How Men Can Help
Two Ways to Develop the Strength You Need to Be Useful in Tough Times
One of Mark Greene’s latest blog posts is titled “White Racism is an Extinction Level Flaw in Our Species.” The word “extinction” caught my eye and wrenched at my heart. I’m wondering if it did the same to yours. Greene lists a number of serious and seemingly intractable problems that beset the human species: environmental collapse, war, disease, waning resources. We’ve known about all these crises for decades and meaningful action seems out of reach. Greene points to”) numerous studies that show that diversity and inclusion are powerful catalysts for creativity and accomplishing ambitious goals. (Here’s a link to one of the studies he cites.)
Because individual prejudice and systemic racism prevent inclusion and diversity, they block the creativity we need to create change and meet our challenges. They also prevent the formation of energized, sustainable communities that we need to work together and avoid extinction.
White men in particular are more susceptible to hierarchical systems and get sucked into perpetuating misogyny and racism from an early age. No matter how loving and egalitarian our parents are, we grow up into a world where manhood means suppressing our emotions and our tenderness and “acting tough” instead. And one way to prove our manhood is to throw women and girls under the bus. This set of demands pushes men into an old model for strength and masculinity. That model depends on wielding power over others who are different while repressing what is unique about one’s self.
Our early and ongoing experience with the repression and discrimination makes it easy for us to fall for racist tropes and myths. Our struggles with the win-lose, dog-eat-dog world of the playground and the workplace make it easier to believe that we can only succeed when we’re holding someone else down. And so we become examples of the problem that Greene describes: men calling other men “sheep” or “pussies” for wearing masks that protect the community and the economy; men actively working to sabotage police brutality protests against police violence by turning them violent; men voting for authoritarian leaders because we secretly like watching them put others down. These are the behaviors that make our crises worse and dry up the hope in our hearts.
But I’m a white man and I don’t want to go extinct. I don’t want to be part of an “extinction-level flaw.” I’m guessing you don’t either.
Fortunately there’s still time for men — all men — to be an active, valuable, and effective part of the solution. If and when more men step out of the old model of masculinity and learn to exercise the “new strength” of compassion, inclusion, and vulnerability, we’ll disrupt the rise of white supremacy and break up the logjam that prevents us from implementing the solutions we already have. Imagine how, once men are on board, how quickly we’ll suppress the corona-virus, build clean energy infrastructure, reform our economy, and end police brutality.
For a man raised in the Man Box culture, fully becoming part of the solution is not easy or quick. There’s a lot of de-programming to do. I’ve been working on creating an authentic, anti-misogynistic and anti-racist manhood for myself for decades. But there are two concrete steps I can recommend for men who want to be part of the solution.
One: recognize when you are falling into the old ways — the old strength of put downs, discrimination, and power over. These behaviors are old traps set specifically to bring you down. It can feel powerful or at least a little thrilling to feel momentarily better than another. But when you play that game, you never really win. There’s always a million or a billion other men standing on your hands or head as you try to squirm up the ladder of hierarchy that old strength built. Better to step outside of the game and be free of the unending competition.
Now, when I see and avoid the traps that misogyny, racism, and the old strength set for me, I feel free to choose an authentic path for myself. I feel wily, and strong, and capable. I’m guess you will feel the same way.
Two: Start believing women and people of color when they tell you their stories. I found it — still find it — particularly hard to always practice this kind of “new strength.” I found it incredibly painful because the stories can be heart rending. I don’t want to believe the tales of assault, rape, and daily misogyny. I don’t want to believe the history of cold-hearted systemic racism nor the nightmare tales of bloody, violent oppression. For many years, my identity as a “good guy” depended on dismissing these truths so that I could live in a world where I and my fellow men were not complicit in terror and violence.
But something powerful and wonderful happened as I learned to sit there in the pain and distress as I listened. I grew stronger, more capable of handling the shame and anger that came up for me and more capable of being in relationship with people who had been harmed or oppressed. When I set down the tools and traditions of the old strength, I found new, better ones. By setting down my desire to feel power over others, I found out how to have power with. I became a much stronger leader, a better boss, and a happier husband. And because I improved my ability to be in relationship with a diverse group of people I am now embedded in a supportive community. We celebrate each other and each other’s contributions to the whole and we can get more accomplished. I don’t have to be a fatal flaw, I am becoming part of the solution, and so can you.