Patriarchy, and its oppressive influence on our lives, prevents men from loving truly.
In bell hooks profound work all about love: New Visions the feminist cultural critic defines love as a mix of “care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” Without all of these components, true love cannot exist.
If we accept hooks’ definition of true love, and recognize that men want to love in a true and fulfilling fashion, then, like hooks does throughout her book, we must each examine from our own perspective how patriarchy and its oppressive influence on our lives prevents us from loving truly.
Mired in a patriarchal vision of masculinity which promotes hardness and the dismissal of emotional self-recognition, men in our society are prevented first from being honest with themselves. Even if we are raised in a loving and supportive household where notions of masculinity include communication about loves, pains, hopes and fears, the boys and men we interact within upon leaving the home are subject, and subject us, to patriarchal regimes of truth. By the time we reach adulthood, we have hidden ourselves away in an effort to perform the image of “Man,” we no longer know our own feelings or even recognize them.
If we cannot be honest with ourselves, recognize the validity of our emotions no matter their sort, commit ourselves to self-care and self-assessment, and through that learn to feel affection for the person we are, then we cannot truly love ourselves. In the absence of self-love neither can men commit to true love with another, no matter their gender.
Yet still we yearn for love. We search for it everywhere, both covertly and openly. We desire approval through competition and the besting of others. We act out in “masculine” or denigrating ways to gain the attention of those we are attracted to, or the approval of our peers. Day in and day out we flout the benefits of our patriarchal privilege. All this in an effort to make up for one of the few things patriarchy steals from us: true love.
In relationships, we express our yearning for love through its replacement: power. By establishing power over the ones we feel deep care and affection for we make excuses for our inability to act out true love. bell hooks argues that power denotes the absence of love. The structures of inequality are reified by men’s desire for power in order to take up the place of love. We enact our role of power through lying, physical and verbal abuse of our partners, refusal to admit and show weakness and thus trust another with our shortcomings, and most of all by pretending to give love, claiming with our whole-hearts that we love another yet refusing to recognize our own lacking: self-love.
To begin to fight patriarchy as men, it is our fundamental and all-important responsibility to declare a need for and right to self-love. This declared need will be for a love full of care, affection, recognition, commitment, trust and open and honest communication. We cannot fight the power of patriarchal oppression in our society before we can assess and reverse its effect on us. As to how we go about it, all I have gathered thus far is that bell hooks’ all about love is a very informative place to start. Beyond that, I welcome any and all loving advice I can get.
Photo: Flickr/Dragunsk Usf