by Uhuru B. Rowe
I know I’m going to get a lot backlash for writing this essay, especially from other men. But I feel this essay, written by a man, is appropriate for the times we’re living in. Ultimately, I hope this essay will spark a dialogue among men about why we act, think and feel the way that we do towards women and even other men.
My evolution on the following topic began a few years ago when a comrade of mine sent me a zine titled, “Towards the Destruction of Patriarchy.” Before I came to prison, I’d never heard of the word patriarchy. Even after I became familiar with the term, I had only a slight understanding of how much it shaped and molded my character and worldview. What this zine helped me to see was how much this thing called patriarchy dictates how we as men view and interact with women and men alike.
According to the zine, patriarchy is a hierarchy, like a pyramid, where the few who occupy the top of the hierarchy-pyramid are men, primarily a small group of rich and powerful white men. These men have the most control, the most power, and make all of the decisions about the day-to-day existence of both men and women. Essentially, these rich and powerful white men write the laws, control the media, run the corporations, and dictate the culture in which the rest of us live.
“Patriarchy,” the zine stated further, “is a system of entitlement that rewards behavior that is anti-woman.” We may all agree that that is an accurate statement but what this zine fails to mention is that the patriarchy creates a culture that is also hostile to men who resist and refuse to engage in behavior or espouse views that are anti-woman.
How is this possible? Let me relate to you a scenario wherein many men may have felt pressured into suppressing his true and authentic anti-sexist self. I am sure a lot of brothers can relate to this even if they won’t admit it.
There are a group of men standing on a corner talking about “guy things,” like sports, cars and women. One of them looks down the street and sees a woman walking towards them wearing a formfitting red dress and 6-inch stilettos. “Damn, check this honey out,” he says to the others.
As she walks by, almost all of them instinctively look down at her ass and make unwanted compliments about her body, except for the one who refuses to engage in such sexist behavior. In fact, he purposefully looks in the opposite direction.
“Yo bro, what’s wrong with you? You didn’t see that ass?” one of his peers asks him. Feeling pressure to conform to hyper (toxic) masculine culture and fearing rejection and alienation from his peers, when the next woman walks by, he stares at her ass and makes unwanted compliments about her body in order to be “rewarded” with the acceptance of his male peers and the preservation of his “manhood.”
“Patriarchy,” the zine stated further, “is a system of entitlement that rewards behavior that is anti-woman.”
Under patriarchy and its culture of hyper (toxic) masculinity, to not gaze at a woman’s ass and make unwanted compliments about her body as she walks by and to not salivate over her breasts as she’s talking are all considered “crimes” under patriarchy, the perpetrators of which are banished to the category of “unmanliness.” Said manhood can be recouped with the resumption of sexist and misogynistic behavior. Here are some more examples:
Under patriarchy, men are required (or expected) to be rough, rugged, hard, controlling, stern, rigid, stoic, distant, superior, bold, daring, aggressive, dominant, invulnerable, invincible, insensitive, promiscuous, uncaring, unkind and unbending.
Men are also required – or expected – to like sports, particularly football and basketball, like working on cars, like construction work, be the primary breadwinner, be disconnected from our feelings, be abusive, chauvinistic and condescending towards women (and LGBTQ people), be dismissive of women’s views, opinions and experiences, and to view every woman as a potential conquest and every man as potential competition.
It is only when a man chooses to step outside his predefined gendered role and eschew behaviors and characteristics that define manhood and masculinity that he is pegged as weird, soft, weak, queer, effeminate, sissified or, as former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger once described them, “girlie men,” and are bullied, shunned and looked down upon by their heterosexist peers and the larger patriarchal society.
And this isn’t something that only men out in society have to contend with. This dynamic also manifests itself in prisons as well. In here, behind the walls, where the wolves lurk day and night, we can’t smile, shed tears, be passive, be emotional, be vulnerable or be open with our feelings lest we be viewed as easy prey. At all times we have to present a rough, tough and menacing demeanor, which, in reality, is nothing more than a carefully constructed facade designed to ensure our survival in the often violent and predatory culture of penitentiary life.
So what can we as men – particularly those of us who feel pressured to conform to the standards of toxic masculinity that patriarchy imposes on us – do to liberate ourselves from this oppression? It is Paulo Freire who, in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” said: “Oppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it.”
Similarly, in order for us men to liberate ourselves from the oppressive yoke of toxic masculinity, which hinders our ability to be more fully human, we MUST emerge from the patriarchy and struggle to dismantle it with the same vigor and tenacity as feminists. Only after the patriarchy has been dismantled and its predefined gender roles have been abolished can we as men cook the food, scrub the dishes, wash the cloths, tuck the kids in, take Women’s Studies, attend a Woman’s March, be open and honest about out feelings, or shed tears while watching “Titanic” and not be viewed as a punk!
All Power to the People!
Uhuru B. Rowe
Send our brother some love and light: Uhuru Baraka Rowe, 1131545, Greensville CC, 901 Corrections Way, Jarratt VA 23870. Contact him by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.