My friend Heather wrote this amazing piece on men and gender identity. I think it’s wonderful.
In short, she examines the role of male identity as “default” and compares that with thoughts from a fantastic and brilliant Salon article which focuses on white Americans and the cultural belief that “white” is “default” and the problems and pain that belief engenders. Here are some quotes I found relevant and true:
From Heather’s piece:
“Pro-male perspectives are absolutely everywhere, but it’s less common to find pro-male perspectives defined as distinct from the mainstream perspective. Men are considered the default human, which is generally beneficial, except when men are trying to conceive of their identity as men.
The concept of toxic masculinity explains a lot of what’s wrong with modern masculinity, but what are men left with in terms of identity? What does it mean to be a man? How do we define what it means to be a man? What is a cis-man’s identity? How do we answer these questions without minimising women’s struggles?
I have no idea how to answer those questions. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think that the following from the Salon article applies to the issue of men’s identities and the gender default:”
From Kartina Richardson, of Salon, speaking of white identity:
“White liberal identity is all about NOT being something (not racist, not homophobic, not sexist), and so white liberals inevitably become desperate to be something. At some level, whites understand everything that they and their ancestors were a part of — slavery, Jim Crow, racism, Native-American genocide, Christian persecution, anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, anti-immigrant, capitalist, Vietnam, etc., etc., etc. A conscious white liberal is fighting hard to NOT be what their history implies. “
“White liberals, on the other hand, are so afraid of claiming any white identity (for terror of feeling white pride or appearing to deny their white privilege) that they also reinforce the idea that whiteness is empty, nothing — that it’s a default. They act like they have no particular identity. And if you act like you don’t have any particular identity, you are “regular.”
Last autumn I attended a race immersion conference with SJTI, the social justice training institute, and the training focused deeply on just that idea above. That all of us are trained through culture and our experiences to understand “whiteness” as the default, normal, right state of being and that whites are deeply affected by racism and the toxicity of white supremacy but often don’t know it. Even those of us who reject racism, are often unaware of how deep those roots go in out our psyche.
The conference provided space for whites to talk to whites about whiteness, and about levels of racism they believe may have affected them. And to face our own pain, shame, fears about racism and our role in it. But it also built a new kind of pride, that of fighting oppression, that of reaching for real equality, and that of being able to truly see each other as human beings, no matter the race.
This creates an invisibility of “the other” which well, makes their pain invisible, leading to a lack of empathy or compassion from them to the dominant class who then feels their own pain is being denied…well, that’s vital to take in and understand.
There is great pain out there right now, in women and in men. Men feel pain at so many things from personal loss to cultural dynamics beyond their control changing their very sense of identity. It does me no good to not see their pain, but it doesn’t help to have my own voice dismissed in the process or have the experience of privilege denied, turning the whole thing into a zero sum game.
What we wind up with is pretty much everyone invisibling each other because to stop and deal with the damage that years of cultural training has done to us hard work. It’s painful. It doesn’t feel good and involves cognitive dissonance and conflict. Much easier to sit with the original pain and blame another.
That just leads back into the same cycle, with more pain than anyone knows how to deal with.
Heather’s piece is amazing for how it lays out those dynamics (as is the Salon article). I encourage you to read both and look into ways we can work together to see each other and shift the process into one of empathy and ending, as Salon writer Kartina Richardson puts it so perfectly “the Default.”
Her words sum up what I feel perfectly and yes this goes for so many other things like gender, orientation, ability, class:
“In order for white suffering to have a voice, white people must realize the largest and most invisible way in which they benefit from their white privilege, and it’s the same thing that’s causing their frustration being The Default. If Person A is actively supporting and benefiting from a system that oppresses Person B, it is very hard for Person B to hear Person A say, “But I’m hurt too!” However, if Person A is actively working to dismantle the system they benefit from but which oppresses Person B, then Person B is finally seen — and Person A’s pain can be embraced. In order to see a person you must see the truth of their pain. If you deny their pain, you refuse to see them. This is what makes black people invisible. And black invisibility is what makes white pain invisible to black people.
And so we live our lives never seeing each other…
…The fight against inequality, the fight against The Default, is a fight for white spiritual and emotional freedom, not just the freedom of people of color, women, or gays and lesbians. It is only by seeing white specificity that we can awaken to the fallacy of the idea that humans are separate.”
I could not agree more. It’s about dominance and where we place that dominance. The dominant class is nearly never aware of how deeply those roots go, how affected by the dynamics they are, and so place their pain on anyone else.
How we stop this cycle will take time, will take radical compassion, and a radical willingness to look inward and yes, let go of shame, towards a new kind of wholeness.
As Kartina Richardson said, it’s a spiritual and emotional freedom we are after. For issues of race. For issues of gender. For issues of orientation.
We are not separate, not really. The desire for dominance and power seems to be what drives that false separateness and limits our compassion for each other. We have to find our way back to that understanding no matter how difficult.