Have you noticed it? We’re entering a sea-change. For generations, our unconscious actions and ways of being toward women went unnoticed, were accepted by default, or even celebrated.
But in the public sphere, the tide is turning.
These altered currents arguably started with Bill Cosby. Then Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly (“the conservatives”) crested the wave. NowAnthony Weiner, Corey Feldman’s stark warnings about Hollywood pedophilia, Uber, and most recently Harvey Weinstein (“the liberals”) have crashed on our shores.
Clearly, we men have a behavioral problem: All of us. Conservative, progressive. Religious, spiritual-but-not-religious, and even atheist. And if we’re not actively sexually harassing or assaulting women, our ignorance and silence are enabling it. And this general culture of enabling is hurting women (obviously) and is also having negative social and vocational consequences for men who actually care and strive to not treat women like things.
The world is asking: Where is this going?
If you haven’t paid as much attention to the above-cited news (and you can be forgiven – with mass-shootings, devastating hurricanes, racist marches and tensions escalating at home and abroad, it can be challenging to keep our empathy trained on any one tragedy at any given moment), I doubt you’ve been able to miss your social media feed:
The nigh-ubiquitious presence of the simple phrase – or hashtag – #MeToo.
The typical version of the online prompt reads thus:
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. #MeToo
A (helpfully) expanded version reads like this:
If all the people – especially women, trans and nonbinary folks (as all these are some of the people most impacted by rape culture) – who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too,” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste. And if you can’t because it is not safe to do so, or you’re not ready, please know you’re still seen and held. Safety and survival come first.
What started as a response to the latest reports of sexual assault and harassment by men in power has mushroomed into a global phenomenon of truth-telling and solidarity. This sea change has washed upon the shores of our everyday lives.
The question is, brothers, how are we to respond?
Let’s be quick to listen and (very) slow to speak.
It should go without saying that we’re not to minimize, justify, or even too-quickly jump in with our own stories of harassment. (In other words, let’s not #AllLivesMatter this one. Right now, we’re focusing on the experience of women.)
But if you’re a relatively conscientious guy (like me), who thinks of himself as a feminist (like me), you’re probably not going to fall into that ditch. Awesome. But what can we proactively do that will actually be helpful?
Please, whatever we do, let’s not interject our easy ally-ship virtue signalling; our words matter, but our examples and actions matter more.
Could we have a conversation among ourselves?
Let’s dig in deep. Have you ever stopped to wonder…
Why do we so often feel that women are ‘our’ blank canvases, on which to paint:
- Our loneliness
- Our feelings of inadequacy
- Our social proof
- Our stress relief
- Our aggression
- Our need for emotional or physical validation
- Our craving for acceptance, adventure, and conquest
- Our personal legend?
What in us makes us think that we get to do that with – and upon – these other human beings?
I’m not here to shame you, guys: Our needs for companionship, mastery, belonging, peace, healthy expression of anger, emotional and physical validation, acceptance, and adventure are 💯 legit.
But for God’s sake – and our own soul’s: These needs are first and foremost an inside job. These needs are to be witnessed without condemnation, fully felt, and then sought: In our God, path, and/or integrated self – pick your remedy, and work it.
But let’s not transmit our unchecked, disowned and dis-integrated shadow on these precious femme, female-bodied, and feminine beings who share this planet with us.
Women. Are. Not. Our. Canvases. To be painted (or scribbled) on, then thrown away.
I’m really not $#!tting all over you, fellas. I’m enrolled in this remedial men’s school, too. I misstep. I screw up.
(Want a through-line to my unique flavor of failing the feminine? Being adopted from birth, I have two amazing mother figures in my life, biological and adoptive. They’re both awesome, and have given their very best to life, but despite it all I’ve inherited abandonment wounds from one and feelings of being smothered/over-protected from the other. I grew up longing for and being fascinated by feminine energy, only to experience it as elusive most of the time, and overpowering in those moments when I landed squarely in its (Her) grace. I’ve experienced a lifetime of push/pull, at times projecting manic pixie dream girl personas on various women in my life.
A few years ago, I was on a small retreat with a trusted circle of friends. During our time together, we put ourselves in a prayerful and receptive state to get in touch with what was really real for each of us. During this time, in the woods, I found myself planted face-down in the mossy space where a large tree met the earth. It was here that I clearly heard a feminine emanation of the Divine – for biblical and personal reasons, I don’t hesitate in using the term Goddess – speaking to me clear as day:
There is no earth-born angel / Who will save you from what ails you.
And there it is. Salvation – in my cosmology – arrives from God alone, and is worked out in generous grace via real effort amid daily life, here and now. This is an inside job, and I’m still learning the truth of what I heard that night in the woods. I’m also still learning how to best honor, consider, support, appreciate, and be nourished by the women in my life in open-handed, non-co-optive ways.)
Because women shouldn’t have to bear the burden of overcoming toxic masculinity alone. Healthy, flourishing masculinity exists, and we can be part of it.
Will you join me in this quest?
Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell is a great read and highly recommended. To get you copy click on the link below.