Screenshot: Gay mime story performed at the California Men's Gatherings in Malibu in 2005. Youtube.It was about 50 years ago that the Women’s Liberation Movement began to speak out and protest against not only gender inequality and patriarchal social norms, but also forms of abuse against women. The classic name for men who sexually harassed women was ‘chauvinist pigs’. Back then, this term was widely and enthusiastically deployed in many different (and entirely appropriate) situations of sexual harassment. Having been a psychotherapist with female clients who were experiencing or had experienced abusive behaviour by males, I joined other men in severely criticizing that behaviour. But I am saddened that women still, in the twenty first century, need to demonstrate in mass against sexual harassment and sexual assault and that the #MeToo movement still needs to exist 50 years on. I am incredulous at the suffering that is the result of these forms of violence and abuse.
Accompanying the Women’s Liberation Movement of 50 years ago was the Men’s Liberation Movement. Men’s Liberation was a thoughtful response, examining and defining the issues of men and masculinity. 50 years ago it was based on introspection regarding how a patriarchal society not only harmed and oppressed women, but also harmed and oppressed men. When men began to analyze the social norms and rules that the patriarchal society placed on them, they realized that this was the cause of many harmful conditions. Questions raised by men fell thick and fast: about growing up male; sex role pressures in the socialization of the male child, as well as the lower ability for self-disclosure than women that men have; about the lack of insight and empathy; about male problems with loving and susceptibility to demoralization. All of these aspects of manliness have negative consequences in health, relationships, self-esteem and longevity.
So 50 years ago, as a response to the insights of the Women’s Lib movement about social norms and their incapacitation of both male and female potentialities and capacities, men began standing up against that oppression both for themselves and their female counterparts. They began to show how the rejection of these gender norms and rules might lead to the creation of happiness, reciprocity and in general a less repressive and more open and expressive lives.
In the 1960s, with the beginning of Men’s Liberation, conscientious men sought to aid in destroying the destructive sex-role stereotypes for men and women established by restrictive unfair sexual identities. One such group of men at the Berkeley Men’s Center wrote a manifesto. This group was typical, at that time, of many men’s groups throughout the USA and consisted of a group of men struggling to free themselves from sex role stereotypes and to define themselves in ‘positive non-chauvinistic ways’. A section of their manifesto reads as follows:
‘We want to relate to both women and men in more honest human ways – with warmth, sensitivity, emotion and honesty. We want to share our feelings with one another to break down the walls and grow closer. We want to be equal with women and end destructive competitive relationships with men. We don’t want to engage in ego battles with anyone. …We believe that the half-humanization will only change when our competitive male-dominated individualistic society becomes cooperative based on the sharing of resources and skills. We are oppressed by working in alienating jobs as ‘breadwinners’. We want to use our creative energy to serve our common needs and not just to make profits for our employers. We believe that in Human Liberation there is no hierarchy of oppression, every group must speak its own language, assume its own form, take its own action and when each of these groups learn to express itself in harmony with the rest this will create the basis for an all-embracing social change.’
So what I see at the heart of the #MeToo Movement is the protest against harmful cultural and societal norms with which men are raised in the society – the Growing Up Male effect. And my sadness at seeing the pain and suffering that still is routinely being foisted on women is based on both the oppression and suffering of women and also the corrupt social norms which still raise young boys into oppressive and abusive men.
My hope is that now men will once again put at the forefront of their personal agenda the unlearning of dysfunctional masculinity that will expunge the power and control mandate so harmful not only to women but to themselves. Male Liberation calls for men to free themselves of the patriarchal sex-role stereotypes that limit their ability to be fully as empathetic as possible. To give up those sex-role stereotypes that are often considered the characteristics of manly success, so that men can be supposedly highly achieving, competitive and domineering.
One example of dominance that is potentially always open to any man is dominance over a woman. When society generally teaches men they should dominate, that they should have power and control to be successful, it also teaches women that they should be submissive – making it easier for men to dominate women. More and more, as the #MeToo Movement shows, women are rightfully reacting against the suffering of being dominated and controlled. Whether or not men are the enemy is a choice for men themselves. Until that time, women must continue to demand respect and non-abusive environments.
So my appreciation of the #MeToo Movement is not only their advocacy of the necessity and even obligation for women to demand social equality and non-abusive behaviors on the part of men, but it also highlights the vitally important progress that men need to continue what began 50 years ago. That is for men to analyze, discuss and change the social roles that handicap and bind them into creating lives promoting inequalities, suffering and unhappiness for not only others but also themselves. In the end, we must hope that a Human Liberation will be the end result where society promotes health, cooperation, safety and equality, individuality and all groups living together well.