Sometimes it hurts being a man in modern western society.
The following is written as an addition and in response to, “A Manifesto for Conscious Men” by Gay Hendricks and Arjuna Ardagh; I urge you to read their manifesto first for context.
I believe their document is vital, and I stand behind it, but by itself it represents one half of the story. The manifesto exists because its authors have listened, carefully and well, to the things we do that hurt women; they’ve gained an understanding of what needs to change. I believe we also need an understanding of the things that are done that hurt men and for that understanding to contribute to the process of change.
Sometimes it hurts being a man in modern western society.
It hurts to be treated as if violence is a normal part of what it is to be a man–that violence against men is often regarded as normal and even humorous, and that if I speak up against it, I am likely to be attacked, ridiculed, or rejected. It hurts that when I have made the mistake of playing out this behaviour on those around me, I am treated as if it was my error alone, with no connection to the ways I have been socialised.
It hurts that I need to be conversant in the ways of violence and able to detach from my humanity so that I can participate in wars I did not start, do not understand, or want to be a part of; it hurts that I have been forced, through acts of law or cultural norm, to carry out these soul-destroying acts, and it has confused me when I have been told I should be proud of these horrible actions. It hurts when my true nature is seen as my ability to kill, rather than my loving spirit and belief in peace.
It hurts me that so many things are done to activate my sexuality, but so little has been offered in the way of the skills I need to manage it; how to deepen it, allow it to be sacred, and use it well. It has not helped that I have been encouraged to measure my sexuality by quantity rather than quality, and that the sexual revolution has not yet included me. It is a great loss that the real nature of my sexuality–a divine, related, loving, generous and wild energy–is rarely acknowledged, but my times of sexual selfishness or lack of skill are spoken about as if that is all I am.
I have experienced great pain as a result of having been taught that as a man I should be available for sex at any time with anyone who offers, to the point that this sometimes overrules my own discretion around what’s right for me and others. It is bewildering to me that my sexual enculturation has been so misguided that I have sometimes confused an act of love with an act of abuse, a horrible crime against myself and others.
It hurts when my sex drive is used as a way of coercing me to do things I did not want to do, stay in relationships that were not good for me, and spend my money on things I did not need.
It is tiring that in heterosexual relationships I am almost always expected to be the initiator of relationships and romance, and that I am also charged with the responsibility of being the active partner in sex. It is sad for both men and women that I haven’t often been able to have the experience of being pursued, and of being the receiver.
It is a great loss that there is such a strong taboo on love between men, sexual or otherwise.
It hurts me that as a man, I have not been encouraged to develop my communication skills or emotional fluidity to the same extent that women have, taking from me the joys of being closer and more communicative with my friends, partners, and families. It hurts that in times of argument my lack of privilege in these areas has been used against me.
It hurts that the price I pay for my societal privileges–such as the way my easier access to employment means that I am often taken away from my family–is not often acknowledged. The work I do is often stressful, compromising, or unfulfilling, despite the privileges it brings me; it hurts that when these circumstances have contributed to my depression or mid-life crisis, I have been treated as if the fault was mine alone.
It hurts that my conditioning has requires me to be a ‘doer’, even at the expense of my own health. It hurts to be encouraged when I work my body like a machine, until it is no longer serviceable, and it hurts to then be criticised for not taking better care of myself.
It hurts when I am expected to take up positions of management for which I have not been trained, and positions of leadership amongst people that are nearly impossible to lead. It hurts that when I have not been completely successful in these roles, I have been spoken about as if the failing was only my own, and that it has been acceptable to make my humiliation a public shaming. I am stunned that it is okay to treat me like that, when I am often just doing the best I can with problems that don’t have solutions.
It hurts me that in developing a response to the very real problems of paedophilia and child sexual abuse, the best we are able to do is assume that all men are a threat and should be treated as if guilty; it is a tragic act of sexism that I am often assumed to be as untrustworthy as the worst of men. It hurts me that I am not free to develop relationships with children that would be of great benefit to me, to them, and to women; in particular, it hurts me to see that my absence contributes to a lack of role models for boys, which in turn sets them up for more challenges in their future (such as increased exposure to the justice system).
In acknowledging that women deserve authority over their bodies, it is awful that we have created a situation where I don’t have the right to decide whether or not I become a father; it hurts that I do not have automatic access to my child during its birth or early years, and that if a choice needs to be made over its custody, it will generally not be in my favour. It hurts that in so many ways I am discouraged from having a close involvement with my children (through lesser paternity leave, or that my support often takes the form of work away from home, or that I have been conditioned to have less focus on family and relationships) and then later I have been criticised for being an absent father.
It hurts that when I have made serious mistakes resulting from my inability to cope with my circumstances, the only solution has been to put me in jail. In this inhumane environment I am exposed to consistent acts of violence and rape, and conditioned further into a life of crime. It hurts that I am seen as being deserving of this treatment, and that when I have emerged from my incarceration and offended again, it has been seen that it is I that have failed the system.
It is very painful that in recognising that our culture is often unfair in its treatment of women, we have mostly overlooked the ways that it is unfair in its treatment of men. It is a consistent drain on my sense of worth that we can only generally see men as perpetrators, and not victims.
It confuses me that I am expected to perform selfless acts of chivalry and benevolence (such as having women and children leave a sinking ship before me, or compromising my safety to save the lives of others) but that I am commonly regarded as only being selfish or self-serving.
It hurts me that our understanding of gender politics has often been created by women, for women, in spaces where I have been unable to have input. It hurts that the result has been one-sided and lacking in compassion for my circumstances, and critical of me almost regardless of what I do. Although the search for equality for women is a long way from finished, it has hardly started for me.
It hurts that I have had trained out of me the tendency to ask for support and, as a consequence, made it hard for me to join together with other men and collectively ask for help or change. It hurts that on the occasions I have spoken up, rather than admit that they have been unable to listen to my pain, people have often disregarded my perspective as being the complaints of the privileged. It hurts that my resultant lack of voice has been interpreted as meaning that there is no problem that needs to be addressed.
I’m sorry for all the horrible, unjust, sexist things that are done against women, and I’m also sorry for all the horrible, unjust, sexist things that are done against men.
I am delighted that things are changing.
Speaking from just one perspective is not ultimately sustainable. The above is meaningful for me because I believe the original manifesto needs to be balanced; even better, would be to address the individual problems as they effect all of us, rather than being only interested in how the issues effect men and women separately. The real challenge is to work together, not apart.
Relationship issues are almost never one-sided (and what happens between men and women, collectively, is like a any other relationship, but played out on a global scale). Both parties have something to learn, something to take responsibility for. If only one party is allowed to speak, the conflict is worsened, not resolved.
This is not a manifesto for conscious people, because to be in agreement with it is not the only way to be conscious. My perspective will be in many ways unconscious, and your different opinion may be highly enlightened. I do, however, hope we can have an enlightened dialogue if we differ in perspective.
The perspective I’ve shared above–which is partly based on my experiences, and partly on the experiences of other men–does not free me from my personal responsibility for my life, my actions, and the way I interact with those around me. If I have been brought up in unhelpful ways, it is now my own personal challenge to not repeat those patterns, but to find new and better ways. The above helps me to contextualise and understand my experiences, but it does not free me from my own path of self-betterment. All people, men and women, have the power to rise above their mistreatment and grow from the experience; I hope my acknowledgement of the pain that some men experience aids that journey, rather than undermine it.
Originally posted on Equality for Men and Women’s Facebook page.
Photo by Perfecto Insecto/Flickr.