Looking for men

discusIt’s impossible at this point to avoid the Facebook discussions, memes, “teachable moments”, and other posts concerning the shooting in Santa Barbara and the attempted shooting in Stockton, both of which followed a similar and disturbing pattern. It is equally impossible to avoid being a participant in them. “All men” and “all women” are being invoked pretty much constantly, and their hashtags and accompanying invective litter the Internet; there are multiple self-appointed representatives speaking for you through your gender.

My response could probably fill an entire blog, not just a blog post, and it is in fact still evolving as I consider new facts, and different points of view. There is a lot of nuance to it…but a few things are clear, and need to be said. And, in doing so, I also incidentally claim the right to say them, in the way I feel I must. A great many posts are circulating which attempt to explain how I may and may not argue as, for instance, a member of my gender. Demands of that sort will be politely ignored.

My first response to the shootings was to consider them the work of mentally disturbed individuals – not, as was claimed by some feminist columnists, the product of rampant institutionalized misogyny. I still feel that way in a general sense; however, I now don’t believe it is wholly adequate to describe the situation. There is something behind this unbridled rage at women, both in the acts themselves and the inexcusable, indefensible hate speech men have concocted to comment upon them. I’m not going to pretend I know precisely what it is, but something more is happening, it has roots within our identity as men, and it is very clearly wrong.

I do know, however, that women cannot define this problem for us, and women cannot solve it.

We cannot continue to have “rape culture”, “misogyny”, “patriarchy”, and the like continue to rain down on us with ourselves as the perpetrators, but women as the definers. It leaves us with a collective guilt that cannot be defined, and therefore cannot be owned, cannot be admitted, cannot be reconciled and corrected, because we are denied self-definition. We are reduced to our reflection in a woman’s experience. And if this sounds familiar, it should – because this is what we did to women over history, and in many, many cases, we continue to do today. If this is wrong – and it is – it is no less wrong in the reverse direction. It can’t be excused by arguments of privilege or power, because this is more basic: “Women and their Enemy” is no more of a useful frame to place on all humanity than “Men and their Chattel”.

This does not mean that those concepts do not exist. There is such a thing as rape culture. Patriarchy exists. I’ve seen the “Old Boy Network”, the “Glass Ceiling”, women as harlots and simultaneously as goddesses…it’s easy to spot once you’re aware, like seeing the vase between silhouettes of two human faces, and then being unable to stop seeing it. But our awareness must be self-generated to be meaningful. Yes, “men can stop rape” – but that statement means something different coming from a man than it does coming from a woman. And we need to say it, loudly and repeatedly.

It is men who must claim and shape the idea of masculinity, of being a gentleman, of what is acceptable among men. We need to teach one another to use our power the right way…and that when we exercise power with women, not over them, then it is best not only for them, but for us. We shouldn’t be afraid to be feminists, in exactly this way.

The concept of a “man’s space” – the analogue to the many women’s spaces: centers, homes, art collectives, support organizations – should be a logical outgrowth of this concept of feminism, yet of course, feminists will object the most, claiming that all public spaces are patriarchical by default, forcing women together to assert power as a minority sisterhood. We need to reject that notion. Places of power are for men and women alike; we need separate ones to grow.

There are few examples to point to. Robert Bly experimented with such thought in the 1990s. “Men’s rights” groups have appeared in recent years, but have become radicalized and generally serve little purpose other than to attract the ire of furious radical feminists; there is no dialogue there, and no real use for either side. A more recent and much less well-known example is the Well-Cultured Anonymous, an effort by a notoriously chauvinist online community to police their own and teach proper grooming and behavior – proper socialization. It may not have stopped these men from committing their crimes…but it’s possible that it might prevent others from rising to that level.

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