The truth I have come to know is that all experiences happen within a certain context, and for us to ever understand anyone’s struggle or experience, we must place that experience in its correct context.
I hold that it would be disingenuous for anyone to look at how our global society is structured and not see how different people are treated differently; from media representations to how we talk about each other.
I’m not saying that treating different people differently is inherently incorrect, I’m saying that it wouldn’t be valuable towards any progress if we didn’t analyze the reasons that inform the ways in which we treat different people differently.
To me, as far as I see it, the ways in which we relate to each other and the ways other people relate to us is entirely socially informed.
What narratives we form and subsequently tell ourselves of different people is influenced by how much of, and, what kind of an interaction we have with them. How people interact with us is informed by the narratives they have accumulated of people like us over the course of their lives.
Society is a feedback cycle of interactions and narrative creation, where we act based on what we believe of the world and then receive validation, or we get repudiated and thus change how we act.
If an enormous majority of the women I have ever encountered were observably feminine, I might not necessarily assume that all women are feminine inclined, but I would have a standard in my mind of women-kind being feminine. I would, on most occasions, when meeting a woman, assume she may tend towards a feminine character. If she is a feminine character then I get validation for my narrative and continue perceiving women as generally feminine. If she is not, then I have a choice to either extend my view of the variety of women or think she is ‘not normal.’
As I interact with women based on my narrative of feminine women, women receive feedback from me which either goes into validating their character, or adding to the building up of invalidation they may have experienced in their lives.
When I say ‘interact with women’ I don’t only mean physical interaction, I also take into consideration media representation in movies, in magazines, in animations, in literature, and in oral stories. Fictional characters also input into our subconscious pool of experiences. People can feel changed after reading a book that exposed them to different sorts of people, even though those people are fictional characters. Therefore, representation is important … but that’s another topic
I, as a male, am not the only one influenced by my encounter with real and imagined women. Women also watch the same television shows I watch, listen to the same songs I listen to, they encounter the same women I encounter. These interactions also form a narrative in a woman’s mind on how women are. This goes into validating or invalidating their own identity, which in turn then informs how they interact with others which then goes to validate other people’s narratives of how women are.
What I am trying to show is how our interactions and how others interact with us, forms this feedback loop that becomes very difficult to escape especially when you are trying to create a change within a system that is enforced upon us by more than natural interactions.
I believe that in order to make any meaningful change in society, we have to significantly disrupt the feedback loop because if we trust that people will exit themselves out of the loop just because of works of charity and good intentions, the loop will have its way and it will work to undo the tireless efforts so many have worked for.
Saying “there is nothing new under the sun” is quite true. We can learn a lot from the past. History is full of struggle, defeat, and victory and we can look at all the social movements that gained popularity then victory, what they did and how they managed to succeed.
Now I want to explore another aspect of context analysis.
Struggle is usually told in terms of the one who struggles; women with sexism, black people with racism, the poor and working class with classism, the LGBT with heterosexism, etc.
As I said before, struggle happens within a context, thus the one who struggles cannot struggle in a vacuum. There is a relationship between those that are hurting and those that hurt, and to attempt liberation without strategies for addressing the ones who do the hurting will reduce the effectiveness of the attempt.
But taking into consideration how people in societies work, feeding off of and naturally responding to the feedback loop from society, those in the position to perpetuate oppressions are usually acting on instinct—to just be part of the crowd and the crowd rewards oppression.
Never the less, the struggle narrative is told from the perspective from the bottom of the social hierarchy. The story is hardly ever told from the perspective from the top.
There is a long list of struggles from the past that detail for a struggling people, strategies on how to attain liberation, but there a few examples that detail for those at the top who recognize that the social hierarchy is an issue that must be dealt with effectively.
This leaves many privileged people who would want to fight against oppression wandering, feeling like aliens, in spaces created for the struggling to gather. The men in feminist spaces, the straight people in LGBT spaces, the white people in black spaces, are all rightfully told to rein in their voice and reduce their presence.
Men that want to undo the curse of the ‘man box’ need to understand that our struggle is different from the struggle women fight against sexism because of our position in its relation. Sexism values toxic masculinity above femininity. But more interestingly for me, toxic masculinity is valued above all other forms of masculinity.
Societal change demands a proper political maneuvering to effectively destabilize the feedback loop that allows for oppression and to introduce societal demerits for perpetuating oppressions.
We must figure out how to fight from the top of the hierarchy. And I think the first step in fighting from the top is to recognize that we have been put on pedestals as figures of the ‘model human’ and as long as we are at the top, we let people burn in fires of shame, insecurity, self-loathing and despair. This, I believe, is the first thing we need to understand to be effective at deconstructing oppression from where we are.
This, I feel, is the only way that men and boys will be able to break free from the ‘man box’. No matter how many times we hear that men and boys are emotional creatures, men and boys still hide their feelings and get praised for it.
In all honesty, there hasn’t been a force strong enough to rattle the ‘man box’ arising from men focused programs. We need a movement.
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