear tries to avoid it, but life has little respect for that evasion, and eventually forces us down one path of pain or another.  Like a two year old avoiding her bed time, these wasted efforts are sometimes more painful than the fate itself.  Living to avoid pain and death is like jumping to avoid gravity. Good luck.

That being said, I do think fear has a place in our internal world.  If you burn your hand on a hot stove, fear is very good at reminding you to avoid that action in the future.  And I think it is important to acknowledge when we feel fear.  It quickly brings our attention to threats, and that’s sometimes a good thing. But I’m almost positive that fear should never be allowed to navigate or take precedence over our other inner voices.  That is no small task.  Fear is a backseat driver, drama queen, and total control freak.  Life is treacherous, unpredictable, risky, and wild.  Fear constantly uses this chaos to support its case for taking charge, but fear is a psychopathic sociopath.  It is selfish and quick to see others as competitive threats to its survival.  If left to its own devices, fear will create nothing but a long, miserable, and deeply lonely life. 

Oh, and one more thing.  Fear has a hard time distinguishing between psychological threats and mortal ones.  And while modern society has mitigated a lot of mortal threats, it has created countless new psychological ones in the process (whether they should or not is another topic for another time).  The blog “wait but why” addressed this brilliantly in Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think.  Read it. It may change your life. 

The gist of that post is that modern-day society’s diversity and social-networking capacities have exposed us to unprecedented social and internal conflict.  This inundation of psychological threats has made fear’s evolutionary advantages obsolete and even counterproductive in creating a life worth living.  I might argue that this disadvantage has been the case since civilizations first formed, but it is definitely more pronounced and exacerbated in our highly connected and diverse society.  Think of the rampant organizational distrust, social isolation, pandemic-like depression and anxiety, and the uptick in suicides and drug overdoses over the last 15 years, most of which can be accounted for by middle aged, white Americans.  But how can such a privileged group be so psychologically under siege?  

In a diverse world, our fear-fueled impulses to conform to and get approval from society (because there is safety in numbers) becomes more intense but also incredibly taxing.  Think of how much mental energy it takes to empathize or feel safe with a stranger who views the world very differently from you.  Now multiply that unit of energy by the number of people you have the potential to interact with.  The more connected we are, the more opportunity we have for disagreements, conflict, social chaos, and, therefore, anxiety.  Add anonymity and the element of surprise to that potential conflict (like, say, an internet troll or terrorist), and social anxiety can quickly escalate into paranoia, bigotry, and demographic isolation.  These divisions are a product of fear's hyper-vigilant efforts to find protection in the herd.  Thus, the ability to incite fear in diverse groups is one of the best ways to divisively turn people against one another.  

One popular method of coping with these divisions is to use the phrase “what an idiot” as a means of reassurance. We disparage those with whom we disagree to mitigate the threat of a new idea or internal conflict. Engaging with and trying to understand the perspective of our ideological opponents requires us to be vulnerable, unsure, and (heaven forbid!) humble.  An ancient survival tactic that fear uses to avoid that vulnerability is to find others who think like us, amass an army, and make war with, marginalize, or disenfranchise those who see things differently.  Because both sides are doing the same thing, this only causes disagreements to escalate, even to the point where human lives are being sacrificed in an attempt to create ideological order.  In our highly-connected social world, these ideological armies can become infinitely large, giving members of each group even more surety that ‘their side’ is the ‘right side.’  Size and perceived moral superiority then encourages them to further abuse and remove themselves from their opponents.  And, ta-da!…we have an increasingly polarized and violent society.  But I’ve digressed…back to fear.

In some ways, psychological threats are worse than mortal threats.  They are often chronic, difficult to identify, and even harder to address.  While caves, homes, and villages have the capacity to give us temporary refuge from mortal threats, it’s much harder to find a reprieve from the threats created in and fostered by our own minds.  We are never at our best when we feel chronically under threat.  We don’t think as clearly, we lack self-control and long-term focus, we become emotionally erratic or abusive and often feel empty and unfulfilled.  Our fight or flight response helps us to act quickly, but not wisely. We are better as a whole when we fight fear as a whole.  Unfortunately, I see a lot of fear-mongering and divisive practices in popular feminism.  I think that those tactics do a poor job of nurturing gender equality because true equality is only achieved through unity. Thus, I have a pretty strong aversion to anything and anyone who employs fear to accrue and motivate followers. 

Again, I don’t think feminism is bad.  Again, I am absolutely on board with the objective of gender equality.   I just feel no need to declare myself as part of a herd that disparages or vilifies other herds.  Gender equality (and human equality) is a fundamental part of my faith, and I feel a spiritual obligation to support any measure that promotes it.  However, I do not accept that equality will ever be achieved if one group is fighting, disrespecting, or marginalizing another.  Inequality hurts us all, and I think the best way of progressing toward equality is by encouraging empathy, self-knowledge, and mutual empowerment, not fear, blame, and shame.  Pockets of feminism are adopting the attitude of addressing disparity is by lifting the whole.  Perhaps if they become the majority, the name will change and I could jump on board that train.  We're not there yet though, and the next three posts are going to address the current practices that I think are getting in the way.