Rooting out Patriarchal (White) Privilege

I’ve been wondering about the attention I’ve devoted to following the rapidly changing news cycle surrounding the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh. Am I merely addicted to the drama and spectacle? Or am I taking inventory, doing the necessary reflection and inner work that will lead to transformation and healing in the world? That’s the key question, especially for any white men like me.

Having attended an elite college in the late 70s and early 80s, and witnessed the drunkenness and debauchery of fraternity life, including hearing stories about a gang rape of a female exchange student (I can still remember a few of the boys gleefully invoking the word “train” afterwards), I am looking at my own silent complicity in a diseased culture of male dominance.

During freshman “rush” week, a continuous cycle of keg parties at the frat houses, I puked on two of the first three nights. I had only consumed alcohol a few times prior to attending college and after waking up hung over the second time, I had no desire to abuse my body in this way any more. So I stopped drinking “brewskis” (yes, that word was also in vogue back then) to get drunk, and eventually gave up alcohol altogether, preferring to maintain a clear mind as much as possible. Even though I was somewhat shy and withdrawn as an 18 year old, I knew there were better ways to connect with people authentically than stumbling through the haze of alcohol inebriation.

Although at the time, I would have been embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t remember even kissing a girl all through high school or college. Okay, it was a long time ago, there are a few memories now that I pause to remember – a short peck on the cheek after the senior prom, and a couple of nervous movie dates. Having attended a small town high school in Maine, I only attended one or two parties during my senior year.  In some ways, I’m glad I was a bit of an awkward geek who felt engaged by academic scholarship, enjoyed sports, or time alone on the ocean and in the woods – it probably kept me out of a lot of trouble that I otherwise could have fallen into.

In any case, I have never used my male power to sexually assault a woman, but please, don’t think me deserving of any merit badges. For most of my life, I have lived and breathed the thick toxic air of male patriarchy which views women as objects of pleasure for male desire, objectifies women, fails to respect women as autonomous beings deserving of independence, equal respect and consideration.  I still have much work to do, rooting out the racist, patriarchal attitudes and mental conditioning which lies dormant in my mind, ready to make life ugly and narrow the very moment that my awareness gets lazy and careless.

Again, I’m writing this not because I need or desire congratulations for any perceived enlightened attitudes, but because admitting mistakes and generating regret shouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, remorse and regret are essential to recovery. If instead, when confronted with our mistakes, we get angry and belligerent the way Judge Kavanaugh did when asked about his drinking habits on Thursday, not only do we basically admit that we are hiding from the truth behind a smokescreen of emotion, but we further close off the opportunity to come clean and make a fresh start.

If we wish to bring healing to this world, we need to respect the basic humanity in everyone, even the people we don’t agree with, and those who are causing harm – whether on a small scale or a systemic global scale. Respect, doesn’t mean we become a door mat and allow harm to continue. Of course, we need to actively fight against unjust laws and systems (e.g. institutional racism, sexism, religious intolerance, etc.). These days, when the long term survival of the the majority of life on earth is in question, non-violent civil disobedience is often a critical catalyst in shifting the energy of our materialistic, self-centered, “America First” culture. But as soon as we allow an us-versus-them mentality to take over our mind, we’ve lost connection with the wholeness of life, and we’ve probably pushed the person we disagree with, even further into a rigid and inflexible belief system.

One of my teachers once told me about a situation where he had lied – he was getting on a ferry and when asked if his son was under a certain age, he said yes. He was less concerned about paying the extra few dollars than about missing the boat which was about to pull away.  But looking back at that moment, at what may seem like “a little white lie”, he told his students that at that precise moment, when the lie spilled from his lips, he could feel the energy in his body drain away.

There are no easy paths or answers to heal the widening ideological divide in our country now. Observing Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at the Senate hearings, I’m struck by the truth and integrity in her posture, and the lack of anger in her words.  Perhaps it is true that she did not allow herself to become angry because she knew it would’t play well.  Women are seen as hysterical and not believable when they get angry, while when men do it, they are seen as powerful and justifiable. (The very word hysteria shows how embedded that sexism is to modern culture – it derives from the Greek, meaning uterus. Thus, only women are deemed capable of being hysterical or irrationally emotional.) Such is the upside down world we seem to live in. But I don’t think so. I see her as a survivor, someone who has worked hard to heal and regain her strength. She seems fully aware that holding onto anger, or cynically using it – as Kavanaugh did – as a performance to appear strong and righteous, is like holding onto a hot coal that will eventually burn and destroy anything it touches.

She came forward out of a sense of civic duty, not because she wanted to destroy someone’s life, even though her decision irreversibly alters her own life, inviting potential harm from those who would villainize her, or see her as part of an imagined liberal plot. Even right wing conservatives, including the President, at least had to give lip service to her powerful testimony. Conservative women were deeply affected by it and placed in a quandary over their partisan attitudes.

Anger and deception may seem to win in the short term, but if we can stand in truth, integrity, compassion, and ethical integrity, this will always be more powerful than cunning, deceit, and violence.  Your homework, especially white men – what could you be doing now to stand up for women and to deeply reflect on the negative side effects of unexamined (white) racial privilege? – not merely by posting Facebook memes that proclaim “I believe her”. While that’s commendable – what can you be doing now on the inside to examine your own deeply ingrained sexist and racist attitudes that lie hidden beneath the smooth veneer of your progressive persona?


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