Men Talk Articles - December 2014 / January 2015
© 2014 Jim Lovestar
I was recently the only white man in the midst of an intense and emotional discussion. The other nineteen people were white, black, and Latina women and one Latino man. We had gathered for a weekend retreat to explore and discuss how our Quaker communities might engage in new and deeper ways around the issue of racial justice.
Throughout the weekend, I was peripherally aware of walking on eggshells, withholding some passionate feelings, playing it safe. I was less candid and more scared than I am when sitting in the company of men, especially men I know. I knew many of these women.
They are liberal, open-minded, and kind people. And yet, I was tight and fearful.
At the same time, I'll bet that I appeared present emotionally and forthright in my opinions. I have developed a polished public persona to cover my inner anxiety.
Okay, you're probably wondering, what was this man afraid of? I was, and still am, to some extent, afraid of being The Man. Whew, even as I enter that, I feel this queasiness in my belly. Right there, you know the place.
I spent my childhood and adolescence being taught by my dad that I had to be the "big brother/protector" for my six younger sisters. Neither of us consulted them on the topic. Later, in my young adulthood during the 1970s, I spent a lot of time with feminist women and men who repeatedly instilled in me the belief that women are oppressed by men. That men routinely dominate women. That I should treat women carefully. Or, at least those are some of the messages I internalized.
At the same time, I considered myself innocent of oppressing women. I regarded women as fellow pilgrims on the journey. In fact, I had been bullied in school and in the military. I saw that I had common cause with women who feared The Man. In high school, in the Marine Corps, and in college, I made choices to distance myself from the competitive cultural expectations of masculinity. Rather than work for a corporation, rather than seek that prestigious career/good job/breadwinner/ambitious social climber stereotype, I stepped back. In those 70s days, a lot of people became involved in collective enterprises, co-ops, or intentional communities. I chose self-employment as my way of taking distance from the dominant paradigm. I, in no way, wanted to work for or become The Man. And yet, folks were telling me that simply because of my gender, I was The Man to many women. Wanting to be accepted and loved, I became careful, apologetic, fearful. As much as I have worked to get past that fear, it continues to whisper warnings and directions. Too often, I fall into old patterns that neither serve me nor the women in my life.
At the same time, I continue to find my voice and speak my truth. I married a strong woman fifteen years ago. We both are working to find and express our authentic selves.
Nearing the end of that weekend retreat, I simply took a leap of trust in the compassion of those present and spoke my fear and sadness in holding myself back. Without meaning to, I wept openly. The depth of my feelings was a surprise to me. My sweet spouse told me afterwards she was so glad I came clean.
No doubt, I'll squeeze myself off again. I'll choose being safe over being vivid. I may even blame someone for my behavior. And, somewhere in this journey, I'll acknowledge that no one is to blame. That some women, and men, and people of other races, will look at me and see The Man, in spite of my best efforts to distance myself from that. That, at times, I will see The Man in others. And so it goes, so we go.
One last thing. As I write this, I notice something quite unexpected. I am feeling empathy and compassion for The Man. He is also scared to be seen and protects himself. He also know the ache of loneliness. He hides in ways I define as abhorrent and I have my own judgements about that. And, in ways I resist accepting, He is Me.
Jim Lovestar is the founder and president of the Institute for Men's Health and Well-being. More information is available by visiting www.consciousbody.info or calling 612-588-8984.