First, there was the groomer who turned my world upside down. His charming boyish demeanor, eagerness to offer copious amounts of nonsexual affectionate touch, and openness about his sexuality set me up to believe that he was a sexually safe partner. “Women are like flowers”, he said, “to be appreciated in the beauty they offer to the world, but not plucked.” How was I to assume that I would find him reading (and responding as me!) to my emails, investigating my browser history, and threatening to kill himself if I spent time with other people, even platonically? Or that when we agreed to a non-monogamous relationship early on, what he actually meant was that he agreed to be sexual with other people while he would aggressively corner me into being sexual with only him, and the females who joined us; but never without him. How was I to know that in time I would find out that what he really envisioned as community, was a container of subservient women to coddle his masculinity and validate his intellectual superiority.
Then, there was the radical militant anarchist who seemed way too intelligent to try and manipulate me. He reeled me in by engaging my intellect, and offering moments of sweet raw vulnerability. We disrupted business as usual, dancing, marching, and meeting in the streets. I thought it revolutionary for a man to hold and express these characteristics, and I validated him for doing so. But did he think I would find it revolutionary when he affectionately crooned of how he just wanted to spend all of our time with just each other? How much could he possibly have of validated my intellect if he assumed that I wouldn’t be able to see or feel the web of isolation being spun around me? Fortunately, I was observant enough to slither out the back door of that unfolding dynamic before ensnarement. I know others who were not so savvy.
And lastly, there was the man I met in my Non-violent Compassionate Communication course. I opened all the parts of myself up to him, felt his eyes rest upon the darkest corners of my soul, and he didn’t even flinch. “I see you” he said, and for the first time I felt like it might actually be safe enough to let someone see me; all of me. How was I to know that his actual capacity for compassion, vulnerability, and communication would turn out to be severely underdeveloped? Or that his identification as a feminist ally only went as far as the goddess figurine he wore on his neck, with some facebook memes sprinkled here and there? How could I have anticipated that the practicality of true ally ship was much too much to ask of him. How could I have ever assumed that by expecting an equitable division of household labor, that his enlightened masculinity would need to be praised? Or that by calling attention to the ways in which patriarchy manifested in our relationship, that I would be told that they didn’t exist. How could I have forseen for the ways in which me standing up for myself, or making the decision to stop suppressing my emotions, or attempting to work through the gendered trauma I had experienced, would result in me being labeled and slandered among our mutual friends as abusive.
It verges on embarrassing to acknowledge that despite having a strong intersectional feminist practice, I still was duped into thinking that these men were allies. I was left wondering; am I just exceptionally naïve? Am I simply an easy target? Did I fail to critically assess and observe these men prior to partnering with them? Soon, I start to catch on to what I was really asking within these questions. “Was it my fault?”, “Was I asking for it?”, “Could have I done more to protect myself from these experiences?”. and I am repulsed by the insidious nature of patriarchy and how it tries to make us internalize our own oppression.
I think it incredibly important to note that all of these heterosexual cisgendered males, were self-identified feminists, vocally expressing and corroborating their support of women in public forums and in community dialogue. How could’ve their life practices and intimate relationships reveal such a conflicting set a behaviors?!
I am so very determined to never again find myself partnered to men who can’t or won’t see their patriarchal tendencies. And because I realize that that might be a bit of a feminist fantasy, I at the very least expect the men that I partner with to be authentically committed to examining their behaviors; to trust in my experience as a woman when I say “Hey, this is gender oppression, and I need you to acknowledge it.” Or even, “Hey, have you considered how these behaviors might be rooted in misogyny, sexism, or male supremacy?”
Never again do I want to find myself partnered to men who benefit every single fucking day from a system that privileges them at the expense of others, yet who remain unwilling to hold space for their female partners to process the traumas incurred from living in such a world. From these experiences, I have come to be very wary of any man who self-identifies as a feminist or feminist ally, taking every opportunity they can to announce their love for the feminine. I have come to identify this feminist bolstering behavior by men as nothing more than the same behavior that male peacocks display when they puff out their chest and fan out their eye appeasing feathers. An opportunity to attract sexual attention.
There is no doubt that Feminism has forced many men to adapt their behaviors and strategies for being sexually and socially validated by women. This is especially true in progressive social circles where men will encounter women who are empowered and educated to protect themselves from sexist, misogynist, or abusive behaviors. However, adaptation to new social norms doesn’t necessarily imply reformation. My observation and analysis is that men have learned to leverage the language and behaviors of both the feminist movement, and the goddess movement, rather than allowing themselves to be transformed by these movements.
This is not to say that there aren’t men who have committed themselves to their personal growth and transformation, humble themselves to the guidance of strong women, and are making incredible efforts to deconstruct and reconstruct their identity as men and develop healthy masculinity. However, this is to say that we need to be more aware of the ways in which our feminist, anti-oppressive, and goddess frameworks are vulnerable to being leveraged by men who are not doing this work. Whose analysis of these movements have not developed the depth necessary for authentic transformation. We need to observe men who fluff their feminist feathers with a bit more criticality, rather than assume that their words will translate into action or practice within our interpersonal relationships.
I know that it is tempting to socially and sexually validate men for the feminist promoting, goddess loving things they might say or post about in public forums, but I urge us all to set a higher standard for men. A standard that holds them to a deeper level of engagement and practice in the movement to end gendered violence and oppression. A standard that sends very clear, non-negotiable expectations to the men in our midsts. We could care less about rhetoric. It all amounts to nothing if your actual practice within interpersonal relationships are rooted in patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, male supremacy, AND, you are unwilling or unable to sit with your partner and develop a new practice. If your response to strong women is defensiveness, rather than humility, it’s time that we demand that you literally, go fuck yourself.
Further reading and exploration: