Guy Talk: The Will to Change

No man who does not actively choose to work to change and challenge patriarchy escapes its impact. The most passive, kind, quiet man can come to violence if the seeds of patriarchal thinking have been embedded in his psyche. Much of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior women describe in men who are alternately caring, then abusive has its root in this fundamental allegiance to patriarchal thinking. Indoctrination into the mind-set begun in childhood includes a psychological initiation that requires boys to accept that their willingness to do violent acts makes them patriarchal men.

hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (p. 59). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

Hello and welcome to the final entry in a series going through Bell Hooks’ book “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love” as a way of prompting conversations about maleness.  I don’t want to call this a book club because I’m going to be writing for people who haven’t read the book.  But if you want to read along, you are certainly welcome to do so. As always, this is a trans-inclusive space and EVERYONE is welcome to comment. Also, don’t feel like you have to stick to this topic. I hope this series has been useful.

In previous parts we’ve talked a lot about what wounds men and how they continue the cycle of hurting others. So how do men heal? Robert Bly would conduct “wild man” seminars that encouraged men to go out into the woods and find the inner man who could play, laugh, cry, and howl. But like the church revivals of my own youth, these were temporary changes of character. Release valves, and come monday morning all the same systematic controls would be back in place.

Hooks agrees that men have anger toward women. A lot of that anger is a response to mothers failing to protect their boys from patriarchal harm. But rather than direct that anger toward either mother or father, it is redirected to the socially acceptable sexism, vaguely mistrusting all women and especially those in power. Especially in Old Testament heavy homes, they are encouraged to honor their parents and hate wicked women. But the anger isn’t looked at in constructive ways that lead toward resolution, so it grows. The hatred is never enough.

So how do we heal? First, we must speak the pain. We must admit that patriarchy has wounded to us and we must do our best to articulate those wounds. Hooks says women can do their part by being more open to hearing that pain. That it’s not helpful to respond to male vulnerability with “oh boo hoo, you think you’re hurting? get in line” (my paraphsase). But I think that Hooks may be letting us raised male off the hook here. She herself said it took her decades of her own healing to be able to reach a place where she could be sympathetic to men, and in my opinion its not fair to so to ask women to see their own path to healing in terms of fixing male pain. I think that it is up to men to recognize the hurt and pain in themselves and be open to receiving help, but not waiting on others to be their helpmate.

Men spend their entire lives avoiding being vulnerable, and in doing so keep even their spouses and children from knowing them. Many of us grew up with fathers we love and respected, but whose emotional core remains a mystery to us. Some of us know emotional intimacy only as a theoretical.

Hooks ends the chapter saying “Men need to hear that their souls matter and that the care of their souls is the primary task of their being.” She then turns to Psalm 23 as the ultimate example of “feminist masculinity,” seeing the shepherd there as a loving who does not threaten expulsion. When I read this, I balked. To me, this seems to be the same dominance wrapped in a veneer of kindness that she was earlier saying only reinforces the patriarchy. After reading it again, I recognize the difference in her mind is that the Shepherd/Father of Psalm 23 doesn’t demand a code or straightjacket his sheep/child into denying their essence for the sake of culture or violence. That’s not a perfect explanation to me, but I’ll admit I have father issues. What do you think? Is the Shepherd in Psalm 23 a model of masculinity that transcends patriarchy? If so or if not, what does a non-patriarchal father look like? Once you recognize you need help in undoing the harm of the patriarchal society, where do you turn?