Musings from outside the mainstream.
It appeared on my Twitter feed and so I clicked; an article on male privilege. The author, J. Brown, seems earnest. He is confronting issues he sees in the world and examining the language we/he uses to discuss them in a very public manner. His particular goal? Challenging patriarchy in Yoga.
This stopped me up short for a moment. Isn’t Yoga largely practiced by women? Well, yes. But there have been a series of lawsuits against one well known male yoga celebrity, Bikram Choudury, for his abuse of power and sexual misconduct. Choudury, it appears, has long been criticized in the Yoga community. And, much like Bill Cosby, his behavior finally led to more and more women coming out with sordid tales of misogyny.
J. Brown doesn’t seem at all like this Choudury fellow. If anything, he seems overly sensitive. I am totally on board with calling out hypocrisy and pressing for accountability to outrageous behaviors. But then he says; “After all, we are the oppressors.”
To which I respond no, we are not. We are not all oppressors. If we’re going to get anywhere on these issues we have got to stop using generalizations in reference to men. We’ve got to stop lumping all men together in one large group and examine the dependancy on terms like patriarchy when addressing social issues and inequality.
We must do this because it is a crutch. It is incomplete and is limiting the conversation and impeding progress.
It must be clear that by suggesting patriarchy is over-used is not suggesting it doesn’t exist. Neither am I asking for sympathy. I am asking that a movement practice what it preaches, which is exactly what activitists are asking for with equal opportunity; they are asking for follow through on this country’s promise to all people.
So what am I asking for? I am asking for the language used to define issues to be more fair to men, specifically white men.
Feminism demanded that we view people as individuals. Even within groups, be you straight, gay or trans, black, brown or white, the message is consistent: we are each unique and entitled to be treated with respect and given the same opportunity as others. A stereotype limits an individual to a definition of who someone else thinks they are. And that is what I am addressing here.
I am a white male. What picture does that paint in your head? I may have advantages that exceed others. I may have had opportunity that many others were not offered. The current discourse on social justice wants to label me privileged. Fine. I have never really wanted for anything in my life. I’ve never really feared for my safety the way Ta-Nehisi Coates describes a young black man fears that his body will be taken from him in Between the World and Me.
When I think of privilege and opportunity, I think that my job is stable enough and I’m grateful for that. But I don’t have a whole lot of other options. I don’t think I’m going to be able to retire. I make $14 an hour. My car is 20 years old, my house needs a new roof and my kid will be heading to college next year and we’ll need loans for just about all of it.
I’d like a more equitable distribution of wealth. I registered for a political party for the first time in my life so I could vote for Bernie in the primary, because I agree with him that the one issue that affects all our social ills is economic inequity. I can raise my kid to be colorblind, model behavior to the best of my ability to be open and accepting of the spectrum of humanity, and I can vote my conscience. That is the extent of my personal power.
And yet conversations on social issues don’t make any distinction between the corporate raider and someone like me. This is simply not productive. Donald Trump has traction, in part, because different segments of our population have been lumped together in one homogenized label; white male privilege.
When we use terms like patriarchy, white men or male dominated world, we make no distinctions between white collar workers or rural poor, college educated or hourly worker, married or divorced. Regardless of where we are on the spectrum, I’d wager the majority of white men feel they have little actual power.
So what do we do about the inequity and obvious abuses? J. Brown suggests that men need to be “part of these conversations” and I agree, but not yet.
Men need to create their own language, define their issues, much has feminism has done for women. Men must come to the table as equals. We are not equals now, with women, because women define so much of relationship and because feminism has defined the terms without us.
We are not standing beside women as equals because we are lost. We depend on women too much. We either attempt to dominate them or placate them. We are either over sensitive or take too much on, as I think J. Brown does in his essay. We do not speak enough from our hearts or we talk too much. We must ask for fairness and accountability from women as they are asking from us. We must challenge their stereotypes of us, and define our issues outside the context of feminism.
Only when we are equals, will we be able to contribute to the conversation and push through to the deeper change that is needed to right this ship.