Patriarchy vs Love: Time for Men to RISE

This week’s post comes from a dear friend.

Dan Mahle at the 1 Billion Rising event in Seattle, WA

Dan Mahle at the 1 Billion Rising event in Seattle, WA

Dan Mahle is a program coordinator, facilitator, and community builder living in Seattle, WA. He received his B.A. in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College in 2008. He has been involved in a variety of non-profit organizations since then, including several youth programs that he helped to launch. His personal mission is to support people in uniting across lines of difference to identify common values & goals, build culture & community resilience, and share powerful stories through creative expression. When he’s not working, he can be found running, hiking, writing music, and eating tasty bowls of cereal late at night.

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One Conversation: A Call to Men

One Billion RisingI had an incredible conversation with a complete stranger today. He was an older guy who happened to stop by the 1 Billion Rising local event that took place in downtown Seattle. As I was walking toward the small crowd of mostly women who were holding signs and dancing, he stopped me with a loud, “Hey, what is this ‘1 Billion Rising’ thing?”

When I told him that it was a global movement to end violence against women, launched by Vagina Monologues playwright, Eve Ensler, his voice softened and his eyes darted away.

He started telling me about how violence had affected so many of the women in his life. He began tearing up as he shared that most of the women he loves have been victims of sexual assault and/or abuse. He recalled spending 15 years with his ex-wife who, despite endless medications, could not overcome the depression she felt ever since the day she was sexually assaulted. I could see the hurt and sadness in his face as he told me that he couldn’t find any way to help her. His mother, he said, had also been a survivor.

Suddenly staring firmly at me, he said, “Women shouldn’t be treated this way. They are the life-givers; we owe everything to them.” He was visibly shaken.

I looked back at him and asked, “So what can we, as men, do to begin to transform this culture of violence against women?”

We talked about how important it would be for more men to have honest conversations about patriarchy and its countless negative impacts on us and on the women in our lives. Both of us acknowledged, though, that these kinds of safe spaces for male emotional expression are few and far between.

I gave him a hug and he said, “I love you, man.” We had met just 5 minutes before, but the moment of solidarity and healing that we shared in that short space was profound.

It got me thinking: Why don’t we, as men, seek out more spaces for truthful sharing about our feelings and our experiences with patriarchy?  Why don’t we talk about violence against women, about sexism, and about rape culture? The ‘1 Billion Rising’ movement is based on a single, chilling statistic: One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

That’s 1 billion women worldwide. How can we say that we love the women in our lives, even as we are perpetuating (consciously or unconsciously) a culture of violence against them?” Every day that we are silent, the cycle of violence continues.

The Cost of Patriarchy

This is where shame often comes in. I’ve known it by many names: frustration, defensiveness, anger, aggression, rage, a need for control, etc. But it all comes back to shame. It all comes back to some deep-seated feeling of unworthiness that keeps us from meeting our most fundamental human need: the need to feel loved.

While women in our society are taught that their worth depends on their physical beauty, men are taught that our worth depends upon our performance, our control, our accomplishments. At some point, like so many women, many of us realize that we will never be able to fulfil the expectations placed on us. But instead of questioning the patriarchal culture that has burdened us with these perverse and insatiable demands, we come to believe that who we are is not good enough.

In an effort to avoid feelings of vulnerability, we methodically replace emotional expression with emotional numbness. And so, in our disconnection from self and others, we unlearn what it means to truly love.

As bell hooks puts it in her book, The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love,  “The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, ‘Please do not tell us what you feel.’”

When we forget what it means to love, we often desperately search for cheap replacements: we work long hours at work in an attempt to receive praise and recognition; we watch porn or buy prostitutes in a distorted attempt to feel loved and sexually fulfilled; we buy an endless number of things in an attempt to fill the painful void of loneliness within. Until we, as men, face our fear of vulnerability and begin telling each other what we feel, nothing will change.

Right now, there is a powerful, growing movement of women who are rising up all around the world to demand an end to violence. This movement is a struggle for equality, but it is also a call back to love. It is an invitation to all people to transform the dominant culture from a culture of violence to a culture of love, starting from within our own hearts. We owe it to all women to stand beside them as they say “enough is enough!” We owe it to ourselves to finally invite love, in all of its fullness, back into our lives.

Learn more about 1 Billion Rising here.

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41 thoughts on “Patriarchy vs Love: Time for Men to RISE

  1. Brilliantly said. I, too, was at the same event, to support this critical initiative. I have started a company, CompassionWorks,LLC with a division, The School For Love, that directly addresses the issues you’ve addressed.
    I should also point out that there’s an established worldwide community of peer-to-peer counselors that give time and space for everyone to express their distress. It’s called Re-evaluation Counseling, with local chapters here in Seattle. Go to: http://www.rc.org for details.

    • After reading this thoughtful & caring piece by Dan, it’s lovely to know that what is needed has already been planted in one place.
      May it grow and bloom in all places.

  2. Hi Dan, Really enjoyed reading your post!! You quoted Bell Hooks… “The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, ‘Please do not tell us what you feel.’”

    I’m here to say ~ Please tell me what it is you feel!!

    respectfully,
    ~C.Ander

  3. Thank you for writing this post.

  4. Dan… excellent article. Thank you for your words.
    John… thank you for what you are doing, as well!

  5. Thank you :)
    I am one of the Rising Woman, who felt nothing but violence in words and emotions from her parents and who has to overcome every pain and guilt and fear in her heart and body. And now she is rising, like the sun, like one bilion women around the world.

    For me it has very personal meaning: i want to express my feelings, my power, my thouths and talents such as dance without fear and that is my own path in which i rise and try to help others :)

  6. My son Max is homeless in kona, Hawaii….. he has not ate any food in two days, shelters cost 5 dollars, and there are dinners served only twice a week. Access to a computer at the library cost money, he has no phone or anyway to contact me. This is not how America should be. I am worried sick, he is with his partner Jeremy. If anyone can help. Please help, he is somewhere near the kona area veterans hospital, I am fancially unable at this time. Even a few dollars would help him, his dad has alziemers, and is in the veterans hospital in kona. Please help. I live in Seattle
    Max Heller is my sons and dads name ( Jr. And 3rd )

  7. Thank you for this post and for bringing attention to this facet of why we need to rise.

  8. Dan – thanks for showing up at the Seattle gathering. I was one of the older women holding up a sign there. You are correct to identify that much male violence is not sex-based, but power-based. When men have loving connection and support, between themselves and the women around them, there is no need for violent acting out. What I love about 1 Billion Rising is that it’s not about shame; it’s about finding joy in understanding and support. Conversation is the first step in this dance. Thanks for joining in!

  9. This is great, thanks Dan for speaking up. I’m a man who also chose to participate in the OBR event where I live (Nelson, BC)…I was among a few, and the only one to partake in the Break the Chain flashmob dance. I thought it was important to have some sort of male presence, to “invite” other men to stand up and at the same time say to the women and girls involved, “you are not alone in this.” I wrote this post which got republished at the Good Men Project; we seem to be discussing many of the same things: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/women-were-on-our-way-please-be-patient/

    All the best, keep up the great work!
    Carlo

  10. Oh, thanks be to God or Buddha or whomever / whatever for you guys! I helped organise the Scottish Borders One Billion Rising and we were equally lucky to have many wonderful men helping out and attending. Together we can make a difference x

  11. Wow. I wish more men llike you could talk about thier feelings. My ex-boyfriend suffered some kind of abuse as a child but won’t talk about it. He works long hours to keep busy and avoid intimacy, he has trouble sleeping. He is paranoid and he won’t seek professional help. I love him so much but if I get too close he pushes me away. I tried for 4 1/2 years but I have given up.

  12. […] post was  originally published at Change From Within, by Jamie Utt, Dan’s friend. Here we […]

  13. Dr Raquel Thomas-Caesar (Guyana)

    Thank you for this piece. I am so concerned about Mens’ reluctance to speak out on this issue of violence against women. This helps me to understand a bit- how do we make the shift to change as if MEN are not involved in the struggle- it will be long road ahead to change.
    KUDOS for this piece.

  14. Oddly, very few men seem to want to participate in this kind of talk.

  15. This is wonderful to read Dan. One billion rising has been amazing and when I read your blog and the feelings it triggered in you it can only be more amazing.

  16. tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write. Thank you for sharing this heart-full message that many of the men in my life also feel. I stand with you. I rise with you.

  17. I share a lot of your thoughts, but feel like it’s rooted in a world that existed 30 years ago.

    The roles and expectations and inflictions experienced by men and women are blurred beyond the definitions you’ve described. Almost every man I know has experienced physical abuse and beatings at points in their life. Almost every man I know is also under pressure to measure their worth in their looks.

    It’s too simplistic to focus on the 1 Billion women you say who are at risk of violence and abuse, but I see why I guess. If you target one issue you can feel ok that you are doing something about something. But in truth, men and women suffer at the hands of each other and the societies we’ve built because suffering is a part of human existence. It’s not something we should ever feel comfortable with or allow to happen if we have the direct power to stop it, but it is not going to go away, and it is not confined to 1-in-3 women.

    • Canonjon,

      I disagree with you that this thinking is antiquated. While there are people of every gender who are survivors and there are women who commit violence against men, we need to understand that this is a problem of patriarchy and misogyny at its root.

      The focus is on 1 Billion Women because we do not live in a world where 1 in 3 men will be survivors of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. While men are survivors, women are approximately 90% of survivors, so the focus need to be precise.

      Do we need to speak out against all violence? Yes. But we also need to be precise with our language and with our actions. We must uproot patriarchy and misogyny and supplant those things with love. To do so will allow for healing for people of ALL genders, as Dan so eloquently put.

      Jamie

      • The statement was that 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten. And as Canonjon said most men have probably been beaten one or more times in their lives, I would hazard a guess at something like 90-95 in 100 have been raped or beaten in their lives. You could argue that patriarchy is the root of this, although not really misogyny…

      • I’m not exactly sure how you can say that misogyny isn’t at fault. Care to explain?

      • I mean that misogyny is not to blame here as violence is suffered by both sexes, if anything more so by men. So the use of gendered terms doesn’t make sense here. Putting an end to violence in general is a laudable goal, but I don’t think it’s one that needs extra or special attention in the case of violence that is enacted upon women.

        Also the 90% of domestic violence victims being female statistic is incorrect it is closer to 50/50. Furthering my point that violence, even domestic violence is not a gendered issue.

        see :

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domestic-violence

        and

        http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm

  18. I went to a 1 Billion Rising event and I had some serious issues with it. It slowly started turning into an event where I watched several women bash the male gender. I was really offended. I had a lot of personal reasons to attend the event: myself, a number of my friends, and my significant other have all been affected by domestic violence in one form or another. And I walked into the event with my girlfriend at my side with an open mind in support of everything that 1BR stands for, to walk away feeling like I was being targeted.

    I stand completely behind 1BR, but I am asking everyone to please keep in mind that although gender roles do play a significant part in this movement, the focus is not putting down the male gender, but to increase the awareness, strength, and willingness to take action for BOTH men and women.

    I was offended by what a few individuals chose to say, but it has not changed my mind about how important this movement is. However, I am afraid that anyone who was passing by and heard that “men are the problem” would hear and see only that before turning away from 1 Billion Rising, never to look back.

    • Jason,

      I cannot speak to what you heard at the event, but often men interpret language that is meant to hold men accountable as being “anti-men” or as “male bashing.” If someone is saying, “men are the problem,” they are speaking to a demographic reality. More than 90% of sexual and intimate partner violence is committed by men. When that is the case, there is no other way to say it than, “Men are the problem.”

      That doesn’t have to be a condemnation of men, though. I see that as a condemnation of violent masculinity and traditional understandings of gender norms! We as men must own that the ways we have been taught to be men do not work for building inclusive, non-violent, and just communities. We must create new understandings of what it means to be a man!

      I hope that I can call you an ally in that work!

      In Peace,

      Jamie

      • That is my issue. People choose to say that “men are the problem” where in the short time you took to write your reply, you found a better way to phrase what the source of the problem is. If it sounded like I took offense to what was said, I should correct that miscommunication. What I meant to say is that when the words “Men are the problem” are being used, it only hurts the chances that willing men will join the cause.

        I work as a Resident Advisor on a college campus and I have seen a great deal of sexual assault. It has happened to family and friends who I love. I am most certainly an ally to the work 1 Billion Rising (and related groups are trying to accomplish), I just hope that people will be more aware of the words they choose to use. I personally recognize what was intended by those words, but other potential allies may not, and could be discouraged.

      • Beautifully said Jamie :)

        And appologies for jumping in on this particular thread…but could not locate the comment button?

        When I first started to read your blog above I felt like I had ‘intruded’ on a precious moment between men, a beautiful moment…

        My mother (now passed) told me on her deathbed that she had been raped as a 4yr old (repeatedly) by her 21yr old next door neighbour…that shed soo much light on her alcoholism for me.

        My dad (also now passed) did not know what had happened to her, but knew something had, and felt helpless so dived into his work, in effect abandoning my older brother and I, as Mum was not able to emotionally connect and nurture.

        I, myself have been in situations when as a young woman, where No…was not listened to…

        Violence/control/pain against women is an old paradym that more and more with this new Millenia, is shifting…especially with the open heart that more men are connecting to for themselves and the healing of old energies/societal concepts of what it means to be a man are being shaken and healed.

        For me, and those that I speak with, Femanism/Equality is no longer at the expense of men, but in aligned partnership, that we honour and support each other in our individual/parallel journey’s be they as parnters/lovers/friends/family/collegues….

        Blessed are those who heal (regardless of gender).

        Thank you for your blog and the dialouge. (and my ear’s dropping… ;))
        :) Miss Adventures

      • Dr Raquel Thomas-Caesar (Guyana)

        Thanks for this excellent response Jamie. And Jason’s comment was so important too as it shows part of the problem- communication/misunderstanding. Without Men and Women working together- it will be a struggle, so how to get MEN involved in creating solutions to the issues of violence against women, men, children. The author mentioned that there are no safe spaces for Men to express themselves. But who to create these safe spaces. Men have to do this! Our children I believe are the route to changing attitudes and desperately need mentorship not only from women but especially men.

        One love
        Raquel Thomas-Caesar

  19. Read the part in which the guys hug. Couldn’t avoid thinking about the father and son that were murdered in Brazil for hugging in public, when crowd decided they were “gay”. This will only stop when “feminine” stops being name-calling.

  20. Great post – Thank you for sharing this empathetic insight. And I would love you to check out the ManKind Project – there is an active community in the northwest USA – and communities in over 40 locations around the world – men learning to move past the macho games we play with one another and into emotionally intelligent and self-responsible personal growth. There are men out there stepping up to meet the challenges we all must face together – men and women as partners.

    • …and Boysen, (for women to…) I enjoy your/ManKind Project posts of Facebook!

      It brings me great joy to see the movement of men globally stepping into thier devine femanine, balancing out the masculane to find a place of peace and equality within. It is indeed a beautiful thing to witness.

      I honour the men who step into this sould journey now…
      :)

  21. Thank you, Dan. Your words resource me:
    In addition to designing and directing a dance performance of protest and prayer for the opening of Dominican Rising at Dominican University, I also led a community dance prayer for West Marin Rising. During the community dance, I encouraged everyone to open their hearts and to take love into action through the activity of loving. In the moment, I absolutely knew it was the right thing to say. Later, I began to second-guess my choices. I felt vulnerable, because I let everyone see who I really am: a person fully and passionately committed to loving. Thank you, Dan, for confirming that loving IS the path to well-being. …Sometimes loving takes courage!

  22. Sorry, thought that would give a preview for some reason…it’s a video of inmates in a SF prison rising and dancing the Break the Chain. Both female and male inmates; very moving.

  23. Patriarchy is alive and thriving … its everywhere, stronger and stronger … and its in drag. Peace on you, brother.

  24. Thank you all for your comments. And thanks, Jamie, for your thoughtful responses. I’m glad this conversation is alive – I committed to doing my part to ensure that it expands in the coming months and years. Nothing could be more important~

  25. […] we need to support them and echo their sentiment so that our voices are amplified.  We need to talk to one another about masculinity and what healthy masculinity can look like.  We need to talk to other men about consent and ways that we can practice enthusiastic consent in […]

  26. […] In short, it’s time for men to Rise. […]

  27. […] Mahle is a group facilitator, program coordinator, and occasional blogger on the topic of men and masculinity. His work reaches into many different arenas, from youth […]

  28. […] แดน Mahle เป็นผู้อำนวยความสะดวกกลุ่มผู้ประสานงานโครงการและเป็นครั้งคราวบล็อคในหัวข้อของผู้ชายและความเป็นชาย ผลงานของเขาเอื้อมมือเข้าไปในสิ้นเชิงที่แตกต่างจากความเป็นผู้นำเยาวชนและการทำงานร่วมกันที่จะสนับสนุนการฝึกความยุติธรรมด้านสิ่งแวดล้อมและการทำงานของคน เขาอาศัยอยู่ในซีแอตเทิล […]

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