On Being a White Man - The Male Part

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Selfie Michael Franti Took of Both of Us - 2019

I am a 69 year old white male.   I am also Jewish, autistic, a serious duplicate bridge player, a fanatic at my exercise, hetish, upper-middle class, strongly anti-racist/anti-sexist – concerned about inter-sectionality, one who reads a lot, and more.


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With My Granddaughter 1 1/2 Years Ago

I grew up in a quite non-traditional household.  We didn’t have television.  Popular culture was largely ignored.   Squirt guns weren’t allowed because they were guns.    Judaism was taught to us at home, not at the synagogue/temple.  My father was 5’4” tall.  Sports and being macho were not him.  (I would also note that my autism was in retrospect also a significant factor in who I was and am.)

Feelings weren’t a focus at home.  Our Friday evening Sabbath dinners were the only time where we couldn’t read at the table.

I didn’t feel like I fit into my family. 


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Moses Marx - My Grandfather

As a boy, my parents did not push me to “be a man”.   There was pressure to learn and to be intellectual.   Being the “manly” tough guy who was in control was totally foreign to my father.
At five I was the only boy in a dance class my parents put me in.   My father had studied ballet when younger.

I did not have any close friends through the 11th grade.   My first girlfriend when I was sixteen and I held hands, but I never kissed her.    I’m closer to my best friend of 12th grade now than I was then, and we don’t know each other that well.

Masculinity came through though.   I loved sports from a young age.   I was very proud of when I  blocked a punt in a game of two on two football.   It hurt, but it was worth it.

My parents bought me Purdue (men’s) basketball season tickets, starting when I was in the second grade.   I had no problems walking alone to the (night) games, for at least six years.  I regularly went to watch Wide World of Sports at  Purdue’s Union building's tv.

I was big and clumsy.  I was ashamed that I was always the last boy picked for school recess kickball games.   I gladly participated in a Saturday morning sports program at Purdue.  One week we were tested on various agility skills, probably for a graduate student’s thesis. Part of the testing was a balance test.  Our balance was measured by standing on one foot on a machine.  I had the worst balance of any of the many boys who were tested.

Three boys, two years older than me, lived on the next block.   I remember being beaten up regularly by them, because I was an easy victim.  My mother told me much later on that one of them was regularly hit by his father.

The only sharing of feelings at home I remember were my father’s common: “DAMMIT! …” ‘s when he was angry.   I didn’t express emotions a lot as a child.  My dad died of cancer on Friday, November 13, 1964, when I was 13 years old.  I was “a man then”. 

I didn’t cry at all!



1969 - Age 18

I never cried again until I was 31.  I always said to myself: “How does this compare with losing my father?”.  I (superficially) learned I could cry in my first men’s groups.   I had obviously internalized masculinity in what was  horrible for my emotional growth.

After joining my first men’s group in late 1981, feminism became very important in my life.   In 1983 I helped co-found Men Stopping Rape, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin.   We were inspired by Andrea Dworkin’s intense first speech to a predominantly male audience. 

I was very active in MSR until my son B’s birth in 1987.   That year I completed: 
Building and Sustaining a Healthy Men’s Anti-Rape Group - 


In 1983 I happily accepted a reduction in my work schedule to 24 hours/week.  I wanted this in part so I could be a very active part of our (anticipated) child’s life from birth on.   

When B was born on my 36th birthday, I immediately became a most involved father.   My wife began a challenging academic program that fall. I was with B much more than she was, for the first two years of his life.   We bonded nicely.

Then, due to my urging, we moved to Oakland, and a year later, Alameda (California).   I worked full-time, a necessity due to The Bay Area’s cost of living.  I became a “selfish man” doing what I wanted to do.

I spent a fair amount of time with B and my wife, but I wasn’t bonded to them.   As a child I had lived in a world where my feelings and priorities were largely ignored. 
 
Pro-Feminist work taught me the importance of equal partnering.  I should have been doing 50% of “the home work” and really listening deeply to my son.

I was physically, but not emotionally, present. I went to all B’s soccer and little league baseball games. I didn’t listen to his concerns, and relate to him as he was.  

Despite my negative childhood experiences, and significant feminist education, I replicated a significant part of what hurt me deeply as a boy.



My Family Some Time Ago

Today, my 33 year old son is a devoted father and life partner.   He is highly successful, career wise.   His mother raised him well. 

We have no heart connection.   He doesn’t hear me, beyond superficial things like Wisconsin Badger sports conversations.   While I don’t dwell on it, I will live with guilt and shame for the rest of my life over this.  It hurts a lot!

My failures as a man, aren’t solely because of my gender, but it certainly hasn’t helped me.

Sexist oppression of women is as bad now, as it was when I wrote my writing, 33 years ago.   Several things are significantly better, while the internet and other things have made some things much worse.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s AIDS support was critically important within “liberal” circles at least.  There was one group that was noticeably absent.   We white, het men didn’t do s_it!   Lesbians weren’t in a sense directly related, but they saw the importance of the work and were significantly involved.

Today abortion rights are an important issue.   Few men are involved in this work.   It isn’t “our issue”.

Sex trafficking is similar.

A moderate percentage of us white, het men are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse.    Male survivors are often closeted and ashamed.   The outside world presumes that they don’t exist, and that if they do, that they are gay.   These men, if they get support at all, most commonly get it from women at rape crisis (and similar).

We men have not made “women’s issues” into “men’s issues”.   Rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking, abortion rights and other gender equity issues remain solely, or nearly solely, “women’s issues”.

Racism has been a “Black issue” (and “LatinX issue”) for a very long time.   Such issues are often not taken seriously, because they aren’t “white issues”.

Women can’t end sexism without substantial male involvement and support in the basic work.  Often some of the “most oppressed”, do a lot of the important work.   Many Black women fight strongly against both racism and sexism.

I am taking anti-racist training aimed at white people.    It is not surprising to me, unfortunately, that 80-90% of the participants are white women.    Far, far more than 10% of the involved men are clearly non-het.   Where are we?

A lot of the Black male anti-racism educators, clearly understand the intersectionality of sexism and homophobia in their work.   They realize that homophobic violence isn’t that different from racist violence.

We, white, (primarily) het, (primarily) upper-middle class men have a lot of options in how we live our lives.   We can act, as the leadership of the organization sponsoring my men’s support group does, in saying that “we focus on the personal work of each man” and “we don’t politicize our work”.

Such approaches totally don’t recognize the systemic nature of privilege and oppression.    Our work is limited to our personal work related to  our female:  partners, children and similar.   Such attitudes also mean that only gay men bring up their issues with “the straight world”.   Homophobia remains a “gay issue”, not a “men’s issue”.

When our minor children get sick, our female partners commonly need to take time off to care for them at home.  It remains “women’s work”.

When my son was born 33 years ago, we chose to give him his mother’s last name.   Today – that remains a rare choice, particularly for male children.  

Where we seek a female partner, generally she “must” be our age or younger.   For many of us well beyond early adulthood, we seek partners much younger than us.

Often, I hear of our need to honor veterans.  The recognition is nearly always token.  Little attention is generally paid to the major issue of male soldiers sexually abusing service women.

Women are often “not thin enough”, while our beer bellies are just the way that we are.    It is often presumed that we may “stray”, but if our partner finds support with another man, it is a deep betrayal. 

Many, if not most of us seek emotional support from women (only).  We give much less emotional support to women or men.   

While we often help our aging parents with practical advice or money, the emotional support still primarily comes from women such as our sisters.

White gay men, despite homophobia, often have a charmed existence.   Their double income without children status can make a lot of things much easier.

I am very aware that we men face difficult issues.   It isn’t only women that face systemic problems in their lives.    Far more of us are in special education as children.  Less of us are college graduates.  We have higher death rates, starting from birth onward.

We seem to focus upon issues, only when they are an immediate issue for us personally.   We rarely proactively confront issues, such as looking at aging issues before we age.

We often overtly or covertly support the gender based dysfunctionalities of boys and men.   Nearly every mass-killer in public school has been a middle-class or upper-middle class, het, young white male.  Few voices, and fewer male voices speak out about this systemic problem as a “white male problem”.

Recently I discovered that a (presumably not sober) young man had been killed instantly nearby.  He didn’t make the curve, driving well over 100 mph into the Loyola University “wall”.  

Would any woman do that?   I’ve never heard of a woman getting violent with “road rage”.   These are not just “men”, but “white men”.

We are complicit in our dysfunctionality!  We don’t seriously work to change masculinity.   Again, it remains the responsibility of our mothers, wives, and girlfriends.   Relatively few of us do serious work with other men.   Where we do get together, most commonly it is watching sports, playing cards or doing other things where we rarely work on our sexism.

Some positive change is happening!

Some (particularly younger) men are emotionally available, and deeply involved in their families’ lives in egalitarian ways.   It is no longer rare for a man to be home with young children, while his female partner works.   More commonly, though, both partners work stressful, full-time jobs, and the woman does more of the work at home.

It will take serious efforts for us as privileged white men to really “do our part” in dismantling sexism, racism, classism (and where we are het, homophobia).   In so many ways we can ignore the basic issues, except when (rarely) they directly intervene in our lives.

When I look at “the problems” that the worlds around me face, I am left with the conclusion that we white men probably:

1.   cause at least 70-80% of the problems of killing, raping, injuring, financially exploiting, psychologically damaging and similar and,
2.   do about 10% of the work ameliorating and helping prevent such problems.

It seems apparent to me that a lot of us, particularly those who are upper-middle class, and hetish really “owe it to others” to start having major priorities of:

1.   learning a lot more about sexism, racism, classism and homophobia and how they systemically hurt others,
2.   committing serious energy to working to end “the isms” and support the work of: BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) (people), women, and poor people and
3.   doing the personal work, most commonly with other similar men to help us grow, avoiding leaving the responsibility for our growth with women BIPOC and gay/trans/questioning people in our lives.

These issues seem self-evident to me.   Effectuating them is not easy.   It requires us often to look at things as if women and girls get “reparations” and/or “affirmative action” and/or otherwise gain more equality. 

One simple example is that currently 26% of the Senators and 23% of the House Representatives are female.  Only 37 of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are female.  When one also looks at race, this becomes even more problematic.

We, het, upper-middle class white man can begin to work much more seriously towards a more equitable world.   The recent Covid-19 epidemic, as well as the Breonna Taylor/ George Floyd/ Rayshard Brooks killings have provided an opportunity for a lot more of us to become active, working towards positive systemic changes.

Will we do this?  I don’t know?   As of now, white men remain the strongest supporters of living in fear and moving backwards, rather than forward.   Labeling and attacking others will not do it.  

Working, both through existing organizations, and creating new ones is a big challenge for all of us!  Supporting our partners and friends, and building community isn’t easy.  Finding other ways to move forward is challenging!

Thanks!

(Courtesy of OWMCL Chicago) - Examples of Male Privilege


  1. If you have a bad day or are in a bad mood, people aren’t going to blame it on your gender.
  2. You can be careless with your money and not have people blame it on your gender.
  3. You can be confident that your coworkers won’t assume you were hired because of your gender.
  4. If you are never promoted, it isn’t because of your gender.
  5. You can expect to be paid equitably for the work you do and not paid less because of your gender.
  6. If you are unable to succeed in your career, that won’t be seen as evidence against your gender in the workplace.
  7. A decision to hire you won’t be based on whether the employer assumes you will be having children in the near future.
  8. You can generally work comfortably (or walk down a public street) without the fear of sexual harassment.
  9.  You’re not taught that your sexuality exists only for other people – or stigmatized for masturbating.
  10.  Most pornography is made with your gender in mind      (and it creates some pretty damaging ideas about women and other genders).
  11.  You’re not expected to change your name if you get married or questioned if you don’t.
  12.  If you’re in a relationship with someone of another gender, you’re not expected to do more emotional labor in the relationship.
  13.  Getting married to someone of another gender doesn’t mean more domestic labor for you       (studies show that husbands add an average of 7 extra hours of housework a week for their wives.)
  14. You can generally walk alone at night without the fear of being raped or otherwise harmed.
  15. You can go on a date with a stranger without the fear of being raped.
  16. You can dress how you want and not worry it will be used as a defense if you are raped.
  17. If you are straight, you are not likely to be abused by your partner nor be told to continue living in an abusive household for your children.
  18. You can decide not to have children and not have your masculinity questioned.
  19. If you choose to have children, you will be praised for caring for your children instead of being expected to be the full-time caretaker.
  20. You can balance a career and a family without being called selfish for not staying at home (or being constantly pressured to stay at home).
  21. If you are straight and decide to have children with your partner, you can assume this will not affect your career.
  22. If you rise to prominence in an organization/role, no one will assume it is because you slept your way to the top.
  23. You can seek political office without having your gender be a part of your platform.
  24. You can seek political office without fear of your relationship with your children, or whom you hire to take care of them, being scrutinized by the press.
  25. Your political officials fight for issues that pertain to your gender, or at least don’t dismiss your issues as “special interest.”
  26. You can ask for the “person in charge” and will likely be greeted by a member of your gender.
  27. As a child, you were able to find plenty of non-limiting, non-gender-role-stereotyped media to view.
  28. You can disregard your appearance without worrying about being criticized at work or in social situations.
  29. You can spend time on your appearance without being criticized for upholding unhealthy gender norms.
  30. If you’re not conventionally attractive (or in shape), you don’t have to worry as much about it negatively affecting your social or career potential.
  31. You can have promiscuous sex and be viewed positively for it.
  32. Colloquial phrases and conventional language reflect your gender (e.g., mailman, “all men are created equal”).
  33. Every major religion in the world is led by individuals of your gender.
  34. You can practice religion without subjugating yourself or thinking of yourself as less because of your gender.


 

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