Misogyny — It’s What We Do To Ourselves

There’s a lot of talk about misogyny (dislike of women) this week, as well there should be. This past weekend, apparently, a very angry boy/man decided he would (as he told people he would) decided to kill a bunch of women. He shot them in Santa Barbara, California because he was mad at a specific girl/woman and he apparently wanted all women to “pay” for what was done to him. (She “broke his heart”, I guess, and he — already mentally ill — went “off”).

I’m not a woman and so I can’t speak for them and their experience of misogyny. As a man, who used to be a boy, I can speak a little bit about that.

Before I do, though, let me say this and be as clear as I can possibly be about this: No one deserves to be hurt, killed, raped, disliked, kept from voting, kept from equal pay, kept from anything because of their gender. Women’s bodies, minds, spirits are as valid as any man’s and they — simply as a matter of course, because they are human beings — deserve to be treated with respect, as equals, as different people than men, perhaps, but equal in the sight of God and created by that same God, who is genderless or omni-gendered or who the heck knows. In short, the Creator of the Universe created women as well as men. That Creator doesn’t create half of the population poorly.

Now, back to men and this murderer specifically. There is an internet meme right now by women (“Yes, All Women”) as a response to a meme by men (“Not all men are like that” or MAMALT) which was a response to men’s perceptions of women and women’s perceptions of men. One of the responses out there said that the murderer’s anger was generated by “the men’s movement”, which — of course — was a response to the women’s movement.

Here’s the thing: there is no one “men’s movement” and there is no one “women’s movement”. Feminism is hated by some and loved by others — both men and women, within the women’s movement and outside of it — because of what people think “feminism” means. There are men and there are women and, in packs, they want their gender to get ahead in the world and not be held back in the world.  I think most people want most people to thrive. I think that men step on women’s toes without knowing it and women step on men’s toes without knowing it. Most men, once enlightened about how they hurt others, stop doing that thing. Most women, once enlightened about how they hurt others, stop doing that thing. That’s how we have a society at all.

Did some female hurt the male who murdered these people? Probably. Did his response come from that pain? Probably. Does his pain seem like an appropriate response to his pain? Not at all. Hatred is never a measured or appropriate response to pain. Anger, yes — about a situation, about a person, about an incident — is an appropriate response to a hurt, at least for a bit. Hatred — generalized anger about a group — is never an appropriate response person X, who belongs to a certain group, doesn’t represent everybody in that group, even if they say they do. Mary is not Sally, who is not Bill, who is not Bob.

So what happens between pain and hatred? Something else — often an idea or a rule or something made up by humans — about the way things “should”, even if they’re not. In the case of this person’s hurt becoming misogyny for an entire half of the population, it comes down to this: “Men don’t have feelings”. “Men don’t know how to show their emotions”. “Men are not capable of relating to women”. “Men are violent”. “Men only want one thing” — “That’s just the way they are”. I put all of those things in quotes, because they are things men and women say about men. Between the hurt this guy felt and the hatred he expressed was the idea that he couldn’t be hurt at all. This “I’m hurting but I can’t be” created a feedback loop inside his head that spiraled out of control and it would for anybody. It’s what we in systems theory call a double bind — we have to believe two opposite things at the same time — reality and the rules about reality.

If men don’t have feelings, then their feelings can’t be hurt. If men don’t know how to show their emotions, and I’m a man, what is this thing I seem to be feeling and how do I handle it? If men aren’t capable of relating to women, why do we try? If men are all violent then why would a woman marry any of them? If men only want one thing, what are we doing when we go to work or changing a diaper?

It is hard raising girls to respect men because both a) men act like idiots and b) women expect that they do. If we send men off to war, we expect them to be hurt less, somehow. If a man is a hero, he believes he’s supposed to sacrifice his life– and so does everyone else. If a man stays at home while his wife works, he’s a “mooch” and a loser. If a man wants to be sexual, he only wants one thing. If a man doesn’t want to be sexual, he’s not a man.

Men try to operate under the rules of manhood just as much as women try to operate under the rules of womanhood. It’s all the same BS. This is what (some part of) the men’s movement tried to say. Other parts of the movement like to bang drums in a circle. This is what some members of the women’s movement tried to say. Other parts of the women’s movement think men are violent, sexual, and oppressive.  Guess which part of each movement got the press?

I don’t feel the need to defend my gender by saying, “not all men are like that”. Their actions speak for themselves and the fact is that most men aren’t like that. We can be “like that” or not. It’s a choice. Please don’t tell us it’s not.







Faith As A Journey…

(This is new post to of a series on Do-Your-Own-Theology. Though it is about a specific situation and person, it occurred to me that more people might need to hear it, so here it is…)

I had a conversation with a young person who is very important to me this morning. We talked about faith and the conversation started by me asking “What do you believe?”. It occurred to me shortly after that that it was the wrong question.

The question that actually started conversation was “what do you experience about God?”. The person said that they experienced God at camp (not a great surprise to me) and — when they did — they felt happy, peaceful, and like they could do anything.

They went on to say that they weren’t sure if they had “the faith” because they had problems with the Bible vs. Science and they believed gay people were good.

I said “So you believe or experience Something (they had said “Something with a capital S” earlier)
but you DON’T believe some things?” and they agreed.

This led into a discussion of the history of the church and church conflict. Jacob and Esau believed some things  about God and didn’t believe others.  They were both faithful.

Later, Jesus and the Jews agreed about some things and not others. They were both faithful. The Pope and Martin Luther agreed on some things and not others.  Henry the VIII and the Pope disagreed. Baptists and Quakers and Pilgrims all agreed and disagreed. All had faith, but with the things they considered important enough to stand for  as too important to care whether others agreed.

For the person then. I explained that their faith said that Church is a place where people — when God is present– are happy, peaceful (calm?), and they feel like they can do anything.

The person luckily belongs to a church where most believe in science and the rights of gay people. In any case, the church is a place where people have like opinions and different opinions but they also respect each other and believe they can each figure out what God means and how to live.

What I didn’t say but thought later was that the young person is on a faith journey. Faith is like a journey on a road without mile-markers. You’re already on it, but you don’t know how far you are or aren’t. Sometimes it feels like you make quantum leaps and know where you are. Sometimes it feels like it’s a crawl and you are lost. But if you are conflicted, it’s ok. That, oddly, is what means you’re faithful.

If you think you have to already know and be certain what you believe to have start your faith journey, you’re going to be waiting a long time. If you’re conflicted about it, you’re conflicted about Something. That Something might be God.




Can Somebody Just Explain Why?

I take the train from Hartford to Springfield with a woman who is a nurse at a local hospital. While waiting for our train, we talk about life, work, and our daughters. She has four, I have two. Hers are older than mine and her last one is going to college in the Fall. We were talking about paying for it all, as my two will be going in a few years. Her daughters are apparently smart and got accepted into more than a few schools, but it has come down to how much they could afford, how much they could get for financial aid, etc. This last daughter is going to a very good college, with some “name” to it, but it is not Ivy League or anything.  I asked about the cost and she said, “$56,000 per year” and both of our jaws fell on the ground. I said, “That’s $200,000 — almost $225,000 — for four years! Who has that kind of money?!”. Even with financial aid, she pointed out, “It’s a good thing we like Ramen noodles!”.

In looking back on it, even if I had gone all four years at my most expensive college, it would have cost me $40,000. College is like health care and cars, we agreed. How can anyone afford them? Why are they so expensive? As we talked further, it occurred to me that my income (and hers, her husband’s or my wife’s, I suppose) have not gone up by 600 % in 25 years – not even close. And education hasn’t changed much. She said, “They still have the same dorms”. I chimed in with “I bet they still have the same food plan” and the subjects they teach are largely the same — same subject matter”. So, here’s the question: How can you offer the same product for six times the cost? What has changed? Has the quality of the service gone up that much? Really, where does the money go? How does a college keep going if the customer’s income has gone up maybe twice what it used to be? If 2x is income and 6x is outlay for college, how is it possible that anyone buys this product?

The same is true with health care — I know that access is a big issue but if my income has gone up by, say, 5% and the cost of health insurance went up 400%, how can anybody afford it?  There’s an article in the Huffington Post today about mental health and insurance companies where the author complains about the Kafka-esque system that makes people run around from here to there to get what they need. That is its own problem, but included in the health care issue is paying for something and getting nothing. If you have a deductible, of $5000 for instance, then you basically have no insurance until you spend $5,000. Your premiums continue to come in, and the rates continue to go up… and then you have to pay another $5,000 before you get anything!  While I understand Obamacare now and I approve of it, I have never been convinced that insurance is the reason that health care costs are so high. If I can walk down to the CVS and buy a bottle of aspirin for $3.00, why does one pill cost that much in a hospital? How can a doctor walk in a room, say “Hi.”, ask a single question and charge $100 for it? If you stay in the hospital overnight, just for regular recovery (whatever that is) and it costs $1200 or more, why couldn’t a person stay at the Hilton and have a private nurse 24/7?  It would still cost less! How is that possible?  Again, if your average person makes $10.00 per hour how can they afford $50.00 per hour in the hospital?  It seems that over the last, say, 20 years health costs have risen at a far greater rate than income has. How are people expected to pay for something that costs that much?  Can someone explain what’s changed in the hospital that costs that much? As of yet, I haven’t heard an explanation from anyone.

The last target of my rants is automobiles. It seems to me that the average cost of a car is $25,000 to $30,000. Americans love their cars, or so they say. America was built on the backs of the car industry so cars are important to the economy and the people of America, but who can afford one? Again, like health care and college, the cost of an automobile has gone up dramatically, while the income of the people buying one hasn’t. I hear car commercials all the time that make it seem like someone could afford a payment, but those are lease prices, they don’t include mileage that your average person might put on, you have to put down a good sized downpayment, and you don’t own the car when it’s done. If you actually want to buy the car now, you have to take out a 72 month (6 year!) loan to do it, when you used to pay it off in 4 – 5 years.  In addition, there are all the fees, the cost of fuel, the cost of parts (Oh, my goodness! replacement parts cost a lot of money!) and labor (Pep Boys charges about $100.00 per hour in our area) if your car needs repair. Oh, and car insurance costs money as well.

How does anybody afford this?

If the American dream is work hard, make enough money, take your car on drives across America with the family, then send your kids to college so that they can do better than you did, and if a health crisis comes up, pay for it with insurance, then the American dream is an impossible dream. The economy simply cannot survive this way. When basic needs and basic tools to get ahead are impossible to afford, it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing collapses. There are basic problems in the economy and no one can explain why they got this way, so we can’t fix them. What is up with that?




A Meditation on Mothers

I thought I’d change my Facebook cover and profile pictures to my mother and the mother of my daughters, it reminded me of the topic and I have some time on my hands because no one’s showing up today, so I thought I’d free-associate about mothers for the Mother’s Day Weekend.

I know people who are cynical about the commercial aspects of the day, and it does, indeed, make a whole lot of money for Hallmark, etc. I’m not cynical this year, for some reason. I think that any day that gets us to stop and think about important people in our lives is a good thing. Mother’s Day does that.

Yes, Mother’s Day was created by proto-feminists as a way to protest whatever war we were in at the time. Yes, on Mother’s Day we should celebrate strong women who make a stand for what they believe in, and we should celebrate peace.  Probably the biggest thing to remember about mothers is that you shouldn’t kill their children. If you’re a child, try not to die before your parents. It’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

“Mother” is as much a fluid concept as it is iconic.  We make a really big deal about motherhood, but not every mother is cut out for the job. Not every woman who has a child is a “Mother”. Just because a woman is childless doesn’t mean she isn’t a mother.

As a therapist who sees all kinds of people, I can tell you that some women simply shouldn’t be mothers. They’re too young or too busy with their addiction or too mean or they don’t like children at all or don’t know what it means to be a kid or they have a mental illness or they are in an abusive relationship and can’t protect their children. None of these things are necessarily their fault, but any of those things could make parenting impossible and frequently do. Boys and men: If you get a girl or woman pregnant and you know she has one of those problems, you are setting her up for a lifetime of difficulty. If you are having sex with a still childless girl or woman and she has one of those issues, you need to think twice about what you’re doing.

On the other hand, there are some women whose entire life is about being a mother. They are far fewer than it seems, but they are out there. In my life, I have met only a handful of women whose very nature and career is being a mother.  Everybody else had a child as part of their life — a large part or a small part of their life — but a part, in any case. They are also teachers, clergy, salespeople, artists, dancers, house cleaners, or leaders of the free world. Just because someone becomes a mother doesn’t mean they stopped being a person. It just means that they added another part to their life’s resume’. It’s an important job, to be sure, but it’s seldom the totality of who they are.

No matter what Freud or society or women’s magazines or anybody else says, “it” is not always the mother’s fault. There are other people around and they — in an ideal world — will also take charge of children and help to raise them.

Something I have learned: Actually having a child in their womb changes women, in a way that we men can only guess at. No matter what becomes of that fetus, its simple presence changes a woman. Abortion cannot be taken lightly, even if a woman wants to.  Miscarriage cannot be taken lightly, even if a woman needs to. Loss of a child during a pregnancy is a scar that just doesn’t go away for a very long time, if ever. Carrying a child is an experience that involves love made manifest.

Speaking of love made manifest, mothering a person is the act of doing just that. I have a biological mother and she did the “raising” thing. I also have many, many non-biological mothers who have raised me. Among these are Mary Lou Brewer (my high school history teacher), Nancy Williams and Lucy Briand (mothers of best friends in high school whom I stayed with during college), Becky Johnson, Mary Lou O’Neil, Cy Sherman and any number of Deering adult women, Hazel Vancor from Centre Church in Lynnfield, Lynn Carmen Bodden and Jeanette Sherrill, Fran Stiles and Jean Golden as part of my ministry journey. In an odd way, my sister Michelle and my wife Michelle – two very different people continue to raise me to this day, by giving me insights into the people I meet. Virginia Satir, by writing her book Peoplemaking, became a mother to me. Women therapists I have had have become mothers to me in the same way.

If a woman cares about children and helps them mature in some way, if she is a guide, she is a mother.

A friend of mine gave me a great gift years ago by sharing this piece of wisdom: There is not a manual for raising children in the genes. There might be love, there might be care for a child, but raising a child — the messy daily stuff of diaper changing, taking care of a sick child, helping your child ride a bike, setting limits and saying “no” at the right time, encouraging independence and saying “yes” at the right time, advocating for your child’s education, and imparting wisdom about relationships — does not come at birth. Their is no special bag of instructions in the birth canal. Women, like men, are “making this stuff up as we go”. There are lots of great books out there (see Peoplemaking, for instance) and there are many experienced mothers of all stripes out there. Doing it on your own, though, is tough. It’s ok — actually important — to ask for help. You are not a failure if you ask for help. In fact, you’re far more likely to be a success if you do.

Raising children is one of the most important things human beings do. On Mother’s Day, here’s to the female half of the population that does the job.