Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Butuki from Laughing Knees writes in his comment threads recently:

"Just you wait. No one is going to touch this topic in these comments. I agree with you wholly: this is a sick society; no one even wants to talk about the basic issues. If men and women can’t even talk about being men and women with one another without launching into tirades and recriminations, how can we ever talk about making a better society? I want to talk… I write these posts about men and women because I want to talk and get people thinking through discussion. But not if one side is unwilling to listen to the other."

I wanted to respond but this got too long and off topic for that comment thread.

Dear Butuki,
I am sorry you feel shut down when you try to bring up issues about what culture does to men. In my opinion, you had the (at least one, if not main) reason incapsulated in your post but didn't link the reason to the problem. The truth is, that men do perpetrate much of the violence, and women can't help but be aware of this. For example, in a diversity workshop I attended, 37 of the 40 women had been victims of sexually targeted aggression. I think this is precisely why we shut down that conversation about men's issues. Women are scared to think about the possibility of being a victim and the reality that it isn't just one man out of 200 that is hurting so many of us. We want to believe that it isn't our friends, brothers, fathers, sons. Its the only way we can survive and not walk in terrible fear every step of our lives.

So saying, I think we DO need to listen through that fear. Set it aside and understand how we as women contribute to the factors that make it happen. The same way we need to listen to how we've shut down black men in this country to the point that when they finally do erupt, it's volcanic in nature. Anything contained in a box too small is bound to eventually burst.

Before that workshop, I hadn't confronted how my own fears about expression of anger and frustrations were limiting the honest expression of the men around me. I hadn't confronted how my expectations of how men are supposed to act, even the stupid little things like making men take the scary bug out of the house, put them in a role where they couldn't be whole. I want them to open up their inner soul and confess their greatest hopes and fears, but realistically, in the past if a man showed a strong negative emotion, I got scared and limited it. It probably should have occurred to me that he wasn't going to share his dreams and greatest happiness if he couldn't also express his fears and frustrations, the darker emotions. But it hadn't. I was too caught up in my fear, which in complete fairness for women, is based on our daily reality. The thought that we might contribute to the reasons it happens... well that triggers the "women don't deserve it no matter what we do" argument, again valid, again a defense, rather than a choice to listen and understand without getting caught up in our fears.

What am I unleashing when I ask men to be fully expressive? Can I sit quietly with my fear, with my paradigms, with my biases, looking at them and choosing to set them aside so I can hear?

If I love my son, if I want him to walk in the world knowing himself, sharing himself richly, I must.

So I'm asking you Butuki, my friend, to talk. To help me listen so I can teach my son. I'm asking all of you who read, to talk.

What haven't I let you say?

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