It’s not your fault.
Our world has more space for our voices now. Technological platforms have empowered us to speak up and out about our experiences, and they reveal the stories we’ve written about ourselves and others because of those experiences. We aren’t great at reacting well when abruptly confronted with experiences that aren’t also our own, or stories in a language we wouldn’t use ourselves. It makes us uncomfortable and we often respond to these voices in defensive ways. Then the pushback on our defensiveness ends up being even louder, and speaking up becomes speaking over.
So, I want to start with, “It’s not your fault.” I’ve read dozens of Dear Men articles. Most have been unabashedly accusatory, angry, or passive-aggressive. I see it. I don’t blame you for your reaction. And I’m not here to lay out for you, once again, all the ways that women have been oppressed. We both know if you wanted that information you could find it. Even if you don’t want it, you’re going to find it. Please trust that I’m not here to shame you. I’m sincerely sorry that has been your experience.
Women are hurting. They are waking up to an awareness of the unfairness of our cultural systems. They are finally feeling emboldened by their increasing opportunities and are speaking up about the way their experiences have made them feel. The cries of pain and shame that have been stifled by cultural norms for so long are finally being let out, and they’re being let out all at once. It’s so loud. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard to want to listen all of the time.
But I believe that you do want to listen. Underneath our human reactions, we all want to feel heard. And underneath our own traumas, we all want to be someone that others feel they can talk to. We want to make the world a better place for our sons and daughters. And I don’t blame you for feeling like it’s all too much too fast. There’s just so much. And since you weren’t the one to create the system it would be irresponsible of me to assume that you’re going to be able to just up and fix it all. After all, it’s hurting you too.
The second you were born there were expectations placed on you. You’re going to be a strong man, a good man, a successful man. The men in your life told you, even without words, that you need to be physically and emotionally strong, competitive, and confident all of the time. The women in your life told you, even without words, that you need to be smart, funny, rich, romantic, sensitive, self-sacrificing, and that you need to smell nice. Lost in social standards, you’re trying but you know you aren’t always getting it right. It’s so hard to be what you’re supposed to be.
It’s also not their faults. They have been hurt by the culture that raised them too. No matter how far we go back in history, the story is the same. Humans are walking contradictions, full of hope and love and fear and anger. We’re vulnerable prey animals that have spent millennia dominating our environment and creating systems of power so we can convince ourselves that we’re apex predators. Without our control and our weapons, we won’t survive. Yet, underneath all of that, when the day’s fight for survival is over, we all just want to feel warm, safe, and loved.
It’s okay for you to talk about the things that have hurt you. It’s okay if you say it wrong. I know that’s hard to believe, because I know what it feels like to be told that it’s okay to be honest and then that I didn’t do it right. Bravery isn’t just saying what’s on your heart, it’s also being willing to sit with the pain of others in their reactions to it. I know how brave you’ll have to be.
Talk to your friends about your experiences. Talk to your girlfriends, wives, and daughters about your experiences. Also, listen. Be patient, with others and with yourself. Sit with your experiences. Let yourself see the differences between what happened, how you felt, and the story that cultural conditioning wrote about it. Accept the experience as it is, and free yourself from the stories that suffocate you. Reconnect with the people right around you. I’m going to try to do that too.
Someone has to be willing to hold their own stories long enough to let someone else’s story be told. Someone has to be brave enough to hold their own pain long enough for someone else’s to be felt. Someone has to be willing to mourn with another in a way that acknowledges and validates the other’s experience without adding to the anger and frustration that comes with it. Someone has to be willing to be the container for someone else’s grief.
This is not a call for men to be that someone. This is not a call for women to be that someone. This is not a call for one group to be the savior of the other. Systems are created by groups acting in their herd instincts, and systems are changed by individuals who embrace their deepest desires to love and be loved. The world will be changed by people who start living in the world they wish existed. We’re all going to have to be that someone in our own way and in our own part of the vineyard.
Dear men, I guess all I want to say is that I see you. I see how our systems hurt you too. I’m done with figuring out who to blame. I want to be brave enough to live in a new world that we create together. For us. For our daughters. And for our sons.