We men have experienced deprivation by our own doing and that of our forefathers. We who are male have lost touch with our vulnerability, our deepest human capacities for tenderness, our need for dependence - in short, a whole range of emotions. We simply don't feel very well. We are more alienated from our bodily existence, and our sexuality, instead of being a richly diffused sensuousness and invitation to intimacy, has taken a narrow, genital focus. We lose touch with the concrete particularity of pulsing life and instead are seduced by abstractions, confusing them with reality. We seem to live with a constant need to prove self-worth through achievement and winning. We relate competitively with other men and find it easier to have buddies than deep friendships. Predictably, we males will die younger than women - about the years at latest count. Gay men frequently break through the constrictions of hte macho mold, but they suffer more oppression than lesbians because of the dynamics of male homophobia in our society. And our social institutions are tragically distorted by the exploitative, competitive, dominance-and-submission, violent aspects of traditional masculinism.
What is the root of the problem? Why is the movement toward wholeness and equality so difficult? Why do human beings continue to live our those ancient dualisms of spirit-over-body and man-over-woman, dualisms that ocnjoined as men identified themselves with mind and spirit while labeling wome as body and emotion? Why is it all so persistent and difficult to change? Consider six possibilities...
1. There is historical inheritance and conditioning... I did grow up knowing that men had the responsibility and the destiny to rule. i did grow up konwing that men were to be in control o fhtemselves as well as in control of women and all else...
2. Related to the Christian heritage is the matter of biological misinformation. For centuries in a prescientific and patriarchal society it was believed that the male semen was the sole bearer of life. The woman was simply the ground into which the seed was planted. She provided the incubating space for life transmitted by the male. Indeed, it was not until 1827 that Western science knew anything about eggs and ovulation...
3. Another theory has to do with sexual fears... The aggression against the female partner is not so much an expression of castration anxiety as of performance anxiety... For successful intercourse to take place I must perform. I must have an erection. There is always the threat of impotence, whether I have ever experienced it or not. But this can become symbolic of life beyond the direct sexual experience. Throughout my life, I have learned to perform. The penile erection can become symbolic of a whole way of life for one conditioned in the masculine mode... The fear of failure is always lurking in teh wings. Then comes the temptation to express hostility toward those making the performance demands...
4. There is the possibility that sexism persists because of male evny of women's biological powers... men must cope with womb envy. In spite of centuries of mistaken biological information about conception, men have always recognized that in the birthing process women are much more intimately involved with the generation of new life. It is an awesome, mysterious, powerful event in terms of which males seem to have a negligible role. Hence, we men have found ways of symbolizing and acting out our own capacities to give birth... I do believe women are closer to the source and the newness of life. I do believe that women feel life more keenly and immediately, and I may well be inclined to envy and punish them for what I lack.
5. A theory concerning the dynamics of male sexism speaks of "father-wounded sons."... By far the strongest identification in teh first years of life is with the mother... I am called upon to trade the seemingly unconditional love of my mother for my father's world. WHile this other world bears promises of power and privilege, it caries the threat of many wounds. Everything now is conditional. My father's approval is conditional upon my performance. This is a world where I must compete with and ultimately be judged by other males...
6. Yet another possibility is homophobia... The gay male threatens other males because he embodies the symbol of woman... The gay male threatens me with "womanization"... I know that he has the capacity to view me not primarily as a person, but rather as a sex object, a desired body. But this is how straight men have so frequently viewed women. Hence, the gay man by his very being (quite apart form overt act) reminds me of the general male objectification of women and poses a psychic threat to treat me like one of them....in a sexist society, those men who perpetuate and embrace male dominance have only men as their equals. Women are inferior.
...The old story, forever new, has to do with the grace of God. It is a grace that says "You are accepted." Against all my works of the law, against all my anxious striving for achievement, control, dominance, winning, and proving my worth, there is a word of grace, a word that still becomes flesh. This kind of love casts out fear, and fear is the root of male sexism.
Of what am I afraid? Am I afraid of the awesome demands of my father and of my Father God? If so, I need to experience that gospel wherein the father runs out to meet the returning son. And I need to realize the gospel's paradox that my Father God is at the same time my Mother God who nurses humanity at her full breasts.
Am I afraid of losing in competition?...If so, there is a paradox in the gospel about losing life and finding life, and I need to hear that freshly.
Am I afraid of performance failure...? If so, I need to understand anew that central paradox of the gospel that nothing I do earns the love of God. My worth is given.
Am I afraid of my negative emotions, particularly my anger? If so there is that gospel paradox which says that it is possible to be angry without sinning or alienating.
Am I afraid of losing my power and control? If so, there is that paradoxical figure who counted equality with God not a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself. He is the one who washed the disciple's feet.
Am I afraid of losing my strong, masculine, heterosexual self-image?... If so, I need to look again at that man who wept, who embraced the beloved disciple, who called out to others in his time of need.
Am I afraid of the child within me, afraid of the need for play, spontaneity, and feeling? If so, I need to hear again freshly Jesus' reminder that unless I turn and become like a little child I will not enter the New Age.
...Both women and men suffer under sexism. Both women and men yearn for liberation... But when men and women journey into this issue together, both personally and institutionally, we will all change. THen we might learn (in Tolstoy's words) to live more magnificently in this world.
Thinking about feminism and sexism and taking it seriously is a new thing for me, and still kind of strange. But I see those fears in both of the guys I've dated, and realize them for the causes of my frustration. My ultimate desire is to be accepted for myself, and so I accept those I love for the entirety of themselves. But if this threatens their performance-focused mentality, no wonder they view it as weakness and use my love to control me, rather than returning it like I hope they will.
I am a fool if I let myself be controlled and dependent, but I refuse to fight on their grounds. I have great power, but I will not dominate another with it. I will love the entirety of him for who he is and who he can be (despite all his half-attempts to make me hate him), but that does not mean I need to depend on him for affirmation or sexuality. I do know my own power, even if I fear using it because of my aversion for controlling others.
We will talk before break (though he doesn't know it yet - I plan on calling him before I leave on Wednesday. I don't want to freak him out during finals by telling him that I want to talk after finals). I will lay out for him the basics:
I've not forgiven him yet for asking me out again when he really didn't want me, but I will.
I still hurt when I'm not in touch with the reality of who he is and how we relate. When I focus on idealized memories and wondering how it could be, of course I hurt. He does not hurt me when he is around me because it is then when I am faced with the reality that you couldn't pay me to be in a relationship with him again. It's kinda mean, but true. And he needs to know it, so that he can relate to me without fearing that he's hurting me; and I need to express it to him, so that I can affirm my love for him without needing him or idealizing him.