THERE HAVE BEEN MANY FORMS of patriarchal societies over the ages. Currently in the U.S., patriarchy takes the form of sexism and male supremacy. By that I mean that we currently live within the pervasive, systematic, everyday system of exploitation, marginalization, objectification and violence directed towards girls and women (sexism), and the pervasive, systematic, everyday system of benefits, power, prestige, inclusion, and privileges afforded to men (male supremacy). Of course, our ruling class and power elite also use capitalism, racism, heterosexism, and other forms of exploitation and violence to maintain their power.
I am not going to document the massive economic exploitation of women’s paid and unpaid work, the objectification and exploitation of women’s bodies, the systematic discrimination women face in wages, benefits, housing, health care, transportation, political representation, and other essential areas of life. These forms of exploitation, objectification, and violence, compounded by race, class, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation, and disability, are massively documented and visible to anyone who has an open mind. A few examples should suffice.
Women make, on average, approximately three-fourths of what men make a lifetime. (White women make somewhat more than three-quarters, and women of color make a lot less). That means that if a man makes $40,000 and a woman makes $30,000 a year she will end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars less than he will. The higher the income level the more dramatic the difference.
Women, on average, perform one entire hour more a day of unpaid housework, childcare, and care of others than men do, every day of the year.
Men will sexually assault one out of every four women over a lifetime and at least 3-4 million men a year batter their partners. In addition, men will sexually harass 50-80% of women who work (most women) and almost every woman experiences fear and harassment on the street at some time in her life. This is a form of control and systematic terrorism of the entire female population but child sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment are still seen as women’s issues and are rarely on social justice agendas.
Visible, public images of women being raped, assaulted, demeaned and abused are everywhere as unavoidable, hate-filled, and constant reminders to women that they are vulnerable to violence from men, and constant messages to boys and men (through advertising, videogames, movies, TV, pornography and prostitution) that they have the right to use women for their sexual gratification.
Political issues, natural events, and everyday life are not commonly analyzed through a gender lens. Therefore the impact on women of various groups is not visible, does not guide our analysis and perpetuates the entire system of exploitation. For example, three-quarters to four-fifths of the people killed by the ’04 Tsunami were women of color. The majority of those left behind in New Orleans were poor women of color. The impact of environmental exploitation, degradation, and dumping falls substantially on women, particularly on women of color. Etc.
As a man, and of course as a white, able-bodied, straight man of financial security, my life floats on a sea of invisible labor performed by women, primarily women of color in this country and around the world.
- My clothes are made primarily by women of color under exploitative circumstances.
- My food is grown, harvested, processed, and often cooked primarily by women of color under exploitative circumstances.
- My children have been cared for primarily by women child care workers, teachers, recreation program workers, and babysitters who make much less than me for their work.
- Sick or infirm members of my family have been cared for by women in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other care facilities.
- The tedious work of organizing, providing food for, staffing, publicizing and cleaning up after most of the shows, family celebrations, concerts, meetings, and public events I attend is been done primarily by women.
- Almost all of the electronics goods I use, including cell phones, computers, TVs, DVDs, cameras and microwave ovens are made by women of color under exploitative circumstances.
It is political that this is not widely acknowledged and talked about. It is political that when issues of sexism and male supremacy are raised they are usually denied or minimized. It is political that women are commonly thought to have achieved great success in our society and that we have eliminated most barriers to gender equity. It is political that we (particularly men) don’t use a gender lens all day, everyday, to see and understand the world.
I want to offer some simple suggestions for putting these issues on a social justice agenda.
Use a gender lens—as well as economic, racial and other lens—all of the time. Constantly ask yourself “What is the difference that gender makes in this situation?”
Always ask, “Where are the women—why aren’t they in leadership?” “Where are the other women—which groups of women are not at the table?
Women constitute over half the population. Notice and respond when they do not have representation, leadership, and power.
Interpersonal violence is a social justice issue. Unless each of us and our communities address and heal from the interpersonal violence that tears our lives apart we will not be able to work together, nor to foster the full, creative participation of vast numbers of people, nor will we be able to meet their needs for safety, healing, liberation, and justice.
Make sure that women’s contributions are recognized and honored. Notice and draw attention to the unpaid and unrecognized work that women do to support our daily lives, to sustain those in need, and to make things happen.
Interrupt male cultures of power that operate to exclude, marginalize, or dis-empower women. Notice how men resist accepting responsibility for male privilege and male supremacy and speak out.
Become more knowledgeable about women’s cultures, women histories, women’s contributions, and women’s lives.
Look to progressive women and women’s organizations for leadership.
Strategize about who you can organize with to address issues of sexism and male supremacy.
Identify where you have work to do to build and sustain intimate, family, and community relationships built on complete respect, consent, and mutuality.
Identify your next steps in challenging sexism and male supremacy.
The most important thing you can do to have a rewarding and successful life is to have long term and short-term goals that you write down. A Yale University study found that only 10% of their students had defined goals, and just 4% had actually written them down. More than four decades later it was discovered that the 4% who regularly wrote down their goals had a combined net worth greater than the 96% who did not.
From my own experience over the past 40 years, I can attest that when I have been disciplined about writing down my daily and long-term goals, I have almost always been successful in reaching and surpassing my goals. When I did not, I rarely even reached my goals.
Setting and writing down goals on a daily basis helps make us organized. People are not naturally organized, but it is a talent one can attain. Surveys have found that people who achieve the greatest success and run our largest companies are very well organized.
An organized person is in control of their life. If you make a habit of writing down your daily goals, and organizing them into a schedule you are taking an enormous step toward becoming a proactive and responsible person. You are actually planning how to accomplish everything you need to do from the important to mundane. You are also constantly aware of what you need to be doing if your scheduled goals are in view. Always knowing which goals are most important allows us to better manage our time even as events change.
Being organized means not creating chaos. This means never leaving something where it does not belong, whether it is a drink you sit next to you as you read a book, or a bill that needs to paid and filed. Everything should have a place where it is kept. An organized person does not allow their house, car, or office to be messy. Don’t allow things to accumulate, or your clutter will overwhelm you.
WE TEND TO THINK OF RACISM as a problem for people of color and something we should be concerned about for their sake. It is true that racism is devastating to them, and if we believe in justice, equality, and equal opportunity for all, then we should be trying to end it. As we saw in the last sections, racism does produce material benefits for white people. However, the costs of racism to white people are devastating, especially to those of us without the money and power to buffer their effects. They are not the same costs as the day-to-day violence, discrimination, and harassment that people of color have to deal with. Nevertheless, they are significant costs that we have been trained to ignore, deny, or rationalize away. They are costs that other white people, particularly those with wealth, make us pay in our daily lives. It is sobering for us as white people to talk together about what it really costs to maintain such a system of division and exploitation in our society. We may even find it difficult to recognize some of the core costs of being white in our society.
For example, one of the costs of assimilating into white mainstream culture is that we are asked to leave behind the languages, foods, music, games, rituals, and expressions that our parents and/or grandparents used. We lose our own “white” cultures and histories. Sometimes this loss leads us to romanticize the richness of other cultures.
We have been given a distorted and inaccurate picture of history and politics because the truth about racism has been excluded, the contributions of people of color left out, and the role of white people cleaned up and modified. We also lose the presence and contributions of people of color to our neighborhoods, schools, and relationships. We are given a false sense of superiority, a belief that we should be in control and in authority, and that people of color should be maids, servants, and gardeners and do the less valued work of our society. Our experiences are distorted, limited, and less rich the more they are exclusively or predominantly white.
There are many ways that racism affects our interpersonal relationships. We may have lost relationships with friends, family members, and co-workers to disagreements, fights, and tension over racism. At the same time we may have lost relationships with people of color because the tensions of racism make those relationships difficult to sustain.
Racism distorts our sense of danger and safety. We are taught to live in fear of people of color. We are exploited economically by the upper class and unable to fight or even see this exploitation because we are taught to scapegoat people of color. On a more personal level, many of us are brutalized by family violence and sexual assault, unable to resist it effectively because we have been taught that people of color are the real danger, never the white men we live with.
There are also spiritual costs. Many of us have lost a connection to our own spiritual traditions, and consequently have come to romanticize those of other cultures, such as Buddhism or Native American beliefs. Our moral integrity is damaged as we witness situations of discrimination and harassment and do not intervene. Our feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, or inadequacy about racism and about our responses to it lower our self-esteem. Because racism makes a mockery of our ideals of democracy, justice, and equality, it leads us to be cynical and pessimistic about human integrity and about our future, producing apathy, blame, despair, self-destructive behavior, and acts of violence, especially among our young people.
Costs of Racism to White People Checklist
It can be hard for us to be honest with ourselves about the costs of racism in our own lives. The following is a checklist you can use to evaluate the costs of racism to white people. Check each of the items that apply to you.
· I don’t know exactly what my European American heritage is, what my great-grandparents’ names were, or what regions or cities my ancestors are from.
· I grew up, lived, or live in a neighborhood, or went to school or a camp, which, as far as I knew, was exclusively white.
· I grew up with people of color who were servants, maids, gardeners, or babysitters in my house.
· I did not meet people of color in person, or socially, before I was well into my teens.
· I grew up in a household where I heard derogatory racial terms or racial jokes.
· I grew up in a family or heard as a child that people of color were to blame for violence, lack of jobs, or other problems.
· I have seen or heard images, in magazines, on TV or radio, on cassettes and CDs, or in movies of (check all that apply):
· Mexicans depicted as drunk, lazy, or illiterate
· Asians depicted as exotic, cruel, or mysterious
· Asian Indians depicted as excitable or “silly”
· Arabs depicted as swarthy, ravishing, or “crazed”
· African Americans depicted as violent or criminal
· Pacific Islanders depicted as fun-loving or lazy
· American Indians depicted as drunk, savage, or “noble”
· Any character roles from non-white cultures depicted by white actors
· I was told not to play with children of particular other ethnicities when I was a child.
· I have sometimes felt that “white” culture was “wonderbread”2 culture — empty and boring — or that another racial group had more rhythm, more athletic ability, was better at math and technology, or had more musical or artistic creativity than mine.
· I have felt that people of another racial group were more spiritual than white people.
· I have been nervous and fearful or found myself stiffening up when encountering people of color in a neutral public situation (for example, in an elevator, on the street).
· I have been sexually attracted to a person from another racial group because it seemed exotic, exciting, or a challenge.
· I was in a close friendship or relationship with a person of color, where the relationship was affected, stressed, or endangered by racism between us or from others.
· I am not in a close significant relationship with any people of color in my life right now.
· I have been in a close friendship or relationship with another white person where that relationship was damaged or lost because of a disagreement about racism.
· I have felt embarrassed by, separate from, superior to, or more tolerant than other white people.
· I have worked in a job where people of color held more menial jobs, were paid less, or were otherwise harassed or discriminated against and I did nothing about it.
· I have participated in an organization, work group, meeting, or event which people of color protested as racist or which I knew to be racist and did nothing about it.
· I have had degrading jokes, comments, or put-downs about people of color made in my presence and did not protest or challenge them.
· I have felt racial tension or noticed racism in a situation and was afraid to say or do anything about it.
· I have seen a person of color being attacked verbally or physically and did not intervene.
· I am concerned that there is not enough attention paid to family violence and sexual assault in my community because of the focus of police and criminal justice resources on communities of color.
· I am concerned that drug abuse in my white community is not taken seriously enough because disproportionate attention is on drug use in communities of color.
· I experience a heightened and intrusive state of surveillance and security in my neighborhood, where I shop, in my school, when I cross borders, or when I use airports because of social fears of the dangers of people of color.
· I have had to accept unnecessary limits on my basic civil liberties because of social fears that people of color are dangerous.
· I have felt angry, frustrated, tired, or weary about dealing with racism and hearing about racial affairs.
· I live in a community where, for whatever reason, no people of color are present, so that some of these questions don’t apply.
When I use this list in an exercise with a group of white people, and every person answers “yes” to a substantial number of the questions, I can clearly see that we have all paid some of the costs of racism. Realizing what those costs are can easily make us angry. If we are not careful, we can turn that anger toward people of color, blaming them for the problems of white racism. Sometimes we say things like “If they weren’t here we would not have these behaviors, practices, and institutions. How is it that white people in general can justify retaining the benefits of being white without taking responsibility for perpetuating racism?
How do you justify it for yourself?
WHEN WE LOOK AT MEN’S LIVES and the effects of our actions on those around us, it can look like anger is the problem. But anger is not the problem, violence is. It is a tragedy that we have been trained to turn pain into anger and anger into violence. We need to harness, work with, and use our misdirected violence and self destructive anger to rebuild our lives and change our communities.
Anger does not have to be destructive. It can be a guide to injustice, a clue to powerlessness. Anger can excite, mobilize, and bring us together. It is a touchstone of our deepest sense of truth and rightness. It lets us know when we’re getting ripped off or when we’ve compromised too much Anger can be the force behind revolution, consciousness-raising, pride, and community building.
We have been taught to fear anger because we associate it with violence. It is scary. Therefore, when we feel angry ourselves, we get scared. We might stop it, stuff it, laugh it off, or pretend it doesn’t matter.
We like to think of ourselves as nice guys. We want people to like us. We often say yes to requests when we really want to say no. We often say no to our needs when we really should say yes. The result is that we are constantly building up anger and resentment because we are taking care of others and not ourselves—our needs are not getting met.
Most of the time we pretend to ourselves and to those around us that we are not really angry. But there comes a time when we can’t take any more. Then the anger explodes out of us in loud and frightening ways. After the explosion we are so scared that we clamp down again, try harder not to get angry, and begin another cycle.
The power and strength of our anger are frightening because we don’t have models of men who
- • get angry without becoming abusive or violent;
- • can express a range of feelings, including anger;
- • communicate their wants and needs effectively in nonthreatening ways.
We can become models of men who do these things.
As men we have two crucial tasks before us in order to use anger powerfully and not abusively. The first is to separate anger from the many other feelings we were never allowed to express. We need to acknowledge, feel, and express the love, caring, sadness, hurt, dismay, affection, gentleness, and hope we carry with us. As we separate these feelings from the anger, the second task becomes understanding where our anger comes from, what we can do about it, and how we can express it in positive ways.
We have been taught to expect women to take care of us, to nurture and support us in the ways our mothers were supposed to. It is easy to blame women and to project our anger onto them. We might feel they’ve caused our pain and hurt. Women, we must recognize, don’t have this kind of power in our lives. Not blaming them, and not blaming ourselves as well, are part of dealing with anger and recognizing where its roots lie.
Another part is learning to express and talk through anger with the people around us. This means staying connected when we’re angry instead of walking away, getting busy, withdrawing, or distracting attention away from the issues that divide us. We must also learn to listen as well as speak to each other. And speaking here means from the heart and mind. We must learn to compromise, give and take, and look for inclusive, more complex solutions. Patience, respect, courage, empathy, perseverance, and commitment are some of the virtues we need to develop for this to work.
Expressing anger fully, directly, and in a nonthreatening way is not easy. We need to know when to blow off steam, walk away, ask for a time-out. A good time-out might be to say to your partner, “I’m too angry to continue. I’m going to take a thirty-minute timeout to walk or talk with a friend so I can come back and continue talking with you without resorting to violence.” Then use the timeout to relax or distract yourself or think about the interaction, but not to feed or build your anger. Doing something physical or being alone is necessary before we can continue talking. We also need to distinguish feelings of anger from physical restlessness, tension, or the need for sexual affection and expression. Sometimes dancing, playing sports, or shouting is all we need to do to get over our anger. Other times we may need to hold someone or be held, to touch and talk intimately.
These are skills we can learn and bring to our everyday lives. At the end of this chapter are exercises that illustrate a variety of approaches and some useful starting places.
When we can clear away our other needs, stay with our anger without resorting to violence or blame, and express a full range of feelings, then we can move on to deal with the causes of our anger. This involves identifying the deeper sociopolitical problems that need community attention. Through concerted effort we can find ways to work cooperatively for change. Poor working conditions and low pay, lack of support for parenting, poor housing, poor educational systems, racial and sexual violence in our own past and in our communities, female and male role expectations—these are some of the things that cause pain, despair, anger, and violence. We can develop skills for working with others to eliminate the institutional sources of our anger.
Social change is slow, and the lack of response to our efforts can itself produce more anger and frustration. But if we focus on the work that we can do, we can turn that frustration into determination, that despair into hope. Everywhere in our society people guided by their anger are making changes in their own lives and in their communities.
As men we can use our anger to guide us in constructing a more just society. Or we can continue to use it to destroy ourselves and those around us. We each have that choice to make. We need to remember that anger is not the cause of violence.
The United States has an enormous prison problem. A more-than-2.4-million-prisoner-sized problem, to be precise, locked up in the archipelago of federal penitentiaries, state corrections facilities, and local jailhouses that form the nation’s thriving prison-industrial complex. Since 1980, the number of incarcerated citizens in the US has more than quadrupled, an unprecedented rise that can attributed to four decades of tough-on-crime oneupmanship, and a draconian war on drugs.
Today, more than one out of every 100 Americans is behind bars, and the US has the largest prison population in the world, both in terms of the actual number of inmates and as a percentage of the total population. The numbers are staggering: The US incarceration rate is nearly 3.5 times higher than that of Mexico, a country that has spent the last decade in the throes of an actual drug war, and between five and ten times higher than those seen in Western Europe. There are more people locked up in the US than in China. In fact, the US is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners, despite accounting for just 5 percent of the overall global population.
But the data gets even more disturbing when broken down at the state level. A recent analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that while states like Louisiana have undoubtedly led America’s march toward mass incarceration, no state or region has been immune to the prison boom. And each state is a global aberration, with incarceration rates that compare to those found in isolated dictatorships and countries recovering from civil war.
As the chart shows, 36 states have higher incarceration rates than Cuba, the country with the world’s second highest prison rate. New York comes in just above Rwanda, which is still trying thousands of people in connection to the 1994 genocide. Even Vermont, birthplace of Phish, Ben & Jerry’s, and the country’s only socialist senator, imprisons a higher percentage of its population than countries like Israel, Mexico, or Saudi Arabia.
Looked at in terms of actual inmate numbers, this means that the number of people behind bars in most US states is on par with the prison populations of entire nations. And not Luxembourg or Burundi. Big, messy countries, like Venezuela and Egypt.
“The question here is are we using prison too much, and when you compare one US state to another US state, you start to think ‘Eh, maybe it’s all just the same,’” said PPI Executive Director Peter Wagner, who co-authored the analysis. “But the bigger picture here is that every single state is out of step with the rest of the world.”
“Other than the United States, most of the countries with high incarceration rates have had a very recent social trauma,” Wagner added. “New York has the same incarceration rate as Rwanda and there has not been a massive genocide in New York State. The irony is that New York actually used to have a much higher rate of incarceration. It’s actually one of the grand exceptions in the country, of a state that has been reducing its prison population.”
The numbers, Wagner explained, underscore the central role that states have played in America’s unprecedented prison buildup. While much of the recent prison debate has centered on federal sentencing laws and drug policy reform, the real mass incarceration action has taken place at the state level. According to PPI data, more than half of US inmates—57 percent—are in state prisons, and another 30 percent are incarcerated in local jails, generally for violating state laws. Though prison rates have varied widely across the US, all 50 states have implemented some set of policies—like mandatory minimums, “truth in sentencing” policies, or “three strikes” rules—aimed at putting more people in prison for longer periods of time.
Unsurprisingly, the economic and social impacts of this trend have been massive. According to a 464-page report published by the National Research Council earlier this year, state spending on corrections increased 400 percent between 1980 and 2009. The result, the NRC points out, is that prisons are now some of the primary providers of health care, counseling, and job training to the country’s most disadvantaged groups. Meanwhile, the social and cultural costs of mass incarceration are disproportionately borne by poor communities, minorities, and people with mental illnesses.
And the actual benefits of mass incarceration are minimal, at best. Sure, crime rates have gone down since 1980, but studies have found the connection between increased prison rates and lower crime is tenuous and small. In fact a report released by The Sentencing Project this week found that in states that have substantially reduced their prison population in recent years, like California, New York, and New Jersey, the crime rate has actually fallen faster than the national average.
“It’s really a situation of diminishing returns for public safety,” said executive director Marc Mauer. “And the amount of crime control that we produce becomes less over time as well.”
Recently, though, there are signs that America is doing a rethink on its experiment with mass imprisonment. Earlier this month, the US Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively extend lighter sentencing guidelines to about 46,000 prisoners currently serving time for federal drug crimes, a move that was endorsed by the Department of Justice. Efforts to implement criminal justice and federal sentencing reforms that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago have been gaining traction from both parties in Congress, forming a rare left-right coalition that is decidedly soft on crime.
At the state level, tight budgets have forced governors and lawmakers to ease drug laws and relax harsh incarceration policies, and to look for more cost-effective criminal justice solutions, including investing in better drug treatment and parole programs. Even in Louisiana, the world’s prison capital, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has passed modest measures, setting up an early release program for some nonviolent drug offenders, although he recently vetoed stronger sentencing reforms.
“We’re always going to have prisons and we’re always going to have crime, but many states are starting to rethink their drug policies, their sentencing laws,” said Mauer. “The impact is not dramatic yet, but I think there’s no question that the climate is beginning to shift. The question is how far can we go now that we’ve started to move in the other direction.”