Tinted glass is beautiful, especially when it is of our own making. It does not, however, improve illumination.
I’ve been a social worker/therapist over 40 years. I have a longitudinal perspective on the interaction between feminism and mental health. I still practice, so I don’t use my actual name. I am a white male.
Social work and mental health—different but overlapping fields—are increasingly opting for (I would argue for “defaulting to”) feminist perspectives. But the process has been going on for some time. I can still remember being coached on the Duluth Model for domestic violence, and even “buying in.” Needless to say, I now view myself as having been duped, as the Duluth Model has been seriously discredited. Today, I am seeing a conspicuous absence of family communication and structural family therapy concepts (think Virginia Satir, Jay Haley, Salvador Minuchin and Carl Whitaker). I have read about the alleged reasons for this shift away from structural family concepts, but I suspect the real reason is going unnamed. Essentially, such perspectives frame the nuclear family as a natural system, and feminism increasingly wants to eliminate the nuclear family, or view it as a product of the “patriarchy.”
And, of course, we all saw what happened to the DSM recently. Or what about the University of Texas and its “Healthy Masculinities” program? Both are classic examples of the mental health field “defaulting” to a feminist agenda.
But these changes are not specifically why I am writing today. I am writing to point out that feminism in its current form (and via a specific proponent that I will name below) and social work are essentially incompatible—both logically and ethically—when men are the clients (and increasingly, I would predict, men will be the clients). One of the most basic tenets in social work when I was learning it was “start where the client is.” Now: apply this to feminism and its approach to men. You will find very quickly that the shoe does not fit. Feminists will argue that feminist therapy with men allows those men to reassess how “the patriarchy hurts them too,” and can free men from rigid sex roles. The point feminist therapists will not make is that it is highly dubious to attempt to “free” the “oppressor” without specific condemnation: this therapy’s fundamental premise is that the male client must admit how he has filled this oppressor role, or “benefitted from patriarchy.” Mr. Tom Golden has addressed this previously in some detail.
In social work, you do not tell the client what is “right” or “best” for them. Even in addictions and corrections, we prefer Motivational Interviewing (which helps the client take a cost-benefit perspective on use and behavior). Instead, you discover what their view of this “rightness” is. If you do not, you can not claim to be surprised when your intervention fails. Yet, in feminist-influenced social work/therapy today, feminist therapists and educators begin by “explaining” to men what their experience (as men) is and has been (“patriarchy hurts men too—you were taught not to feel”). This is called “getting woke.” There are even entire books by collections of feminist authors that advise feminists to intervene directly by telling men what changes to make in themselves. The message in essence is: “we have waited long enough—now we will show you what to do.”
Here is where I am likely to ruffle feathers– even with some of the male population. One of the feminist commentators that is spoken of as being sympathetic to male concerns is Bell Hooks. To her credit, she has her share of male supporters, and she has spoken against the acid, “I bathe in male tears” voice that is dominating much of feminism currently. She has her fans—but I am not one of them. The reason is that she is doing essentially what every other feminist commentator is doing when they address men: she is telling men what the male experience “really” is, and how it “needs to change.” In her book “We Real Cool,” Hooks states “… as a black woman who cares about the plight of black men I feel I can no longer wait for brothers to take the lead and spread the word.” In essence, the message would appear to be, “you’re not doing it right or fast enough, so I am taking over.” (This is more than a little curious, given Ms. Hooks’ expressed orientation as a Buddhist, as one of the Buddha’s most basic teachings was that no one can know your path but you.)
It should be noted that Ms. Hooks is by no means the only feminist who is attempting to address men directly and give them advice. The idea that men’s work should be left to men has officially been declared “unworkable” by feminist social work writers, and it is being replaced with the idea that men must be “engaged” and “challenged.” (These self-appointed change agents appear unaware of MRA’s and men’s websites—or perhaps they simply don’t like the answers men come up with for themselves.) I am sorry, but in social work, whenever the worker/therapist/commentator begins by telling a member of a different demographic what their experience is (indeed, implying to them that the commentator understands it better than they do), she/he/they are blowing political, self-serving “smoke.” Hooks often uses language that she hopes will help her be viewed as sympathetic to men but betrays herself with a transparently judgmental attitude. To avoid quoting out of context, let me reproduce a passage that illustrates this point (emphases mine); notably this passage has often been cited as evidence of Hooks’ alleged concern for men:
“Feminist advocates collude in the pain of men wounded by patriarchy when they falsely represent men as always and only powerful, as always and only gaining privileges from their blind obedience to patriarchy….patriarchal ideology brainwashes men to believe that their domination of women is beneficial when it is not: Often feminist activists affirm this logic when we should be constantly naming these acts as expressions of perverted power relations, general lack of control of one’s actions, emotional powerlessness, extreme irrationality, and in many cases, outright insanity. Passive male absorption of sexist ideology enables men to falsely interpret this disturbed behavior positively. As long as men are brainwashed to equate violent domination and abuse of women with privilege, they will have no understanding of the damage done to themselves or to others, and no motivation to change.”
“Blind obedience.” “Domination of women” and “violent domination and abuse of women.” “Perverted power relations, general lack of control of one’s actions, emotional powerlessness, extreme irrationality, and in many cases, outright insanity.” “Passive male absorption.” “Brainwashed to equate violent domination of women with privilege.” “No understanding.”
(These poor men—they don’t even know they are oppressing themselves. But wait—feminism can teach them.)
Questions for feminists:
What if it is untrue that men are taught “not to feel,” but instead that they simply feel differently? (Mr. Tom Golden has made this point multiple times.)
What if it is not a problem of men not knowing their own feelings, but one of men not having the feelings feminists want men to have? (I would like to suggest, as bibliotherapy for Ms. Hooks, the topic of Situational Distress Therapy for men.)
Hooks tries to dodge this bullet by insisting that when she refers to “the patriarchy” she is not necessarily referring to men. I think men are entitled to ask Ms. Hooks, “whom, then, are you addressing? You specifically aim your message toward men, and specifically make ‘patriarchy’ the topic, but then want men to believe it is not a criticism of men or maleness.” (This position is painfully close to the conversionist Christian message to other Christians about homosexuals—“Love the sinner—hate the sin.” Of course, we all know what the gay community had to say to that.) If men are “brainwashed” by patriarchal culture, and if patriarchal culture is a male invention, then how is this not a criticism of who men are. It is notable that in Suzette Hayden Elgin’s very insightful book on verbal self-defense, one of the classic formats for disguised attack is this form: “Everyone understands why you (insert criticized behavior).” With the contextual “smoke screen” removed, Hooks’ quote could be summarized as saying this to men: “Everyone understands why you dominate and abuse women, and have no understanding of the damage you do to yourself and others.” This is a classic example of a veiled attack.
News alert, guys. It’s a criticism of men and maleness. Hooks is an avowed Marxist, and in her worldview white men are the “bourgeois.” (Essentially women and every other demographic group fall under “proletariat.” Hence, “intersectional feminism.”) She tries to demonstrate ways in which white women can be part of the “bourgeois” too, but she never allows white men to be anything but this, and she insists that African-American men are less oppressed than African-American women (she even argues that slavery was easier for male slaves than female slaves). Herein lies the fundamental irony of “feminism is for you too, guys”: it’s for you if you can accept that your demographic (and its alleged fondness for power and control) is responsible for most of the problems in the world, and in history.
So much for starting where the client is.
It is notable that Ms. Hooks insists that the concept of patriarchy is needed as a lens through which to understand imbalances in power, both around the world and throughout history. Yet, Mr. Warren Farrell acknowledges and discusses the same global and historical patterns without resorting to this concept. Is Ms. Hooks (and feminism generally) afraid of what would happen to the feminist argument if the overarching–but completely untestable– idea of “patriarchy” were to be removed? I think she/it is.
A further irony in this message is that it reveals in Bell Hooks the same kind of “entitlement” and “hegemony” that she insists men (especially white men) need to liberate themselves from. It says (if, again, you remove the “smoke screen”): “You are not woke, but you are a man/white man, so that is understandable, and I am here to help you understand yourself” (condescension); “I am an African-American woman, so I see things more clearly than you and I have the right to instruct you on what you should think– because I’m tired of waiting for you to think what I want you to think” (entitlement, assumption of superior perspective). (Another example of this supposed superior perspective, though not of Ms. Hooks’ creation, is the film “The Mask You Live In,” whose narration sounds as if it could begin with: “Now boys, let me tell you what you are really feeling, and why you don’t know this.”)
As The Who’s rock song famously stated: “Meet the new boss—same as the old boss.” Meet the new “sympathetic” misandry—same as the old misandry.
And once again, so much for starting where men are.
Feminism, via proponents like bell Hooks, wants to sell men on the notion that women (and apparently minority women even more so) have a superior view of the male experience. This, I’m sure, is very close to what pregnant women used to hear when young male OBGYN doctors “explained” pregnancy and childbirth to them. “Granted your point of view may be informative, Doc, but don’t tell me what my experience is. Fair enough?” When men do this type of thing, it is called a “microaggression” (“mansplaining,” for example). Apparently when feminists do the same thing it becomes a public service.
Further, the motivating force that leads men like me to resist feminism’s “answers” is not the loss of power. Let me repeat that for Ms. Hooks—it is not the loss of power. It is, in my view, the loss of legitimate identity. Feminism has been an experience of widened options and new “selves” for women. It has been an experience of subtracted and invalidated (and, yes, demonized) “selves” for men. Further, if men are fundamentally motivated by—or, alternately, brainwashed into– a wish to control women, how do we explain MGTOW? MGTOW’s basic message to women is, “I’ll leave you alone, and you leave me alone—I’ll go my way, and you go yours.” Where is the control or dominance in that message, Ms. Hooks? Could it be that you are threatened by trends like MGTOW because they disconfirm your model of male dominance?
Thought experiment for feminists:
Imagine your perfect profile of problematic masculinity (yes, make the sex male); now substitute a woman for the man under exam—and watch your condemnation change to praise. “Toxic” or problematic masculinity is apparently only problematic if it is displayed by men; when it is displayed by women it goes by “assertiveness,” “agency,” “competence,” “confidence,” “effectiveness,” etc. Even male feminists like Mr. Kimmel, Mr. Jensen, and Mr. Stoltenberg insist that men should joyfully relinquish all meaningful sense of male identity. I would challenge them by asking, “and what identities are we asking women to give up–really?”
It is likely no accident that feminists routinely oppose “exclusively male space” but insist that “exclusively female space” is needed. If men were to talk to each other without feminist censorship, they might begin to suspect that masculinity can actually mean something, and they might allow themselves to determine that meaning– for themselves– rather than allow feminist writers, like Ms. Hooks, to instruct them on the preferred feminist version of it. Ms. Hooks’ status as a Marxist is again relevant here: as any reader of Marx can tell you, a key step in his plan for destroying capitalism was to destroy the family, and a key step toward destroying the family was to emasculate the men. What better way to veil your attempt to destroy male identity than to pretend you are helping men find themselves (as long as it is the self you want them to find).
I will never try to silence a woman when she speaks about her own experience. Yes, that includes Ms Hooks.
I will relentlessly interrupt her, however, when she begins to speak to me about mine. Yes, that includes Ms. Hooks.
I think Ms. Hooks needs interrupting on exactly this point.
We are all haunted people.
We are all followed by that thing, or those things, that seem devoted to creating our misery.
I would argue that we often misname our ghosts or demons—owing both to their defiance of easy description, and our own stubborn habits of vision.
Ancient beliefs have long held that if we wish to exorcize the “demon,” we must first learn its true name.
I would argue that feminism has misunderstood the name of its demon, and until it begins to use the correct name, its attempts at exorcism will fail.
Ms. Hooks, its name is not “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
– ‘The Will to Change,” Bell Hooks.
– “Understanding Patriarchy,” Bell Hooks.
– “We Real Cool,” Bell Hooks.
– “An Open Letter to Social Workers—Part 1 and 2,” Tom Golden.
– “Feminist Therapy for Men: Challenging Assumptions and Moving Forward,” Jack S. Kahn.
– “The End of Manhood,” John Stoltenberg.
– “Guyland,” Greg Kimmel.
– “The Need for Male-friendly Approaches to Suicide in Australia,” Australian Men’s Health Forum, November 2016.
– “The End of Patriarchy,” Robert Jensen.
– “The Mask You Live In,” The Representation Project.
– “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-defense,” Suzette Hayden Elgin.
– “The Myth of Male Power,” Warren Farrell.