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.
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:
MEN AND WOMEN ARE NOT MEANT TO BE EMOTIONLESS MOUNDS OF THINKING FLESH!
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 http://www.emergedv.com/, 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.