When it comes to undoing sexism and resisting the patriarchy, men have an important role to play.
This April, we’re celebrating all things love and care. Our assembly, taking place across the month, centers community care systems, hoping to answer the question: What would it take for Boston to care for the most marginalized people in our communities? Care means something different to everyone, but it remains the bedrock of a vibrant and connected solidarity economy.
In this edition of the WIRE, writer and Ujima community member, Lawrence Barriner II explores what men can gain from removing the shackles of sexism and misogyny.
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”
— bell hooks
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
— Aboriginal rights activists from Queensland, Australia in the 1970s
i want access to liberation for all people in my life. this includes women, femmes, and nonbinary folx in my life because they experience some of the worst effects of sexism and misogyny.
quick note about binaries: i am increasingly aware (due to many sources but especially alok vaid-menon) that both gender and sex are fluid (spectrums), and not either/or (binaries). to save on words in this piece, sometimes i’ll use binary language and sometimes i’ll use more inclusive/full spectrum language. but don’t let my limited/fumbling language confuse you; the spectrums are present all the time.
i want my own liberation. sexism and misogyny limit me, too. how do i know this? because i think any type of oppression negatively impacts people on all sides of it, even as it offers material benefits to some people trapped in it.
for example, in all of my experience and work around racism, it’s obvious to me that racism clearly and directly harms and destroys lives and possibilities for Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color. it is also clear to me (though sometimes less immediately obvious) how it destroys the inner humanity of white people. and it is that inner destruction that allows the outer destruction of others. and so, as the aboriginal adage teaches us, i don’t want white people to end racism only because it’s good for me. i want them to end it because it’s good for all of us.
i think sexism and misogyny are the same. except this time, as a cis-gender man, i am the one the system supposes to benefit. as hooks says, the first violence of patriarchy happens inside of me.
before i get going too far too fast, let me take a quick detour into some definitions.
prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
sexism: prejudice against women on the basis of sex.
misogyny: “the law enforcement branch of patriarchy… it’s about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance. Misogyny rewards women who reinforce the status quo and punishes those who don’t.”
patriarchy: “Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females…” — bell hooks
i love definitions and can stay defining things forever, sometimes to my detriment! so to weave these definitions together and keep it moving, here’s what i think is most important: as kate mann and sean illing explore, “sexism is the ideology that supports patriarchal social relations, but misogyny enforces it when there’s a threat of that system going away.”
as i think back to liberation, while it has taken me years to dig my way through, i do feel like i have found a number of reasons that help me understand why ending misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy benefit me: i want better relationships, more care, and more intimacy.
i want better relationships
- what i want: better relationships in all sorts of directions: with adult women, men, and people of all genders, and also with children.
- sexism tells me: women are good at relationships and men are bad.
- misogyny enforces this by: making me think it’s okay to not learn or improve my relationship skills; shaming me when i try to connect with men; celebrating me when i have close relationships with women.
this puts undue pressure on women to hold relational space with men. this is true whether or not there is any romantic connection between the women and men in conversation (although this dynamic is more intense when that is also present). this means i tend to have weaker relationships with men than with women and my relationships with women are more likely to be ones in which i am cared for by them.
this plays out with children, too.
- what i want: to be close with my blood and chosen family nibblings
- sexism tells me: women are good with babies and men are bad or unsafe with them.
- misogyny reinforces this by: assuming the men in the room shouldn’t, can’t, or are worse at doing things like changing diapers and soothing (or can only calm an upset child down with aggression or fear).
the number of times i have been in a room where there are people of all genders present and the moment a baby’s diaper needs changing the men scatter, the women jump to action.no one calls anyone else out or in… phew! and rarely do i see anyone assume that men in the room should be the ones to tend to a child having a meltdown. that feels like a huge limitation on me! i want to be in there changing those diapers and i clearly see how men who may not be well-connected to children in their early days plays out over time. we just don’t learn how to relate in caring ways. which takes me to my next desire…
i want more and better care
- what i want: more care to flow between me and individual friends and family as well as in communities i’m in.
- sexism tells me: women are better at things like emotional and physical tending, cooking, and more.
- misogyny enforces this by: telling me as a little boychild it’s more important to learn how to be strong than to be caring.
care is “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.”
based on this definition, i haven’t learned how to care well. from a very young age, i was given relatively little societal signaling that i should know how to care. when i talk to some men about this, they literally don’t understand what i mean when i ask “how do you care for yourself or your friends?” thankfully, and counter to our societal conditions, my blood family encouraged some of those things in me. but without that… phew! where would i be?! and we start getting these messages from childhood. when little boys play, we encourage them to build things and be firefighters or heroes. when little girls play, we encourage them to caring mothers with their dolls and cook in little wooden kitchens.
this also means that me and the men in my life are devastatingly under-skilled at caring for ourselves and caring for each other. even those of us that are trying hard are decades behind. when people say male loneliness is killing men, part of what i hear is that men are lacking in care. as we dismantle sexist ideas about who is naturally better at care, we can start teaching ourselves and our children that everyone can be good at care. and the more care we have to give, the better.
i want more and deeper intimacy (especially with men)
- what i want: (physical) closeness with many people.
- sexism tells me that: not only is closeness between men not possible, but closeness between men and women is only possible in sexual, romantic relationships.
- misogyny enforces that by: punishing men who are close, assuming they must be secretly sexual; celebrating women who are close
did reading that header make you activate an assumption of sexual closeness?
i have been conditioned, through many systems including but not limited to sexism, to believe that intimacy exists mostly in sexual relationships — and in a hetero-dominant world — to believe it mostly happens between men and women. and in a white supremacist world, to believe that it mostly exists between white men and white women. obvious none of this is true, but when you look at our popular media, you might think it was.
so as a queer, Black man, i have already lost several times over. of course, i have done a lot overcome that. but even doing my own personal work, it means i am in relationship with other men who have also grown up with the standard assumptions i named above. and when i bring in race, me and other BIMOC, especially black men, are hypersexualized so the possibility of non-sexual intimacy is even lower.
as a little boychild, getting hugs, sitting on adults laps, cuddling all felt normal. but as sexism began to seep in, i learned that boys didn’t do closeness. girls kept getting hugs because in a sexist world, it’s ok and even expected for women to know how to be close. but boys are supposed to be hard, rough, and tough.
but as i have started to dismantle these toxic messages in my own life, i’ve found that it’s possible to be close with women and men without sex … in fact, it’s amazing. and something is majorly missing from my life without it. turns out, you can actually touch other people without it being sexual… who knew?!
better relationships, better care, and more intimacy are truly just the first three things i thought of when i imagined what i’d get in a world that has moved beyond misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy — and doing so would afford many benefits to me as a man. to take it a step further, when men can care for and are intimate with each other, we take that weight off of women and nonbinary folks. then they can have even more space to be how they want to be without pressure (internalized or external). when everyone is more free to connect with each other from a place of choice rather than within the narrow confines of sexism and misogyny, we all benefit. it means we can relate to each other in a liberated way.
Lawrence Barriner II (he/him) is a Black Queer coach, facilitator, narrative strategist, writer, and liberation worker based in Massachusetts who most values love, justice, community, and transformation.