Over and over again, in nearly all facets of my life, I am being called to reclaim that power, which is our birthright as humans. It’s a power beyond gender, beyond social structures, and beyond appearances.
But as a white man living in a society that has been dominated by white supremacist patriarchy, locating and embodying that power amongst the layers and levels of oppressive falsehoods is quite a challenging task. It’s a different challenge from that experienced by women, transgendered folks, and people of color, but the reality is that that we are all harmed, and we all are called, in our own ways, to be healed and become whole and liberated.
Somewhere early on in life, a seed was planted within me that something was deeply wrong with how we have arranged ourselves. It didn’t make sense to me, for example, that women were rarely considered leaders, and that many women lived in fear of violence from men. Images of destroyed buildings and dead bodies in Lebanon and other places were seared into my young brain, forever rendering warfare an idiotic affair driven by male hubris and greed.
During high school, I found myself careening between the aggression of raging hormones, and a deep fear of hurting anyone. I played multiple sports, excelling at soccer, and yet often fled to reading and writing for general solace. I recall a time when I flipped a teammate on his back during a soccer practice, and after a fierce chewing out from the others on the team I spent weeks feeling guilty for having been so careless with someone who was my friend.
I was timid with girls, partly our of fear, but partly out of respect. When I listened to my neighborhood friends talking about “getting a piece of ass” and chasing “bitches,” I nodded silently while inwardly cringing at the dehumanization of it all. My first girlfriend most likely dumped me because I wasn’t bold enough, didn’t take charge enough in certain situations, sexual and otherwise.
There was a battle in my sixteen-year-old mind between a man not yet born and a boy who wanted to be good and respectful. In some ways, this battle has continued to this very day.
During college, I started working hard to break down whatever sexism I inherited as a man in this culture. I voraciously read feminist literature, was active in women’s rights events like Take Back the Night, and eventually dated a woman whose life was – at that time – immersed in trying to untangle the knots of patriarchy she saw around her.
The unlearning of believing that what was always had been was all around me. I was also becoming a campus leader, starting organizations, serving on the student senate, and learning how to talk with elected officials in an assertive manner. All of this brought me face to face with power – my own and the collective powers we share (which really are from the same source).
What I saw around me, I mostly didn’t like. Young men, and some women, engaging in the kinds of coercive and manipulative games that are driving the halls of Congress, and the boardrooms of multinational corporations, schools, and nearly every major institution in our society. I recall conspiring with a friend and another member of the university student senate to upend some project the senate leadership was attempting to push through. Although I think we were “in the right,” I also felt somewhat off about how we were going about everything behind their backs. In addition, the way in which personalized attacks on them glued us together later became something I have noted is an attribute of power-over sickness.
When dehumanization in any form is at the center of any action, political or otherwise, we have stepped out of our true power, and into the land of domination and oppression.
But I hadn’t made that leap of understanding yet. I mostly recognized that something was off, and responded by trying to suppress anything that remotely felt like those oppressive forces.
When I learned that my then girlfriend had been raped twice as a teenager, I took a similar course around much of my sexuality, enhancing the “good” and “respectful” aspects that I’d developed during high school.
I didn’t want to be anything like “those guys.” Not in my relationships, nor in how I worked and led in the world.
There was nothing wrong with this, but now I am recognizing that this was only a step towards liberation.
And what’s calling now is the marrow of our long lost ancestors whose feet were deeply rooted on the ground.
Those whose arms could stretch all the way to the stars, and whose hearts’ beat with the tides, and lifted with the limbs of the oaks.
That being a man does not mean being forced to choose between domination and forms of quiet resignation.
That being a man need not be limited to anything we have associated with men throughout history.
That being a man need not be defined in opposition to that which I loathe.
That I am so much more than any gender could contain.
That only I can expel the animal of patriarchy –
and reclaim the animal
Thumbnail, Patriarch – Wikimedia Public Domain