Caption: Protesters with sign denouncing the “patriarchy” in the society during the “Women’s March on Washington” to protest against Trump presidency on January 21, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. Photo by Shutterstock/arindambanerjee
“Rather than a means to an end, patriarchy is an end in itself,
and the most serious threat to public health that the world has ever known.”
— Robert Hartman
Editor’s Note: A new survey shows the United States now ranks in the top ten most dangerous nations for women. The survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation of about 550 experts in women’s issues around the globe labeled the U.S. the 10th most dangerous nation in terms of the risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex. The foundation asked the experts which of the 193 United Nations member states they felt were “most dangerous for women and which country was worst in terms of health care, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking,” according to the foundation’s article on the survey. The United States is the only Western country on the list. See the study here.
Naming The Problem
Starting a conversation about the horrendous consequences of 7,000 years of patriarchy with most anyone is, at best, like trying to start a campfire in the rain. When I talk with other men informally about patriarchy, a rare few give me a knowing smile and a nod. Mainly though, after a couple of awkward seconds, his eyes glaze over and he has a “deer in the headlight” moment before his shoulders slump forward; I wonder if he wants to plead, “But I never raped anyone!”
Some say, “that’s just how men are; they will never change”. A significant minority of men insist that malehood is in trouble only because women have too much power already. I find it interesting that, despite the denials that men are the problem, many folks – women and men alike – still want to know how to stop the violence. Since men cause 98% of the violence world-wide, this is a tacit admission that men are, in fact, the problem.
Here are some statistics on domestic violence in America to help us with naming the problem:
The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war.
Domestic violence is not a singular incident, it’s an insidious problem deeply rooted in our culture — and these numbers prove that.
3 The number of women murdered every day by a current or former male partner in the U.S. – 38,028,000 The number of women who have experienced physical intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. – 4,774,000 The number of women in the U.S. who experience physical violence by an intimate partner every year. – 1,509 The number of women murdered by men they knew in 2011. Of the 1,509 women, 926were killed by an intimate parter and 264 of those were killed by an intimate partner during an argument. – 18,000 The number of women who have been killed by men in domestic violence disputes since 2003. – 1 in 4 The number of women who will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. – 1 in 7 The number of men who will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. – 8,000,000 The number of days of paid work women lose every year because of the abuse perpetrated against them by current or former male partners. This loss is equivalent to over 32,000 full-time jobs. – 40-45 The percentage of women in physically abusive relationships who are raped and/or assaulted during the relationship. – 18,500,000 The number of mental health care visits due to intimate partner violence every year. – $948 The average cost of emergency care for intimate partner violence related incidents for women. The average cost for men is $387. – 2 in 5 The number of gay or bisexual men who will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. – 50 The percentage of lesbian women who will experience domestic violence (not necessarily intimate partner violence) in their lifetimes. – 81 The percentage of women who are stalked by a current or former male partner who are also physically abused by that partner. – 70 The percentage of women worldwide who will experience physical and/or sexual abuse by an intimate partner during their lifetimes. – 98 The percentage of financial abuse that occurs in all domestic violence cases. The number one reason domestic violence survivors stay or return to the abusive relationship is because the abuser controls their money supply, leaving them with no financial resources to break free. – $5,800,000,000 The estimated cost of incidents of intimate partner violence perpetrated against women in the U.S. in 1995 alone. – 21 The number of LGBT people murdered by their intimate partners in 2013. Fifty percent of them were people of color. This is the highest documented level of domestic violence homicide in the LGBT community in history. – 2.6x The amount of times more likely a transgender person of color is to become a victim of intimate partner violence than a non-LGBT person. – 70x The amount of times more likely a woman is to be murdered in the few weeks after leaving her abusive partner than at any other time in the relationship. – 10,000,000 The number of children exposed to domestic violence every year. – 25 The percentage of physical assaults perpetrated against women that are reported to the police annually.
Indeed: how do we deal with these careening bulls who threaten to pull down civilization?
Forming The Question
After almost a half-century as a health-care professional, I became curious about this “problem” and the obvious connection between men and the extreme violence I witnessed in various ERs and operating rooms. Later in my career, I counseled families and individuals, both in agency and private practice and found that overall, a majority admitted to serious abuses at the hands of a male partner, family member or caregiver, generally a man in a position of trust.
Wherever I looked at different cultures – American, European, Middle Eastern, Russian, South American – I found that roughly the same statistic emerged: men commit extremely violent acts everywhere, and not just in the community with guns and knives, but they are also wantonly laying waste to the environment, taking food away from children, destroying healthcare and inflicting entirely unnecessary suffering everywhere.
After four years of focused research and writing about the history, ancient and modern, of violence and conflict, I turned to the fields of psycho-history, neuroscience, brain development, epigenetics, and early childhood learning to understand what is ‘Eating Men’. Combining this new scientific knowledge with my experience in diverse aspects of healthcare and my clinical practice in counseling psychology, I finally saw the “blizzard before the snow’”.
Psychologists and psychotherapists frequently view the family as a system. When one member of that system begins to “misbehave” in some way, very often another member of the system supports the negative behavior. When I considered that the “wizards” behind ecological catastrophe, stunning cruelty and massive population trauma are 98% male, I came to realize that for such extreme and toxic androcentric assumptions to flourish for the past 5-7000 years, something must be reinforcing it, supporting it.
My own “ah-ah” moment came when I realized that patriarchy is just a container in which to hide the toxic parts of our human selves. Directly and indirectly, patriarchy is a system of totalitarian control that supports and promotes the conditions — like racism, scapegoating, climate warming and unregulated gun ownership — absolute prerequisites for violence and chaos to erupt. Patriarchy is an umbrella term under which culture, capitalism and its other elements are mere “shell corporations” of male control. Rather than a means to an end, patriarchy is an end in itself, and the most serious threat to public health that the world has ever known.
To truly understand what patriarchy is about you need to get into an unhappy mood. A miserable frame of mind. A place where no one knows who you are. A place where your cries of hunger and abuse go unheard. A place where being vulnerable is dangerous and you walk alone. Exile. Separate. But that’s not all. If I haven’t made the point well enough: patriarchy is both implicit and explicit in everything we do, what we wear, what we believe in, what our roles are, what not to do, who to love. All of it. It is our Old Story of Separation from Life.
Marry that to patriarchy’s history of obsession with conflict and suffering, by which it sustains itself, and who would hesitate to shout out from the highest towers and demand that men stop putting their legislative hands on women’s bodies, stop producing radioactive waste that is poisonous for millions of year, stop creating endocrine disruptors, stop raping women and stop having sex with your daughters, stop waging endless wars, and even insist men quit their jobs in the oil industry or at Smith & Wesson. Stop destroying the future!
We must demand that men WAKE UP and stop working out our lack of early nurturing and the fear that is epidemic in a death-worshipping, war-loving culture. Despite the violence that literally rocks cradles around the world, most cultures go on praising their narcissistic bullies as saviors, and it is alarmingly unpopular, if not dangerous, to claim that we MEN are the problem.
Maybe it’s a “claim too far”, but it’s obvious to me that we must re-assess how men actually function in society. In light of men’s historically catastrophic abuses of power, a question begs to be asked: in what ways have patriarchal-inspired stressors, intrauterine trauma, the pressure to be the ‘right kind’ of boy, toxic shame and rage at our own vulnerabilities create a practice of masculinity that is so toxic as to make him, for a generation or two at least, exactly the wrong type of candidate for any position of power?
Growing Up Male
Growing up male is a complex river of tides, unseen cultural, political and biologic forces, and harsh socio-economic factors. Not the least of which are the four laws of a patriarchal manhood: stoicism, homophobia, aggression and misogyny. The biological roots of male vulnerability include environmentally triggered, intrauterine stress that causes an untimely release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Cells in the process of dividing are especially vulnerable. Male fetal cells divide more rapidly than a girls. As a result, the boy child is naturally and exquisitely sensitive to stress in the womb. Cortisol, while essential for development when it is released at the proper time, is poisonous to rapidly dividing, first trimester fetal brain cells. The post-natal period of brain development and attachment is also key, because it is there that the ‘young man’ gets his first taste of love and acceptance, as is his due, or shame and isolation, which will be his (and our) undoing.
Ironically, from the start of the history they themselves wrote, we men have shown ourselves to be the truest and most reliable victims of our own appalling snares; and frequently, because of unrelenting confusion, betrayal and fear, we go berserk.
It’s a hardscrabble road from boyhood innocence to suicide bomber, from summer in his pocket to unbearable narcissism and despair. What’s worse than that? A boy isn’t even allowed to complain about it. Stoicism is a scar on childhood. Stoicism creates isolation that can force a child to walk alone in darkness.
When, as a result of patriarchal rules, we have called a boy ‘weak’ for expressing feelings of fear or sadness, or mocked him because he was different, we’ve essentially murdered his spirit and transplanted a culturally-created toxic virus that hijacks the operating system of a child. In the years to come he will call it “demon”. The karmic results are the same: not only are we men primarily responsible for almost everything that’s gone wrong, but ironically we’re doing it, not because we are bad or evil, we’re doing it because we’ve been operating from a deep well of sadness and shame at our innate vulnerability, which is rooted in human prehistory, male biology, and the unique particulars of the male’s response to trauma.
Exploring the nexus of men’s biologic vulnerability with the stressful demands that patriarchy places on men, I have found that across man’s lifespan and cultures, living up to patriarchy’s expectations can be as deadly as a heart attack. The recipe for making a man starts in the womb (perhaps even before), but after birth the cultural injunctions to ‘be a man’ are so tone-deaf to the realities, needs and wonder of being a boy that in place of a childhood, he gets Hell on Earth instead. Right from the ‘git-go’, from conception, we are simply not ‘built’ to tolerate stress as well as females.
Any child is harmed by abuse and neglect, but male fetuses, male babies, male toddlers, male children and male teens are especially vulnerable to hardship. Boys are handicapped if they don’t get the loving care they need early on. Without it, he starts out a day late and a dollar short. Since we don’t see the brutality of patriarchal control as the cause, our social structures are unable to evolve in a way that provides the ‘special protections’ that all boys need, absolutely. As a result, we are still harming boys by trying to “toughen” them up, and sadly, most boys will never fully recover. Their natural development is waylaid and changed forever; they carry their wounds into manhood and, at best, men have shorter lives than women, punctuated by a greater risk of accidental death, suicide, disease and disability. For too many, the trajectory of male life follows the Hobbsian arc: “short, brutish and nasty”.
But what, anyone could rightly ask, is being done about it? Not Much. Although it’s a great start, we seem to think that passing legislation outlawing behaviors that patriarchy implicitly encourages is enough. That a slap on the wrist, some cell time, bankruptcy and ruin, a little public shaming would scare anyone straight. Yet, no matter how pugilistic we are against offenders like Weinstein and dozens (would-be-billions) of other men, if we hope that legal actions like this will change the way men think about women – hope again. No law can ever heal the root cause of misogyny, racism, greed, religious fundamentalism, and environmental chaos. These are the same old tools, albeit with some new names, that patriarchy has used for millennia to “stir the pot”, to keep conflict in motion. If laws had this kind of power, we wouldn’t need such laws and regulations in the first place.
Arguably, it might be said that what the rule of law attempts to address, or more likely cover up, are the fundamental fault lines of human nature that patriarchy has cracked open through one privation or another. Put another way, our failings as a patriarchal driven society to properly serve boy’s early needs, and as parents and communities, to properly protect and nurture them. We must take into account that all life strives towards wholeness or goodness; and we must pass laws that protect THAT, far beyond the accumulation of power and wealth. We must encourage boys’ general welfare in such a way as to make “it-takes-a-village” model more useful than the sound byte it has become.
Yet, out of fear, denial or apathy (or the ‘horror’ of such village intimacy?) we soft-shoe stage right or left and are content with mudslinging, demonizing every group our leaders have told us we should be afraid of. We create demons and scofflaws of anyone who feels like “other”. We allow Trump to deport people, responsible fathers and mothers, who have been in the US for 20, 30, 40 years. There is a law in physics that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. So while patriarchy is busy making “other” out of decent human beings, in the eyes of others we are the American demon. Who can tell one demon from the other? Not me. I just see demons begetting demons, never justice, never peace.
It’s either too much government, or too little, but by any name, if you follow the signatures of family, environmental, social, and religious upheavals, you will invariably find that a destructive, self-serving patriarchy is at the center of virtually every manmade catastrophe. The list of crimes that toxic hyper-masculinity have perpetrated worldwide for seven millennia come mostly under the heading of ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. Yet, the idea that men and patriarchal ideology and systems are responsible for the planetary killing mess we are facing is still viewed as pure ‘rubbish’, if not gender heresy. Of course, that’s what we can expect from a system of control that has had 7,000 years to develop, 7,000 years to adapt and 7,000 years to really get inside your head.
How could something so outrageous and harmful go unnoticed for so long? Feminist, Adrienne Rich, wrote in Of Woman Born 40+ years ago, that men’s power is hard to see because “it permeates everything”. Of course, this implies that patriarchy is right here in front of us, but cleverly hidden within the sheer ordinariness of yet another school shooting, and entirely dependent on our willingness to allow violent conflict and suffering to be normal.
The vastness of patriarchal space makes it difficult to find an edge you can get your thumb under and peel a bit of it away; discovering where you begin and where self fades into communal blackness is a valuable pursuit in any search for meaning. Patriarchy is everything we can think of, right down to the Happy Meal™ you bought your son at McDonalds, which is another way of saying that consumerism is just one of the many tentacles of patriarchy that emboldens the male shadow-spirit to conflate a calorie-laden, tropical forest clearcutter, ecologic devastator, land-fill-filler, heart-hurting diet with happiness.
Hunger is good for patriarchy and it’s good for business, so it is a central doctrine that we should want ‘more’. As one commercial demands, “Obey Your Thirst!” After all, if hunger is good for the economy, then it’s flag-waving patriotic.
Patriarchy likes you unhappy because unhappy, hungry people buy more stuff than happy, satisfied people. This kind of consumerism is a blizzard of manufactured, unmet needs that depend on unrequited hunger.
Sadly, since there is no permanent satisfaction possible anywhere, outside of cocaine maybe, like Monsanto shareholders, few men of the patriarch will ever desire less.
So we are back at the beginning, the part of the discussion that deserves real conversation because the answer to, “How do we fix it?” is really messy.
The short answer: IT’S THE WRONG QUESTION!
Healing The Male Heart
In AA we often talk about the “gifts of sobriety” such as improved relationships. Some of my early “gifts”, much to my despair, were anger and resentment. This is really normal stuff for the early path, because sobriety allowed me to be present enough to feel the anger for the first time. Inevitably, I came to ask, “Why is it that I’m sober, but my life is still a drunken mess?” And the equally inevitable reply: addiction is a symptom, and my life being a mess, a manifestation of something wounded at the level of my most basic self, far deeper and more unexplored than I could imagine.
Simply stated, my life had been such a blizzard of unmet need that I didn’t understand, that I tripped over the demands of hundreds of patriarchal chains strewn across my path. Twenty-four sober years later, I can appreciate my naiveté because I didn’t see the huge paradox that loomed over those first sober years that made my early questions and doubts irrelevant: my drinking had nothing to do with alcohol.
In a similar way (hang on), the possession of an assault rifle has nothing to do with protection or safety. They both cover up those deep fault lines of male vulnerability. Every addict learns to “protect” their supply. An unregulated gun market and the 2nd amendment serve to do just that: to provide unrestricted access to a gun enthusiast’s ‘DOC’ – drug of choice – in this case, weapons of mass destruction. There are many DOC’s out there: food, sex, gambling, video games, just to skim a few off the top, and all highly resistant to change.
However, the “Father of all DOC’s” is Patriarchy.
Wherever patriarchy thrives, the privileges that membership confer, like the ‘right’ to dominate and terrorize those you are suppose to serve, to interpret the Earth and Women as commodities to consume and regulate, to decide who deserves to thrive and who deserves to barely cope, who gets a living wage and who doesn’t, who has sovereignty over their bodies and who doesn’t. It is rightly said that those who demand power over others have the least access to authentic inner power themselves.
Feeling powerful or arrogant or “chosen”, that grand cosmic joke of control, is a narcotic; and like any DOC, we never have to feel what we don’t want to feel, face what we don’t want to face. It’s his denial of men’s innate vulnerabilities that’s been at the root of everything that’s been wrong for 7,000 years.
So, if the important question remains, “What Do We Do About Men?”, then the only answer possible lies not in creating more demons, more surveillance, higher border walls, more prisons, bigger guns or more laws. Paradoxically, even women’s “salvation” lies not within a global #MeToo Movement, it lies within something even more radical: a change in the male heart.
Now that would be truly heroic.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline or visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.