The Missing Piece- Why Empowering Men Should Matter to Empowered Women

“As we go marching marching, we battle too for men, for they are in the struggle, and together we will win…” Bread and Roses James Oppenheim

We are in the midst of a crucial shift in society. Members of oppressed groups are coming forward from the sidelines, forcing society to confront its Shadow side, oppression, colonization, racism, sexism and every other -ism. The closet is being cleaned out and we are feeling the strain of the mess created as we clean up centuries of power inequality. A daunting task, no wonder we feel angry, hopeless, fearful and confused even as some of us try to remain hopeful.

We stand in the threshold of revolution, ready to set a new framework for the type of society we want to live in. Will we truly reach a place of uplifting each other from oppression, breaking the psychological and social constraints imposed by a system that benefits from a massive group of un-empowered, divided people to serve the elites? Or will we buy into the message sold to us by the elite, that the goal is to replace one oppressive authority with another, creating revolution only perpetuate the cycle of dehumanization of those who we decide fit the definition of ‘other’?

The empowerment of women and the interest taken by men in this mission is long overdue. Yet if we are serious about creating lasting change, about healing the roots causes of intimate partner and family violence, about forming empowered communities, we must not make the mistake of replacing one group with another in a role of oppressor. We need to get clear about what empowerment truly is. It is not the hollow shell of power that fueled empire building and colonization. It is not the ability to objectify men rather than women. Degrading men is not empowering to women any more than degrading women empowers men. Silencing one group so another groups voice may be heard is not empowerment. Silencing doesn’t force those in power to listen. It causes them to grow resentful. We don’t need more resentment. If we fail to hear and honor the voices of both women and men we will put tremendous energy into a shift that will be unsustainable, because the underlying wounds of both women and men will not be addressed. Denying the divine in masculinity is as damaging as denying the divine feminine, and history has shown us what a shit storm that turned into.

When a friend recently told me about feeling disadvantaged as a man, I’m pretty sure I choked on my oatmeal at first. It was so foreign to me as a woman to think of men not having the social equivalent of a blank check, I had to understand what would lead him to say this. How, I wondered, could a man possibly not see that he has had the golden ticket when all my life I saw men having advantages I didn’t have?

I listened as he explained some of the ways men are dehumanized, objectified and dis-empowered by our culture. His points were valid, and things I never would have considered because it simply wasn’t my experience. Much like when I first became aware of white privilege. The notion seemed strange at first until I heard about daily experiences of my friends who were not white. I was able to hear his experiences and point of view without it diminishing or negating what I also know to be true about the ways in which women are dehumanized. Contrary to polarizing messages in social media, empowerment of various groups does not have to be mutually exclusive. I began reading books he recommended that talk about the subject further.

It is remarkable to hear so many of my sisters finding their voices and finding platforms to have their voices heard, their stories- good, bad and ugly- brought forth to begin to build understanding and healing. I wonder, however if we will extend the same space to men?

Will we be willing to hear their voices? When I say this to other women the first reaction is often “we’ve heard enough of their voices, in fact it’s the only voice we’ve heard in culture/society.”

But is that really true?

Or is the voice we have been told represents masculinity as contrived as the images used to portray feminine?

If we are awakening to the discrepancy between what we have been told defines women, will we also allow ourselves to see beyond the manufactured images of masculinity?

Or will we work together to create a more empowered and liberated expression of divine masculine and feminine within men and women? One of the best ways we can begin to be the change is through the microcosm. Through our immediate relationships. The more I learned about the ways modern society is toxic to masculine energy, commodifying men and projecting an image of men as Neanderthals incapable of emotion, compassion or self control, the more I notice how men are wounded by these images, just as women are wounded by the projected images of passivity and objectification. The momentum of women’s empowerment has brought forth many positive role models paving the way for women to break out of these stereotypical images and expand our repertoire of carrying our energy into the world.

Yet ground breaking role models for the empowered man are few and far between.

Just as men are awakening to the experiences of women as a result of #MeToo and other movements, it is important for us to become aware of the experiences of those whose shoes we haven’t walked in.

Women are awakening, and I believe men are too. But where are the sacred spaces for men to explore and reconnect with their true nature in the way that women are not encouraged to do? Will we as women allow safe spaces for the cultivation of truly empowered (not meaning dominant or oppressive) masculinity, or will we perceive the need for such spaces as a threat?

We are both- men and women- walking wounded. While women are raising ourselves and each other up and working to heal and understand and not be defined by our wounds, will we also support what men need to do the same?

Or will we project our pain and resentment toward our brothers for having privilege we didn’t have and still bearing the scars of an unjust system, in which the true power exists in a corporate elite that, while genderless, has carried out its oppression through the framework of patriarchy?

If we want to truly create empowerment for all people we need to address the wounds men carry as well as the wounds of women, not placing precedent on one over the other. In our most fundamental relationships, be it romantic, platonic, or professional or familial, we are only able to bring to the tools and energy we have as individuals. We can’t expect someone who is psychologically, physically, or spiritually fractured- male or female- to act in uplifting, healing, compassionate ways until we have awareness of what is lost, what is fractured, and healing has begun.

How many of us, men and women, show up to relationships with oozing wounds carried from our past insecurities playing out on the stage of past relationships? Our wounds that leave unintended shrapnel in our partners?

On a final note, we must all become aware of the polarizing influence in our modern information sharing processes- specifically social media. Creating outrage and division is a tactic no doubt as old as humanity, but the shift in communities to online platforms, controlled in large part by a structure that amplifies bias (algorithms that show more of material one agrees with or ‘likes’) complicated further by financial interests cashing in on social crises. Articles and stories that inspire outrage are more likely to go viral, leading to higher profits for those who rely on page views for their earnings (clickbait). Whether content is true, skewed, or incomplete is irrelevant. Imagine the quote preceding this article- taken from a union song written in support of women during what came to be known as the Bread and Roses Strike. The song was written by a man but became an anthem for working class women. I can’t help wondering if this were written today, how many would jump to find fault in a man projecting his lens onto a movement that primarily was about women workers? Perhaps we would appreciate the gesture, and the message behind the song. Or perhaps we would accuse him of detracting from the momentum of the strike, or trivializing the women’s efforts. Perhaps an article expounding on the underlying misogyny of using the term “Bread and Roses” would garner high volumes of traffic for some website, allowing one company or another to cash in. Perhaps the article would be written by someone with no personal interest in what they are saying, other than the ability to make ends meet by producing material that is bound to go viral. This is all speculation, but it illustrates the system that has a real influence on how we see each other.

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Angela Kaufman is the author of Queen Up! Reclaim Your Crown When Life Knocks You Down. Her new novel Quiet Man, is available now through Trash Panda Press.

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Angela Kaufman

Angela Kaufman

Angela Kaufman is the author of Queen Up! Reclaim Your Crown When Life Knocks You Down. Her new novel Quiet Man, is available now through Trash Panda Press.

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