When I reflect upon the root causes of
- Some of my most momentous choices
- The events we call “chance” or “coincidence”
- My greatest regrets
I discern again and again some socio-cultural force that I’ve never been able to identify. It has loomed there, just out of sight, just beyond description for as long as I’ve had the ability to do serious, adult-grade self-examination and feel serious, adult-grade remorse.
The words that I had to describe the mysterious force seemed to miss the mark. It wasn’t just “violence” or “homophobia” or “misogyny” or “jealousy” or “competition” or “bullying.” It was tinged with “rage” and “depression” and “isolation,” too. The force also made known to me that it wasn’t going to be a transient moment or series of moments like “heartbreak” or “grief.” It let me know that it was a system that would outlast any one man’s emotional state and would rule us until we stepped into our graves.
When I’ve talked to close friends about pivotal moments where it was there, whispering cues offstage, I’d often find them dismissing it as a regional quirk, hangover of patriarchal Abrahamaic religious indoctrination, or post-Boomer narcissistic greed-culture tenet. But to classify it didn’t provide me relief or insight. Still unresolved, recently I’ve found myself triggered when hearing of friends’ kids encountering it. But I still could not name it until Lauren found its secret name and told it to me.
This force that made so much of how and where I grew up hard to survive and intolerable to me as an adult is called: domination-based masculinity. And here’s the rub, it’s been ruining all of our lives for a very long time.
Named by Mark Greene, this short video shows how it works.
pic.twitter.com/o2RmmBPzp5— Mark Greene (@RemakingManhood) July 31, 2021
The upshot is that boys are policed from a very early age to “be tough” and “not like women” thus femininity and emotional availability are disparaged. In an effort to scourge the hated woman-ness out of themselves, boys are taught that scourging woman-kind (physically, emotionally, sexually) is a behavior that can be used to augment their masculine esteem.
I can see domination-based masculinity’s effect running through culture at large:
- Young boys sexually pressuring young girls. While “sexually” is the most vivid and headline-grabbing, all bullying: psychological, physical, emotional is represented
- Trump’s “Grab ’em by the pussy” is a career-ender for every liberal I know, but has (to our minds) disgusting fans who chalk it up to “just locker-room talk.” And this view even has woman supporters. How deep must we be programming the self-loathing so that it’s easier to support violation of your body intimately by a stranger instead of calling out the culture that you’ve built your entire life within?
- The endless litany of feminine aspects being used as undesirable, unworthy, or less-than in online discourse so that homophobia and misogyny become normalized early
- The oceans of binary digits of pornography with special focus on extreme humiliation / degradation / taboo transgression
- Tear-downs in gossip magazines (become Twitter accounts) and cultural tendency for woman/woman competition and internalized misogyny
- Youth and college-age binge drinking
- Suicide in middle-class white Boomer men who are, by most measures, the literal wealthiest humans who have ever walked on the planet
Here are some instances where I can see this force having been at work in my life.
As a Spur to Action:
- Why did I spend a core part of my college experience far away? To get away from a culture rooted in domination-based masculinity.
- Why did I not just leave Austin after college, but go as far West as one can before falling into the ocean? To get away from a culture rooted in domination-based masculinity.
- Why do I still choose, almost to the point of it not really being a choice, but more of a have to, to live so far away from my family and friends who are loving and wonderful and caring people? To get away from a culture rooted in domination-based masculinity
I now see that my interest in a European life (burgeoning from 17-20 and
realized from 20-21 years of age) was a desire to get away from the cloistered,
hagiographic un-reason that rule
ds Texas politics and the domination-based
masculinity model that permeates its culture.
In the moment, I certainly thought I was “just following my interests,” but, given new neurological research, I’m inclined to believe that humans engineer a great many of their “coincidences.” I needed a means whereby to feel safe saying “I reject this thing, this culture, and this place that doesn’t spit it out like poison, and I’m scared to do so.” I didn’t have that lever, so my brain made it up for me and dressed it up in the class-acceptable trope of The Grand Tour.
I’ll not say that “Europe is perfectly great and enlightened and sensible drug policy and no prison-industrial complex and quality health care for all tra-la-la.” Nevertheless, I discerned several differences that I view as favorable. Their version of domination-based masculinity lacks a certain desperate, looming violence that’s in the American modality. Also, it’s certainly the case that office politics and sexual harassment are still very much there as well. The bunga-bunga gestalt of Berlusconi is a testament to an uneven collapse of domination-based masculinity on the Continent. However, the real value I was able to see was what consent culture looks like when practiced by young people. Freed from the trappings of religious, iron-age mumbo-jumbo, young men and women and learned to be frank and enthusiastic about their romantic and sexual engagements. The amount of deceit or violence in relationships was palpably lower. The verb that comes to mind is “treat” as in “treaty” or “treatise” or “entreat:” there was/is an ability to ask: “With your full self are you enthusiastic and desirous of this, or do you need more time?” It was one of the first times, I believe, that I saw a consent-based society in action. From this ability to be frank about all that we Americans do not say, they were able to “treat” with each other in work, in government, in society in a way that our hidden agenda around sex does not readily permit.
I’ll not say California is free of problems either. But I will say that it’s the first time someone I was seeing frankly, at point blank range, called out some of my domination-based models of interaction and said she wouldn’t stand for it. That’s a pocket of a consent-based society with force of corrective behind it. After being critiqued I felt awful. I thought long and hard about what I was doing and I did better.
And I’ll not say New York is perfect either. After all, this is the region of Tony Soprano and Donald Trump, neither of whom model anything but domination-based masculinity. Nevertheless, people here are just flat out tough and allergic to myth. Negotiation, a variation on consent, is in these marshy airs between the Hudson and the East River. Individuals here are obstreperous about cheese lines never mind your dainty attitudes about antebellum gender norms.
Having had daylight created by those experiences, I am able to receive and benefit from amazing women in my life. They’ve always been there, of course, but my native culture made it all-to-easy to discount their criticism and feel entitlement to their adulation.
As a Spur to Regrettable Action:
I’ve been fortunate enough to have only a few “real” regrets, but, those that I do have, all have one essential character: it’s all the times when I used, pressured, or didn’t listen to another person. It’s where rage, a sense of futility, and entitlement intersected.
All the more baffling to me is that I had a philosophy leaning (if not degree); I read Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and yet I didn’t use it to do substantially better than the adherents of the culture that I’m critical of in this post.
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law…Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.
But domination-based masculinity had fed me a diet of Rhett Butlers, Jake Gittes, and bodice-ripper covers: what women wanted, those sources suggested, was to be swept powerless in a romantic surge that took their will away. But also, I’m a product of the “No means no” era, so there were some strong lines that Would Never Be Crossed, but the anxiety of living in the place between what a real man ought be and what a real man ought do induced a lot of anxiety, confusion, and turmoil that I won’t shake entirely before I die. It’s simply too deep.1
Pick a social phenomenon, and follow the thread unflinchingly. You’ll pick your way through a labyrinth of obfuscating reasons, politics, balderdash, and religion and you’ll often end up face-to-face with the minotaur of domination-based masculinity.
Look backward, and you’ll see a parade of wrecked lives from Harvey Weinstein’s victims to a 23 year-old girl named Monica Lewinsky. Look forward, and you’ll see an ignorant bravado that’s contributing to the COVID-19 Delta spread and the climate change that will turn this singular planet where flowers grow and puppies frolic into another dead rock between Venus and Mars. Domination-based masculinity is literally killing men and women. One of my friends was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The body count is not metaphor.
As far as the way forward, phew. I don’t know. To unwind this, we’d have to start at the root of Western civilization. In the Illiad, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to get favorable winds for Troy so that he could fulfill his oath to support Menelaus’ marriage to Helen. Exploiting women as a resource for accomplishing ends is in the DNA of western culture and is a major plot point from this summer’s release, “Black Widow.” Even Aeneas, who weeps when facing the enormity of the wrath the gods have unfairly doled out to him is comforted by the shade of his wife Creüsa who comforts him for having ditched her during the sack of Troy to carry his aged and immobile father to safety. Heck, in the Bible, Eve is specified as Adam’s “helpmeet:” a second-in-place. A top-down change in culture is certainly not likely to come.
Could there be hope in bottom-up change? It seems that it’s the only place where something is practical, but what boy has the emotional security and cognitive machinery to refuse the call of all the privilege that the biggest brutes of domination-based masculinity exhibit? And what boy has the strength to resist signals from his culture, faith, television, and peers to critically question at a level requiring familiarity with gender studies and critical theory? It doesn’t seem like new winds of change can bubble from the bottom.
I do not believe changes in the macro or the micro will net positive momentum. All that’s left is that some men comfort and protect our sisters, mothers, wives, and friends knowing that our sex-mates are blatent/latent predators programmed to exploit them.
- While I’ll never fault “society” for my own failings, I do believe a certain hidden curriculum in my life has been “domination-based masculinity.”
Thanks to friend MCS for review of drafts of this post.