“I don’t like to analyze myself, because I might not like what I see.”
Donald Trump spoke those words to one of his biographers – but he’s far from alone in his sentiment.
To be clear, nothing about Trump appeals to me — but his psyche, and its wide resonance, is an example (albeit extreme) of the need to disabuse and heal our society of its toxic masculine pathologies.
As a straight, upwardly mobile white man in the United States, I’ve spent my life being told in many different ways that I’m entitled to have what I want and what I need, without having to think too hard about how I got it. Society has handed me a lot, while at the same time encouraging me to project toughness, and compete, rather than grapple with flaws or emotional complexities.
Dealing with emotions, crying in joy or sorrow, resolving conflicts peacefully — that stuff was for women. And women were for sexual fulfillment, and maybe a deeper conversation here or there to help me find myself. Because bros don’t do that emotional stuff with each other. We release — or temporarily mute — our feelings through drinking, competing, or fucking. All too often, we try to release our inner anguish or compensate for our self-perceived flaws by trying to dominate or control women. Along with hurting them, our inner paradigm of discompassionate domination as a pursuit of happiness actually prevents us from being compassionate with ourselves. The urge for control is directly at odds with an ability to make peace with ourselves as we are.
As bell hooks wrote in her seminal The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love:
“Learning to wear a mask (that word already embedded in the term “masculinity”) is the first lesson in patriarchal masculinity that a boy learns. He learns that his core feelings cannot be expressed if they do not conform to the acceptable behaviors sexism defines as male. Asked to give up the true self in order to realize the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a man. But there is a dominant form of masculinity that is pervasive and toxic, for men and for everyone who has to share this world with us. We have to connect the dots along a continuum — an escalating one to be sure — among the forms of entitlement that encourage men to dominate a conversation, to ignore the voices and experiences of women, to promote other men over more qualified women, to exert control over women’s bodies and activities, to harass and rape women, to support policies that destroy women’s autonomy and opportunity, and worse. The negative impacts of these dynamics tend to be amplified on women and gender-nonconforming people of color, as well as those with lower incomes. And all of these actions originate from, and perpetuate, a place of spiritual, psychological and emotional unwellness in men.
Fellow men, our self-perceived and peer-enforced inability to personally access and publicly express our full humanity is destroying us. And it’s damaging our loved ones and the world we all inhabit.
None of the men reading this likely see ourselves as anything like a Trump, or a Trump supporter. I know I don’t. But I also know that I have hurt women around me through the kind of masculine (and in my case, white masculine) entitlement that causes people to react to their struggles by identifying with his messages of fear, control and dominance. I have experienced the entitlement to dominate physical and emotional spaces over women. To gaze upon and touch women without their permission. Things I’m not proud of, that I can’t believe I thought were acceptable at the time, for which I have apologized, and from which I’ve learned. At the core of it has been a stunted faculty with emotional processing, where somehow along the way I internalized the idea that the objectification and sexual attainment of women would fill emotional voids for me.
What the dominant culture of toxic masculinity has done to us is unhealthy and unacceptable. I want to heal my toxic masculine coding and build the emotional, analytical and reflective tools to become a better friend, son, partner, neighbor, someday a father, and more.
And I can’t do it alone.
I’m looking for a group of men willing and eager to build community together, to get vulnerable and tackle hard and personal questions together. A group of man-identified folks looking to grow as people, with each other’s support, and catalyze a culture of undoing misogyny and racism in our lives, healing ourselves, and destroying the conditions that conspire to perpetrate sexual and racial violence in the world.
At CASS we’re building the infrastructure for an eight-week consciousness-raising course in which a group of men will wrestle with things like gender, race, class, consent, sex and emotion.
Men, we might not always like what we see, but we have a responsibility to investigate ourselves, detoxify some real stuff, and heal joyfully with each other.
Will you join me?
We are building this group and learning as we go. Men, what ideas or questions is this post bringing up for you? What would you like to get out of such a group?
Women and gender non-conforming people, what would you like men to understand and accomplish in this group?
Join us at this public workshopping session on August 30th at Johnny Pistola’s! Can’t make it? Please give us feedback in the comments section or on Twitter!