The Final Verdict?
“Men are hopeless.”. As I read this in the preface to Bell Hooks’ beautiful book, The Will To Change, I could hear women from my own life. Not that they ever meant to say this of me in my entirety, I’m sure. Perhaps the words were directed at something or someone else at the time. Yet, they found a way of swinging back around to me, at least in the meanings I ascribed to them.
Given the years of men not getting what women are saying about the injustices they face, the years of men becoming defensive, the years that have gone by without any real radical overhaul of social structures that limit women, feminism’s apparent conclusion about men has largely (though not unanimously) been this: we must give up on them and live our lives without them. “Boys will be boys.” “What do you expect?”, “Hopeless!”.
This verdict seems to have concluded that men do not want to change. That we love our power, our status, our superiority and the status quo. That we resent and fear women threatening this. However, I believe men do want to change. There are just powerful forces stopping us.
What stops us #1 No Male Awareness
Firstly, some men may indeed need all of these things to feel they have any worth in the world. For such people, the antidote is to speak about and describe the wounds we carry as men. These are the wounds that power and status and having women as prizes (or slaves) all hide, for they feel unspeakable. When we speak about them, they lose their power.
What stops us #2 No Male Vision
Secondly, some men have taken on board feminism’s voice, and have adopted a negative way of being in the world: I shouldn’t be powerful, I shouldn’t have status, I shouldn’t be superior, for these are all evil. The problem is that there is no positive vision for what men could be. Thus, we retreat into being compliant, safe, available. Maybe we have a cry. Maybe we listen. Maybe we go along with what the women in our lives say. Maybe we try to be kind.
But this way of being has no space for the power and confidence and wildness needed to change social structures, to live meaningful lives that challenge the rules on how to be a man handed down to us, to heed feminism’s incisiveness and not have our ego annihilated. In short, a lack of a positive vision for men stops men from participating in any social change.
What stops us #3 No Male Hope
Thirdly, this verdict of hopelessness can become the story we believe as men. Indeed, it becomes a cultural story of men that we almost inevitably unconsciously ingest as at least partly true of us and so live it out. CBT may call this a shared core belief: ‘I am hopeless’, ‘Men are hopeless’, ‘I am unwanted here’. From these core beliefs, we develop rules for how to live and make the best out of this world: ‘If I am kind and compliant, then I will at least be tolerated’, ‘If I try to do anything different, it will be wrong or hurt others, so just don’t do anything.’ Whilst we may deep down desire to change, to live according to different rules, core beliefs are very difficult to budge. They require compassion and understanding, not the criticism we have learned to expect.
They also need a different version of reality, a different story we can live by. However, the story we are given as men is still fractured, with some of the old and some of the new pulling in different directions, leaving men who want to live differently, confused torn by impossible expectations, incapacitated.
Feminism for men
So, what do we need for men to participate in the good and truth in feminism? What do we need for men to change?
We need a vision of men that sees their wounds. We need a vision of men that celebrates their power, their wildness within that can make a difference rather than merely conform. We need a vision for men that stubbornly refuses patriarchal expectations as well as the exasperated verdict hopelessness. We need visible men in our cultures who can become role-models of a new way of being and that are celebrated rather than shamed with the contempt we have in reserve for prominent male figures.
We also need each other. We need friends and mentors to walk the path of change with us, helping us to keep taking up and bearing again the responsibility for our lives and our freedom. We need partners to sit together, vulnerable and loving, talking honestly about what’s really going on between them, forgiving each other for the mutual shaming they’ve participated in, and asking for what they really long for.
And so we need a new verdict. You are enough as you are. We want you here. We want your love and your passion. We want your power and your courage. We want your gentleness, your kindness and your compassion. We want your feelings and your thoughts, your tears and your laughter, your strength and your wounds. And we have hope in you.