These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them.
Over the course of the last few year my personal life has hit a fairly large milestone. I got engaged and then married to a wonderful woman. Part of that process throughout and after the planning of our wedding pointed out some pretty large privileges that I hold, particularly as a heterosexual cisgender male in the US. And as part of one of my promises to myself, I thought I would briefly share some of the things that have been pointed out to me as privileges that I hold through my #PrivilegeStories series.
The first one that I think of is that I had no hesitation (other than keeping my life private) from sharing my engagement at work or when I’m out in the world. I have no reason to believe that sharing that I was engaged and now married to a woman would be detrimental to my life. I have no reason to believe that having pictures of myself and my partner(wife) on my desk would lead to any negative issues with students or colleagues.
In addition to talking about the engagement and wedding at work, we did not worry about how a vendor may react to our relationship because it can be viewed as “typical.” We are a white, heterosexual, cisgender couple. We don’t break any expectations that our vendors may have before they see us. While working with our vendors we didn’t have to look to any list to let us know if they would be ok working with us. We easily assumed that they would be fine and accept us as customers.
The second piece of this is around my wife’s decision about her name. She holds that a unique part of her identity is in her maiden name which I fully support. So as she continues to make her decision she has felt pressure from friends, acquaintances, and other people about making a decision which is not something that I have had to go through. She also, once a decision is made, may have to go through name changing processes that I do not have to consider at all. I have not been asked at all what my name will change to because people can assume that I won’t change my name.
These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them. They must be pointed out so that we know what happens to ourselves and how privileges warp our experiences without us noticing. We have to understand these privileges to understand the oppression that folks with subordinated identities face because if we don’t understand the privileges then we can’t see the full problem.
Over the course of the last two years I have been facilitating a workshop about how patriarchy negatively harms men. The workshop is facilitated through a feminist lens and asks participants to list the characteristics that make up what it means to be a man or the “rules” they know that men receive. We then frame the conversation of these rules in the influence of patriarchy and how these rules harm men and put men in a position to continue to do harm to themselves and those around them.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the students who have attended the workshop and has inspired me to look beyond just this workshop to how I can have a larger impact on my campus community with changing the harmful, outdated model of patriarchal masculinity to something that does not oppress women and gender non-conforming folks. bell hooks put forth a concept of feminist masculinity that I highlight in my workshop. She specifically highlights the concept of consistent self-critique of actions and behaviors. Which made me think about the lack of a space for that to happen with men.
I know that there are many spaces that are designated (or feel) they are only for men, but those spaces generally do not engage men to think about what the impact is that they’re having within society. The space doesn’t ask them to think critically about their internalized expectations of manhood that they’re learned throughout their lifetime through explicit and implicit messages from the world around them. There is no challenge. And because there is no challenge to that systemic message, the space implicitly encourages a world where “boys will be boys”.
What would an organization look like that supports men critically challenging the patriarchal masculinity that they’ve been trained to follow? There are lots of models out there. The Oakland Men’s Project is one example. There is also a student group at University of California that meets to challenge patriarchal notions. I’ve also seen organizations on college campuses such as Men Against Rape and Men Advocating Responsible Conduct. And then there are research studies, books, and articles that could inspire something when combined all together.
But I know that I believe the following and we need to address it:
Male supremacy negatively impacts how I communicate with my partners, friends, and comrades. It negatively impacts how I want, express, conceptualize, and make love. It negatively impacts how I live my life and how I organize. Male supremacy hurts men’s relationships to themselves, to women and people of other genders, and to the earth. It has shaped out emotional lives so as to effectively advance a violent, militaristic, misogynistic, anti-queer, brutally competitive economic system. I am enraged by the resulting damage I see in men’s lives all around me.
Chris Crass – Toward Collective Liberation
I know that there are a lot of different ways to attempt to mentor young men. It’s important to me that I start contributing in some way so I’ll be looking for ways to engage men in having a challenging conversation or pointing to resources. What ways have you engaged men in speaking about social justice? Particularly in their role in contributing and/or challenging patriarchal masculinity.
Last month I participated in George Mason University’s Turn Off the Violence week by giving a flash lecture about masculinity and men’s role in ending sexual violence, domestic violence, and the patriarchal influence that’s found throughout our society. I spent a lot of time framing the lecture (which lasted about 10 minutes) and making sure that the flow made sense from introducing the subject to concluding by outlining what actions we can take. I used a lot of the basis from my workshop, Man in a Box, to frame the lecture which borrows heavily (and credits!) some thoughtful activists, educators, and authors such as bell hooks, Allan Johnson, and Keith Edwards. During the conversation I made some sweeping statement in what patriarchy teaches men about behavior and referred to the implicit and underlying violence that men often mix with affection and talked about we need to revisit those concepts from early on in life and go through challenging self-critique (as I learned from bell hooks in The Will to Change).
Overall the lecture went well and one of the students who had come out to the lecture stayed after to ask me a few questions. While I was excited to engage with a student directly, I was taken aback by his question which was “who taught you to be violent to your loved ones?” I was not sure how to respond as I had been confident that I was clear in stating that was a condition and expectation brought to me through patriarchal concepts and society. I said everyone had taught me that without thinking about where he had been coming from with his question. He did not understand, due to a fault in my lecture, that it wasn’t that someone sat me down and told me how to be a man in a certain way, but that it was thousands of little messages consistently received throughout my life through family, friends, teachers, tv shows, movies, etc. The student and I continued our conversation and I feel as though it ended with him no less confused than when we started the conversation and that really made me think…
I reflected on the content of the lecture and realized that I had not written it for people who were just being introduced to the concepts of patriarchy. I wrote it for an audience whom I assumed would have a basic understanding of what I was saying before even attending the lecture. This assumption failed me and it failed the student who asked me questions afterward. He wasn’t able to gain more clarity around the issue because I was not able to grasp his perspective and understanding in that moment. I did him a disservice and did not fully achieve my goal. I’ll carry that lesson with me as I continue to engage and facilitate social justice education. We can’t create change without knowing our audience and where they may be in their understanding of their own place within privilege and oppression. If we know our audience we can engage with them and walk with them through their new learning and that’s the kind of support that social justice education needs to be effective.
I was recently reading a chapter from Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach called The Trance of Unworthiness. Within the chapter Dr. Brach writes about the inherent value in our culture to be autonomous, self-reliant, and independent (very patriarchal). She includes a story about these values and how we internalize them. This internalization can mean that if we do have needs we immediately feel “unappealing, undesirable, even bad.” This small quote caused me to think about how much we talk about “needs” in student affairs without acknowledging this culturally implanted aversion to being perceived as needy.
As my department refreshed our community development model, we embracing the concept of needs based programming and investigated how to help our resident advisers understand how to assess the needs of their residents so they can effectively program based on our learning outcomes. A chunk of that conversation was about helping RAs learn to interpret and respond to a wide variety of data points that they may not consider data (vandalism issues, increased documentation for behavioral issues, lack of attendance at programs, visible signs of stress with their residents at mid-terms, etc.) Another part was talking about this cultural aversion to being needy.
We didn’t spend much time on that conversation but we did consider the language that we used to frame the needs-based programming concept for our RAs. We settled on purposeful programming as that is specifically what our RAs are doing. They are finding their purpose for their programming through assessing what is happening in their community. The community/resident needs drive the purpose of the program and we really want our RAs to focus on the purpose of the program and how it addresses. We thought this would help prevent RAs from getting stuck on what may be considered problems and focus on programming interventions (solutions).
We “re-launched” our community development model about two weeks ago during RA training and it seems as though our RAs are grasping the concept of purposeful programming and thinking outside of the chart that we used to program within that had 3 different types of programs they had to facilitate each month. Overall, I think the refreshed model is a good place for the new year despite my hesitation to the language around “needs”