Saturday, August 19, 2017

Power and our boys

To continue my reflections on power, men and violence toward women...

A traditionally “feminist” critique uses a black and white model to condemn domestic violence.  It attributes abusive dynamics to the deliberate exploitation of power by men whose intention is to dominate and control women, and blames patriarchy for its proliferation. 

Due to the frequency with which I have observed male violence* in intimate relationships, if you subscribe to this model, many men would be deliberately manipulating and hurting the very women they love.  That is too perverse to entertain, and I take issue with much of the literature that comes up in an internet on the subject which would lead us to believe it.

Patriarchy is not men; and violence is not their fault.

It may be true that men are more violent; that they projectively identify their bad stuff more onto women (who have a tendency to introject it) which then justifies their acting out in violence because “she made me do it”.  It may be true that they have more difficulty being accountable for their actions, fleeing responsibility and blaming the victim when they are the ones in the wrong. It may be true that they feel a need to dominate and control more than women do.

But there is no evidence that any of this is deliberate, malicious or intended; in fact, there is much evidence to the contrary.

Whether you are a man or woman, violence usually occurs in a split second.  There is no time to reflect or plan your next move.  It is a knee-jerk reaction to feeling threatened, like a kick or a punch when you have been hit.  You feel angry and enlist power in your defense.  That is normal.

Where men (and boys) seem to differ from women (and girls) is impulse control. They do not have the same ability (usually located by neuroscientists in the frontal lobe) to distance themselves from visceral feedback and reflect before reacting.  Wired to win, they take losing personally, susceptible to the sting of the “fragile male ego”, a reaction I have long thought to be the flip-side of male potency, both from the physiological and psychological point of view.  Winning boosts testosterone and vice versa. 

Men are infantilized and humiliated for being preoccupied with ego and defending themselves; and millions of boys are diagnosed with ADHD when their "symptoms" are synonymous with being a normal boy. Yet loss of potency in a man threatens his ability to procreate, put bread on the table or win a war.  It spells death.  

Although it may be true that we culturally reproduce gender stereotypes, we cannot deny that genes, biology, brains, neurons and hormones—wherever you believe the locus of gender identity lies-- play a huge part in gender differences.

What does this mean when it comes to domestic violence? 

Violence against women is unacceptable.  But it is not going to go away by shaming men.  We can continue to call out gender stereotypes and abuses of power that do violence to women, but with empathy and a view to understanding the power men struggle with.

*violence is used to broadly encompass what I consider to be the root of all violence (psychological, verbal and physical ): the projection of our “badness” onto others

Monday, August 14, 2017

master or be mastered

More on the theme of violence and domination... with my apologies in advance to those taking issue with my sexist generalizations.

I had the experience this past weekend of being with a puppy who was constantly nipping, to the point of drawing blood. It reminded me of my previous experience with a neurotic (adult) dog who, one year after his rescue and devoted maternal care from me, nipped frequently and ultimately almost bit off my nose.

Two plastic surgeries and one dog later, I have often wondered why I never made a good dog mommy.  I realized over the weekend it was for the same reason that some people, especially women, get abused.

We are unable to assert ourselves OVER another living being.  We coddle and resonate, nurture and coo. We do not dominate.  So we get dominated.  (That logic still does not make sense to me but that is because I live in a non-hierarchical world).

What was happening with this puppy was that she (it was indeed a she) was trying to figure out the pecking order.  She tried nipping at all us of (in this case, four women) but it was the worst with the smallest member of the family.

We were all discouraged.  We were fighting her off, squealing as she sunk her sharp little teeth into our calves, trying to flee or push her away, sometimes being backed into a corner tears in our eyes.

Then we tried something.  When she'd nip at our hands and fingers we would ball them into a fist.  She couldn't get a grip.

Then instead of bending over her and pushing her away, we stood up and froze.  She seemed to lose interest.

Last we noticed that if we struck a pose, fist balled, arm rigid, took a step toward her or backed her into corner, she gave up and walked away!

It was by trial and error, but we shifted our horizontal world into a vertical one, and went on the offensive.

It worked!

We didn't have to fight back or punish.  We didn't have to dominate or attack.  We just had to NOT back up or back down.

We stopped being on the defensive.

Friday, August 11, 2017

seeing through*

I’m gonna say it:
Men scapegoat women
They cannot hear us when we cry,
Just squawking and pecking
Then feel attacked
And bludgeon us like chickens
With stony silence- at best
At worse, words
And worst- their fists

So many stories in their heads
Muffling our real voices
And killing us

It’s not their fault,
Women, you need to know
They’re made that way
The world’s that way
War goes that way
It whores that way
That’s just…
How it is
Because they’re our boys!

They have a great lack
A missing-something…
Compassion, lucidity, wisdom, estrogen…
Emotional intelligence??
Whatever that precious silver is
Lining our hearts
Breaking us open like a blue sky
When we are struck
And hold our loved ones closer

A mysterious padding around our ego
That lets us turn the other cheek
And look past our pain into them
A gift, a huge muscle!
That protects us
From taking it personally
Go figure gals,
We’re stronger.

So reach out to the weaker sex
When he is down, especially when he is down on YOU
Have pity, compassion
Be the bigger person
The bigger SEX
I know that goes against what we’re told,
That we are the victims who need help and they who need a talking to
And “anger management”
But it doesn’t work!

We don’t need help at all
Just patience
And the only thing that works is to hold up
The truth of our own goodness
Like a bright light shining in the dark
Not once but again, and again, and again
Blowing away the clouds of their sad projections
Like a strong wind

They need us
Our strength
To see through

* caution: sexism ahead.  My apologies in advance to men who identify with the female gender used here