Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men - Meet Darren
Toxic Masculinity Challenged by Men
(c) 2018 Sherryl N Weston MA, MSW, LCSW
This is the first in a series entitled, “Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men,” an effort to give voice to the process of Progressive men who are in various stages of the developmental process of becoming a better social justice advocate or ally. The purpose of this series is to give human form to the suppositions about the legitimacy of certain opinion in matters of race, class and gender, and therefore see where evolution might actually occur for those of privilege.
I chose each subject personally, feeling able to say I actually know them well enough to be comfortable with their ability to be one representation, one portion of the population that I perceive to be crucial in supporting the community activism and political engagement that the targeted or marginalized communities need. That is slightly different than saying that I agree with every position they hold. There will never be a day when every person who cares will be in the exact same place about one of the central topics. There will be the day, however, when they will be in the right place at the right time. We should figure out that crossroad more often, to make the most of the resources we do have. Fighting over the crumbs wastes efforts better focused on the larger issues.
It is with the “correctly focused” privileged individuals that the message can be carried into the venues the rest of us are not welcomed into. It is toward them, that others of a privileged status might give an additional moment of consideration, when a perspective belonging to the rest of us will be seen as suspect.
The U.S.’s relatively recent explosion in high-profile events of racial hatred, xenophobia and toxic masculinity has resurfaced, although it’s never really left us. The grand challenge is in what any one individual sees as their responsibility toward solutions.
This is a process that is nowhere near the flipping of a switch that some perceive it to be. It is my view that becoming the true ally (or whichever term is preferable) is a decidedly developmental process in which no person begins or ends in the same place, relative to themselves nor to others. Once those privileged individuals accept and align themselves with the basic concepts of interpersonal and institutional racism, sexism, etc., they can begin the process of mastering the commitment to ‘walking the talk.” Advocates don’t always know as much as they think they do.The rising of concepts like white fragility land here.
The belief in “I am-or am not-” racist, homophobic, etc. is a trap. In my view, it is one of the most interfering mindsets, against the progression of cultural competence and commitment to social justice in a privileged person’s life. Believing in “the switch” also allows for the unfortunate occurrence of a person of privilege being held in such high regard by some in the targeted/marginalized population, that their errors and failings may be nearly impossible to address. Their rise to recognition is identifiable. It takes their humility and the savvy of their inner circle to keep eyes on the prize. The lack, thereof, can cause that person of privilege to be closed to the further learning that everyone, in my view, has the responsibility to move toward. To address that subject more completely will be the focus of another writing.
One more result of believing in “the switch” is that when a privileged person’s environment does not contain sufficient challenge and education, they may refuse to participate in, for example, workplace trainings. (I have personally learned of individuals who call in sick so they do not have to participate in such activities. Since many workplaces do not re-schedule or set penalty for missing such training, this is an effective “dodge” for some.) It is also the subject of another writing to address the possibility of workplaces arranging for the kind of training that fluffs over the toughest issues, or panders too much to the fear of losing funding. It could also be that such training could be of no use to employees of the targeted/marginalized populations because it will not address their concerns. “I don’t believe in ___-ism,” can easily become “I have nothing to learn.”
I intend to present privileged persons I perceive to participate significantly in the social justice realm. What these allies face in their effort to do better might be useful to others. Starting with activist law student and electrical engineer Darren O’Connor, Darren’s primary area of activism at this time, is toward the concerns of the homeless population.
SW: “In what year(s) were you born/raised? Where are you from and what/who were the strongest influences on your male identity? What is your ethnicity?”
I was born in 1968 and moved at the age of three from Antioch, California, to a small town near Mt. Hood, Oregon. I grew up there. At the age of 24, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, where I have now lived more than half my life. My dad left and divorced my mother when I was around six years old, and until I reached high school, my mom was my role model and most influenced my male identity. What I believed as a youth and believe now is that strong, intelligent, caring women have a very accurate read on what goes on around us. I was a constant challenge to my mom, and I have less concern debating or challenging anyone’s point of view than I did with her. She identified as second-generation Spanish, and I heard stories from her of being considered less than because of her ethnicity. I grew up in a mostly white area, much like Boulder in terms of racial and ethnic homogeny, so didn’t have a great deal of awareness about these topics until much later in life.
SW: “Can you identify when you began to realize what was considered ‘too girly’ or “weak?” Give one personal example.
When I was very young, I wanted dolls considered to be for girls, and my parents got them for me. I loved baking, crocheting, and boxing. I never felt like my pursuits and interests needed to conform to a gender norm. I had no idea of even the concept. My mom shared a story that I had forgotten, of me crocheting while my younger male cousin gave me a hard time (probably not about crocheting—he was just a master of giving me grief). His father, my mother’s brother, asked my mom if she ever worried about me (thinking, I assume, that crocheting was “too girly”)? At that moment, fed up with my cousin, she shared that I carefully put down my crocheting project, turned to my cousin, and punched him. After both witnessing this, my mom turned to my uncle and, I imagine smiling, shared she had no worries. It was only in what I would call a redneck high school that I saw people outright express what was acceptable for “men”.
SW: What do you think would be the best strategy for a father to influence his son to NOT follow the gender double standards and “notch on the belt/ conquer, then brag” sexual games that boys & men play?
I’m raising a girl, so I cannot speak from experience. But I think teaching our kids that relationships are two-way streets, and such bragging speaks to how little one honors it. Ultimately the one harmed is the person who shows they would throw another under the bus to lift themselves up.
SW: How comfortable are you with the way our society currently handles sexuality and expectations of cis-gender boys to men?
To a great degree I am living in a bubble, and in that bubble, discussions are constantly occurring about how to raise boys to respect the autonomy of women. Having returned to college at nearly 50 years old, however, I have a window through which to see how the young men in my courses behave and express their attitudes towards women, and for the most part, I am pleasantly surprised at how respectful and aware they are. There are outliers who feel comfortable expressing what I consider extremely misogynist views, but they generally get immediate and even fierce feedback. As I’m in law school, however, my experience and view is still very narrow. Looking nationally at Roy Moore nearly getting elected, it’s impossible not to conclude we have a long, long way to go. When a man can admit, and religious leaders will defend his actions, to having at the age of 30 asked mothers for permission to date their underage daughters, as young as 14, as part of his senatorial campaign, no other conclusion is possible.
SW: As the numerous accusers of sexual misconduct against male entertainment industry and political leaders come forward, how do you feel as a man? Do you feel any personal connection to what caused this environment and therefore somehow shamed? How common has such male attitude been in circles you have had experience in?
This awakening, for lack of a better term, came at a time I was realizing the depths of my own comfort and buy-in to misogyny. What I feel as I learn more by the day is how pervasive, tiring, and unfair it is that women have to put up with sexual advances that range from playful to illegal and traumatizing. More so than my work and involvement in social justice issues around race, I do feel a sense of shame in having participated and contributed to a toxic masculine environment for so long before awakening to the extremely problematic environment men, who have held power in America for far too long, have created and benefited from. It is the benefit I’ve had without realizing the harm to women that came with it that I feel embarrassed by (embarrassed is a more apt word than shame, in my case). Regarding the prevalence of such attitudes, it’s hard for me to say because of the blinders I wore for so long. But certainly, I have worked with people who took advantage of women and thought nothing of making jokes, for example, that had no business in the workplace.
SW: If you were “the power in charge” and resources were no object, what will be the most effective action at this juncture, in terms of prevention and in holding other men accountable?
I can’t say that I know enough to say what would be effective, but I might start with the following. Implementing leadership training for the advancement of women and marginalized people within every company, with a goal of seeing those folks represent at least 50% of leadership positions within a reasonable but short period of time. I’d like to see this occur within the staff and volunteers of our elected government officials. I would also require a review of salaries to ensure every woman and marginalized person was earning the same as their male counterparts. Any manager responsible for salaries that paid women or marginalized people less than white males in the same position would be required to answer in detail for why that was the case and should expect repercussions, such as demotion or firing, the latter when such disparate pay showed up as a pattern.
Darren recognizes that he'd had a secure, well-paying job with vacation benefits was what permitted him to take more risk, forms of protest that might, for example, have him end up in jail. He can afford a lawyer if he needs one. He could take time off work if he liked. He had the resources to leave that job and go to law school fulltime in order to increase his activist toolbox. Many activists take a much harder hit when they don’t have those benefits. Many activists don’t have their skin color to protect them. In those ways, Darren has privileges he can use to good advantage, not just his own.
When I asked about how his mother’s ethnicity affected his view of himself as an American or as a White person, he wasn't sure how to answer. Because he has such a “melting pot” ethnicity overall and grew up in a primarily White environment, he sees himself with White identity. He agrees that he has a lot to learn about the experiences of his fellow citizens who don’t hold that privilege, but is interested in learning more.
Darren said his strategy going forward is, “to educate myself.” However, his calling out of Al Franken proves he doesn't mind taking a risk on what he is sure of.
He is trying to read more from a lot of different perspectives before going more into what else to do. Examples: A woman does not have the luxury of waiting to figure out strategy for protecting herself from sexual assault. A new immigrant can’t wait very long before dealing with the circumstances of his status. An African/Black American cannot wait for his/her supervisor to promote a less learned White colleague before having some sort of Plan B.
I asked him, “What if things showed up that you weren’t prepared for, like having to advocate for your daughter over some icky thing?” I asked that question because the idea that things can just sit on a shelf until the right time is a feature of privilege.
I am sure he will put a lot of thought into it.