Misogyny and the Healing of the Masculine

My new home of West Asheville is in the news. A local coffee shop, Waking Life Espresso, closed its doors after its owners Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens were outed for hosting a misogynistic blog. In addition to repulsive and degrading comments about women and details of their supposed sexual exploits, they boasted of one or two incidents that may have crossed the line into rape.

As one would expect, the community exploded with outrage. Ample coatings of tar and feathers were applied to the two men, and many people think they will have to leave town.

I wonder, though, if there might be a better outcome. After all, their attitudes are an extreme version of a malady that afflicts many men, maybe the majority, in our society. Who among us, my brothers, has never used “getting laid” as a way to boost our self-esteem? I know I have – in fact there was a time in my life when that was my primary motivation. While I didn’t publicly rate my partners or say degrading things about them, I felt uncomfortable to be seen in public with them if they didn’t conform to cultural standards of attractiveness, and proud if they did. To some extent, I bought into using women as a kind of social currency. I also used sex and the affection of a female as a way to assuage my insecurities and salve my wound of self-rejection. In other words, I think the actions of Jared and Jacob are on a continuum with my own attitudes and actions, which makes me hesitant to join the public stoning that seems to be underway.

The outcome I’d like to see is healing, both of the two men and of the women and larger community that they harmed. Many of the commenters on the blog that exposed them thought that they were sorry only because they got caught. But perhaps they unconsciously wanted to get caught.

The unconscious shadow rises into our awareness for a reason – to be faced and to be healed. Here is misogyny, previously underground, made visible to the community. The community can accept this opportunity for healing, or it can simply banish the men and pretend that the problem has gone away.

Personally, I would like to see something like a truth and reconciliation committee arise out of this incident. I would like to see the men be confronted by those they harmed, and really hear what it was like for those women, their families, and their community to be humiliated. Getting caught brings regret, but only fully feeling one’s impact on another brings remorse. And from remorse, the possibility of healing arises.

Society is becoming aware of the damage that patriarchy has visited upon women, from economic oppression to domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape, and genital mutilation. But patriarchy also damages men. Many of us have grown up in a toxic cultural story of what it is to be a man. When women are turned into objects and sex is made artificially scarce (all things become scarce when subject to property thinking), then of course men will be insecure. As with money, they will attempt to gain a semblance of security through control of scarce resources. They will feel a compulsion to dominate – because in a world of scarcity, only the dominant experience abundance.

The life of man in patriarchy is a life of endless anxiety. Being a loser is never far away. Now you might say that this psychological suffering pales in comparison to the physical violence perpetrated on women, but consider: how much must a man be hurting, to violate and abuse the precious gift of the feminine?

Tragically, the dominating, controlling, and abusive behavior enacted by insecure, patriarchy-damaged men doesn’t meet their real needs. They are diverting their need for intimacy onto sex, and their need for unconditional acceptance onto control. Therefore, no matter how much they get laid, and no matter how many women they dominate, it is never enough. They will need always to up the dose, to push the degradation of women to new levels. And still it isn’t enough.

Men like Jared and Jacob are symptoms of a much deeper malady. Shaming and punishing them addresses the symptom. Can we also address the illness that the symptom points to?

Part of that, I believe, is to transition into a new cultural narrative that defines what it is to be manly. If the old narrative was about domination, control, and emotional shutdown, what would be an alternative? I would like to see men like Jared and Jacob be held in a circle of men that offer a story of the sacred masculine in a post-patriarchal world. In that world, a man does not dominate and abuse the feminine, but seeks to protect her, treasure her, pleasure her, be unshakable for her, make her laugh, bring gifts to her, and, as in a ballroom dance, sense where she wants to go and invite her there with clarity and confidence. He places his qualities of linearity, decisiveness, humor, calmness, solidity, directness, strength, persistence, generosity, mobility, and assertiveness in service to the dance. I offer this as a partial description of what a sacred masculinity might be, living to varying degrees within men and women both.

How would men like Jared and Jacob act if they were immersed in a male culture that upheld that vision of masculinity? It is hard to say, since we don’t yet have such a culture. However, I know that many men are striving to create it, gathering in men’s groups to hold each other accountable to the values I have named. They are not impressed by stories of sexual conquest. They are not impressed by weakness masquerading as strength. They are not impressed by insecurity expressed as dominance. They would say, “Man up!” Am I hoping for too much, if I envision these two men landing in a circle of brothers to ground them in a new Story of Manhood?

While a time of rage is normal, perhaps even healthy, in time it passes and we naturally turn toward a desire to make the fabric of community whole again. That transition is difficult in a culture of “othering” that takes certain people and assigns them to the category of evil. Any apology is interpreted as insincere, any attempt to make amends is interpreted as self-serving. The next step in the culture of othering, after the miscreant has been securely identified as a monster or a scumbag, is to degrade, humiliate, and punish that person. Step one: dehumanize; step 2: punish. Can you see how this recipe precisely mirrors the misogyny and abuse perpetrated by the two men? Can you see the same insecurity at play, when we assure ourselves, “I am better than that person. If I were in the totality of his circumstances, I would have chosen differently – because I am just better.”

“Let whoever be without sin, cast the first stone.”

Some readers will doubtless think that I am suggesting that Jared and Jacob’s behavior “go unpunished.” Certainly, in the logic of punishment, they deserve to be punished. In that logic, my suggestion for an alternative process (truth & reconciliation, restorative justice, etc.) can only be categorized as excusing or tolerating their behavior. What I’m suggesting is to step outside the whole mindset of deterrence and punishment (which, by the way, is the logic of the entire prison-industrial complex and much of U.S. foreign policy). That mindset only makes sense if “the terrorists,” “the criminals,” “the extremists,’ along with men like Jared and Jacob, are irredeemable psychopaths who will only listen to the language of force.

In a world of us versus them, punishment is the only way. Is that our vision for a more beautiful world: to purge it of evil people, so that only the pure remain? Is that our vision of a better human being, to purge ourselves of sin? It won’t work. In neither case does the evil disappear. It just goes underground and pops out in a different form somewhere else, and the War on Evil never ceases.

Do we want to send these two men out of town regretful but not remorseful, bearing even more self-hatred than they had already, perhaps to act it out a bit more discreetly in another place?

Instead, we can cultivate a community that moves past the old story of judgement and punishment, that is open to the redemption of errors, and that believes in its members’ capacity to heal and to grow. In such a community, we can stop hiding our hurting parts, our unacceptable or ugly parts. We know we are accepted at our core. When confronted with harm we have done, we feel safe to move through shame and experience remorse, knowing that forgiveness lies at the other side. As an imperfect human being myself, that’s where I want to live. Isn’t that the kind of community you want to live in too?

Comments

  1. Sacred masculine. Comminuty. Warrior energy. There was ever so much — the most neutral (and lacking!) word I can use — “discussion” about this very thing, this very thing, this very thing (insert “stuck in a loop” here) in oh my word *serious* men’s work. The phase that ended, oh, ten, maybe twenty years ago. Iron John, and the invaluable King, Warrior, Magician, Lover or whatever it is and all of that. (My own copy is dog-earned from re-reading.) The wider circle of men who were and are genuinely ready willing and able to change themselves and to extend only by example thank you the, ah, “opportunity” (it’s rarely perceived as such) got brought up short every single time by the same thing, the same thing, the same ….. Inertia. Seemed to us hey-we’re-LISTENING-now-what? types that innumerable episodes, such as the one you described, were no more than popcorn. Intertia won. Again. I suspect (drumroll) The Issue is not community, although resolution certainly will come from there. I think drafting an Action Plan is premature at best. (Those things take forever. The person, male or female, who is maddest, loudest, and equipped with stainless steel vocal chords usually wins. And his / her mono-themed initiative thereby loses buy-in. The corollary is, of course, everyone loses.) The tired part of me wants to try one more time. The cynical part has a pretty valid point: what’s the use? The heart part knows: growth will come from pain, not from grace. When we — that’s the big we, as in “country” — are, as the cliche goes, sick and tired or being sick and tired, we will change. Not before. As usual, Sir Winston (white male! privilege! patriarchy!) had an incisive observation: “the price of greatness is responsibility.” Whoa. Responsibilty, then forgiveness. Responsibility, then a new community ethos. Responsibility, then acceptance. Good luck with that. Denial is soooo much easier.

    • Hi David, and thanks Charles and David for both blog and comment.

      As a man among hu-man beings, I’ve read Iron John, sat in men’s circles for decades, done the Mankind Project New Warrior Training Adventure, and deepened powerful, trans-formative life vows and mission statements of my self, regarding masculine and feminine balance within my self, and in relationship with women.

      Despite much earnest effort, it’s not working well. Our society seems hell bent on dis-integration. Women, with good reason distrust men, and keep raising the standard higher. Walls higher and thicker, and guards at the gates.

      Misandry also happens. I keep living for the more beautiful world our hearts all know is possible. Maybe, another life-time. If not now, here, when?

      Blessings, be well, enjoy life.

        • Hi Mary,
          Thank you for your words of healing wisdom.

          Aho, which means I receive and seek to understand and agree with these words.
          Yes, let us hold hands, and step forward, being together, in love and unity.
          Let us love one another, and help heal our selves, from the traumas of the past, that we may help others heal as well.

          A few verses:

          “Like trees cut down, we bleed, in silence;
          Our stories stack like cordwood,
          Our bodies dry and age;
          In time, often in a communities hearth,
          we burn.
          Our ashes seed a new reality;
          A fertile sea and earth.
          For a re-birth…

  2. Righteous indignation is so tempting. ‘You’re wrong, I’m right.’ As a friend likes to say, “You can either be right or be in relationship.”

    I have long observed more misogyny than misandry (hatred of a person simply for being male). In fact, I confess to labeling such incidents as ‘testosterone poisoning.’ Ditto when a tech executive can’t ‘find’ qualified female employees, or a president starts a war.

    Isn’t Jared and Jacob’s violence really the result of an imbalance of power? We still live in a male-dominated world, which leads to males being corrupted by that power. Our dimorphic species means the average male is larger and stronger than the average female, but if humans were like eagles, with females being larger than males, the problem would ‘estrogen poisoning.’

    Just as whites still have undue economic and educational advantages, and often end up thinking they are entitled to those privileges simply due to the low amount of melanin in their skin (and, speaking as a pale person, I rarely question those economic and social advantages, which are so pervasive that it’s like the goldfish saying, “What water?”), so too do males feel entitled to treat females as the Other.

    Ironically, when an incident like this generates a lot of indignation, the reaction is just more imbalance of power. Now that Waking Life Espresso has lost public respect and closed, it’s easy to pick on the owners.

    We ridicule the old Communist policy of re-education, rightfully so because it was done with all the imbalanced power that caused the accused to be unfair to others in the first place. But the concept is akin to truth and reconciliation, and restorative justice. Jacob and Jared could see the error of their ways, if they weren’t bullied into it.

    In a world of scarcity, dominance insures survival. The same planet, seen through the lens of sufficiency, would reveal that there’s enough to go around if we operate by consensus rather than ‘might makes right.’ Democracy is a good intermediate step, but it isn’t enough to get us where we need to be so that violence is no longer the main way to ‘solve’ problems.

  3. “Tragically, the dominating, controlling, and abusive behavior enacted by insecure, patriarchy-damaged men doesn’t meet their real needs. They are diverting their need for intimacy onto sex, and their need for unconditional acceptance onto control.” Wow. Please return to these two unmet needs again and again. Thank you Charles

  4. “To some extent, I bought into using women as a kind of social currency. I also used sex and the affection of a female as a way to assuage my insecurities and salve my wound of self-rejection. In other words, I think the actions of Jared and Jacob are on a continuum with my own attitudes and actions.” As a woman, I appreciate your honesty. Let me be honest about how my own attitudes and action fall on this continuum, particularly with regards to how I used to feel about myself, as a young girl, and how I sometimes feel now, as an adult woman; how much I *consciously* hated myself when I was younger, decidedly detested the only face I had, the one that stared at me in the mirror every day, the one that I would shut my eyes to, rather than bear to look at – because of its stark contrast to the desirable objects I saw in the media; on TV; at school – as a girl, I learned at a very young age that my currency lay solely in my appearance, and its value on my facial symmetry; friendship, popularity, companionship, love – all of these very desirable things depended upon my appearance, the very thing I could never change about myself. The very thing that made me, me, was the very thing I hated, despised, because of what society taught me to believe was my worth.

    In some way, I realize now that I was mirroring the misogyny that is woven into the very fabric of our society. While you reflected your insecurity onto female objects, I expressed it by hating the very image of myself.

    In a society where those things that come naturally to you are honoured, nay, celebrated, it is easy to *forget* the privilege this bestows upon you.

    I had no such luxury, no such privilege. I was the female object, and not a very desirable one at that. As a child, I knew this acutely. I knew this, in my need to pretend at my joy of the sciences, focus on the mathematics, in school; even as I would sit, with my physics textbook on my desk, great heaving sobs wracking my body – crying for what, I knew not, until I found an essay you had written, and the memory of my tears came back to me – endless streams of pain from a 15-year old girl, anguish, at a world where this was all there was – Newton. And his laws.

    “The unconscious shadow rises into our awareness for a reason – to be faced and to be healed. Here is misogyny, previously underground, made visible to the community. The community can accept this opportunity for healing, or it can simply banish the men and pretend that the problem has gone away.”

    As a woman, I do not wish to banish men. I value men, I respect men – greatly, deeply, fully. I wish to honour that which I do not fully understand – your ability to separate feeling from intellect; my intellect is driven by my feelings. And deeply, I feel it is a disrespect, to women, to reduce the misogyny women face, all over the world, day in and day out – in science; in religion; in culture; in law; in politics – to a lack of consciousness. To suggest this would be to dishonour the pain and anguish thrust on women – I do not wish to negate the pain that man must go through, at his own actions – however, to suggest that misogyny, all misogyny is unconscious, in the shadows – something in me bristles, at this idea. But maybe I misunderstood; Perhaps that is not what you are saying?

    “When women are turned into objects and sex is made artificially scarce (all things become scarce when subject to property thinking), then of course men will be insecure. As with money, they will attempt to gain a semblance of security through control of scarce resources. They will feel a compulsion to dominate – because in a world of scarcity, Can you really trace a linear progression, first from women, as sex objects, to men as becoming insecure? Am I to apologize to man, for being turned into a sex object (by man), that then led to his insecurity? Please do not suggest that misogyny, sexual objectification, is somehow the expected response to scarcity, without also first making it clear that the vast majority engaging in these actions are *men*. Women live in scarcity, but the vast majority do not wish to dominate, to control, to overpower.

    Where is the accountability for man’s actions? Man sustains patriarchy. Man suffers as a result of it. Why should this accountability, this acceptance, negate the suffering of man as a result of patriarchy? Can they not co-exist? However, it is one thing to suffer in a society that praises and holds to high regard that part of your nature that comes easily to you. Living in a society that denigrates that part of you that is the easiest, most central to your identity – that is an entirely different kind of suffering.

    How am I to forgive man, for his ongoing destruction, of the feminine, when he cannot consciously take responsibility for his role in this madness?

    Finally….Restorative Justice was attempted recently, in Dalhousie Dental School in Canada, where male dental students wrote sexist, misogynistic comments about female students on a facebook page. The victims did not feel the process was just; nor that it honoured their feelings, their needs. How will the restorative justice you propose be different?

    • Dear Pri,

      Thank you for your heartful, and intelligent reply. I appreciate your willingness to banish men, and your need for men to take conscious responsibility for the his stories of past patriarchy, and their perpetuation in misogyny today.

      Indeed, how does restorative justice evolve to heal our selves in this toxic, imbalanced world? Truth, reconciliation, council, open hearts? How is trust and respect restored?

      Heart math, tantra, or union of heart empathy, may be one way to heal. That is to say, an embrace between hearts, regardless of gender, can create resonance and restore harmony.

      I’d invite women and men to take a risk to heal each. Choose to take a chance to change. Healing begins within one’s self.

      Projecting expectations via force such as rules and law on another seldom heals.

      Gaze into one another’s eyes. Spoon, or touch each other’s hearts. Face the shadow of your self, and see, per movie, ‘Avatar’ one another as a hu-man being, a hu manifest being of one spirit and earth, despite the illusion of separate, and shadow self.

      I hope these words help. I need a hug and gaze my self. Blessings, and enjoy life.

      • Dear Brent ~
        Since it seems we *both* could use a Hug and a Gaze, let’s share one via these interwebs.

        Much internal work to be done, by both men and women as groups and more importantly, by individuals. Healing always begins at the personal level.

        Healing IS beginning – and provoking push-back and resistance, as is natural.

        Bright Blessings ~

        • Dear Karen J,

          Yes, we need healing hugs, and gazes all around. I much agree healing begins within each of our selves.

          Bright blessings and be well,

  5. I see this event as mainly a catalyst to Wake us up to the harm on women, on the nurturer, the emotional, receptive part in all of us that patriarchy seeks to dominate and control – So that we may stand up to it and work to heal the Whole. Its beautiful and important this discussion is happening. The violence on women is directly proportional to the violence on the earth. and that is supported by the religions. I honor the men that are part of the discussion and really invite ya’ll to feel confident to stand up to protect Life Force in a loving and honoring way. Women are gathering to talk and figure ways of action, ways of changing the violence. This post gives me hope the men are concerned and gathering as well to help their sisters – or at least that is my hope – I do hear much of your post is concerned with the men involved – but I hope, I hope the men come together to support women and stop the violence. we need you.
    There is an open forum at Lipinsky on wed and a candlelight vigil on pack place on thurs to stop violence on women.

  6. thank you 🙂 as we approach what it means to feel the deepest pain, let us remember that all genders are equally suppressed. misogyny wouldn’t exist without misandry, and vice versa.

  7. I deeply appreciate the opening essay and the following conversation.

    And I’m deeply intrigued the the comment by Ivan’s words, “all genders are equally suppressed. misogyny wouldn’t exist without misandry, and vice versa.”

    I do not know that this is necessarily true. But I will say that it’s worth seriously considering as a possibility.

    In my heart and core, I’ve always felt androgynous. I am male. That is my body is male. But I do not seem to fit in any gender containers or constructs. I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider in gender discourses and “wars.” None of it made any deep down feeling sense to me, as I’d be just as happy to have a female body…, to love men and women in body and soul…. (I have had male and female loves–and partners–in my life. I value both, equally.) But I can also say I’ve received a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle threats (conditioning), insisting that I “be a man,” which does often seem to mean “be insensitive, bee dominating, be on top…”. I neither with to be on bottom or on top. I have no desire to dominate, nor to suppress my sensitivity, warmth, vulnerability, feeling…. So I’ve been caught up in this weird gender game our society is caught up in — though the premises underlying it don’t at all FEEL valid or real to me, and never really have.

    For what it is worth.

  8. I think that we are all living out a Mythos that has told the story of separation between the Sacred Masculine and Feminine, Spirit and Matter, Yin and Yang, Isis and Osiris, Jesus and Magdalene. This Mythos is resolving though and it is now possible for each one of us to experience Sacred Union. It is time! We are all on the way to restoring ourselves to our Original State of Grace.

    My life has intricately played out the mythos. As a child i was molested by an Uncle priest, then emmersed in the lesbian separatist culture and then became the hetero emotionally abused and abandoned Bride left with child. It is not until 2 days ago that I finally reached a sense of deep love, respect and excitement for the male and female aspects within me…after years of inner work and prayer.

    Twelve months ago, my daughter and I decided we needed to leave conventional life so that we could free ourselves from the voices of conditioning and hone our skills at listening deeply to our inner wisdom. It has been a daily practice of supporting the Feminine instinct while also encouraging Her to find the places and spaces where love and care were having trouble finding a place to rest within. More and more,our instincts and healing lead us to people and places that felt alive and abundant and without having the things that consensus reality told us were signs of stability, protection and success. This was so liberating and built a confidence in our Feminine Power.

    For me, once my Feminine felt strong enough in Her abilities and trusted Her own perceptions, then She was able to begin receiving love. Opening and receiving deeply. As I read in a book long ago, “the more I know myself as a woman, the more my values are coming out of my own experience and the stronger my creative masculinity becomes.” My inner Feminine could surrender and trust my Masculine Manifestor. The minute my Feminine relaxed and asked my Masculine to bring Her the riches of his creative power, I could feel this absolute excitement and relief that He was finally being called upon and trusted to do what he loves, create.

    I believe that it is the Feminine within us all who must first heal, surrender to love, and become empowered. Feminine Power is the Wild embodiment of Soul that challenges the idea of conformity and victimhood. The empowered Feminine beckons the pure creative energy of Her Male counterpart. Her surrender to love heals his lust and He feels Her trust to manifest from the Divine Instinct she now channels.

    I ain’t gonna study war no more…

    I surrender to the tension of opposites until they either pull me apart or snap back with such force that they become one.

    My surrender gives birth to “a radiant child born strong enough to transcend the obsolete Herods who seek to kill him and creative enough to move into a different reality.”

    Bless The Sacred Family Within.

  9. Hello all of you,

    For a long time I was a very sick person. I almost died. It was asthma and eczema, but in a extreme way. Do you know this is only mental? I was outing my fears and anger by the means of my skin and breath. So the body does hard work. But it was endless and it hurts a lot. I’m healthy now. How come? I succeeded to leave my anger, not only from this life, but also from former lives. I found out, that I always have claimed for equal rights between men and women, but you can guess the result of opposing masculine societies in those former lives, don’t you? And even in this life, when you grow up in a ‘beautiful’ family with ‘awful’ secrets and they force you to share the secrets, to undergo and not to speak anyone about it. Now I’m safe again, I could leave behind my awful youth and experiences about my father.

    Maybe I had to solve this bad karma and not only for my own benefit. People told me that in the two family lines the abuse in physical, moral and even sexual ways was already going on for generations and generations… So, during my youth I focused on the imbalanced world and shared some good environment projects, mostly in order to forget what happened within my micro-cosmos. As an adult, I focused on myself and my health and what I could do within me, because the imbalance starts there, like you said before.

    My husband is the best, so I broke the circle of generations by choosing him. But I’m sorry, this is only for a part. There is no man I met who has a better heart than he, but I could only manage to see this fact with clear eyes, when I re-opened my own closed heart (closed for protection), about 17 years after my marriage. (I’m a mother of 3 children.) So he must be very patient too. 🙂 Of course many things are invisible on the surface and he didn’t want to be my doctor. It would not be fair to treat him in that way. So, it took me years to realize that only I had the key to heal myself. No doctor, no man, only me. I had to leave my incorporated (and well hidden) hate for all men. Not all men are like my father or like the bad ones i must have met in former lives. Of course I always realized this in a rational way, but not inside me. So I myself, had to balance my masculine and feminine parts within myself, in my own heart. And that’s the reason why I healed and why I’m a very healthy person now. All the diseases left my body, without any medicine. So not only men have to accomplish things, women too. If you want to read my story about this life, you can. The book is called ‘A deadly Cocktail’. My writers name is Catherine Wheels. The book is published on Amazon. It’s meant for victims of abuse, for abuse-survivors, therapists and even for abusers who want to escape from their own behavior by getting insights. So I really hope the book will give insights to heal others, to heal (individual, groups- family- and worldkarma) to make our world a better world. For writing it, I had to break through the big barrier of shame and I had to remember things I did not want to remember ever. Lieve Smolders helped me to focus on the mission and not to get lost again.

    Thanks to Charles for being a man with a great mission to balance the masculine and the feminine. I’m very grateful to you.

  10. First off, I appreciated Charles’ willingness to step outside of the framework that excessively scapegoats individuals for problems that have deep systemic roots. I also resonate with the intent to go beyond the paradigm of blaming and punishing, and toward an approach that could restore human dignity and well-being. For such a restorative approach to be useful to all involved however, it must address the ways that individual (males in this instance) have societal wide structures that give them more access to power, and that individual abuse of that power is a symptom of systemic oppression (of women in this case). Rather than squelch the symptom, we could see the symptom as a doorway into addressing the deeper pattern of oppression. At heart, we are being asked to make visible those invisible structures that perpetuate injustice and violence, with the aim of dismantling and transforming them.

    Charles proposes that a process of Truth and Reconciliation could aid this healing between the men and women involved: “I would like to see the men be confronted by those they harmed, and really hear what it was like for those women, their families, and their community to be humiliated.” While I appreciate the intent behind this statement is to foster healing, understanding, and empathy, in my experience, such an approach can actually further harm the oppressed, and keep the privileged entrenched. The ever-insightful Mikki Kashtan, of Bay Area NVC recently addressed this conundrum in her essay “Empathy and Privilege”:
    I can immediately see the appeal of the conclusion, or dream,
    that bringing individuals together from across lines of oppression,
    and getting them to hear each other’s stories and develop empathy,
    would be a step towards transforming the oppression. After all,
    empathy is liberating, whether we receive it in response to our
    own suffering, or when we open our hearts widely to shine its light
    on others and to recover our sense of their humanity. Except that
    in practice, what I have seen in groups I’ve been part of is
    not supporting this hypothesis. Instead, what I have seen and heard of,
    in contexts of power differences, has finally led me to the
    opposite conclusion. Unless some very specific ways to focus attention
    and choice are part of the picture, I now believe that the goal of
    having “both sides hear each other” reinforces rather than transcends
    the power differences. http://thefearlessheart.org/empathy-and-privilege-in-an-interdependent-world/

    We need to begin to see these invisible power differences, and how they effect us. The reason I cringed when Charles prescribed restorative justice is this: unless the receiver of the oppressive action is the one deeply seeking the restorative process, and the power imbalance is rectified so that individual comes to the process from a place of actually having access to choice, autonomy, and power in the process, even something as well-intended as truth and reconciliation, when prescribed from the outside, could be yet another way that oppression is perpetuated, because the structural elements that supported an imbalance in power are not addressed.

    In the context of massive power imbalance, the process of “restoration” can easily be co-opted to make the community and the oppressors feel better without actually addressing the underlying structures that led to the oppression in the first place. Folks may say: “See, she forgave him. Hugs all around. Isn’t that nice? All better. Now let’s go home and keep the underlying status quo ” Those who committed the oppressive acts as well as the wider community, are thus relieved from personal tension and guilt without actually changing the privilege/power differential that led to the oppression in the first place. If the receiver of oppressive acts is going to truly have autonomy to restore connection, they must at the same time have full support to chose not to restore, not to forgive, not to drop the lawsuit or charges if they wish. Part of what made truth and reconciliation so powerful in South Africa, was that the oppressed actually had power to punish and imprison those who had oppressed them. And from that place of power, they chose to extend an offer to listen, to understand, and to reconcile. Again, Mikki Kashtan points out that this type of power and choice is key to true transformation:

    I still believe that what I have always intuited and experienced
    is true, that opening to the humanity of the oppressor is, indeed,
    a fast track to inner freedom and liberation… EXCEPT I now
    realize that it cannot be expected of the oppressed person.
    Given the pervasiveness of pain, suffering, and especially the
    inner and outer assault on the dignity of the oppressed,
    this expectation then becomes one more aspect of the
    oppression,regardless of how liberating it would be if
    done voluntarily.
    (http://thefearlessheart.org/empathy-and-privilege-in-an-interdependent-world/)

    The word “voluntarily” is key, because it points to how accessing our individual autonomy transforms and integrates. Choice matters. Consent matters. Who makes the decision matters. Those who have been harmed and violated deserve to regain sovereignty and authorship of their own lives. When we have access to structural power and privilege, we can listen, we can ask “how have you suffered at the hands of my group?” and “what is the next thing you need to regain your wholeness?” We can extend empathy to those have experienced oppression. We can support people who wish to initiate restorative practices, but let’s not assume that those with more access to structural power can force liberation from the outside.

    • Yep, this:

      “In the context of massive power imbalance, the process of ‘restoration’ can easily be co-opted to make the community and the oppressors feel better without actually addressing the underlying structures that led to the oppression in the first place. Folks may say: ‘See, she forgave him. Hugs all around. Isn’t that nice? All better. Now let’s go home and keep the underlying status quo.’ Those who committed the oppressive acts as well as the wider community, are thus relieved from personal tension and guilt without actually changing the privilege/power differential that led to the oppression in the first place.”

      People aren’t just disgusted because of these two men. It wasn’t an isolated incident; the larger cultural context of the incident is dominator culture/rape culture that treats women as disposable as unchallenged status quo. A first response as a call for reconciliation that centers the needs of men as those wronged by the dominator culture is to try to offer them a full meal when they already have more food (power) than the women they’ve hurt within the larger context of rape culture – which is the real enemy. Keep these dudes safe and let them have some unburned bridges as the community works this out, but please see the larger context that makes women’s lives darker, more marginalized, more unstable because of behavior like theirs, and please make it the first order of business to slay that vampire.

      My perspective on this is informed by my whiteness and my search to understand what “whiteness” really is. As Ferguson unfolded, I learned that one tool for me to undo the harmful construct of my whiteness was to stop (unproductively) protecting my feelings in the storm, and to instead center Black rage and Black voices. To know what was really wrong, I had to first accept and understand that I had a false sense of being the one who had solutions. I’d been told that I did as a white person, indirectly, my whole life, by culture that is about privileging my feelings over those of Black folk.

      Before we stress “reconciliation,” let’s look at the truth of a cultural context of staggering informally institutionalized imbalance of power full of fear that silences women (rape culture).

      Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (just reading a few pages will be inspiring; I haven’t read it all. It’s very worth browsing!) frames the idea that in order to revise culture, we have to think of the oppressed as our teachers (the expert reverse-engineers of oppression). They hold the real teaching keys to undo dominator culture because they know its shadow territory. They know its maps by heart. Privilege their voices amd center their anger; let it destroy a status quo that is demeaning to everyone. After the truth is told, then see what’s worth reconciling with. We need to rebalance, like a forest that needs a natural burn to get rid of what isn’t needed. Women being angry can be that fire if we support it anf let their agency rebalance things.

      “Killing Rage: Ending Racism” by bell hooks could be another model for men looking to redefine masculinity and separate the wheat from the chaff around what is and isn’t generative in their identities. It was mindblowing for me to understand that I had ghosts occupying my identity as a white person that weren’t really mine. Not taking it personally that my constructed “whiteness” has to go in order for the whole human ecosphere to flourish has been empowering! It uncovers in me what really is mine while I live this short life.

      Men don’t need to be afraid of centering women’s rage at false masculinity; if the hurtful things about constructed masculinity are not inherently part of men, they will survive the rage and become something new. I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that men should submit to being put down, per se, by women. I’m suggesting that men use the warmth of women’s rage – the penetrating aspect it has – to risk seeing what they (men) think could be done away with in old-fashioned and harmful definitions of what is and isn’t manly.

      Please center women’s rage and use it as a scalpel or see it as necessary natural forest fire to examine what in the status quo needs to go, before you rush to reconcile with a status quo that is truly infected. Please don’t repress the medicine of women’s rage. Sitting with others’ powerful rage can seem counterintuitive in a culture where we’re all abused by kyriarchies (systems based on the idea that we need to organize around domination), but I can say with certainty that I see most Black rage in the face of instituitonalized oppression to be medicine, and that it’s helped me.

      A last note: this is not work you can do without good self-care and it’s not about masochism or sefl-punishing. If it makes you feel worse or less-than, you aren’t doing what I’m suggesting! It’s worth trying, though! I need to use serious physical practices of getting grounded in my body to deal with the feelings that come up. “What is really me, and how do I define me” in the face of misogyny, racism and climate disruption are good questions. They involve a practice of decentering “self” and recentering “other” for reasons of love (not for reasons of wanting spiritual attainment) that blow the idea of “service” away. It’s just like, I’m feeling biophilic here, trying to recognize that in practice so I can share the love.

      Decentering the self in the face of the rage of the oppressed is something privileged people gotta learn to do. And embodying the rage of the oppressed is something those who are oppressed need to learn to see as medicine for all, and to not stop showing that rage and raising their voices about what oppression feels like and why it’s got to go, no matter what. Center them and encourage them for the team win.

  11. I love your piece, Charles. One of my favourite things you’ve written. I am in full support of all you say. I encourage you in following your new focus on masculinity, men’s work, gender, etc. Nothing was new to me in what you wrote – which is one of the reasons I love your writing so much: you take thoughts and ideas I have had or heard from disparate sources, and you articulate and synthesize them so beautifully, which makes me feel less pressure to try and do so myself, when my calling is rather to play music. I am so grateful there is someone out there saying what you do, and with the large audience you have. And then on top of that, quite frequently, you say something completely new that either opens up a subtly new way of thinking about something, or just blows my mind completely. Example: “When . . . sex is made artificially scarce (all things become scarce when subject to property thinking), then of course men will be insecure.” I’m not even certain what that means, and I look forward to having it unpacked either by my own reflection or by future writing from you. Will you (or anyone else) elaborate now? Thank you Charles, for consistently finding the highest and most heart-full moral road of any thinker I know of today.

    • Aho, Michael. I echo your observations about Charles piece, and his ability to synthesize and articulate one’s own thoughts.

      Regarding the scarcity of sex in our society, and men’s related insecurity, this is an essential insight for healing sexuality, and harmonizing relationships between women and men. So much has been written, so much has occurred (in our past – individually and collectively), and so much more longs to be at-one-d, or a-mend-ed, in our minds, hearts and bodies.

      We, each of us, do what we can do, as inspired, and according to our circumstances, to heal our selves, our relationships, and others in our world.

      Blessings and peace, live well, enjoy life.

  12. I love the sincerity of all the comments and Charles. two books i want to mention, CS Lewis “til we have faces” what its like to be an unattractive woman in a society that demands beauty, and Dorothy Sayers, “are women human.”

  13. “Society is becoming aware of the damage that patriarchy has visited upon women, from economic oppression to domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape, and genital mutilation.”

    What are we calling “patriarchy?” Is it purely the negative aspects of a male-led society? If so, then sure, some of that is tied up in patriarchy. But if we’re saying that basically the entire globe has been under “patriarchy” for the last many centuries, and that is the thing that has brought us economic oppression, sex trafficking and rape – that’s patently absurd and utterly one sided. How can you sit in an air-conditioned house, safe from attack from animals, with an abundant supply of food around, and say society has failed you and attacked you? If we’re calling America a patriarchy, then Women have benefited greatly under patriarchy, no? They live to be 80+ years old, they have food, safety, and abundance like no other people has known in history, and you complain that women are economically oppressed under patriarchy? Why would a patriarchy inherently bring rape? Obviously no one wants there own tribe raped. Might there not be other explanations for why someone rapes? Might there be problems between people caused by the fact that humans evolved to be in tribes of a few hundred, and now find themselves sometimes in cities of millions? Mightn’t living among strangers cause problems like sex trafficking, rape and economic oppression? Isn’t domestic violence associated with women as well as men? Isn’t violence between some percentage of couples expected in a volatile thing like sexual relationships? Isn’t it totally understandable that the weaker, more vulnerable (due to childbirth) sex, which has less variation in IQ (there are less smart and dumb women), would not end up as the majority of powerful people? Isn’t it totally understandable that, even if now there are more women who want to work and not be child-carers, that in the past there would be less demand or desire for such a thing? Are we to imagine that thousands of years of evolution should disappear overnight? That women should be 50% of business owners and leaders now, even though many fewer women have striven for such things in the past and now?

    No, no, the problem is of course the men who built society and all the comfort we take for granted. They must change because now we feel quite safe in our abundance.

    Most men would never intentionally harm anyone male or female. Many many men were extremely active and instrumental in building the society of abundance you find yourself in, and they didn’t do it by using their skills in service of “dancing” with women and impressing them – well, actually, maybe that was the ultimate point – but they turned their skills in service of learning maths, studying the world with science, protecting their tribe (male and female) from animals and attackers, and in the process seems to have found dominance to be good in many situations.

    The problem of sexual relations in modern society (like rape, mistreatment of one’s partner, misogyny/misandry) are probably more related to the abundant pornography, the intentionally miseducating education system, the lack of strong male role models and lack of energetic masculine pursuits available, and the broken down structure of families and communities, then it has to do with male-leadership being inherently evil.

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