The myth of “Fast Black Girls” [TW: Rape]

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The myth of “Fast Black Girls” [TW: Rape].

 

Here is an interesting article about the sexualization of young Black girls. It is a good, if mildly disturbing, read about how young Black girls are sexualized to in such a way as to essentially make them inherently rape-able. It is another reminded that words form thoughts that guide actions. It does matter what you call people, it does matter how you describe behavior. This does far beyond semantics.

Under-appreciated Steps To Understanding Your Role In “Women’s Issues”

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War on womenWar on men

 

We’ve heard a lot about the War on Women and the War on Men in the news the past few months. Every conversation I hear about it seems to be missing a crucial point of view or idea. I am also amazed at how often important voices are left out of each of the conversations. This is my attempt to highlight a few [and by no means all, or even the most important] steps we can take to improve our conversations about issues of sex and gender. As always, I seek increase my own awareness through dialogue, so whether you agree or disagree with this list, please leave a comment on below.

O. Watch this video by Jackson Katz which inspired me to write this.

I think he effectively gives the argument for why I have a problem with somethings being a women’s issue and not a human or a man’s issue. I’m not talking about or advocating for “Men’s Rights” [a topic I will write about soon], I’m talking about how making something a woman’s issues means that it is something that women have to deal with and I can just tune out. This is why you hear the complaint from some men saying “well, we never talk about men’s issues I don’t see why I have to hear about women’s issues all the time.” First of all, we do talk about men’s issues some times but they are just called issues. Here is a great post about how Men are People, Women are Women from a friend of mine. Second, we should definitely talk about Men’s issues more but men need to be prepared to have real conversations about masculinity. Its not going to be easy.

Just like Women’s Issues are not just shopping,  reproductive rights and parenting, Men’s Issues are not just sports, sex and fatherhood. In fact, the issues are basically they same. Some men like shopping and some women like sports. All men should be concerned about domestic violence and reproductive rights and all women should be concerned with fatherhood and men’s health. We all may care about different aspects of these issues. Men may understandably be more concerned with their part in stopping domestic violence and women may be more concerned with how they can support or improve their children’s, niece’s or student’s relationship with their fathers. Yet these are issues that affect us all. Also, I am not calling for the end labeling things as women’s issues, merely advocating that we find a way for insure that everyone hears and is heard.

I think Lindy West put it best when she wrote:

Think of it like this. Imagine you’re reading a Dr. Seuss book about a bunch of beasts living on an island. There are two kinds of beasts: Fleetches and Flootches. (Stick with me here! I love you!) Though the two are functionally identical in terms of intellect and general competence, Fleetches are in charge of pretty much everything. They hold the majority of political positions, they make the most money (beast-bucks!), they dominate the beast media, they enact all kinds of laws infringing on the bodily autonomy of Flootches. Individually, most of them are perfectly nice beasts, but collectively they benefit comfortably from inequalities that are historically entrenched in the power structure of Beast Island. So, from birth, even the most unfortunate Fleetches encounter fewer institutional roadblocks and greater opportunity than almost all Flootches, regardless of individual merit. One day, a group of Flootches (the ones who have not internalized their inferiority) get together and decide to agitate to change that system. They call their movement “Flootchism,” because it is specifically intended to address problems that disproportionately disadvantage Flootches while benefiting Fleetches. That makes sense, right?

Now imagine that, in response, a bunch of Fleetches begin complaining that Flootchism doesn’t address their needs, and they have problems too, and therefore the movement should really be renamed Beastism. To be fair. The problem with that name change is that it that undermines the basic mission of the movement, because it obscures (deliberately, I’d warrant) that beast society is inherently weighted against Flootches. It implies that all problems are just beast problems, and that all beasts suffer comparably, which cripples the very necessary effort to prioritize and repair problems that are Flootch-specific. Those problems are a priority because they harm all Flootches, systematically, whereas Fleetch problems merely harm individual Fleetches. To argue that all problems are just “beast problems” is to discredit the idea of inequality altogether. It is, in fact, insulting.

1. Embrace Complexity:

Understand that none of these issues are black and white. I even disagree with one or two points on all the articles I link to because ultimately these are complex issues and all of us have several lenses and paradigms we see them through. What’s important is that just because you disagree with one part of someone’s argument shouldn’t mean you disregard it completely. You might be a pro-choice man and find a women’s right to choose appalling given that the fetus has no say. You have a right to that opinion but that doesn’t men you should disregard the uproar when people talk about “legitimate rape” just because you like their stance on abortion. Similarly, you might identify as sex positive or sexually liberated but don’t forget that everyone’s sexual experience may not have been as positive as yours.

Bottom line: not all women who are pro-choice have internalized oppression or men who have guilt connected to their masculine identities made effeminate by feminism. These issues and our reactions to them are as complex as we are.

2. Understand that there is a problem:

I get it, maybe you think that women have gone to far. That whatever wave of feminism we are up to now has upset the natural order of things. Maybe you are woman who likes the role which women have been traditionally expected to fill. Maybe you believe that men should be the head of household because God said so. Maybe you are man who is tired of being portrayed as the dumb, overweight husband on T.V. Maybe you are Black man who is tired of young, college educated white women telling you how privileged you are to be a man. Great, you have a right to those opinions. What you shouldn’t do is forget that gender inequality exist because you either think you aren’t directly hurt by it or dislike the people talking about it.

We all have different takes on what the problem is, it severity, urgency and its causes but we should all agree that there is a problem of gender inequality in human society. There are numerous examples of human civilization having some problem with gender. From the examples the severe oppression of women world wide to accusations of reverse sexism, it is clear that it is out there. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first [er second? Third?] step in dealing with it.

3. Learn the power of active listening and intentional speech:

Words matter and how we talk to each other matters. Part of understanding the complexity of these issues is understanding that the are often very personal. This not only means that open dialogue is required to hear different sides of these personal issues but that this open dialogue needs to happen in a safe place. We will learn nothing from each other if we keep on the same accepted scripts and refuse to be vulnerable to each other. I found this article by Ana Mardoll to be helpful for that. It is talking specifically to men about being a feminist ally but I think it is helpful for how to talk about gender in a safe place and how to stand up for justice when surrounded by people who don’t think there is a gender problem. Therefore, I think it is also useful to women. Since society tells women that they are emotional thinkers I’ve noticed that some women assume that they are more emotionally aware than all men because they are women. The sad truth is that we are just not that introspective of species. Emotional awareness takes hard work and all genders have to do it. While different genders may have different emotional work to do, we all, as humans, have to do some.

 

4. Learn what other people think Patriarchy is and then come up with your own definition:

Perhaps you disagree with me about what the problem is? Perhaps you think that feminism went to far. Perhaps you think even radical feminist aren’t advocating that we go far enough? Either way, patriarchy is central to issues of “the gender problem” and questions of if it exists are in many ways secondary to what does it look like. I firmly believe that you have to have your own definition of the systemic problem {patriarchy} [or lack their of] before you can argue about the daily iterations of it {misogyny}.

The OED defines Patriarchy as “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” It is pretty difficult to argue that we don’t live in Patriarchy given that definition. [If you would like to argue that we don’t, please, post a respectful comment to that effect.] Yet, ultimately this is an overly simplified definition of the term. For a more in-depth look at the term I’d suggest going here or here.

Hopefully, understanding different ways that patriarchy is defined will convince you that Patriarchy does exist in some form. It doesn’t mean that every man has some societal power over every women. There are many women with more power in the world than me.  It also doesn’t even mean that the men who do have power are openly bigoted or sexist. It is possible to have a patriarchal system in which CEO’s all have programs designed to bring more women into underrepresented fields. Unfortunately, Patriarchy doesn’t need bigotry to sustain itself, undiagnosed and unprocessed bias is more than enough.

In my personal understanding  of the term, Patriarchy exists on two fronts: Power and Privilege. There is the real power that some people [male, female and intersex] have to exert their will [conscious or subconscious] on society and there is the privilege that is afforded to individuals based on their existence within a group which is believed to have power.

Power, in my definition of patriarchy, is the ability to exert your will [conscious or subconscious] over other people. It is important to realize is that power doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are layers of power interacting with each other. Just like having a Black President doesn’t mean that racism is gone, having a female Speaker of the house didn’t mean that women achieved true equality. Nancy Pelosi is powerful by just about any definition and her position as the de facto leader of Democrats in Congress [Harry who?] is a testament to how far women have come in society. Yet, one look at the Republican convened panel on women’s health, shows us that sometimes the dominance of one group’s subconsciously biased view on the world can constrain even the most powerful people in a society. In this case, congress [a body  comprised overwhelmingly of men] decided to have a panel on women’s health and invited people who they perceived as qualified to brief them. The panel ended up being all men talking about women. These congressmen chose men to talk to them about women’s health for a variety of reasons. One of the those reasons is because people tend to like to hear themselves talk. Humans have a natural tendency to want to hear facts from people who act, think and look like us and most of the members of congress on the panel were men. Another, more destructive reason, is the notion of “qualifications,” as in what makes someone qualified to talk about an issue, is biased towards men. We as society are used to men being authority figures and explaining things to us. This means that the voices of women as a group, whose health as group was in question, are left out of the conversation. Not to mention the fact that there are a number of women who are actual trained experts in women’s health and can speak articulately beyond their own personal experience.

When the dominance of the most powerful group in a societies point of view becomes termed “normal,”  members of that group are granted privileges just for perceived as being part of that group. For instance, it is considered “normal” for a boy to be good at math. Science and finance are seen as traditionally male careers. If I were to pursue a career in science or finance I would not have to deal with the problems associated with stepping out a my gender caste. A woman might have to deal with people suggesting she try nursing, teaching or being a mother instead. For many women these suggestions are merely an annoyance, for others there are a barrier to success and advancement.

Privilege is complex but well discussed check out some interesting takes on the complexity of privilege in terms of gender: black women and slut shamming and benevolent sexism.

5. Learn what your role in Patriarchy is:

We all have a role to play in Patriarchy [beyond dismantling or perhaps convincing every one that it doesn’t exist]. I personable believe that the role isn’t as simple as victim and perpetrator or oppressor and oppressed. I, as a man, benefit from Patriarchy. I stand a good chance of getting paid more for the same job than my sister will. I can expect to be listened to in many circles because I am a man and it is seen as normal for me to deferred to [granted, age, race and class sometimes makes this male privilege somewhat null and void.] Yet, at the same time, as a non-hetero-normative man, a man who doesn’t fit naturally into what society expects a man to be, I am also oppressed by Patriarchy. I find the idea of a “real man” in all his well muscled, anti-intellectual, emotionally stunted, alpha male grandiosity to be stifling. It is not an ideal that I can or want to live up to. It curtails my human potential by telling me that I’m not really a man. I personally believe that in internalizing patriarchy I have in effect oppressed my self and other men as well as women. I’ve had to come to terms with this fact in order to start the process of slowly deprogramming myself from patriarchy thinking, which is an on going process.

Similarly, women have complex roles in Patriarchy as well. What arethe moral implications of women who knowingly support patriarchal images of submissive women for their own profit? How does race and white privilege effect your role in patriarchy? What about women in Latino or Asian cultures with their diverse gender roles and stereotypes? How does class change our role?

6. Grow!

In my opinion, the purpose of understanding your role in issues of gender is for both personal and collective growth. I think that conversations about gender roles is essential not because we convince bigots to not be bigots but because we can examine our own biases and hang-ups which impede change more than bigotry. I know, as a man with an over active conscience, that it is easy to get bogged down in guilt or despair. Yet we should not let shame, guilt, anger or pain stop us from striving to understand ourselves and those around us. We need to be introspective to understand why we do what we do and how what do effects those around us. The better we understand that, the easier it will be to tackle and solve gender issues.

I’m interested in hearing what other under-appreciated steps people think there are.

My Problem With Equality

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Defend Equality [face]                                                                                                                                         Defend_Equality [fist]

Sometimes I forget what equality actually means. By that I mean I sometimes forget that equality is a two way street. If I treat others as I would want to be treated then I have to treat myself how I would like to be treated. I have to cut myself the slack I cut others and have to hold people to the same standards I live my life by. If I recognize that this human being in front of me is a worthwhile being with a narrow but valuable slice of the human experience then I must recognize that I too am a worthwhile human being. Equality means that while my sister is a wise, responsible pillar of support for me, she is also needs help from time to time. It means that even my father who seems almost static in his resiliency needs a break every now and then.

I am amazed at how little time I actually spend thinking about people as fully functional entities outside of the role they play in my life and how often certain people in my life are put on pedestals and seem divorced from petty concerns. As my uncle might say, I have slowly come to learn that “everybody’s shit stinks.”  Everybody worries, gets scarred, and everybody has flaws. It is as limiting and bothersome to interact with people as if “their shit doesn’t smell” as it is to assume that they are inferior. By putting people on a pedestal we refuse them room to run, exercise and grow strong. Pedestals are as limiting as chains.

I’m reminded of this more and more as I enter the dating world of new city. This means meeting and interacting not only with different women but different kinds of women. I have learned to appreciate this diversity and try to not go into each date assuming I know more than I’ve been told about them. This is complicated with a personal tendency, a waning tendency but a tendency none the less, to try and place people in some hierarchy in relationship to myself. In terms of dating this usually means that a girl is put so high on a pedestal as to be labeled unattainable or I spend an inordinate and honestly disturbing amount of time finding enough flaws for her to be brought down to a “manageable level”. I used to think that this “manageable level” was the same as equality, that in a sense I was reassuring myself that they were as flawed as me. Yet, over time I’ve come to realize that this is not the case. A manageable level is comfortably below me in some way because, as stated earlier, I have a problem with equality.

In trying to figure out exactly what problem was I was aided, ironically, by a particularly bigoted blog post. A female friend of mine, with whom I would often talk about gender with, recently sent me a blog post called “The Case Against Female Self Esteem.” I won’t post a link to it, as I normally would, because I don’t feel a need to give it more traffic but you can Google it if you feel the need.  The blog post, written by a man with a different problem with equality, makes a few main if illogical points. Most notable are that most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem and that vulnerability is inherent to femininity. I will look far beyond the factual inaccuracies of the post, the readily apparent projections of an emasculated psyche and out right bigotry.

The first thing that pique my interest in the post was the claim that most “girls” have done nothing to earn to self-esteem. The author goes on to explain unlike the supposedly lazy female self, a man who is “jacked” has dedicated time to his physique and that dedication is admirable. The author proves this fact by saying that no one would respects a man who sits down and plays video games all day. Women, in his mind, tend to spend their times getting college degrees in puppetry or other soft [i.e. non-STEM] degrees, working in human resources, teaching, nursing and other non-essential industries.  Thus, having done nothing of note, women have no right to self-esteem, which is earned and not inherent (a claim, if not outright dubious, at least begs proof).

What is thought provoking about this to me is how the author clearly gendered his world and proclaimed all things worthwhile are Male and all things supportive or extra are Feminine. Not to mention that my mother was in Human Resources, as was my father, and their dedication to craft far out stripped any body builder I have ever met but is an argument for another time.

Upon reading this piece I began to wonder how this author’s problem with equality compared with my own. Like the author, my world is inherently gendered. I still think of speaking about my emotions as a feminine activity. Even this blog feels slightly feminine to me. I realized in exploring that idea, that of my gendered world, that I have come to think of the world as split between Male and Female as two cooperating forces that seek balance. I don’t intellectual think this feeling has a ton of merit or truth yet it a sense of how I view the world that I have come to realize subconsciously informs my actions. The author of this blog post on the other hand seems to think of Male and Female as complementary forces, each with a specific duty and place within a specific hierarchy.

[I’m still trying to flesh out this idea of a gendered world and would love to hear any thoughts about it]

Like the author against female self-esteem, I do find vulnerability attractive. Yet, I have the sense that what I find attractive about vulnerability defers from his. There was I time when I could sympathize with the desire to be a “real man,” the type of man whom protected women, sheltered women and provided for women. I think that idea, that women have an inherent need to be protected by men, speaks to a great deal of insecurity within men. For me at least, it speaks to a need of mine to be needed. A need which itself arises from feelings of uselessness and a profound lack of self-worth. In this mind set, women become something to give me meaning and value. This either chains women into a role as tools or sets them on pedestals as tokens of self-worth and personal prowess. As I grew up and found my own feelings of self-worth in other endeavors, the need to be needed did not go away but lost a significant facet of it urgency. I eventually found that I wanted to be needed and, honestly, who doesn’t want to be needed every now and again? [Again, commitment phobia is yet another topic for another time]

As I became less insecure I became more open. I developed very strong and sustaining friendships with several women who taught me a valuable lesson: vulnerability allows for intimacy and when someone is allowing themselves to be vulnerable with you, that is as much a sign of strength and security as it is trust. While, problems with intimacy is literally a blog post for another time, I will say that it took be a while to learn the difference between when vulnerability speaks to an inherent weakness and when allowing yourself to be vulnerable in order to increase intimacy is a show of strength. I think this is so fundamental that it is a lesson that men who have learned it need to discuss more often and teach their sons.

It was not an easy lesson to learn and was not learned over night. There were a lot of times when every vulnerable statement had to be stated in the most masculine terms [droping my voice an octave, cracking my knuckles etc]  and qualified a million times over. This posturing before allowing yourself to be vulnerable not only lessens the intimacy between two people but again, speaks to insecurities that should be worked out.

Now my more mature, almost emotionally adult, self views intentional vulnerability as attractive because I have learned to value of intimacy no matter how fleeting. Intimacy allows us to see each other with our walls and guards down and I believe that we have a lot to learn from each other when we do. This intimacy is valuable far beyond the romantic endeavors that many men think off. Intimacy between two human beings is useful not only outside of the bed room but devoid of any sexual or romantic context.

For example, while in Chicago I grew very close with one of my cousins. I talked to him about every aspect of my life in an open and honest way. As I sat and listened him talk about his marriage, trouble and triumph at work and heard stories of fatherhood I learned the value of family as well as the burdens and rewards of being responsible.  The intimate conversations I’ve had with the few men I trust enough to have them have taught me a lot about what if really means to be a man; what it means to be a responsible adult for that matter with all the burdens, chains, freedom and strengths it brings.

Yet speaking to people with your guards down is inherently dangerous. The more you open yourself the more you risk. What if they don’t like what they see? In thinking about this fact, I realized that I solved this problem in a very juvenile way at first. I examined the other person for all of their flaws and gathered enough ammunition to destroy my respect for them if they wounded me. It allowed for an awkward mix of vulnerability and security. It is if instead of building a wall around my self esteem I established a nuclear deterrent. Over time I have consciously tried to build my own confidence and feeling of self-worth up enough to be open to the world without the nuclear option. I believe that that is yet another difference between my problems with equality and the problems of the aforementioned author.

I have trouble seeing anyone as an equal because it means that it would not be fair to stock up ammunition on them. This stems from the fact that if someone doesn’t like me that doesn’t make them a bad person and part of interacting with people as equals is recognizing that. The flip side is that if I show them my vulnerability as my equal I am forced to take their response to heart because I value their opinion. Again, I have to understand that, like me, they have a narrow sliver of the human experience than informs their world view. So like mine, their opinion is just that, and opinion not a statement of fact. This new world view and understanding of equality is tiresome but incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much from conversations among equals in the past few months. Even the phrase “narrow sliver of the human experience” is one paraphrased from statement a friend made during an intimate conversation.

I suspect the author of “The Case Against Female Self Esteem” would disagree with the benefits of intimacy and the basic idea that we have anything to learn from each other’s human experience. That is why spitting fact after fact about equality means nothing to people who hold fast to bigoted ideas. At the end of the day, they fundamentally deny that a women’s narrow slice of the human experience has any value.  I think this is true of most, if not all, prejudice. It stems from a refusal to accept the validity of each other’s human experience. No amount of facts and figures can change someone’s opinion of a group if they refuse to acknowledge that simple fact.

So, with no further ado, I bring you my thoughts on how to treat people:

  1. Treat people as equals.
    1. There are a lot of arguments to be made for the inherent equality of people but I’m not actually sure I agree with them. I treat everyone as an equal because it is the easiest way to learn from the human experience and the most sure way to ensure that the people in your life add real tangible value to your life.
  2. Equality is not only about raising everyone to your level, it is also about raising yourself to theirs.
    1. By refusing to deny the nobility of the least among us we cannot help but affirm our own nobility. If you can value the poise of the women asking for money to feed her family than it should be easier to stay poised when facing your own triumphs.
  3.  Our worldview is determined by our sliver of the human experience and given the vast multitude of lives that are being lived it is important to recognize that that sliver is inherently narrow. We cannot know what it is like to be an orphan because we read Oliver Twist. The most we can seek to do is gain access to the equally narrow human experience of others through honest dialog and expand our world view.
  4. Help other people.
    1. Like equality, there are a lot of arguments for helping people. Some with more merit than others. The only argument I will give is that from my experience compassion and generosity are as much muscles and tools as they are virtues. The more we utilize them, the stronger they get and the more useful they are. We will all be faced with moments where a little more patience would help get us what we want or need. Whether it is teaching a child a lesson or dealing with a difficult boss. The more exercise you have treating being with generosity and compassion the easier it will be to tap into them when it is to your advantage.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from people about their own thoughts for how to treat people or thoughts on mine. Do you also have another problem with equality?

Justice As An Imaginative Act

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I was recently reading a counterstorytelling post about “sex-positivity” as only being positive for white, middle class, heterosexual women.

 

http://counterstorytelling.tumblr.com/post/41102914582/sex-positivity-isnt-so-positive

 

It makes the familiar argument that sex positivity is only liberating for a small group of women for whom the idea of virginal purity was oppressive and limiting. For women and queer people from minority communities who have a history of sexual fetishism and exotic sexual exploitation sex positivity reinforces extremely harmful and limiting stereotypes. While I had heard this argument before, the author mentioned an idea that I had not remembered ever hearing before: justice as an imaginative activity.

This seems to mean that justice in regards to issues of identity and oppression is essentially about reimagining our identities and rethinking the social templates for interaction. I think this is an interesting lens to look at justice in identity politics. The implicit idea seems to be that seeking justice through changing laws and systems of oppression is not sufficient if we still operate on racist, sexist, homophobic, classist etc frameworks. It is the idea that in order for a man to no longer be sexist we would have to do more than treat women as equals he would have to start thinking of women as equals.

This resonates with me on a very personal level as I have been rethinking my essay on the American Male. While I still agree with much of what I said, I still wonder how much of it was simply me projecting my own hang ups onto a larger social problem. I was never really able to find many men to talk about the essay with so some amount of projection was unavoidable in a sense. Yet most of the women I talked to said that they didn’t think the men in their lives had all the emotional stunting and sexual hang-ups that I was talking about. Though, to be fair, they were also women who actively avoided stereotypical men and bro culture.

Since publishing that article on my website I’ve done a lot of what in retrospect I can call the imaginative work of justice. I have explored my inability to talk to women outside of a sexual or romantic context and I have become more focused on learning about other people and that has inadvertently made me less self-centered. I am slightly embarrassed by how some of my issues seem to have been a result of being self-centered but mostly happy that I have at least grown as person in the last couple of months.

I realized the extent of that growth as I was sitting with a female friend of mine the other day and was able to talk to her without the barriers that our multiple identities sometimes create. I was aware that she was an attractive, middle class, college educated, young, white, woman yet that was very much in the background. I was able to talk to her as just another person in a way that I am rarely able to talk to anyone, male or female. It was a way that was just in the imaginative sense. She was not a character in my Socratic dialogue, a model on a pedestal to impress or a supporting manic pixie dream girl character in my romantic comedy.

I’m not sure how or why I developed the habit of making people supporting characters in my life story instead of fully realized beautiful individuals. I could probably blame my obsession with characters on writing or movies but in ultimately it is an odd form of self-centeredness. I am now going to commit myself to increasing my engagement with the imaginative aspect of justice. I am going to seek to rethink how I conceptualize my fellow human beings and recreate my template for interacting everyone: male, female or zir.

The American Male

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Before we begin I should identify myself. I am middle class American Male with an elite private education. I am an African American who was raised by two college educated and loving parents who are still married and were never abusive to me, my siblings or each other. I am a privileged American Male and I have been oppressed by the American patriarchy1 and have been essentialized, dirtied and discarded by it’s rape culture. I cannot escape who am I nor would I want to if I could. Yet it is important that background, that baggage of oppression and privilege colors my lens, gives me a certain language to formulate thoughts and thus influences how I express myself on the page.
After reading Tucker Reed’s harrowing account of a rape that was, in her words, “fairly typical” I found many emotions and thoughts I just mentioned which I had been struggling with for a while come to a head. For those of you reading this article that have not heard of Tucker Reed I suggest, at the very least, that you read this essay http://www.xojane.com/issues/tucker-reed-outs-rapist-at-usc . I don’t feel comfortable paraphrasing her ordeal so I will not attempt to now. I will say that even though in her account of her case there is no rational gray area of moral responsibility and reprehensibility it did bother me how many men I knew and respected might think there was. It bothered me that there was a time, not so long ago, before late night conversations with my feminist friends about rape culture that I might have been among them. I distinctly remember my teenage self thinking that girls shouldn’t be able to say no after a certain point.
I am both ashamed of being that teenager and worried that perhaps more of him than I care to admit might still exist inside, misogynistic2 ideas going unchallenged. I have for many years wondered at the extent to which I have banished the chauvinism that my female friends had shown me was so disgustingly ubiquitous. To what extent had my misogyny turned from the undigested male supremacy of boy hood, to the patronizing chivalry in my youth to something I can only think to call nice guy patriarchy? Nice guy patriarchy is when you expect people to give you credit no longer actively and overtly oppressing them. Nice guy patriarchy is like saying “hey, I’m a nice guy. I won’t ever hit you, I understand how me and my fellow men have oppressed you, I’ll march with you at Dike-March and hold your hand when your boy-friend [who is not as enlightened as me] breaks you’re heart…and then you’ll be obligated to have sex with me…but don’t worry…we’ll make love not fuck.”
I have been thinking about that for quite sometime before the idea hit me…Tucker Reed’s rapist probably thought he was a nice guy too. That thought hit me hard. It reminded me of all the times I have done or said something off hand that really hurt a woman I cared about. It brought up emotions that I didn’t want to acknowledge and so I didn’t, for a while. I held it together until one day I had a conversation about masculinity in America and I found that as soon as I began to voice my feelings on the subject I found a deep well of anger and aggression. Anger and aggression that I couldn’t place but had nothing to do with the topic at hand. The following essay is a personal and intellectual exploration of that anger and how I’ve come to understand it. I hope that maybe by explaining how I came to be where I’m at, I can start a conversation or two about moving through male-supremacy, patronizing chivalry, nice guy patriarchy to actual equality.
First of all let me say anger, like all emotion, is powerful. Anger is a universal facet of the human experience but in America, and in many other cultures, it is too often distinctly gendered3. We are socialized to view anger as a masculine emotion that, like farting or burping, is not something women have to deal with unless there male-counterpart is invading their personal space with it. There is probably a very depressing anthropological reason for this but it is unknown to me. This essay is concerned with the here and now. This essay is concerned with my personal journey of understanding The American Male as an unattainable idea that all American males, regardless of  race, religion, class and sexual orientation are socialized4 [in varying degrees] to strive for.
This is not to say that all American men are trying, consciously or sub consciously, to be The American Male. In fact many of the younger generation of men, the author included, are actively trying to fight against. The point is that we have to do it actively because we are still be measured by society, men and women alike, by the standard of The American Male. I have come to see that The American Male is an oppressive force in our society and that all Americans are oppressed by it. American men, through The American Male, created and maintain both the structure of patriarchy and its enforcer: rape culture5 and the act of maintaining this structure and enforcing our place at the top is so oppressive and oppressing that men are either forced to further stunt their emotional growth or, in their refusal to do so, develop a Du Bosian double-consciousness6.
Let’s take a minute to unpack that statement. The American Male is a concept of masculinity that I am constructing in this essay. It is one concept of masculinity, I am well aware that there are others. My argument is that The American Male is an amalgam of the more universal (though not completely universal) qualities of various other masculinities. The ideal white, middle class protestant man is different than the  ideal man in working class Irish Catholic culture which in turn is different than the ideal middle class black baptist man. A man is one of many and is, in American, one of a diverse set. The Male in America, and probably the world, is much less diversified. I am making the argument that their are actually too few ways to be male in America.
This complicated thesis is the stuff of books, literally. It would be silly of me to assume I am the first one to think of this, or that I am even capable of fully distilling the nuisances of my own beliefs. Instead I will try to walk a fine line between my limited intellectual understanding of critical race, gender and sexuality  theory and a few choice moments of my lived experience. I often find that most people, let alone men, have not read the sort of works that deal with gender theory and that this often leads to misunderstandings when people start to use academic jargon colloquially. I hope by telling my story and by introducing some simple academic concepts we can have conversation about how we all act as oppressors in some way because we are all privileged in some way. That privilege might be as Americans, Middle or Upper Class, college educated, Christians, men etc and the act of oppressing others in this way limits our own human potential. It is my hope that all of us, especially white, heterosexual men, can come to the table of humans disabling the patriarchy on more equal ground even if the sum total of our oppression is not the same or even similar.
Let’s talk now about this idea of privilege. I realize that many of my readers have not had the hours of workshops on privilege that me and my friends have. For many Americans privileged is something they get called by liberal activists. What is privilege really? Privilege is basically social, economic and other capital advantages, specifically when those advantages are a result of being part of a demographic. All Americans are privileged abroad because as Americans our nation was able to secure treaties in many (though not all) countries that detail how we should be treated. We also have powerful embassies in most global cities that will help you get home. Not to mention that the U.S. Tends to send in the marines to get their tourist and students out of countries before wars and genocides erupt.
Anyone who discounts this as privilege should study the outbreak of any major modern conflict. Any foreign nationals are generally escorted out when things get tense yet people tend to be a bit more selective when bombs start being dropped. Americans can usually be evacuated by the personnel of any western power while citizens of Ghana might be stuck in Rwanda because they Dutch weren’t willing to risk their soldiers for an African. That is one, very obvious form of privilege.
It is important to note that being privileged in one way does not make you immune to oppression. African Americans soldiers fighting in Europe during WWI often had to come to terms with being privileged abroad and oppressed at home. The important thing about privilege is to recognize it and understand when it works in your favor in order to not like your privilege oppress those around you.
This brings us to oppression and how it will be thought of in this essay. Oppression is a heavy word. German Jews were oppressed, Blacks in the Jim Crow south were oppressed and women are oppressed basically every where. In light of this, are men really oppressed? In short, yes. There are clearly levels of oppression. If blacks are oppressed and women are oppressed by separate though interrelated systems then black women are more oppressed in general than the black men of their class, era and region. I am not making the argument that men are as oppressed as women by the patriarchy or by any other force. I am not even making the argument that they are even remotely the same level, the similarity is qualitative and not quantitative. Oppression is the systematic limiting of the human potential, political and social engagement, OR the accumulation of capital of a group by a society or cultural institutions.
Men are not generally excluded from political or social life and are certainly not hampered in their accumulation of capital. The oppression of men by the patriarchy is focused on the systematic limiting of human potential. Human potential, as used in this essay, is our cognitive, intellectual, physical and emotional capacity to experience life, process life and express ourselves. Men are socialized to be emotionally stunted and hampered in making to real human connections. That limiting of human potential is what this essay is all about.
So, let us start first with our definition of The American Male. The American Male seems, at least conceptually [and possibly anthropologically], a perversion of both stoicism and the red headed step child of consumerism. It is an amalgam in which control of emotion is perverted into emotional repression and you are judged by your unmitigated or challenged possession of objects, especially non-human persons. The American Male is the emotionless father whose wife and child obey him unquestioningly. He is the quintessential Patriarch: a man because he is King and a King because he is a man.
Why The American Male is emotionless and why he feels he must posses his family is unknown to me. It could be a natural, if destructive reaction, to basic human uneasiness with life’s uncertainty [control what is in your control]. Or it could be some base animalistic instinct that we have let go unchecked in civilization merely because we have viewed it as convenient since it places us men on the top of the social hierarchy when we have no legitimate right to be there. Regardless, he is emotionless and he does posses his whole family as objects or non-human persons.
This act of possession varies from family to family. In my family it is best observed by the manner in which my Grandfather and Uncle create rules in their households. I distinctly remember not wanting to have to a curfew as an adult staying with my great uncle. I distinctly remember my great uncle telling me that he bought his house with his own money and as long as I stayed with him I would have to follow his rules. What my great uncle was saying was that he owned this house and everything in it or, perhaps more directly, he owned this house and so he owned me. This idea of property, or that a man’s home is his castle, is based on this idea of The American Male as a consummate owner.
An episode of Mad Men can illustrate how the idea of ownership and masculinity were sold to the American public yet is older than the dawn of mass media. The term  “a man’s home is his castle” is an old saying. It comes from the English common law and the idea that “an Englishman’s home is his castle.”8 The idea of a man having sovereignty over his house is therefore an old and well documented one.
It is important to note that The American Man necessarily objectifies9 his wife and children because, if slavery taught us anything, it is near impossible for one human to feel that he rightfully owns his equal. Thus slavery and other forms of human ownership are always accompanied by systematic dehumanization10 and othering11 of owned people. For The American Male women must become docile damsels in distress in need of a strong man in order to justify this system of ownership. Therefore women are still socialized to be barbies. Even though modern barbie may have gone to college and is now a lawyer she is still a object to be valued by Ken for her high heeled shoes, make-up, inhumane figure and “perfect” blonde hair.
This reality has several immediate implications. One is that the equality of women is anti-thetical to the ideal of The American Male [you cannot own your equal]. Men are supposed to bread winners and deciders. The American Man doesn’t ask for directions or take orders from his wife. Even the idea of a man being whipped or a wife as “the old ball in chain” is sometimes (though not always) an expression of men struggling with equality in relationships. Often when a man is accused of “being whipped” it is when he can’t do something he might want to do because his partner objects. Unless his partner is truly controlling it usually no more than his partner asking for an equal say in decisions.
I can barely recount how many times I have heard a married man talk about his wife criticizing how he spends “his money” as if making more money makes all of it his. Some men, especially older men, often talk about management of household funds as their domain. The area in which they should, as if by a decree of natural law, have the final say.
Another implication of the Patriarch as king idea is that the Patriarch as father all too easily creates the cycle of men trying to become their father’s power without their father’s emotional repression. This desire exists in the son without realizing that that emotional repression is a result of that power and actions needed to maintain it. I have often said that I don’t want to be the kind of father my father was when I was younger. I think most people, of all genders, say this at some point in their life. My father was a wonderful parent but he was, at least in comparison to my mother, not particularly emotionally expressive.
I would later come to realize that my father was much more communicative than my friends’ fathers but as a child I was hurt with the way that my father showed love. I never questioned whether he loved me but it was a rough and tough love. My father showed his love mostly through providing for me materially and by devoting large amounts of energy and time towards me as well as showing interest in my ideas and my safety. My father worked a lot but also spent a great deal of time teaching me basketball, how to use a hammer, how to fish and other traditional father son activities. I think all of those things are phenomenal and were fundamental to me becoming the man I am today. What my father didn’t do was talk about how he felt about me however, and I think that is problematic.
My mother by comparison was very verbally and physically affectionate. We were constantly hugged and told how much she loved us. My mother was quiet without being submissive and tactful without always being subtle. When my mother asked me to do something I usually did it and if not I generally got a look. My mother has way of looking of looking at you with one eye-brow raised as if to say “really?…you wanna go there?” As an adult I realize that all the adults in my mother’s family had this look but as a child it was distinctly my mother’s.
My father on the other hand had a much more violent look. Before I explain my father’s look I think I would be remiss not to talk about violence. The World Report On Violence and Health (WRVH) defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” My father’s look then could be understood as a threat of use of his power for the purposes of deprivation or physical injury. Growing up my father never beat me nor can I remember a spanking that actually physically hurt. I vaguely remember being having memories of childhood spankings that made my bottom hurt but even by my teenage years these were already hazy memories.
Yet my father, 6’4 240 lbs, had mastered what I only half jokingly refer to as “the credible threat of violence.”  My father could put the fear of god into me as a child. I was reasonable sure that my father would never strike me out of anger (which he never did) yet I was physically afraid of him.  For the record, as unhealthy as I think this is, I realize now that I have internalized that as my ideal.
I remember my father once had to confront one my older sister’s principals. I realize now as an adult that this memory is actually an amalgam of my favorite/most embarrassing Tony Goggans moments. My father had been working out in our pasture either rebuilding our barn or unloading a bail of alfalfa. Upon hearing that yet another racist act had been directed at my sister my father says “are you serious?” in his voice that is powerful despite being half an octave higher than you might expect. The extent to which my sister was actually the victim of a some lingering institutional racism was always questionable but my father responded to this report in the only way he knew how. He took a quick shower, brushed his jet black hair and his salt and pepper beard and put on a dark 90’s style suit. Instantly my father went from pioneer to businessman and stopped walking and started striding. My father drove to the school and parked the car and hurried my mother from the car impatiently. My mother probably paused, slowly straitened her colorful scarf and smoothed out invisible wrinkles in her pant suit. This was how my mother let my father know not to rush her.
My mother would caution my father that we didn’t know what had happened and my father needed to calm down. My father would say “I got it Toni, I’m fine” in the way that let you know that he was anything but fine. Me and my siblings would pile out of the car, one of two black families for miles, six deep. My father strode with disproportionately long legs through the parking lot with my mother and I trailing behind and siblings between. There was a specific look that staff members would give my father when he walked into a room in a suit. He commanded respect from teachers in a way that made everyone uncomfortable but I would later imitate as a teacher. His chest was full of indignation and his eyes were clear and focused. His voice dropped closer to what you might expect a man of his size. He spoke clearly but excitedly. Early in childhood he would outright call my siblings’ teachers racist and threaten to go to the superintendent. There was a fear in the administrators eyes the first few times they had to deal with my father. My father’s righteous indignation was often embarrassing but as I realized that they listened to my father and started treated me differently I internalized my father’s anger as means of getting respect.
Now that I am older and find my self fighting to be heard I find my self channeling that memory of my father more and more. I want to be respected unquestioningly in the way that my father is in my glossed over amalgam memories. I want my kids to listen because I told them to and not because I gave them a good reason. In fact, I have internalized this overwrought image of my father so much that the first thought that crosses my mind when I see a disrespectful child is “someone needs to slap some sense into him.” Basically I subconsciously believe, as my a friend of mine once said,  “a boy should fear his father.”
Unfortunately for me and my hypothetical kids, The American Male’s inability to express non aggressive emotion is at odds with a child’s need for emotional support. Thus patriarch as king mentality also means that women must then become the emotion care givers of the family in order for civilization to have even a meager chance at survival.  The damage that this forced emotional labor does to women is beyond both my intellect and the scope of this essay. It is important to note though that this fact, this de facto role of the mother, becomes viewed as the only relationship in which The American Male can express non violent emotion. It is the only relationship in which The American Male does not seek to set himself above [until his father dies or is otherwise out of the picture].
I have always found it interesting how having a father leave or die changes many young boys relationship with their mother. While it certainly changes with culture, family structure and cohesion and class, the young boy often tries to fill his father’s shoe’s in whatever way he feels most important. I once had a close friend whose father had left his mother when he was fairly young. Once his older brother left home my friend started working to help out around the house. His relationship with his mother seemed, at least by this disinterested observer, to be almost like equals. He contributed financially to the household and felt that meant she should have less say over his life for that reason.
Perhaps a clearer more universal example is adult sons taking care of their elderly mothers. Often these sons have very healthy relationships with their mothers when their fathers are alive. Yet as soon as they assume responsibility for their mother’s care either through their father’s death or incapacitation their relationship to their mother changes. Some of this change is due, quite simply, to the added stress of being a care giver. Some of the changes though are the son taking the Patriarchal role or enveloping their mother into their existing mini-patriarchy. They become controlling and possessive of their mothers even if their mothers are still mentally sharp. When they bring their mother’s into their home they no longer feel obligated to allow their mother’s to have any say in their life. We often think of this a natural part of growing up yet upon closer examination something else is happening. We envelope our mothers into the sovereign law of “A Man’s Home Is His Castle” and instead of our mother’s being equals or guest in our house they become subordinates. Men tend to be more controlling and domineering of their mothers when their fathers have left the picture. This doesn’t mean that they are suddenly abusive only that the relationship is fundamentally changed.
Continuing on with aspects of The American Male, The American Male is inherently heterosexual. His heterosexuality is due to his need to control women as the other and to have no equal within his little kingdom. The reason that The American Male is so uncomfortable with homosexuality is manifold and will not be discussed here thoroughly admittedly more due to the author’s personal ignorance than space or time. Suffice it to say that homosexuality as men think of it intellectually reminds The American Male of the absurdity, oppression and limiting nature of maleness. Americans are notoriously uncomfortable with things that lay outside the realm of the boxed and categorized. Homosexuality as a cultural idea or stereotype is a different and more nuisanced issue because Gay culture is a reaction to the oppression of maleness in much the same way that the blackness of the sixties is a reaction to the oppression of whiteness of the sixties. Homosexuality in theory, that of two men sharing some deep romantic emotion, is an offense to the very idea of how men show emotion. The idea of expanding the limits of non-violent emotional reactions beyond the familial mother-son relation is hard enough, expanding into romantic relationships is actually rather new but to other men is truly paradigm shattering to American Maleness. It also shatters The American Male’s conception of sex.
Sex is not about emotional connection for The American Male as that would a be form of emotional expression. Sex is about power and therefore possession. I am hesitant to say sex is rape, if only because it conjures up misquoted images of Andrea Dworkin12, an intellectual powerhouse to whom this essay should not be compared.
I use the word rape to mean the use of violence to invalidate, disregard or otherwise eliminate consent for sexual acts. Violence again is, briefly, the use or threat of power or force to harm or deprive someone of something. If you objectify someone in order to allow yourself to not have to deal with them as an equal you are raping them regardless of if they say yes. You are raping them of their humanity by depriving them of their humanity in your eyes. More importantly, because men have a greater amount of social control by depriving their partners of humanity in their eyes men are contributing to the overall dehumanization of female non-persons. In this construction sex for The American Male is rape and the sexualization of the public sphere is the rape culture that enforces the will of the patriarchy.
In short, having a one-night stand with a girl you just met but recognizing that she is human with human needs and desire is not rape. Sleeping with your wife of twenty years who you feel exists to fulfill your sexual needs or perhaps with total disregard to her sexual needs is rape. Again, I am not arguing that all American men are rapist but that the way in which The American Male conceptualizes sex is rape. Rape culture, defined as such, will be further discussed later in the essay.
It is also important to note that many men do not divorce emotion from sex yet it is important that most American men have, at some point in their life [consciously or subconsciously], felt that they were expected to. The trope of men leaving right after sex and debates over how long are men required to cuddle and the “hit it and quit it” mentality are well known. The extent to which men who orchestrate these tropes in the public sphere [writers, actors, directors etc]  are aware that they are divorcing emotion from sex specifically as a way to reinforce maleness, patriarchy and their role in both is open to debate.
The last of the qualities of American Maleness I will discuss is perhaps the most bizarre, The American Male is incapable of non aggressive non-sexual physical affection. The reason for this phenomena, like many others, escapes me. Perhaps it is has simple as affection equals emotion and therefore weakness. Perhaps in some way, the act very act of removing emotion from sex causes us to view human relationships and actions in black and white.  This black and white thinking is then transferred to all forms of physical intimacy in such a way that all touch becomes sexual and personal non-emotional connection is always only verbal. In this way, human connection is factual and verbal “you are a good guy” and not a hug.
This is a bold statement I know but I think that while all men in America may not be incapable of separating sex and touch The American Male makes many have difficulty separating the two. Outside of their family members men tend to not touch people in non aggressive non-sexual ways. What this looks like in real life is that men stop hugging children after children reach a certain age. After that age men tend to touch people aggressively. We pat children on the head and ruffle their hair (a lighter form of the nuggies we would give to bully them) or we might toss them into the air playfully. I would argue that we feel comfortable rough housing with children because it subtly shows our power over them.
In many families fathers and sons rarely hug and in general men tend to not hug each other often. How times at a family event have you seen men, likely the older men in the family, hug all the women and shake hands with the men? It has become fashionable for younger men to do the “black hug” or the shake hands and then transition into a one armed aggressive back slapping hug that African-Americans have been doing for sometime. Men tend to feel awkward when they are too close to each other. This awkward feeling is usually diffused either by either man making a community about something being “gay” or by over-sexualizing a brief touch for comedic effect. It is almost as if all touch operates on a spectrum between sexual and violent and men feel uncomfortable with any touch and is not clearly either or both.
This is an opinion I formed long ago during my first forays into understanding The American Male’s relationship to emotion in men. I would be apt to write it off as some Freud-like projection of my own insecurities if I had not witnessed it first hand as a teacher. I think that any one who has observed an older man in a mentor role with a younger man has witnessed this. The moment when the two males look at each other and the younger man is unsure of whether he wants to hug or punch the older man. In some cases the older man realizes that a hug is necessary and often finds a female staff member to provide the physical non-sexual affection. Most men, like most humans, crave non-sexual physical affection but maleness sexualizes everything.  I often wonder if by making all affection sexual and by making sex by definition emotionless The Male has allowed itself to not have to deal with any emotion other than anger and still be a sexual if repressed being.
Now that we have, to a small extent, detailed the features of The American Male it is necessary to asses how men are oppressed by striving to live up to it. In order to understand this oppression it is first necessary to know that this standard is unattainable both for an individual and unsustainable in a society. Humans cannot become emotionless nor does not communicating emotion allow for productive communities to form. The heart of this oppression of The American Male to American males is that the idea that emotion is weakness leads to a lack of emotional maturity. American men tend to be unable to express the emotions they spend their whole childhoods repressing in non-violent ways. Men who swear to be better father’s than their own find themselves swearing out their kids because of this inability to process emotion without violence.
This is not to say that when any man feels sad he will punch his wife, though they sometimes do. Violence, understood as the threat or use of force or power, is the language through which men express emotion.  Basically I have found that many men cannot express emotion without a threat of force or a show of power that is equal to the weakness i.e vulnerability emotion makes them feel. This may take the form of outright abuse but most often this takes the form of an increase in aggressive behavior when explaining how they feel. Perhaps the man says something to a friend about how he really appreciates a birthday gift the conversation will often be either initiated or punctuating with a disarming punch in the chest or an aggressive slap on the back. Even the hand shakes men give each after emotional statements are firmer and more competitive.
Some less emotionally stunted men avoid much of the vulnerability of emotion by phrasing emotions as objective facts. A man might say “when my mother died it was hard” as opposed to “I was really hurt when my mother died.” Yet even these statements are usually said with oddly puffed out chests as if to say “I trust you but know that if you challenge my masculinity after I say this it’ll be a fight.”
The inability to speak about emotion contributes to our inability to process it as well. Unprocessed emotion builds and builds until we need emotional release. It is this emotion release of unprocessed emotion that makes the America man operating within the paradigms of The American Male his most destructive. When forced with the conflict of wanting to express emotion but not wanting to seem weak the flight or fight response kicks in and men either lash out violently or escape the emotion through drugs or empty sex [both of which often lead to different forms of violence].
These emotional outbursts are often done in sanctioned social events like sports, exercise or sexually aggressive dancing. This leads us to often associate violent tendency with typical male behavior and thereby sanction it.  Sometime these outbursts are less sanctioned but still common like  instigating physical or emotional fights. The escapism of The American Male is equally disruptive. Many men turn to alcohol, drugs or sex to escape their emotions and often end up being more violent as a result.
Other men deal with The American Male by simply trying to ignore the pressure to become him. Yet many of these men struggle to find a standard of manhood that is unrelated to The American Male thus described. Most still deal with the stress and self doubt that comes either from having no standard or not living up to the one they have. This too is oppression. Just because it is something these men shrug off or transfer the stress to other areas of there will does not mean it doesn’t limit their human potential.
Even the most well adjusted men who decide to become lawyers instead of teachers, play football just to not be called effeminate and avoid the opera so as not to be called gay. This subtle limiting of available options may not seem like much oppression and when compared to the trauma rape culture inflicts on women it certainly does not, yet it does mean that even men would be better off without the Patriarchy.
I know that many readers might say “I know a lot of guys who can express themselves emotionally.” This is true, many can, but I personally think that most of them are probably not as comfortable with it is as you might think. I cannot speak for how this uncomfortableness will play out in all men though I can say how I experience it.
Lets say someone says something that hurts my feelings. A coworker insinuates that I’m lazy and I feel sad. Eventually one of two things happens to me. I either wallow in sadness for a few seconds before I say “fuck them!” I don’t care what they think of me. Or, more likely, I realize that I do care what they think and I know that I will have to be an adult and talk to them about it. I then know intellectually that I have to process my emotion so that I can communicate it. As I began to stew on my pain I start to imagine expressing my emotion and immediately feel weak. This fear of weakness almost immediately creates a defensive chain reaction.
I start to worry that if I say I’m hurt that someone will confuse kindness and vulnerability for weakness. I start to fear vulnerability so much that I begin to think of the conversation as a conflict and eventually as a fight. Within a few seconds my feelings can go from sadness, to fear to anger. Once it reaches anger am I usually more comfortable because I know how to deal with this form of intellectualized anger. I began to envision fights, brawls and arguments that allow to spend my of intellectual anxiety. By thinking about fighting I am able to remind myself that I can fight and I am being non-violent  by choice and not being weak.
I think it is important that I have convince myself that I could beat the other person in some sort of violent altercation [usually physical with men and verbal with women] before I even think about dealing with the situation non-violently. I have deal with my emotional vulnerability and shallow feelings of being sad making me weak before I can express my emotion as anything but anger. This process isn’t always conscious, in fact I’m usually unaware that it is what I’m doing, but through years of introspection I’ve realized that is how I process pain. I don’t imagine that this is how all men process it but I do think that at some point most men who express their emotion have to come to terms, even momentarily, with a feelings of weakness or effeminacy. I think that in doing so men end up being more aggressive and violent than they would like to be.
Coming from this, for the vast majority of men the most oppressive facet of The American Male is simply the inability to connect with people on a human level. The more outwardly aggressive men may cause the most trauma to other people but even less aggressive men are still limited my the perversely Stoic American Male. Since The American Male sexualizes everything and avoids emotion it becomes difficult for him to form healthy relationships, especially with women. In fact we have skewed of vision of what a healthy relationship is. In a study done by Glamour magazine in partnership with National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) and other organizations nearly 30% of girls said they had never been in an abusive relationship but then reported that they have experienced abusive behavior like yelling, slapping or choking at the hands of a partner. Other studies say that as many as 1/3 of all women in America will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives. Intimate partner abuse is a very complicated subject with a variety of contributing factors so it would be overly simplistic and unsupported to say that all of this abuse is a result of The American Male. That being said, I think that it would naïve to not consider it a significant contributing factor.
For most men, The American Male prevents them from connecting with people on a more human level because it teaches them to be aggressive which automatically keeps people at a distance. No one wants to open up to someone and get close to them only to have them hurt you. It also teaches men to objectify women either as sexual objects to be owned or as fragile little idols that should be worshiped and protected. Either form of objectifying simplifies and essentializes women in a way that would make it impossible for men to see they whole woman and thus limit how he can connect with her.
By now I know that many readers are probably thinking, well okay, that’s some men but I still know men who are able to be completely comfortable with expressing non violent aggressive emotion. I even know men who don’t have to deal with emotional insecurities every time their feelings are hurt. What about them?
For those men who were either raised to ignore the trope of The American Male or have come as adults to free themselves of it are forced to have a Du Bosian double-consciousness. Yet unlike the negroes of Du Bois’ era, the two irreconcilable strivings are the man they want to be and the male their society expects them to be and assumes they are. Just like African-Americans around the turn of the previous century, modern men see negative images of themselves all over: rapist, philandering politicians or movie characters who treat the women like garbage. Yet they also see mass media images of these macho men being successful, getting promotions, being the hero and getting the girl. By adulthood many of these men realize that this images are false but they also know that men in their family or co-worker often call them pussy or bitch simply for suggesting that they shouldn’t go to strip clubs or they should treat women with more respect.
For me, the only man for whose perspective I can speak from authority, this double-consciousness is still limiting. Whenever I interact with a woman I am interested in romantically I am often torn between being the macho manly man I think she expects (and who I semi-consciously respect) and being wary to not be perpetuating the patriarchy. Do I pay for diner, go dutch or let her pay? Do I open the door for her? I was taught that was just common courtesy but I know now that it stems from objectifying women as fragile idols. God forbid someone makes a comment or some drunk idiot grabs her butt. Do I have to say something or do I risk putting her in more danger by starting a fight? If it my responsibility to keep her out of danger? What about my pride?
Even more perilous are navigating physical intimacy. As a child I was taught two very important lesson about sexual consent. One was that no always meant no but another was that sometimes guilt or societal pressure could turn a yes before and during sex into a no the next day. My parents came from age in which it was much more common for Black men to be arrested or violently injured because there was an allegation of sexual misconduct between him and a white woman. Often that white woman wouldn’t even need to say she was raped, her father could just easily say she was even when she said she was in love.
My parents were raising two African-American sons in an all white town, rural and sexually repressed, with this knowledge and history. They were hyper-conscious that their sons would always lose in a he said she said situation. As a result I was warned to avoid situations in which misunderstandings might arise. Keep in mind my parents were well aware that very few false claims of rape are ever reported but they also knew that sometimes perception and innuendo mattered just as much as police charges. I remember very clearly a time when my brother threw a paper plane in the classroom that landed in a girls hair. She was very upset and later said that my brother raped her hair. My brother was suspended and the school contacted my parents letting them know that due to their zero tolerance policy on sexual assault they would be seeking to expel my brother.
My father, needless to say, didn’t allow that to stand. He put on a suit and strolled and my brother was allowed to return to school. Later it would still be unclear why the girl said what she said. My father thinks that she didn’t come up with the word rape on her own. My brother would letter tell me that she didn’t expect it to go as far as it did. Regardless of why she said rape, from this experience I internalized the idea that the world sees me as The American Male but worse, The Black American Male whose maleness means he is sexual and aggressive and whose blackness means he is dangerous and craves white women.
This double-consciousness, of knowing what my Maleness might mean to others is always present. Even when I am speaking to black women I am aware that even if they don’t fear my blackness  my Maleness speaks volumes to them. They have expectations of me and fears too that are both fabricated and justified. Fears and expectations that I must combat non-violently, overcome, avoid or ultimately decide to live up to.
While I can’t speak from the same authority about other men as I can for myself, I do think that my white, Asian and Latino friends who have attempted to come to terms with being both oppressor and oppressed have a similar experience. Working in shelter with many women are coming from domestic abuse shows me that other men are also aware of this. The white men who live with me are all too aware of how the women we live with tense up when we walk by them. They can sense the need to be as non threatening and non-aggressive as possible. They have to deal with anger and know that their expression of it is amplified by their maleness.
Just like Du Bois’ second-sight this double-consciousness is both a gift and curse. It is gift because it allows those men who sees how their maleness effects those around them and, armed with that knowledge, prevent them from using that maleness to maintain the patriarchy. Yet it is a curse because it causes these men to either second guess whether or not their actions add or subtract to some abstract moral mathematics or to just suppress the guilt of trying to act without societal context.
So, we have gone through how living up to The American Male as an ideal or being expected to is oppressive, now it time to illustrate how Rape Culture, or enforcing the patriarchy, oppresses women and men alike. First let me say that nothing I say here should be taken to mean that women are not primarily the ones who are harmed by rape culture nor should the fact that most men participate in Rape Culture without realizing it absolve them of their moral culpability. I am, as stated earlier, speaking merely from my lived experience and from very limited understanding of the intellectualized lived experience of others. I will not speak very much to the oppression of women through Rape Culture because I feel very strongly that it is not my place. It is my place, and my obligation as a man of conscious, to speak to my role in it.
Again, Rape Culture is the inevitable result of a Patriarchy in which men sexualize everything. Let me further clarify my use of term since it is a loaded term used by people more scholarly and educated than myself. The term Rape Culture as used in this essay is the systematic way in which women and girls are objectified into non-human persons in order to thought of and treated as the property or potential property of men. This is a broader definition than that of a culture that condones rape. Rape, in this construct is a tool as much as it is an act. Rape is the way in which women are deconstructed to be purely sexual creatures whose sexuality only serves men. If these objects like sex it is because men  pleasure them, essentially they are totally passive objects devoid of will thought not necessarily intellect.
I know this seems extreme given that I am making the argument that all men participate in Rape Culture. It would appear if I am saying that all men are rapist or dehumanizing women in their mind just in case they ever say no and need to be raped. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that all American men participate [actively, passively or tacitly through inaction] in the sexualization of women as a means of robing them of power for the specific purpose of removing them from competition for power and perpetuating the Patriarchy. Men do this most often subconsciously but benefiting from it and not actively trying to stop it makes you partly morally responsible.
What does this sexualization look like then? One clear example is when a female colleague at an accountant firm assertively asks men to use double sided printing to save paper and one of them makes a comment about her breasts after she leaves. Her opinion, though valid, is automatically undercut by reducing her to a sexual object. Another common comment might be that she is a bitch who “just need a good dickin” as if she was not just being assertive like a man would be but, as a sexual object, is robbed of the penis-in-vagina effect that would make a complete non-bitch. Remember, that for The American Male sex is about power and therefore to many American men sex has an inherent power dynamic. Every man in the room when the comment is made who doesn’t challenge that statement is complicit in that woman’s objectification and directly benefits financially from his co-workers assuming she is anything less than a consummate professional and therefore not a viable candidate for advancement.
This might not seem like a big deal but multiplied over a life time these moments of sexualization rob women of equal standing in the exchange of ideas. Repeated objectification of women also makes it hard for many men to see women as people. This is not a rehashing of “When Harry Met Sally” but it is saying that sexual objectification means that women lose some of their autonomy and become ideas that men project themselves into. You cannot truly know someone if you are pre-occupied with them as a sexual object. We see this often with opinions teenagers have about women. If they only know of female sexuality through porn or t.v.  They might think that all women want to be dominated. These ideas often go unchallenged into adulthood despite all evidence to the contrary.
One of the ways we see these unchallenged ideas is through comedy. Any causal reader of Jezebel has not doubt read some comment about men in comedy and more specifically “rape jokes.” A common underlining argument against censoring rape jokes is that Comedy is inherently abstract in its subject matter and therefore not about real people and that a joke about rape is not an endorsement of it. There implicit argument is that female non-persons have no place in comedy. It is my opinion that this belief that comedy is a male endeavor is the male holding on to what can be seen as the last emotional outlet for the non-physical male.
Comedy has long been a way for people to work out their own insecurities and to turn ones insecurities into strength. Black comedians have mastered this technique by transforming what used to be seen as the stability, security and practicality of whiteness into absurd rigidity and non-nonsensical close mindedness. In turn, black comedy has become a way for white men to deal with their white guilt  in a non-threatening way. I would argue that the same has happened with Male Comedy [not to be confused with men in comedy]. Male Comedy allows for men who understand some of their role as oppressor and oppressed to turn it into a joke therefore translate it into a language that we are familiar with.  Male Comedy allows for men to express emotion beyond anger but only in sort spurts and still only violently. The Male Comic might be self-deprecating and poke fun at his powerlessness but the use of words like pussy and f@%t is just verbal violence that conjures up images of rape and homophobic violence which is why their emotionality on stage does not make the male uncomfortable.
Rape Culture is so prevalent that has become the way standard way that we seek romantic relationships. Have you ever wondered why the standard line at a bar is “can I buy you a drink?” This  action is about two things 1. having the financial means to provide for a her as a female non-person/wife and 2. getting her drunk enough to negate consent. The bar and club dating scene is the ultimate example of The American Male’s use of Rape Culture. The cycle is supposed to be man shows women he can afford to take care of her, he gets her drunk enough as to where she is actually not able to think autonomously and they have sex without emotion. In the morning the girl is supposed to mean nothing to him she is an empty vessel for him to project upon and attempt to fulfill a basic human need for intimacy. The fact that she often does mean something to him just causes the man to go out drinking again to forget or obscure that fact. This cycle is very destructive but so ubiquitous that it just becomes what young men do.
In recognizing how truly destructive this whole idea of The American Male I have to come to realize that we need to end patriarchy. Yet how to do that? I think that what is a needed is a national conversation about what it means to be a man. This national conversation doesn’t need to be on Oprah, or series of nationally televised events. I think this national conversation can be an on going one where men reach out and start challenging all of those little things we’ve known are not okay. It is when men acknowledge that commenting on your co-workers breast after she says something you dislike is not appropriate. It is when you stop telling our sons that they need to play sports to be men. Instead we tell them that sports have intrinsic value is team work, hard work, physical exercise etc but aren’t something they need to do to prove themselves to their father figures.
We need to start having those awkward conversations when we people accuse us of being misogynistic or patriarchal. We need to listen and explain our actions while acknowledging any destructive assumptions or agendas. Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, we need to be reflective. We need to start being intentional on the words we use and the ways we interact with people.
These are the person to person things that we need to do to end the part of the patriarchy that is most insidious and the hardest to route out. The patriarchy that we cling to, that we replicate and that we impose on ourselves.