Jackie Pack, the host of Thanks for Sharing, our mental health podcast, talks this week about power dynamics between genders and how they affect us in our daily lives. The power between men and women often pits the genders against one another when they should be working together. Recent events from last week at the United States Capital brought the patriarchal structure of our country and front and center.
It’s not uncommon for a change in one area of the social sphere to inspire change in other areas. As we have felt the uncertainty of a global epidemic, the issue of racism has made dramatically forced its way to center stage. Recent events at our nation’s capital were blatantly sexist. These events have made it clear we need dramatic social change. I see this in the individuals and couples I do work with every day.
More change is undoubtedly needed. Will this change raise from the micro level to the macro? I hope so!
TRANSCRIPT: These Times Are a Changing
Hey everyone. If you’re a licensed therapist and you listen to this podcast, this announcement is for you. I’m excited to announce that I will be starting August 1 a coaching group for therapists who are interested in further development of their clinical skills, their business skills, and balancing their persona life. This group will start August 1, 2020 and go through November 30, 2020. We’ll be having lots of discussion about different topics that we may face in the work that we do, how to handle things as a therapist, how to work with challenging clients, and how to help our clients make progress. Over the 26 years in my professional career, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to counsel new therapists or therapists who are finding their niche or changing direction or wanting to expand themselves in multiple ways professionally and personally. It’s one of the things I love to do, working with other professionals. I often get asked from therapists outside of my clinic and outside of my state how they can work with me, and here’s your chance. For more information, go to my Facebook page, Jackie Pack Coaching or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to work with you and have you be part of our professionals group.
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. I was reminded recently of Gloria Steinem’s quote “The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.” Last Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stood up and gave one of the finest speeches recently heard on the House floor, calling out not just Florida representative Ted Yoho for having called her “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind” and “fucking bitch” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in front of reporters on Tuesday, but also elucidating how that kind of language is normalized and deployed against all kinds of women on all kinds of days. It was a remarkable piece of oratory. She was clear and thoughtful about some of the messiest dynamics of gendered power imbalance in political, public, and personal life. After Yoho’s outburst was reported in The Hill, by a reporter who overhead the exchange, he had offered up a floor speech purported to be an apology the day before AOC’s response. Yoho said, “Having been married for 45 years with 2 daughters, I am very cognizant of my language.” In this speech he did not mention Ocasio-Cortez’s name, and he nonsensically refused to apologize for his passion or for loving his God, his family, and his country. Representative Yoho said that he was “passionate about those affected by poverty” because he was poor for a time and that he could not apologize for his passion.
Now Yoho said the offensive name-calling words attributed to him by the press were never spoken to his colleagues, and if there were construed that way, he apologized for their misunderstanding. This incident occurred when Yoho confronted Ocasio-Cortez in the Capitol staircase on Monday. He was leaving after casting some votes, and she was coming to the Capitol to cast votes. He approached her, telling her that she was “disgusting” for linking a rise in crime to the unemployment caused by the coronavirus outbreak. She told him that he was rude, and as she walked away, Yoho said, “Fucking bitch.” This was according to a reporter for The Hill who overhead the exchange. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York then had an iconic moment Thursday when she rose to the podium in the house to rebuke Ted Yoho of Florida. As she spoke about the confrontation Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez said she had been on the receiving end of disrespectful comments from men before during her tenure in congress and in past jobs as a waitress and a bartender, and she decided to speak out not because of the one incident involving Yoho, but because of sexist comments directed at women every day.
Ocasio-Cortez said on the House floor Thursday that she initially planned to ignore Representative Yoho’s comments, but that she “could not allow his apology on Wednesday to be accepted as legitimate by Congress.” Representative Yoho decided to come to the floor of the House of Representatives and make excuses for his behavior, she said, and she could not let that go. She said, “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and worse to see that.” She went on to say, “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a man decent. Treating people with decency and respect makes a man decent.”
Ocasio-Cortez also criticized members of the Republican party for speaking to her disrespectfully in the past and said that Representative Roger Williams was walking shoulder-to-shoulder with Representative Yoho before Yoho accosted her and was part of the larger cultural problem, which is men standing by silently as other men go after women. She said, “You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country.” She said this issue is about being accepting of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.
In an interview with USA Today, Yoho said, “No one was accosted, bullied or attacked. This was a brief policy discussion, plain and simple, and we have our differences. We are both passionate members of Congress and equals.” Representative Yoho maintains that he didn’t call Representative Ocasio-Cortez any profanities during their exchange. House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy in his press conference on Thursday said, “People make mistakes. We’re a forgiving nation. He made a mistake [referencing Representative Yoho], and yes, he apologized for it, and yes, the majority leader accepted it. “ People should not be called names. People should be treated with respect.
Now I will say in my opinion, Representative Yoho’s apology was the most non-apology I’ve ever heard, and I work with a lot of people who are in the process of making amends. If one of my clients who was working on a disclosure or a restitution letter came in with that type of apology, it would not pass for me. I would send them back to the drawing board, we would talk about why their apology was not an apology. Representative Yoho never said her name. He never admitted the words he said and the harm he had done, and he blamed her if she took offense, and then he went on to say that he wouldn’t apologize for things that no one asked him to apologize for, including his God, his passion, and his country. Yoho issued what I have long-called and “acknowlogy”. That’s when you acknowledge that an apology is desired and perhaps even appropriate, but you stop short of actually issuing one. Now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech was electric, and it gave ringing voice to the experiences, frustrations, and anger of millions of women and men who have had their days, lives, and realities shaped by often-abusive, sometimes vulgar, expressions of patriarchal power.
In a piece published on TheCut.com by Rebecca Traister titled “The Poison of Male Incivility”, she talked about how some of the media coverage of this incident mischaracterized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s history-making speech as a “political opportunity” or how she was using this incident to build her political brand. Traister says in her article:
“What is also true and unsaid here is the way in which degradation and dismissal of women — as disgusting, as crazy … as infantile, incompetent, irrational, and just plain stupid, has been key to the building and maintenance of disproportionately male power in American political, economic, social, and sexual life. And that’s before we get to the ways in which the ubiquity of dehumanizing and aggressive language toward women can have very real violent implications, as the recent murder of Judge Esther Salas’s son by anti-feminist Roy Den Hollander, and so much contemporary mass violence, shows all too often.
How else to clear the field except to render your peers incapable, unlikable, unprofessional? Whether or not men are saying it out loud, via street catcalls or in front of political reporters, the reduction of their would-be female peers — their ideological and electoral adversaries and competitors for power — has helped clear away potential impediment to their own professional trajectories. But white male opportunism, whether in the form of aggressive insult displayed by Yoho this week, or merely accepting the advantages that broad systemic disrespect of others affords them, is rarely examined as the kind of active force that it has always been.
Instead we are trained to recognize the reactions of those who are not white men to white men as some sort of useful path to power. We are told, in lots of ways, that people who are not white men get to play certain kinds of cards — race and gender cards — to get ahead, whereas white men just … get ahead. White male power is so assumed as to be wholly indistinguishable from what we simply recognize as ‘power,’ and with it, the whispered implication that those with authority have somehow earned that authority fairly and squarely, while those who challenge authority and its abuses are wily manipulators. This rankles particularly here, since what Ocasio-Cortez did so well this week was part of her job, the part that is about representing people and their experiences, and communicating effectively on behalf of those who’ve experienced disadvantage. In other words, she actually did earn whatever gains she made this week.
Meanwhile patriarchal power abuse remains so expected as to not be notable as a violation of norms or civility, as disruptive or chaotic. Instead, it simply coexists with the authority, the command, the humanity of white men — it’s just part of what their power looks like.
Consider how Yoho himself explained his derision of Ocasio-Cortez in his House floor speech as an expression of his ‘passion,’ as somehow synonymous with his faith in God and his love for his family. And that Ocasio-Cortez’s senior colleague in her party, Representative Steny Hoyer, immediately responded to Yoho’s speech by calling his words ‘appropriate,’ because ‘the language we use matters.’
It does matter. The language used about Ocasio-Cortez matters a lot, and will continue to matter as she rises through American politics.
As we read commentators tell the story of women’s ambition and savvy and drive, all of which are surely politically animating forces — as they have been for all the many men who have preceded them in American politics — I hope people can remember that the analysis is not wrong, exactly, but that it is woefully incomplete. Because until we can see how white men have taken advantage of sexism and racism for their own gain — how they’ve built their own ‘brand,’ the American brand — on the backs of the fucking bitches forever, we’re not really reading a full story.”
So this episode is on patriarchy. It’s an issue that I bring up a lot with my clients, males or females, as we’re journeying through their process of recovery and healing because I don’t think we can overlook the structure that we all are living in, and that is a patriarchal structure. Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage. Now I’m not going to go into the whole history of patriarchy and what led to feminist theory, but I will say that Marxist theory, as articulated mainly by Friederich Engels, assign the origin of patriarchy to the emergence of private property, which has traditionally been controlled by men. The patriarchal political theory is closely associated with Sir Robert Filmer. Sometime before 1653, Filmer completed a work entitled “Patriarcha”. However, it was not published until after his death. In it, he defended the “divine right of kings” as having title inherited from Adam, the first man of the human species, according to Judeo-Christian tradition. The idea that patriarchy is natural has however come under attack from many sociologists, explaining that patriarchy evolved due to historical rather than biological conditions.
In technologically simple societies, men’s greater physical strength and women’s common experience of pregnancy combine together to sustain patriarchy. If you periodically have a woman who has to be taken out of the workforce or taken out of power or take out of leadership for a nine-month period while she’s pregnant, that’s going to give men an upper hand. Gradually, technological advances, especially industrial machinery, diminished the primacy of physical strength in everyday life. However, patriarchy has remained. I think I mentioned before when I did my series on working with couples and I referenced the Gottmans, some of John Gottman’s research and his work led to him stating in his most recent book that the barrier that we are experiencing that prevents us as a species from evolving to the next level is patriarchy.
Now feminist theory aims to understand gender inequality and focuses on gender politics, power relations, and sexuality. While providing a critique of the social and political relations, much of feminist theory also focuses on the promotion of women’s rights and interests. The goal of feminism is to challenge the systemic inequalities women face on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief, feminism has nothing to do with belittling men. In fact, feminism does not support sexism against either gender. Feminism works towards equality, not female superiority. What feminists want the world to know or at least acknowledge is the different ways men and women are treated, and although there have been great strides towards equality, men and women are far from playing on the same field.
The United States currently still operates as a patriarchal structure. During the past five years, I think the reminder of this fact has been made quite clear. Neither women nor sex are words that appear in the Constitution. This reveals the limits of the founding fathers’ narrow understanding of women as equal citizens. The Constitution was written by and for white men with means, which reserved its principle of equal justice under law for the sole benefit of the authors and their privileged peers. This meant that women and people of color, among others, were openly regarded as less than full citizens and thus excluded from many legal protections because of their sex, race, or ethnicity. This is a problem. I believe… I don’t want anybody to email me and tell me that I’m not patriotic or that I don’t deserve to live in America or that I need to be reminded of how grateful I am to be a woman in the United States. I’m aware of all of those things, and there are a lot of contradictions and flaws and inaccuracies in that document, and through amendments, we can and we have and we should continue to make those right and to clear up the confusions that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights puts forth.
I want to talk specifically about the Equal Rights Amendment. Recently I posted something on my personal Facebook page. This was back when Kanye West announced his bid for President of the United States and that he was running for President. So first, one of the problems with that is that any deadline necessary for filing in order to run had expired, but he still announced, nevertheless, and it reminded me of the research Sheryl Sandberg writes about in her book “Lean In.” One of the things her research points to is that for men, when applying for jobs, this applies to when men are applying for jobs, they will read the job description and if they meet one or two of the requirements or think that they could meet one or two of the requirements, they put in their application and they go for the job, whereas women on the other hand, if they don’t meet every qualification for a job and do so with the confidence that they feel they should, they tend to hold themselves back and they eliminate themselves from a possible job application. So I posted on my Facebook page after Kanye made this announcement that he was running for President, I posted that again, Kanye West, who has zero qualifications for becoming President of the United States, including he’s not following the process of filing in a timely manner, and yet he threw his name in the pool anyway, so I just said, women, apply for all the jobs. If Kanye West can put in his bid for President of the United States, then we can and should be going for all of the jobs.
Now I have to say several of my male Facebook friends commented on this, and I will say before I talk about this particular post, I’m constantly reminded when I post maybe political in nature things or even things that would be seen as feminist in nature, I am surprised and confidently reminded that I have a lot of great male Facebook friends. Some of them, many of them I know in real life. Many of them I know of their work and in the various ways that we work, we’ve crossed each other’s paths and become social media buddies. I have to say it brings me joy a lot of times to see them like my posts, and especially to see them comment and support the ideas and the principles that I’m putting forth in some of my posts. Now on this particular post regarding Kanye West, I had several of my male Facebook friends comment and say, yeah, I’m in support of equal rights for women. I like equal rights for women. I usually responded and said that’s great to hear. Are you in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment? And the men who had commented on this particular post responded and said, I’m for equal rights of women; however, I haven’t read the Equal Rights Amendment, so I can’t say if I’m for or against that.
Let’s talk a little bit then about the Equal Rights Amendment. It was authored by legendary activists Alice Paul, Crystal Eastman, and others in 1923, and later it was revised. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, mandates that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Now efforts to pass the ERA grew out of a recognition that the commitment to equality rooted in the U.S. Constitution could not be fully realized without an explicit, meaningful commitment to equality regardless of sex. As women and people across the gender spectrum increasingly face mounting attacks on their rights and autonomy, the current push for the ERA is a continued reminder that empty rhetoric and empty measures claiming to support and empower them are entirely inadequate.
Now I want to be very clear for those who haven’t read the Equal Rights Amendment that I’m not just taking quotes from it or using selective sentences from it. So let’s talk about what the complete text of the Equal Rights Amendment is.
Section 1: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Section 2: “The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
Section 3: “This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”
Now this wording has been the text of the Equal Rights Amendment since it was composed by suffragist leader and women’s rights activist Alice Paul in 1943. The original ERA, written in 1923 by Paul, was known as the “Lucretia Mott Amendment”. It stated: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Beginning in the 113th Congress, which included the years from 2014 to 2015, the text of the ERA ratification bill introduced in the House of Representative has differed slightly from both the traditional wording and its Senate companion bill. It reads:
Section 1: “Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Section 2: “Congress and the several states shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
Section 3: “This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”
So again, not a lot of differences in the two drafts of the ERA. The addition of the first sentence specifically names women in the Constitution for the first time, and it clarifies the intent of the amendment to make discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex unconstitutional. The addition of “and the several states” in Section 2 restores wording that was drafted by Alice Paul, but removed before the amendment’s 1972 passage. It affirms that the enforcement of the constitutional prohibition of sex discrimination is a function of both federal and state levels of government, trying to make it so that this has teeth on both levels. Now even without an explicit mention of sex in the Constitution, many of the legal protections that seek to promote women’s equality and equality across the gender spectrum are rooted in the Constitution’s equality principles and a modern understanding of quality that has surpassed outdated prejudices and stereotypes. Strong majorities of the U.S. Supreme Court over more than 4 decades have made clear that the 14th amendment, which guarantees “equal protection of the laws” encompasses protections against sex discrimination. This is evident first in the 1971 landmark ruling Reed v. Reed, followed by other cases such as Frontiero v. Richardson, which was argued by now Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Despite this broad consensus, some conservative thinkers and theorists such as the former Justice Antonin Scalia, have rejected a reading of the 14th amendment to include sex, arguing that such arguments are specious because they do not reflect the original intent of the nation’s founders. Doesn’t that just read like a knife to the heart?
So ratifying the ERA would affirm that sex discrimination is inconsistent with the nation’s core value of equal protection under the law, which the 14th amendment states, and it would send a clear message about a national commitment to the inherent equality of all people. I don’t know why we aren’t there in 2020. The amendment also bolsters the argument that judicial review of cases alleging sex discrimination should utilize the highest level of legal scrutiny, requiring a compelling state interest to deem a particular sex-based action or practice constitutional. Heightened scrutiny would make it harder to dismiss or reject sex discrimination claims and protection outright. Thus the ERA has the potential to achieve vital progress with its impact extending to a number of areas. This would include areas that are specific to females, things like being discriminated against because of pregnancy. This would include gender gap pay, where females are paid less than men for the same job. This would be extended to Title 9 provisions that state women can’t be discriminated against on an institutional level, like educational institutional level.
In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed, which I have to say was a huge step forward, and it has been renewed multiple times since its initial passing. However, under the Trump administration, the Violence Against Women Act was not renewed, and I think when we have an act like this that is open to interpretation or can be revoked or turned back, it makes it hard to really claim that it’s a step forward. Now opponents of the ERA have sought to undermine its passage, using a variety of tactics, including deploying alarmist language to argue that many areas where gender-specific programming exists, such as single-sex educational institutions or high school athletics, would be prohibited, but even without the ERA, specific parameters guided by Supreme Court and other legal precedent have been developed when single-sex programs are permissible, such as when they’re used to compensate for the historic, societal, and economic disadvantages of a particular race. Nothing in the ERA would alter this guidance. If anything, the ERA would provide additional support for this existing legal precedent. Furthermore, opponents point to the military draft as something women would have to contend with if the ERA is ratified.
I experienced this comment just recently. In Utah, our governor is not running for another term. He’s had several, but he’s decided not to run for an additional term, so the Republican Party in Utah had a primary for the governor for the first time, and there were four candidates, four or five. There’s a Democrat candidate running, but I think there were 4 republicans running for governor, so there was a primary election. Now I was particularly concerned about one of these candidates and what would happen if he actually was the governor based on his conduct and his behavior, which I found to be corrupt during this time in the state senate. In Utah also, in order to vote in a Republican primary, you need to be registered as a Republican. If you want to vote in a Democratic primary and you’re not registered as a Democrat, all you have to do is request a Democratic ballot, but if you want to vote in the Republican primary, you have to be registered as a Republican, and you can do this online. It’s not that difficult. It has to be at least I think two weeks prior to the primary election day. However, in most instances you can show up and request to register as a Republican at the time that you are going to cast your ballot in person. Utah also has for years done a lot of their mail-in ballots for most of their elections. I think for all of their elections, you can request to always receive a mail-in ballot, and you can simply drop it off in a mailbox or at a ballot box, and so I was looking at the four candidates who were running for governor in Utah on the Republican ticket because more than likely it’s going to be on the Republican ticket that our next governor comes from, and so I was just familiarizing myself.
I knew of most of the candidates who were running, but I wanted to make sure that I knew what was happening, and I knew that in platform statements for their campaign, each of the Republican candidates has stated that they were against ratifying the ERA, and one of the candidates that I was hoping would make it through the primary, he didn’t, but I was hoping he would make it through the primary. I was following on social media, Actually I followed most of them on social media during that time period, and I had posted in his social media page for his campaign for governor, I posted a question, and I just said that I don’t expect the candidate himself to respond to my question, and I would be fine if just a staffer replied to my question, but I was curious. I was genuinely curious why this candidate did not support ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, and a staffer did respond, which I was grateful for. It was a female staffer, so she responded and said in my mind and from her Facebook profile picture, I’m guessing she was somewhat young, she said that she was an intern and that she was still going to college and she said I don’t really know much about the ERA. Why don’t you tell me why you think it should be passed? And she said in her comment, I think there’s both good and bad to passing the ERA.
So before I commented I said, can you share with me what you think would be bad about passing the ERA? She replied with this argument about the military draft, and what would happen if women were drafted into the military? So I responded and said as somebody who’s 50 years old, the draft has not been in effect since 1973, so that’s the better part of my life. I was born in 1970, so three years after I was born, the draft was disbanded, and I also said since that time, we’ve passed a lot of other things that allow women to voluntarily, willingly join the military, so I don’t know that that draft is coming back anytime soon.
I said what this means is for 47 years, this fear of the draft has been used against the ERA and it hasn’t even come to pass, and it’s not likely that that’s going to come to pass because again, we now allow women who want to to willingly, voluntarily join the military, and I said maybe instead of being afraid of what the ERA might do, maybe we could start to recognize that if the ERA were passed and ratified and became another amendment to the constitution, then maybe women in the military would actually be safe and they would have high incidents of being sexually assaulted or raped. I said maybe we could start to tackle this issue of men’s violence against women. Maybe we could do some healing of the genders. I went on. I got a little bit passionate. So again, in reality, women are already commonplace in the military, and they’ve been allowed to serve in all combat roles since 2015. There’s also no clear indication that the United States plans on reinstating the draft in the future. The potential role of the ERA in this setting, though, would simply be to ensure that all people, all women included, serving in the military are treated equally, regardless of sex.
Additionally, government and state officials who oppose the ERA have argued that continued state efforts to ratify the ERA are moot given the initial deadline. So initially the deadline had been extended to 1982. When I had posted that in this particular governor’s primary Facebook social media page, one of the… just another person following his social media page commented and said to me, even RBG doesn’t support the ERA. She thinks it needs to be re-drafted. To which I responded and said, actually she believes that the deadline of 1982, or at least from what she says, it seems that she believes that the 1982 deadline pulls some weight. She doesn’t say that she’s opposed to the language of the ERA because again, the language of the ERA is not that controversial. She simply thinks that we need to re-draft it and move it forward at this point.
ERA advocates argue that the ratification deadline, if it was even constitutional, is non-binding given that it was written into the preamble of the amendment and its not present in the language ratified by the states. Advocates also dismiss the attempts of 5 states to rescind their ratifications, given that such attempts with the 14th and 15th amendments were considered to lack constitutional authority and were thus ignored. Moreover, advocates argue that if congress can impose and extend ratification deadlines, then it can also remove them. Based on this argument, the House Judiciary Committee passed a resolution to strike the time limit from the preamble of the ERA in November of 2019. The resolution currently awaits a vote by the full House, and there’s also a bipartisan companion bill awaiting uncertain action in the senate.
Gloria Steinem said, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. We are filled with popular wisdom of several centuries just passed, and we’re terrified to give it up.” Like I said, feminism isn’t about the rise of women at the expense of men. In fact, one of the leaders of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s, Betty Friedan, who was the author of the groundbreaking book, “Feminine Mystique”, said in an interview with Playboy, “There was a masculine mystique too.” Playboy said, “What was it?” Friedan said, “Men had to be supermen: stoic, responsible meal tickets. Dominance is a burden. Most men who are honest will admit that.” Playboy said, “What’s behind the current men’s movement?” Friedan responded, “I think it’s partly a reaction against feminism, partly envy of feminism and partly a real need of men to evolve and break through the burden of the masculine mystique, the burden of machismo.”
Now about the time that feminism was gaining momentum in the 70s, this is when we started to see also the rise of… I would say they’re 2 different things, men’s rights activists who were now claiming that if women were going to be equally empowered that that would impugn the rights of men, again kind of that idea that feminism is about putting down men, which it’s not, and I also want to point out has never been the case for non-white men who did not have means, so including white men who don’t have means and non-white men, so we started to see the beginning of men’s rights activists, and then we also started to see the rise of men’s work. Now I’m all in favor of men’s work; however, I think when the majority of men who were doing “men’s work” are white, usually mid to upper-class, that’s a problem, and it’s not representative of men. I also think when we have mostly white men sitting down and talking about work and they don’t identify as feminist, then we only have half of the population needed having a voice at the table, and we again have men’s voices controlling the narrative and controlling the narrative regarding females.
Years ago, I was working with a gay couple, and this was back when gay marriage was recognized as constitutional, and then it was opposed pretty quickly after that and so for a couple of months I believe it was, I didn’t go back and look up the timeline, so for a couple of months… for a while when it was first announced, you had several couples going and getting married because it was recognized as being constitutional, and then everything was put on pause while it kind of made its way through the Utah courts to decide if this was actually something that was going to stand or to be turned back, and it did stand, so this couple that I had been working with, it was the week when it was announced that gay marriage was constitutional for the first time, and they came in for a session and they were really excited, and I was celebrating with them, and I thought it was a move forward, and as a heterosexual person, I am not at all threatened by homosexual marriage or by gay marriage, and so I was celebrating with them and we were talking about it and they were kind of sharing their experiences and their feelings more than they ever had done in a session before, and as the session ended and they were getting up to leave, one of the men turned to me and said, “I hope for you that one day women get it together and stop opposing each other so that you guys can actually be recognized as having rights as well.” Ugh, right? Punch to the gut. Now I know that was said with no maliciousness, and he wasn’t trying to hurt me, and it hurt because a lot of times I do think as women we get in our own way, and I’m not sure what’s behind that fear, uncertainty, a feeling of comfort. So like I said, with either gender that I’m working with in therapy, we talk about the structure that we’ve all been born into and that we all grew up with, whether we are aware of it or not, it’s aware of us, and it’s fine-tuning the message about us based on the gender or the sex that we were born, and I believe that patriarchal structure is limiting for both females and males.
One of the things I will talk about often when I’m working with couples is I will say it starts so young, before we even know anything, when we’re trying to figure out how to talk, this socialization of the genders begins, and I’ll use the example and I’ll say let’s take like maybe around an 18-month-old who’s kind of figured out walking but hasn’t really mastered running. Let’s say we’re just sitting here on some chairs out front and we see this toddler running down the sidewalk, and that toddler falls and skins their knee, and they start crying. I say now let’s pretend that 18-month-old is a girl. What is our response to her? Usually they’ll say, I don’t know, we give her a hug. I said, right. We invite her into relationship and we say, “Come here, come here, do you need a hug? Do you need me? Come here.” When you’re hurting, you turn to relationships because I’m socializing you to do that. And then I say, now let’s change the gender of that 18-month-old to a little boy. What do we say to that little boy? Same scenario, running down the sidewalk, fell and skinned his knee, what do we say to him? And both genders, regardless of who I’m working with, will respond and say, “Oh. We tell him to be tough. We tell him to jump up. We tell him that he’s okay.” Right. We tell him that he is good all on his own. He doesn’t need us. He can just muscle through or just figure out this all on his own.
Oftentimes when I’m working with males and I describe this, they might get a little emotional, and I usually will see that in their eyes, and they start to see that scenario in a bigger picture and recognize that the deck was stacked against them. They were not going to figure things out, which is why they’re in therapy. Now when I talk about this with females, females can have compassion for men and understand like oh, this is why this male that I’m married to, who I complain about his stunted emotional development, oh its not his fault. Oh, he didn’t do this to himself. Oh, he’s not faking it. No, he’s not, and often I will say the emotions that we allow little boys who are going to grow into men to have, we allow them to have anger, and we allow them to have sexual desire, which ironically are the two that we don’t let little girls have. We have issues with women’s anger, and we have issues as a society with female sexual desire. So often I will see through the process of therapy that for healing to take place, men have to reclaim their birthright to their sorrow.
As I sit with many male addicts in session or in men’s groups that I’m a part of, I feel with them. I see how our culture has cheated them out of being whole human beings, and many of the stories that are put on them when they’re too young to have a say, simply young boys that have to deal with things beyond their control and beyond their capability, it breaks them. Of course it does. They may or may not know this when they start the process of therapy. After all, society tells them that the world is their oyster, and if there is a problem with them getting that oyster, it’s their problem, and when I meet with them for the first time, often they can’t figure out why things aren’t working for them, so this is something we have to talk about at some point in therapy.
When I sit in the room with females who have started the journey of their own healing and recovery, I hear heartbreaking stories of what they’ve had to accept in their relationships. I hear the difficulty and struggle they feel as they try to keep all the balls in the air and not lose themselves. Many of them lose themselves. I feel angry at what our world has handed to women and expects them to accept. In order for healing to happen for women, I believe women need to claim our birthright to anger, one that our society has abused us for having, and as a therapist who sits in the room with couples and with individuals who are in relationships, are working towards being in a healthy relationship, I see the power dynamics that are still pervasive in our culture play out in everyday life, and the conflicts I often see in relationships.
Therapists often talk about power dynamics that play out in the couples that they work with. Last month in June, I was asked to do an online presentation, or it was an online webinar kind of thing for a group of seasoned therapists about working with high-conflict couples, particularly those who are bringing their own trauma to the relationship, and then that trauma repeats and plays out in the relationship. So this discussion about power dynamics came up during the presentation, and my answer to those therapists is that power dynamics is always partnership dynamics. We have to replace power dynamics with partnership. If we aren’t partners, then that has a profound impact on our relationships. I don’t think men want to carry the burden alone. I think that men that I talk to want to have partners. They may not have known that when they started because that’s not the message that they’re given in our society, but when we’ve been working and we have all of their shit out on the table, I think they want a partner. I think they want somebody to work with them and to partner with them so that they don’t feel alone and isolated in their relationships.
Now sometimes when I’m working with women, a lot of times I see the dynamic, this isn’t always true, but sometimes men have to take a step down from their hierarchical position to be in partnership, and often I will say to women, you need to dial that up, you need to dial that partnership up, and women will say to me, but I don’t like how harsh the world is. I don’t want to step into that harsh world. Now in Utah, I know this isn’t the case in a lot of states, but in Utah, we have a lot of stay-at-home moms, and a lot of the couples we work with are stay-at-home women, and I have nothing against stay-at-home moms. However, I think it impacts how or whether they can partner. So I will say to women, staying home, being secluded, being protected, being naïve is infantilizing. It doesn’t ask you or require you to step into being a fully functional adult woman. It allows you to maintain some of your innocence of a younger girl, and that’s the message you got from patriarchy is you can’t step into functional adulthood. You don’t get to be a full-fledged woman. Sometimes I use another F-word to go along with that. And this is the history that our country has offered to us. This is the history of our grandparents, of our great-grandparents, even of our parents, and it’s one that for me as a wife who loves my husband and as a mother to four daughters, it was not a history that I was willing to give them. I couldn’t say this is the best we got, and I need you to abide by the structures that have been set, and I’m grateful that my husband isn’t one of those men who wants that dynamic in his relationship. He doesn’t want to have sole power.
Oftentimes when I talk with couples, I will talk about power structures in their relationship. Patriarchy particularly is a power over dynamic. Males have power over females. I don’t think that that’s a dynamic that works. It’s not one that’s ever really worked for me, and it’s not one that I see working very well with the couples or individuals that I work with. Instead of power over, I think we need to move into power with and power to and power from. I think that leads us into partnering and it calls us out to be our best functional self. The ERA represents critical progress, but it’s important to recognize that its passage alone will not end discrimination overnight or result in instant equality. The ERA, like other constitutional amendments, would expressly cover governmental and state actions, but it does not directly address the private sector. That’s us. The amendment should be understood as just one fundamental element of the fight for gender equality, one that helps all and benefits all, one that provides an extra layer of protection that could make a difference in undoing long-standing discriminatory practices. Thus it does not supplant the critical role of policymakers to take robust action to combat all forms of discrimination in order to ensure equality and adequate protections for women and people across the gender spectrum. This work must be done with a deep understanding of the intersectional experiences of women of color and gender minorities who were largely left out of some of the initial writings about feminism and about equal rights amendments. We have to recognize how a combination of factors such as racial and gender biases can erect unique discriminatory barriers. To end with another Gloria Steinem quote: “The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day. A movement is only people moving.”