Fighting Patriarchy: Because Men are Good

James Meinert


Because men are good.

The challenges facing our society are immense and in the Catholic Worker we’ve accepted the opportunity to take on many of those challenges directly.  The greatest challenge that I see laid out before us is how to work against and eliminate what bell hooks calls the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” The source of much of the oppression in our society is expressed in this phrase: racism, economic exploitation, sexism and lgbtq oppression.  It doesn’t surprise me though that when someone begins understanding the sources of our oppression they start thinking the problem is with men, particularly well-off, white men.  For those of us raised male, we can start questioning our very goodness, our essential nature, when we face the insight that men and our patterns are the source of a lot of the oppression and hurt in the world.  But I think that if we want to make changes in the world and start making systematic change, we need to understand that men are good.


An easy way for me to keep that in mind is to remember that every person who is born male is good.  I have trouble picturing a baby and thinking that they are oppressive.  But almost immediately after being born, babies are conditioned in our societies to play certain roles in our societies, and sadly most of the babies born male are conditioned to become “men”. There is a lot of conditioning that goes into the creation of “men” (more than most of us can imagine) to get them to act in certain ways.  I think almost all of the conditioning is coercive and thus the young male is blameless for accepting the conditioning as a survival technique.  For example, a young boy plays with a doll and is then teased by his pre-school friends.  Through the threat of exclusion and potentially even violence the boy is conditioned to “act like a boy”.  This happens thousands of ways throughout males development and only rarely are adults around to interrupt it and even more rarely do adults have the perspective and understanding to interrupt it.

So what happens to males systematically?  They are cuddled less than females; they are discouraged from crying earlier, more frequently, and much harsher than females; the closeness they develop with other males is taken away from them (gay oppression) so that usually by the time they are teenagers they have very little physical closeness with anyone. This all happens at an early age.  They learn much more from watching the society we’ve set up for them around what to expect being raised male.  Young males are taught that their lives are expendable (save the women and children, sacrifice yourself etc.); that their bodies are expendable in physical labor; that they are better, smarter, and more important than females.  These confusions sit hard on young males and without attention to process them and correct information to counter them, the young male is likely to accept many as true.  Even those that hold on to the possibility of close physical relationships with other males usually get a lot of the other “stuff” that goes with being raised male.

Young males are systematically targeted by our society to confuse them and coerce them into continuing the oppressive society.  While some men benefit economically due to this set-up, many do not and all of them really lose out because they lose touch with their authentic selves.  They lose the clarity that they had as young ones of their own goodness and ability to be totally close and connected with other people in a relaxed and non-sexual way.  What a tragedy!  And a part of the conditioning leads adult males to continue this conditioning through the way they treat females, children, and each other.

So what are we to do?  I think boys need allies like any group that faces systematic targeting.  They need people that see the situation clearly and can support the boys—encourage them to work through the hard emotions—show their sadness and fear; admit when they’re confused.  They need correct information from adults about what is possible for males in our society.  A story comes to mind of a pre-school teacher that responded to a sad looking little boy’s quip of “my brother said boys don’t play with girls” by saying “oh, some people think that, but you can play with whoever you want.” The little boy looked up at the teacher, said “really?” and ran off to play with his best female friend.  That little boy probably faced the message a hundred more times that he can’t have girls as just friends, and maybe he accepted it for some reason or another, but at least once there was an adult that freed him from the confusion another male laid on him. patriarchy

And we need to be allies to the men in our lives.  If we hold in our mind that “they” adult males are the problem with the world rather than the problem being what was done to them, then it will be hard for us to truly be their allies.  We get to see how good men are inherently, and we get to notice when they are acting on the basis of their conditioning, which is ultimately against their best interest.  The more males in the world with good information about themselves and our society, working together to heal from these hurts and clear up the confusion in their mind, the less acting out of oppressive behaviors towards women, children, and lgbtq folks.

I’ve been thinking about this a while, and it seems to me that a big part of our anti-oppression work in the world also means eliminating a lot of the oppression at the roots and breaking the cycle of oppression that men play out on each other.  I think females can be amazing allies in this work because they got different oppressive messages and so in a way it’s easier for them to see the way forward when males get stuck.  But because men also play the oppressor role towards women, men don’t get to expect women to be there for us.  With all that has been done by men to women, it’s amazing that women haven’t given up on us entirely.  So we get to fumble forward with each other.  Learning and teaching and supporting each other as we go.  Here in St Louis we’ve started a Male’s B.r.e.a.k.f.a.s.t. Club (Being Really Excited About Kourageously Fighting Against Sexism Together) where we try to do just that.  It has been haltingly moving forward and we continue to think about how to do this.  Any support is welcomed!