Book notes: The Will to Change (1/2)

These are my notes for the book “The Will to Change” by bell hooks. You can read my summary of the most important ideas. This is the first half of my raw notes, chapter by chapter.

EDIT: You can now also read the second half of my notes.

Wanted: Men who love

In the country of Men by Jan Waldron: Mother love is plenty and apparent: we complain because we have too much of it. The love of a father is an uncommon gem, to be hunted, burnished, and hoarded. The value goes up because of its scarcity.

We learn to love men more because they will not love us. If they dared to love us, in patriarchal culture they would cease to be real “men”.

Reformist feminist focus on male power reinforced the notion that somehow males were powerful and had it all. Feminist writing did not tell us about the deep inner misery of men. It did not tell us the terrible terror that gnaws at the soul when one cannot love. The truth we do not tell is that men are longing for love. This is the longing feminist thinkers must dare to examine, explore, and talk about.

The unhappiness of men in relationships, the grief men feel about the failure of love, often goes unnoticed in our society precisely because the patriarchal culture really does not care if men are unhappy.

Patriarchy teaches a form of emotional stoicism to men that says they are more mainly if they do not feel, but if by chance they should feel and the feelings hurt, the mainly response is to stuff them down, to forget about them, to hope they go away. George Weiberg explains in Why Men Won’t Commit: “Most men are on quest for the ready-made perfect woman because they basically feel that problems in a relationship can’t be worked out. When the slightest thing goes wrong, it seems easier to bolt than talk.”

The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, “Please do not tell us what you feel.” My partner would explain how I asked him to talk about his feelings and when he did, I would freak out. He was right. It was hard for me to face that I did not want to hear about his feelings when they were painful or negative, that I did not want my image of the strong man truly challenged by learning of his weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Many women cannot hear male pain about love because it sounds like an indictment of female failure. Since sexist norms have taught us that loving is our task whether in our role as mothers or lovers or friends, if men say they are not loved, then we are at fault; we are to blame.

Patriarchal notions of manhood teach boys that it is their nature to kill, then teaches them that they can do nothing to change this nature–nothing, that is, that will leave their masculinity intact. We need a revolution of values to end male violence, and that revolution will necessarily be based on a love ethic. To create loving men, we must love males. Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity. In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an antipatriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.

Much of my thinking about maleness began in childhood when I witnessed the differences in the ways my brother and I were treated. The standards used to judge his behaviour were much harsher. No male successfully measures up to patriarchal standards without engaging in an ongoing practice of self-betrayal. In his boyhood my brother, like so many boys, just longed to express himself. He did not want to conform to a rigid script of appropriate maleness. As a consequence he was scorned and ridiculed. In his younger years our brother was a loving presence in our household. As patriarchal thinking and action claimed him in adolescence, he learned to mask his loving feelings.

My mother’s father, Daddy Gus, found it easier to be disloyal to patriarchy in old age. H e was the man in my childhood who practiced the art of loving. He was emotionally aware and emotionally present, and yet he also was trapped by a patriarchal bond. Our grandmother was always deeply invested in the dominator model of relationships. To macho men Daddy Gus, Mama’s father, appeared to be less than masculine. Back then Mama did not know how lucky she was to have a loving father. She had been seduced by myths of romantic love to dream of a strong, domineering, take-control, dashing, and daring man as a suitable mate. She married her ideal only to find herself trapped in a bond with a punishing, cruel, unloving patriarchal man. She may wake up and recognise that she is wedded to abuse, that she is not loved. That moment of awakening is the moment of heartbreak. Heartbroken women in longtime marriages or partnerships rarely leave their men. They learn to make an identity out of their suffering, their complaint, their bitterness.

Throughout our childhood Mama was the great defender of Dad. And even when she began to see him, she still taught us to admire him and be grateful for his presence. She was willing to cling to the fantasy of the patriarchal ideal even as the confronted the brutal reality of patriarchal domination daily. After 50 years of marriage she would not be leaving him, but she would no longer believe in love. Only her bitterness found a voice; she now speaks the absence of love, a lifetime of heartache. She is not alone.

“Something missing within” was a self-description I heard from many men. Again and again a man would tell me about early childhood feelings of emotional exuberance, and then a rupture happened, a disconnect, and that feeling of being loved, of being embraced, was gone. Somehow the test of manhood, men told me, was the willingness to accept this loss, to not speak it even in private grief.

Understanding patriarchy

To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings. Despite the contemporary visionary feminist thinking that makes clear that a patriarchy thinker need not be a male, most folks continue to see men as the problem with patriarchy. This is simply not the case. Women can be as wedded to patriarchal thinking and action as men.

Creating love by John Bradshaw: “Patriarchal rules still govern most of the world’s religious, school systems, and family systems.” Describing the most damaging of these rules, Bradshaw lists “blind obedience–the foundation upon which patriarchy stands; the repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking.”

Many female-headed households endorse and promote patriarchal thinking with far greater passion than two-parent households. Because they do not have an experiential reality to challenge false fantasies of gender roles, women in such households are far more likely to idealise the patriarchal male role and patriarchal men that are women who live with patriarchal men every day.

Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples. Boys brutalised and victimised by patriarchy more often than not become patriarchal. They want to be accepted and affirmed in a patriarchal world so they are pushed towards that. If we were to go door-to-door asking if we should end male violence against women, most people would give their unequivocal support. Then if you told them we can only stop male violence against women by ending male domination, by eradicating patriarchy, they would begin to hesitate, to change their position.

Stiffed: The betrayal of the American Man by Susan Faludi: Ask feminists to diagnose men’s problems and you will often get a very clear explanation: men are in crisis because women are properly challenging male dominance. […] Ask antifeminists and you will get a diagnosis that is, in one respect, similar. […] The underlying message: men cannot be men, only eunuchs, if they are not in control.

Faludi never interrogates the notion of control. She never considers that the notion that men were somehow in control, in power, and satisfied with their lives before contemporary feminist movement is false.

Patriarchy as a system has denied males access to full emotional well-being, which is not the same as feeling rewarded, successful, or powerful because of one’s capacity to assert control over others. If patriarchy were truly rewarding to men, the violence and addiction in family life that is so all-pervasive would not exist. The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity. Until we make this distinction clear, men will continue to fear that any critique of patriarchy represents a threat.

Being a boy

Boys are not seen as lovable in patriarchal culture. Even though sexism has always decreed that boy children have more status than girls, status and even the rewards of privilege are not the same as being loved. Research on the emotional life of boys draws the connection between notions of male dominance and the shutting down of emotions in boyhood even as the researchers act as though patriarchal values can remain intact.

Many antipatriarchal parents find that the alternative masculinities they support for their boy children are shattered not by grown-ups but by sexist male peers. Progressive parents who strive to be vigilant about the mass media their boys have access to must constantly intervene and offer teachings to counter the patriarchal pedagogy that is deemed “normal”. A national survey of adolescent males revealed their passive acceptance of patriarchal masculinity. Researchers found that boys agreed that to be truly manly, they must command respect, be tough, not talk about problems, and dominate females. Recent studies indicate that it is actually emotionally damaging to young males to be isolated and without emotional care or nurturance. All over the world terrorist regimes use isolation to break people’s spirit. This weapon of psychological terrorism is daily deployed in our nation against teenage boys. Most patriarchal father in our nation do not use physical violence to keep their sons in check; they use various techniques of psychological terrorism, the primary one being the practice of shaming. Patriarchal fathers cannot love their sons because the rules of patriarchy dictate that they stand in competition with their sons, ready to prove that they are the real man, the one in charge.

Stopping male violence

Every day in American men are violent. Their violence is deemed “natural” by the psychology of patriarchy. This thinking continues despite the fact that there are cultures in the world where men are not violent in everyday life. As women have gained the right to be “patriarchal men in drag”, women are engaging in acts of violence similar to those of men. This reminds us that the will to use violence is more connected to a dominator culture than to biology.

Emotional Abuse by Marti Tamm Loring explains that emotional abuse is “an ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another. The essential ideas, feelings, perception, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled.”

No man who does not actively chose to work to change and challenge patriarchy escapes its impact. The most passive, kind, quiet man can come to violence if the needs of patriarchal thinking have been embedded in the psyche.

Many people refuse to acknowledge that masses of boys and men have been programmed from birth on to believe that tat some point they must be violent to prove that they are men.

How can I get through to you? by Terrence Real says that violence is boyhood socialization. We “turn boys into men” through injury: we sever them from their mothers too early and we pull them away from their expressiveness, their feelings, and their sensitivity to others. The phrase “be a man” means suck it up and keep going.

Many teenage boys have violent contempt and rage for a patriarchal mom because they understand that in the world outside the home, sexism renders her powerless; he is pissed that she has power over him at home. In patriarchal culture women are as violent as men toward the groups that they have power over. Much female violence takes the form of emotional abuse, especially verbal abuse and shaming.

Mother violence confirms for many men that they cannot put their trust in love. They instead put their faith in being powerful and dominant.

Terrence Real says that the qualities that many wives want from their husbands in family therapy (sensitivity to others, capacity to identify and share feelings, willingness to put his needs aside in the service of the family) are the same qualities that are stamped out of boys.

Patriarchy rewards men for being out of touch with their feelings. Men of feeling often find themselves isolated from other men. This fear of isolation often acts as the mechanism to prevent males from becoming more emotionally aware. Men who win on patriarchal terms end up losing in terms of their substantive quality of life.

Male sexual being

We have heard that men look for sex in relationships, and not love, and that women look for love and not sex. Actually, men come to sex hoping that it will provide them with all the emotional satisfaction that would come from love. Most men think that sex will provide them with a sense of being alive, connected, that sex will offer closeness, intimacy, pleasure. And more often than not sex simply does not deliver. This does not lead men to cease obsessing about sex; it intensifies their lust and their longing.

People believe that sex is something men have to have. Underlying this assumption is the belief that if men are not sexually active, they will act out or go crazy. Little boys learn early in life that sexuality is the ultimate proving ground where their patriarchal masculinity will be tested.

Fuel for fantasy: The ideological construction of male lust by Michael S. Kimmel says that “Sexual pleasure is rarely the goal in a sexual encounter, something far more important than mere pleasure is on the line, our sense of ourselves as men. Men’s sense of sexual scarcity and an almost compulsive need for sex to confirm manhood feed each other, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of sexual deprivation and despair. And it makes men furious at women for doing what women are taught to do in our society: saying no.”

Males in a patriarchal society must adjust to a world where they can rarely get it, or never get it as much as they want, or where they can get it only by coercing and manipulating someone who does not want it. For the patriarchal male, addictive sexuality is fundamentally about the need to constantly affirm one’s selfhood. The heart of the soul by Gary Zukav and Linda Francis: “The more intense the pain of fear, unworthiness, and feeling unlovable becomes, the more obsessive becomes the need to have a sexual interaction”. Again from Kimmel: “men are in power, controlling virtual all […] institutions. Yet individual men do not feel powerful–far from it. Most men feel powerless and are often angry at women, who they perceive as having sexual power over them: the power to arouse them and to give or withhold sex.”

Work: what’s love got to do with it?

Masses of men may believe that their ability to provide for themselves and families is a measure of their manhood, yet they often do not actually use their resources to provide for others: men who make money but refuse to pay alimony or child support, or those who squander their paycheck on individual pleasures, challenge the patriarchal insistence that men are eager to be caretakers and providers. The very idea of “playboy” is rooted in the longing to escape this model.