On Teaching Men Feminism
Our foremothers left us a generation of deep texts about how we transform society so it is better for the next generation. These histories and systems of violence are so complex: how they were formed, how they are reproduced, and how we heal these systems, our communities, and ourselves.
Men will often tell me—"ahhh, that's just nuance" when I try to use my expertise to help them understand something about the complexity of all these issues facing us in how we create transformation.
But what is considered mere "nuance" shifts absolutely foundational premises to how we do this work.
That "nuance" is about explaining how all these systems of violence are entangled, intersecting.
That "nuance" is about not reproducing the simplistic analysis of "gender" and "patriarchy" that failed 50 and 100 and 150 years ago.
To dismiss details as "nuance" is saying centuries of women's research developing rigorous feminist tools of analysis (and coalition building practices) is somehow not needed.
It is not uncommon for men to resist the rigor needed for feminist learning.
There are many ways men both reveal and defend their ignorance, and it is the beginning of the work. It is the work. When a man dismisses a trained feminist scholar with a comment like "that's just nuance," he is revealing and defending at the same time.
I understand why the defenses are there. My mostly invisible labors (psychic, relational, emotional, and intellectual) are helping him through the defense. How we move through our defenses will be intimately connected to our own identity, healing, early childhood attachments, access to social privileges, traumas, and embodied life stories.
There is a high cost to my helping a man journey in his defenses, entitlement, wounds, socialization, and traumas. This work is highly taxing to my life's energies. (I hate doing it without fair compensation for my expertise. That exploitative dynamic harms my body.)
As a teacher, I am not interested in shaming anyone's learning—but I am trying to help him through defenses so he will embrace rigor, complexity, healing, and learning. And that process will bring up shame and vulnerability for him. If he is not willing to touch that shame and vulnerability, he cannot enter the deeper layers of transformation. So part of my job is to help him hold the shame and vulnerability so he can develop emotional and intellectual rigor.
Pedagogically, it feels as complex and high stakes as doing heart surgery.
Here's the big question I have spent a lot of time with:
How do I as a woman teach men who don't know what they do not know— men who are even well intended, but who are still invested at an unconscious level in reproducing the status quo?
It's tough. And it is why I have been rigorously studying for two decades how transformation happens across so many scales of change (political, economic, psychic, spiritual, embodied, economic, etc. scales of interconnected change).
It is why I have spent so long reading trauma research from across so many different fields trying to provide language for how violent systems effect all of us.
There is a huge learning curve for men learning feminist theory—men who are starting both an intellectual journey and a deeply healing journey. For many, it is also a spiritual journey.
I have noticed the first 4–6 months are particularly fraught. The ground is getting prepared. Trust is being built. Mind-body reconnection is being practiced so instead of resorting to defensive structures (denial, intellectualization, dissociation), men can say to me instead: I feel anxious with this idea. I feel scared. My chest is tightening. Is that what you meant when you said to tune into my body's feedback in my learning?
Small but powerful realizations begin to appear that will change everything they knew before.
There is both desire for change and there is great resistance to change, wrestling.
I have noticed it can take months of learning from me before men can even recognize how my expertise (from 20 years of study/teaching) differs from their unstudied opinion. (This dynamic of my work is really exhausting for me, and it is why I have had to study so much about psychic defense mechanisms alongside social theory!)
These unconscious defenses are what hold in places systems/structures. These defenses are what hold in place material realities. Our society orbits these defense mechanisms, like a toxic gravitational pull we must all be freed from.
These defenses are stubborn but not impossible to release. There are methods. I teach those methods. I have developed them for a long time, and I have studied the texts of feminists who developed them for decades and centuries before me.
—HERE IS THE THING—
We ALL have so much work to do right now to leave a planet that is sustainable for the next generation. We also have an opportunity to co-create fierce healing. We all have to heal patriarchy, militarization, and colonial systems of racial and religious hierarchies.
You are here on this planet right now with an immense opportunity to be part of collective efforts to heal.
We will need to study the work of women who came before us to create this future. We cannot ignore it. This work was produced at great cost by foremothers, and it is a sad state of affairs this history is systematically erased because women's voices are not listened to.
(You know the statistics on how women die of heart attacks because doctors don't listen to them when they are describing their symptoms? Or how many Black women specifically die in childbirth because doctors do not listen to their words about what they need or what is happening to their body as they ask for help? Same principle. We ignore women's voices. That is patriarchy. We ignore Black women and women of color's voices. That is white supremacy.)
The issue is systemic, including in our education system.
Our education system ignores 99% of women's contributions to history. Just like most people don't know that Mileva Marić Einstein contributed much of the math genius behind Albert's work, most people don't know women writers/intellectuals/activists/mothers/creators/sisters/spinsters/aunties have been a major force in all historical change.
We need to know how they created change. We need to understand the labor, the expertise, the spiritual and intellectual practices.
My life's work is being a conduit of that history.
And what I have learned along the path is that while many women are fiercely embracing their own healing journeys, most of the men I know do not put that kind of energy and self-reflection into their lives.
It is creating an imbalance. It means women are doing even more work and making even more sacrifices.
In my teaching, I have also learned that many men are really uncomfortable even accepting that there *is* a steep learning curve, and if they are going to step into this work, they need guidance from people who have been on this path a very long time. (And they need to pay for that guidance. It reproduces patriarchy when women's labor/studied knowledge is further exploited.)
Until men will accept there is a learning labor for them—that they have a path of healing—, I believe women and nonbinary folks will be constantly doing the labor and sacrificing for men in ways that reproduce the problems of the existing systems, including how exhausting this system is to our life's energies.
I recognize my complicity in this problem. I am socialized to make men feel good, to protect their egos, to award them prizes for the smallest of efforts. And it is hard for me to say to them the truth of the matter: That they have a learning curve they need to embrace, and not fear. That healing will not be easy. That it gets harder before it gets easier.
The more we all embrace our own learning curve, the more we can support others as they step into the journey.
So that is why I am offering Changing the Culture workshops and programs.
I am continuing to develop and offer more resources for this work for men to help them through where they get stuck in simplistic analysis, shame, fear, guilt, denial, and all manner of defense mechanisms that resist deep change.
I am continuing to call men to recognize why they need to listen to women's voices through studying feminist history.
It might be the most foolish thing I have ever tried to keep putting my energy into this! I am not sure yet. I acknowledge my work and methods are not conventional.
I acknowledge what I teach and offer is for people and institutions ready to embrace the learning curve, the rigor, and the deep personal healing needed to lead cultural change.
—THE STATUS QUO REALITY IS THIS—
Men especially fear and resist acknowledging their own learning curve when it comes to this work. They fear the process of looking within and asking why they haven't even yet turned to listen to the voices of feminist foremothers who birthed these tools of rigorous analysis and inner reflection, as connected to collective change.
I know there is great resistance to this work ahead. But I also see openings at this moment in history to have conversations together— if only because the stakes are so high as administrators and leaders face the consequences of toxic patriarchal cultures.
—THE FUTURE WE MUST CREATE IS THIS—
Nothing will change until the labors of healing and justice are shared.
I do this work with men because I know that everything will change when the labors of healing and justice are shared.