**(small) trigger warning, my love.**
I was in a position recently to have someone ask me if I thought the world would be better off without men. It was a serious question, not a joke, and it wasn't rhetorical. What happened next took me by surprise. I said, “No.” Which is not surprising. But, the force of the “no” came from a place in my soul, so deep, that it forced my eyes closed. Once they were closed I saw all the men in my life and felt all things I gain from their essential male-ness. There is so much I have come to value in men. Really, I should say that there is so much I have come to value in the masculine, and that doesn't belong exclusively to men. That said, my growing to value these qualities has happened primarily because of mostly-straight masculine men.
But first I want to tell you what I learned about men from the beginning of my life on. (Don’t worry, it won’t take too long, it was pretty much one basic message). “DANGER!” and “SEX DANGER!”
One of stories I heard most often as a child illustrates this perfectly. My grandmother would tell me about the hospital she worked in when she was younger and how, occasionally, a patient would die. Then she would lean over to me and put her hand on my arm, and say, “When the men would die, you would have to tape down the...the thing. Because rigor mortis sets and in and...,” at this she would point her index finger straight up and look up at the ceiling innocently. Then she would look straight into my eyes, through the haze of cigarette smoke and say softly in her thick Boston accent, “Because even when they’re dead that’s all they want.”
This was intended to be a funny story, there was usually laughing after it. I cannot remember a time when I did not know this story.
These are the kinds of stories I heard repeatedly. I understood the danger men posed. They will get you and rape you. They will hunt you down, seek you out, take any opportunity they have. They are relentless. They will pretend anything they can to get what they want and they only want one thing. No matter how young or old. Even in death. I also learned once you commit to one of them you have to give them sex or they will leave you or hurt you. They're need for sex is like a mind-liquefying disease that they cannot control. And I know here is when we usually insert winks and giggles, but I want you to really understand that these ideas were never expressed to me as a joke. There were no tongues in any cheeks, ever, when I was explicitly told that men want a lady in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom.
I was also being molested, so that probably skewed things as well.
Regardless, because of my fear and low self-esteem, many of my first encounters with boys were...unpleasant. For many years I had no reason to imagine that what I had been taught was untrue. I did have good male friends here and there, but they were different, not like regular guys. And even with my “good” buy friends, I believed, just under the surface was their true nature, and it could come out at any moment. They couldn't help it, it was just how they were made, some guys were just better at hiding.
As I got older, I had to interact with more men. I don't know if you know this, but, like, half of the people are men. I worked in the shop of a theatrical and film lighting company, and it was nearly all men. They still sort of scared me, and I think a few of them knew it, but over the years I was able to get to know them as people. They are great men, these men I knew then. They were kind and safe, paternal and respectful, flirtatious and distant. Basically, they were just like people! I didn't know they could be like that!
When I met, fell in love, became impregnated by, and married my husband. That is a charming story (you can hear it in the videos), I was coming from nearly an entire adulthood of romantic relationships with women. There were basic relationship dynamics that changed and ingrained beliefs in me that had reason to surface for the first time. It was a really challenging time for me, having to get over all those prejudices and fears I had about men. Luckily for me I had a secure and loving partner to handle that crazy (and it was). Some of it was funny, like me being honestly baffled when he would respond to my troubles with solutions, instead of listening and saying validating things. But some of the things were scary like not knowing I could say no to sex without risking retribution. Let me clarify that my husband is not abusive. I just thought that was a man’s inherent nature.
As the kids grew I met more parents, and had more practice meeting men without these prejudices determining my impressions. I have learned by watching my husband father my daughters that fathering can be a beautiful experience and it has been very healing (and painful, because of my own loss) to witness. I have watched men be loving and supportive husbands. I have seen and experienced the reverence men have for the attraction they find in women. I see the instinct to provide for and protect the loved ones around them.
It eventually dawned on me that all the men in my life are really good men, and have been for some time. Even the periphery of the men I know are good, good men. I then I thought, “How weird is it that all the men I know happen to be good men. What are the odds of that?” Because I thought it was an anomaly; a bizarre fluke, that the men I knew couldn't help but rape me instead of just saying “hello.” I was lucky enough to hear how crazy that is, and that was enough for me to realize that it couldn't be true. It seemed far more likely that men, on the whole, must be more like these men I knew. Or at the very least, there were more men like this then I realized. (It depends on where you come from, of course, the rural area my mother grew up in has a different picture of violence toward women than the Boston suburb that I live in, for instance). I was working with old software, fears placed in me for what was believed to be my own protection. And it may have protected me from all kinds of other dangers, I can never know. But it also, very much messed up the way I view men, and especially what I think men think of women.
Discovering all of this has allowed me to see how the same system of oppression that demeans and reviles women, has also poisoned masculinity and demonized men, turning them into something dangerous and domineering. Just so there can be no misunderstanding, I call that system of oppression, “the patriarchy.” But instead of viewing men as wielders of this cruel weapon, I see them as victims as well. Don’t get me wrong, their victim hood doesn't appear to be as dehumanizing or amount to as many hospital bills, but it’s there, and it’s oppressive on a soul level. I find even when I hear certain politicians saying certain careless things about horrific violence perpetrated on women, I see how clearly those men fear women, and their motives, or their trustworthiness, and they're imprisoned by that fear.
I’m not saying some men don’t do horrible things to women. They do, and they escape justice, and women pay, and those in power continue this utter disregard for women through legislation. And I am in no way suggesting that we should not be furiously motivated to change that, because we need to be. I’m just saying that some men do those things because their behaviors are molded by the patriarchy too. In the same way that women are not who the patriarchy tells us we are, I strongly believe that neither are men. I believe in men. And I want them, and all they have to offer, by my side through this life.
I will probably work on this for the rest of my life, and it’s a journey I’m happy to take. Because, you know what? I really like men. And I’m not being (totally) coy, here. I have been taught, in the face of an extremely painful history, to love men, by actual men. I consider my desire to honor the thing that lives inside the heart of a man to be an act of courage, an act of feminism, and an exercise in freedom. I believe when we reject what we've been taught by a few, and see the person in front of us with our broken-open hearts, we are actively liberating each other.
but when people on the news make me feel angry I think punching is better, I go here.
It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.
It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
the italics are mine <3