July 26 and August 7, 2017
I was born in 1970 on Long Island, New York, in Earth’s patriarchy. I moved about quite a bit (Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, then back to New York) and was swiftly taught that boys and girls were different. Boys and girls thought differently, felt differently, acted differently. Of course, the natural differences were minor compared to the differences in social roles and treatment from birth.
I came to understand the global system of oppression of women, which was larger than any other policy, belief system, or region. Sexism is larger than racism and religion, and it covers the entire Globe. It causes males and females of all ages to fear and hate one another. “The war between the sexes” is artificially manufactured, and we are all surrounded by it. How we respond is what shows our morality. Horrified, I dedicated myself to treat all with respect while educating my fellow males and lifting up females. Sartre said that men and women should be friends, and that was my goal.
Though no one alive created the Patriarchy, I also noticed one of the hazards of being a member of the oppressing class was that of receiving the occasional backlash to the oppression I had not created and consciously opposed. Members of the oppressed class would direct their unfocused anger with the Patriarchy or men in general at me. I am ultimately not complaining, as I understand they are suffering much more than I am and it has always been my duty to offer kindness, compassion, and a therapeutic ear in response to their anger, which I did, though some statements of theirs disturbed me and are not necessarily excused by their status in society. The dark side of the unearned status I did not seek or wish to keep was the sentiment “men are scum” pervading our society and internalized by both men and women. Men are untrustworthy dogs! Men are evil oppressors! But character is independent of genitalia, despite our patriarchy and conditioning.
It is one thing to know the global horror. It is another thing to be hated, feared, and otherwise bear the brunt of a global horror you did not create, ask for, or wish to see perpetuated. Ironically, having members of an oppressed class attack you makes it harder for you to end the oppressive situation. It was as if to say, “Look, I am not only not your enemy, I am trying to help you here. You do not need to stab your friend and ally.”
I loved women and craved nothing more than their approval, friendship, and love. What I received, all too often, was their grief, pain, and rage. That they told me how they felt showed me that at least unconsciously they understood I was not an enemy, but what they told me tore me apart. They would attack all men. They would accuse and interrogate me as if I were on trial for my sex, as if I were single-handedly responsible for all their suffering. One friend told me she felt that women were better than men. Me! Why would she tell me that? Yes, females are the oppressed group, but I did not oppress them. How was I worse than someone attacking an entire sex? Worst of all, they would speak as if I suffered nothing, and when I mentioned my own difficulties with our world, I was told to be quiet by both women and Sensitive New-Age Guys. I was a Rich White American Man™, therefore I was not allowed to complain. Everything (sexism, racism, homophobia, colonialism, hangnails) was my fault.
Every oppressed class is focused on its own suffering, which is natural and logical, but because of its suffering it cannot easily see two things: 1) how most effectively to end its condition and 2) how others might also be affected. It is the duty of the moral members of the oppressing class not only not to oppress but to work to end the oppression, whether by lifting up the oppressed or by educating less aware members of the oppressor class. Ironically, due to its suffering, the oppressed class may sometimes take efforts at aid or commiseration as offenses. These responses too must be overcome. How do we help a group see its own part in its suffering without pandering?
A lifetime of oppression causes trauma and psychological problems. That is why oppressed classes sometimes cannot even see it when they repeat the abuses they have suffered. When I point this out to them, they get upset, because they like to think themselves impervious to the very things they are complaining about. It’s as if to say, “Hey, I’m agreeing with you. Your oppression has made you suffer to the point of irrationality. I sympathize. Now, because I enjoy the privilege of seeing things clearly, can you please trust me? You are the one, after all, telling me I have that privilege. Benefit from it.”
After years of being told my penis was a weapon and a tool of oppression used to make women miserable (and seeing this principle put in action by Lorena Bobbitt), I considered cutting it off myself at home just to make women stop hating me. I thought, “If I do that, will you like me then? Will you stop hating me then?” I had come to hate myself, internalizing the rage and bile I had received. I knew I had not caused their suffering, but I temporarily lacked the ability to cope with it, I felt so terrible over all that men had done and all that I had heard. I did not want to cut my penis off and ultimately decided not to harm myself, even if it meant continuing to be hated and feared by those I had not harmed. Underneath, I knew I wanted to find women who knew I was not their enemy, did not hate me for being male, and wanted me to remain intact.
I look back now and think, “I spent my life being told that men are horrible and I am horrible because I am a man. Guess what? Tell boys they are bad and they will be. Of course, I wasn’t. I just wanted to chop off my dick so women wouldn’t hate me.”
Oppression, it is sometimes understood but insufficiently discussed, harms oppressors too, just in different ways. The sexual segregation of our society, creating artificial barriers against communication and the understanding that we are all human, harms men too, though I find it amazing that this should even need to be said. I have spent my life denied the association with females that I wished. It will be argued that I was never denied the opportunity to interact with females, but I mean quality, not quantity. Exchanging pleasantries across a field of battle or No Person’s Land is not the interaction I mean. I mean the interaction of trust, respect, and joy.
We were all born into this situation created thousands of years ago. Yes, women suffer more. But the men who actually oppress women directly and indirectly do not get to know how much better life could and would be with women by their sides as equal partners—nor do the innocent boys and men who have no desire to oppress, caught in this system and unable to put an end to it with a snap of their fingers. I am not like the oppressors. I do not wish to enjoy their “advantages”. I wish to end the Patriarchy, lift everyone up, and lead us all to a culture of mutual respect, doing away with artificial barriers causing distrust. Where is my place in this society? Where are the women not blinded by their rage who see this? I am not only an ally, as Stalin was to FDR, but a friend and partner. Do not judge me by my manhood. Judge me by my morality, which applies to all equally.
I have been accused of blaming women for the responses I cite. On one hand, I do not blame them for what they suffer, and I thought I made clear that I understand they cannot help what they feel. On the other hand, aren’t we all responsible for what we do, or is that only men?
Ultimately, men have the most power on this world, which means they (we) have the most responsibility. I’ll not oppress you if you not deny me my experience. But if you think the Patriarchy will be ended with men remaining silent, you’re wrong. And if you think men shouldn’t talk about how our world’s sexism isn’t good for anyone, including them, I respectfully disagree.
My friend Cole Nye Roberts says, “The patriarchy is a shit sandwich for almost everyone. Men are damaged in many ways by the patriarchy. Misogyny doesn’t just harm women; as with all forms of hatred, it is based in self-loathing. Patriarchy is a tremendously hierarchical structure with very little upward mobility. It causes immense frustration in men as they shred one another in an effort to be ‘manly’ enough to garner resources and the attention of available women. They don’t feel they can be vulnerable or emotionally available lest they are considered weak. The basic notion of possession is bad for and hard on not only the women men seek to ‘own’ but the men who are experiencing massive conflict due to warring drives.”
Above all, we must know, understand, and remember that no oppressed group can be expected to think, feel, and act rationally all the time, due to the stresses imposed by its oppression. Oppressed groups and classes of persons may be expected to lash out emotionally, even violently, due to their suffering and stress, and we must temper our responses to this lashing with our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of their condition. I do not mean this piece in any way to imply that I lack sympathy or empathy for my sisters in Humanity. This piece is to say we should all be doing better. Lifting women up will lift us all up. Men must do the most lifting, and I wish to see them helped to do it.
The sexual segregation of our society, which suggests we are more different than we really are, starts at birth. It involves different dress and behavior codes. It involves physical segregation. The results are ignorance, misunderstanding, distrust, and violence—even toward ourselves. Build a bridge today.
Thanks to therapist Pamela Scott for asking me to write about this.
“Thank you, Robert Peate, for so bravely and thoughtfully expressing feelings I’ve had for years on this topic. I often think there is some sort of karmic burden placed upon this generation of enlightened males meant to equalize the sins of present and past ill deeds.”—John Cade
[My friend and fellow author Beverly Garside wrote the following piece in response on August 9, 2017. I reprint it here with her permission.]
Binary Morality is a role-playing game that has only two types of players: oppressors and the oppressed. Oppressors are dressed in black robes and Darth Vader masks, while the oppressed are outfitted in robes of angelic white suffering. In the game, black-robed players are dark souls—selfishness, sadism, and greed are their only attributes. They are incapable of any saving grace or noble act. Players dressed in white, on the other hand, are made so virtuous by their suffering that they can do no wrong.
The game board itself is designed in similar colors and roles. Every system, institution, and culture is assigned either black or white. If one of these has a natural opposite, that opposite must be assigned the opposite color. The object of the game is for the white robes to wrest control from the black robes and replace the black systems with white systems. This victory will remove all oppression and change a living nightmare into a utopia.
So in this game, a system like capitalism is painted black because when unchecked or unmanaged, it eventually sends all the wealth up to the top into the hands of a few, leaving most in poverty. Capitalism’s natural opposite is communism, so communism therefore, must be painted white. And that pesky little historical fact that communism sends all the wealth into the sticky fingers of corrupt government officials, leaving most people in poverty? That violates the rules. The opposite of bad has to be good. So communism gets a thicker coat of white paint. History gets rewritten, propaganda gets produced, and notorious communist mass-murderers and despots are painted as icons of resistance against oppression.
Players are confined to similar categories. Anyone who is actively oppressing other groups is assigned black robes, and everything they do must also be characterized as evil. So, lets take all the white American men who fought in WWII. Undoubtedly, they would be among the most racist and misogynist people in the country by today’s standards. There’s no getting around how badly that generation oppressed women, people of color, and many of their own kids. So therefore, their unimaginable sacrifice and heroism that saved us all must not be allowed to be painted white. Black robed players can have no virtue and do no good. Therefore history must be rewritten to portray their service as black. The Axis’ genocidal attempt to conquer the world must be portrayed as right and correct, and the Allies’ saving the world from them must have been some selfish, imperialist plot. After all, the U.S. imprisoned Japanese-Americans and segregated our military units. Such dark souls couldn’t possibly fight on the side of right, could we?
This is another rule of the game: the U.S.’ stained moral history gives us black robes. So in any conflict or issues, we are always wrong and evil, and our adversaries and enemies must therefore always be right and white.
Some years ago at a festival I wandered into a tent where a woman was giving a presentation on her charity group’s experience helping a village somewhere in South America rebuild after a disaster. The first problem they confronted was in finding child care so that all the adults could work on the reconstruction. But the villagers didn’t understand this problem. Apparently, in their culture, work was considered a family and community activity, and children participated in it. I found it interesting. For the presenter and her group, however, it had been traumatic. Apparently, it had ripped a huge hole in their white robes. It had exposed how they had all gone down there with these imperialist attitudes about work. The rest of the presentation consisted of a half hour of repentant self-flagellation. Because the villagers were poor and oppressed, so everything they did had to be right. And by definition then, our opposite practice of separating children from work had to be wrong.
By the time she finished, not only were our hard-won child-labor protections a capitalist plot, but we were all abusing our children by sending them to school or leaving them behind to play, instead of taking them to work with us. The rules of the game forbid making such distinctions as the difference in the nature of work in different types of communities. They also forbid allowing cultures and attitudes to just be different. Because everything must be assigned a color! Everything must belong to either us or them!
The self-flagellation got to be so embarrassing I almost walked out. But it is an essential rule of the game. A white robe is not guaranteed to everyone who wants one. If you belong to any group that has privilege or power over others, you must self-flagellate, constantly and in public, to be allowed to hold on to your angelic garb. So if you are white, male, healthy, straight, able-bodied, educated, or financially stable you must self-flagellate or be relegated to the black-robe team. Also, if you or your family have unwittingly benefited from the privilege of some demographic groups over others, you must self-flagellate. And sometimes even that will not be enough to allow you to stay on the team of good and right. Opinion is divided over how strict the rules need to be. Some white-robers want to ban whole races and genders from their team. And some want to add even more categories of people to the list from whom self-flagellation is required. One category is people who have exploited “cultural appropriation” by wearing Polynesian-themed shirts or buying a piñata for their kid’s birthday party.
Now it’s not that privilege and cultural appropriation don’t exist. They do. But using that, as well as race, gender, orientation, and family as clubs to beat people with is just never going to be a good thing to do. After all, isn’t that what good people are supposed to be against?
I am way left of center, but Binary Morality is a game I will always refuse to play. This game always ends with a single white-robed saint holding a can of black spray paint among the fallen black-robed hordes. Oppression and social justice are causes for the real world, where black, white, grey, pink, blue, and purple all exist in single individuals and single institutions. All great battles for good have been won by people with grey masks and black spots on their robes. The real moral universe is complex, with winding thorny paths that sometimes run in circles.
I’m glad the gamers are not the only players on the Left, or even the most influential. I’m glad most of us want to influence society from the ground rather than from a pedestal. For the players out there, I challenge you to take off the bifocals and shed the angel wings. Welcome to planet Earth and a species called “human”. Don’t let your head explode.
[Robert here again. It is natural but ironic that the generalized hatred of men is one result of the Patriarchy. The Patriarchy does not serve men in the long run. It prevents men from ever knowing the love and joy that global equal partnership and friendship could provide. Someday, the Patriarchy will be a thing of the past, and I envy the men and women who will live then.]