Let’s get clear on some basic facts.
Yes, we live and have lived in a patriarchal society (with minor variations) for tens of thousands of years.
Yes, most men have been socialised into unhealthy, unbalanced forms of masculinity, resulting in a spectrum of sh*tty behaviour—from outright rape and abuse through to everyday entitlement, chauvinism, and sexism.
Yes, the depth and breadth of the problem is currently being exposed, and that’s a good thing.
But I have an unpopular and uncomfortable consideration to add into the mix: guys aren’t the only ones who have been brainwashed into patriarchal, unhealthy ways of thinking. Practically everyone has.
Including women like myself.
I’ve manipulated people. I’ve lied. I’ve used my body to get attention. I’ve dated men I wasn’t really attracted to. I dated them because I liked being wanted, and then left them confused and heartbroken.
I’ve cajoled people into things they didn’t really want to do, just because it suited me. I’ve treated people badly, because I didn’t have the emotional resources to do any better. I’ve overridden my body’s own intelligence in the attempt to achieve and attain.
I’ve thought instead of felt. I’ve done all kind of interpersonal behaviours I’m not proud of, as a result of my own socialization and patterning.
I am having trouble understanding a feminist movement that portrays women from a holier-than-thou or purely victimized position. It’s inaccurate, it’s disempowering, and it doesn’t stand up against our lived experiences in ways that can help us move toward a healthier society.
For too long, we’ve thought of masculine and feminine as belonging solely to men and women respectively.
Respectively, but not with respect, because for tens of thousands of years the masculine has been assumed to be superior, and the sole domain of men. Call it “divide and conquer.”
In reality, these are just words for two energies existing within each one of us. Men have been screwed over by only being allowed to be “masculine”— strong, rational, abstract—and deprived of their human abilities to feel, receive, and be tender and soft.
Women have been screwed over by being told they’re only allowed to be “feminine,” and that this is lesser. (Do I need to say here: I’m talking about shiva-shakti, yin-yang, the two energies—not made-up gender stereotypes of shopping and long nails.)
The result is that women, too, are taught to strive toward the patriarchal ideal of aggressive confidence and mind-based strength that is unreceptive. As a child, I learned to achieve, strive, push, override, and reason. I remember the moment at the age of 12, when I realised that I could control my emotions and hold back tears by clenching my jaw.
I had learned that to cry was lesser, and to maintain control was safer. Cue 20 years of jaw pain and a habit of repression that has taken some undoing.
So, I too have been patriarchal—both in the domination and valuing of my “masculine” qualities over my own “feminine” qualities—and in interactions with others. I’ve believed boyfriends in their hidden beliefs that they were superior or that reason was better than feeling. I’ve looked for love from males, rather than cultivate it in myself, believing their opinion was worth more.
This is despite growing up with feminist, loving parents: a dad who cooked and a mother who renovated, two equal humans who loved one another. So it was a shock to realise that regardless of these benefits, I’d still been utterly programmed into society’s privileging of the masculine and scorn and disregard of the feminine.
What this means is that as women, we need to be self-aware as we expose misogyny and abuse that we’re not acting out of the same models: revenge, invulnerability, dissociative blame, and privileging of power and strength over tenderness and receptivity. To blame others and take a position of unassailable righteousness is the first go-to of the patriarchal ego, and it makes me sad to see women replicating this pattern in their justified expression of pain and outrage.
#Metoo makes me uncomfortable for several reasons.
The key one is that I feel in the momentum of finally being listened to, we have lost nuance, not acknowledging the basic fact that women have egos too.
We can be wrong and act in sh*tty ways. It’s not a weakness to acknowledge this: it’s the kind of honest vulnerability that the patriarchal ego hates. But because we’ve been dismissed and disbelieved for centuries, it feels very illogical and unstrategic to concede that we’re not actually right about everything. We’re understandably afraid that this kind of vulnerability will be used against us by still-dominant male forces.
It is utterly necessary to do so, because this is how we create the paradigm shift to the values that have been oppressed by patriarchy. We can make the game-changing gesture of self-awareness of the ways we delude ourselves and the ways our conditioned perceptual filters make our own little realities.
I think back to the many moments when I have thought someone was coming on to me when they weren’t, and the many moments when someone was coming on to me, and I didn’t realise. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter traditions and teachers that have helped me recognise and slowly begin to clear away the fearful and mistaken filters that have got between me and what’s actually going on.
For example, my own experiences of male aggressiveness and entitlement, coupled with conditioning into needing male attention and approval as a band-aid to low self-esteem, for a long time gave me a fearful, suspicious filter around men.
This was the case whether they were predatory jerks or nice guys giving me a friendly hug. There was always a little voice thinking, what do you want and subconsciously worried I wouldn’t be able to say no to it. My edgy fear made me unable to tell the difference between genuinely threatening behaviour and harmless affection.
Are we able to get honest and say, “Yes, many males in my life have been assholes, to the point where I’m suspicious and jump to conclusions.” This becomes very relevant as we start “exposing” men for bad behaviour. We need to get very mature here and enter into discussion of how our culture has messed things up for everyone.
This is the nature of trauma: bad stuff happens that continues to colour our perceptions. Well, it’s more obvious than ever that a lot of bad stuff has happened.
Can we now acknowledge that it has affected us and begin to demonstrate the values neglected by the patriarchy: understanding, kindness, compassion, vulnerability, and forgiveness? If we think this makes us weak, then we have been gender-brainwashed.
I’m not talking about being a pushover. “Oh, you want to assault me? That’s okay, I forgive you.” No, we need to protect people from outright abuse, so we can all begin to get clear of the burden of historical fear and suspicion. This is possible.
Through my own often-painful explorations into the body and its wisdom, many old feelings have surfaced and been released, leaving me so much freer to engage with people as I really want to, rather than how society has dictated that I should.
Sometimes that might mean an embrace, and sometimes turning around and walking away without further ado. This is no-fuss spiritual practice, the very practical method of throwing out our karmic/traumatised filters and engaging with the world as it is.
So with that process in place, let’s understand why a man might act in asshole ways. Because telling them not to and firing the worst examples is obviously not working.
Let’s understand how his tender child-body was progressively socialised out of receptivity and taught to disregard women’s autonomy and desire.
Let’s feel deeply sorry for his numbness, his loss of feeling and sensitivity.
Let’s cry about how that made him try and get from others what he could not feel—the feminine.
Let’s nurture practices and spaces where he can reconnect with the neglected, abused feminine within himself—and where women can do so too.
This is the only way we can move forward together. Not through continuing the illusion that men are X and women are Y and fighting about who is right.
Yes, we can be angry about the generations of very real abuse, but that anger needs to keep moving, not get stuck.
We are all masculine and feminine, and the scorned feminine within us all can rise up with new ways of relating, based on total receptivity, openness, and respect. Men are not alone in needing to learn new ways of being and relating.
Relephant Watch: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Look out for:
Author: Rosalind Atkinson
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copyeditor: Yoli Ramazzina