“To understand how any society functions you must understand the relationship between the men and the women.” -Angela Davis
Sexual abuse and harassment have been getting some overdue attention lately from the online #MeToo movement and with the IRL exposures of high profile perpetrators in Hollywood and DC. Also contributing to increasing awareness for the past year has been the presence in the Oval Office of a verifiable rake. The fact that more men are now questioning their own behavior is a good thing. It’s only a start but it’s requisite for social progress.
We’ll see how far it goes. We are just scratching the surface, considering the depth and breadth of sexism in our culture.
At the basic, person-to-person level, we face a tremendous challenge in the US: Most men simply don’t like women.
By “like” I mean genuinely appreciate, respect and value as another human being of equal worth.
This bears immediate repeating: Most men don’t appreciate, respect or value women as human beings.
Take a moment to let that sink in.
So if you are a woman seeking fulfilling relationships with men, whether professional, friendly or romantic (to name only a few of many possibilities), your pool of applicants is mostly made up of people who do not appreciate, respect or value you as another human being of equal worth.
Sure, there are men who will declare with great gusto that they love women, but they’re only talking about sexual attraction. Such desires can can be pursued with genuine appreciation, respect, etc., but more often than not they not. Hence #MeToo, etc.
My high school was an all boys Catholic institution run by Jesuit priests. This was in the mid 80’s and it was a seriously homophobic and sexist place. It seemed like every other word I heard was “fag.” One day there was a class discussion on the topic of women and relationships. Students were invited to speak frankly and one certainly did when he got up and said that most guys at the school thought of a girl as being “a piece of meat with a hole in it.” This got a good round of laughter, but also clearly hit the mark.
In my experiences among men in the three decades since then, I can attest that this is an attitude that many, many men never grow out of, regardless of class or race. When I was young and just wanted to fit in with my fellows, I felt alienated because I didn’t share their sentiments. But soon enough, other feelings came to the fore: disgust, rage, sorrow. As an adult and an activist, I have aspired to be a traitor to the men’s club.
A cold but impartial appraisal of US culture reveals that most men are interested in women being just two things: a) sexual outlets and b) housekeepers / nurses
They want two roles: Whore or mother.
Not even “sister” for that matter.
To say nothing of “mentor,” “adviser” or “hero.”
It’s stark. For men, the roles of women can be reduced to one verb: To serve.
Are there exceptions? Of course. But finding a few four-leaf clovers in a field doesn’t make the three-leafed plants any less trifolate. On the contrary, it demonstrates their predominance.
The statement, “I do not appreciate, respect or value women as human beings of equal worth,” does not literally come into most men’s thoughts. They are unaware of their own inner expectations and of the social factors that molded them. It’s true that one could say the same about most women – our society lacks in curiosity-seekers across the board – but that would be missing the point. All else being equal – including ignorance – about one half of the population is considered superior to the other half. The “inferior” half, moreover, is regularly subjected to a range of abusive treatment including violence. Additional institutional factors include economic inequities like less pay for the same work and social injustices like lack of access to reproductive health care. This is only part of the picture.
So it’s not just a case of adding insult to injury for men to not like women. In the greater context, this lack of affinity is mortar for the edifice. Without it, the wall couldn’t stand.
After all, are you going to let someone you like be mistreated? Would you purposefully hurt them, physically or otherwise? If they need something you have will you hold it back from them?
It speaks to the profound sickness of our society that such behaviors are indeed perfectly acceptable within our nominal “friendships” and “families.” But in friendships and families that were functional (as opposed to dysfunctional), there would be no place for dominance.
Can one “like” one’s servant? In an authoritarian arrangement, equality is absent by definition. She who is constrained to stay has made no meaningful choice to be there. He who oversees has reduced personhood to property. This is always the undercurrent.
One big tip-off that most men don’t like women is the fact that they usually don’t have any friends who are. And don’t want to.
Men’s social associations range from the casual (bar buddies) to the organized (gangs). These bonds (in the binding sense) extrude a camaraderie that can be explicitly exclusionary of women, as in “it’s a guy thing” or more crudely, “bro’s before ho’s.”
Such networks are threaded neatly throughout the fabric of society, shaping every private and public institution. “The old boys’ club” is what’s its upper class manifestation is called, but the cutesiness of that appellation belies its overbearing malignancy, which is anything but pretty.
Regarding their lack of friendships with women, it is sad but true that most men don’t have the faintest idea what they’re missing out on and will probably die ignorant of it.
When men are directly presented with the fact of sexism, most react in one of the following ways:
- deny its existence outright
- justify it on cultural grounds such as religion or ethnicity
- exonerate it with pseudo-scientific criteria (i.e., fake Darwinist clap-trap)
- tolerate it as a subject, but refuse to take it seriously
- pretend to care in order to get laid
- oppose it in name but not in material deed
Men like these are all firm believers in the ultimate beneficence of the status quo. This loyalty to the mainstream blinds them to the reality of their lives and those of the women they know. Despite any claims to the contrary, they are men who simply don’t like women. Their responses do not express appreciation, respect and value of women as other human beings of equal worth. They are all supremacy standing its ground.
Why are so many men like this?
In contemporary parlance: “Because patriarchy.”
Sexism is but one element of Patriarchy, a larger syndrome that targets the planet itself for oppression. Put another way, men mistreating women is part and parcel of “Man” mistreating Mother Nature. This mode of dominance has cultural roots in the book of Genesis, a text revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, all religions that peddle misogyny.
As a worldwide and powerful, ecocidal phenomena, Patriarchy is nobody’s friend, not even to men.
As so well said by bell hooks:
“Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples. Since it is a system that denies men full access to their freedom of will, it is difficult for any man of any class to rebel against patriarchy, to be disloyal to the patriarchal parent, be that parent female or male.”
So see, nobody’s winning.
Nevertheless, men don’t usually see what’s going on. Not in their own lives and not in the big picture.
Seeing Patriarchy does not require magic powers. Intrinsically, everyone has the ability to do so. In practice, though, many do not. However, it does seem a general rule that the less privilege one has in society, the more likely one is to see it clearly. This makes perfect sense: the more you benefit from the system, the less reason you have to give it a second thought at all. It’s about agitation and friction. The rougher the ride, the less you can sleep.
So, any personal trait or circumstance that knocks you down a rung on the social ladder can inspire an opening in your outlook; for example, if you are born a woman, a person of color or if you discover you’re not straight. No matter why it is that you start to perceive more clearly, once you do, your opening can generate its own energy. The field of vision can then widen further – Look! there’s the forest I was missing for the trees – which can generate additional energy – Look! there’s a new kind of tree – and so on.
Once your seeing has taken on a life of its own, it no longer matters how you started. What’s crucial is that you started at all.
Together, what we need is liberation.
A movement that frees the individual and the culture. (I would add: from individuality and from the cultural, but that’s a whole ‘nother subject.)
Does this screed just boil down to: “the personal is the political”? Perhaps. Perhaps only in part. Either way, there’s a fifty year old torch that that can still set fires.