At this writing it is nine days before the 2016 election, undoubtedly the most important election in our lifetimes. The election has been marred by the sexist antics of both Donald Trump and Anthony Wiener, whose ex-wife Huma Abedin unfortunately had some emails from Weiner on her computer which exploded the whole story last night.
By the time you are reading this we probably know the outcome of the election, but what interests me now is the fact that these emails were the result of a Congressman sending sexual messages to a 15 year old girl, the same man who was previously caught mailing his own penis pictures to women. Moreover, much of the latest weeks of the election have been dominated by Trump’s bad behavior toward women, at an entirely immature and sexist level.
As a man, I am embarrassed. As an American, I am embarrassed by this whole election. Many men were quick to step forward and say they don’t act that way in locker rooms, and for most that is true. But there is a lot of locker room talk that would also be embarrassing if it came out that doesn’t go to an assault level, but is chauvinistic and demeaning toward women none the less.
Let’s face it, men have a big problem with their sexuality. Those problems stem from male chauvinism which impacts men as much as women. Even if a woman doesn’t buy the whole beauty myth thing, fights for self esteem and refuses to be framed as inferior, she still has to deal with the sexist atmosphere which is ubiquitous. So men step forward and say they don’t talk about women like Trump did, but somebody is doing all these things that virtually every woman reports having repeated experiences with, from insulting comments about their looks to having their bodies groped, to being passed over for jobs to a man, etc.
Men got off a bit lightly in these election controversies, but at the same time I feel sorry for men. The thing of it is, although male chauvinism affects men as much as women, it doesn’t really get recognized to the same degree as it does with women. It is all about the negative impact men have on women. That is the most important thing, that is true, but at some point you have to recognize that we are never going to fix this until we fix men, not women, and in order to do that we have to talk about what is really going on with men, not just condemn them.
Anthony Weiner is incredibly successful as a former Congressman, with a beautiful, successful, now ex- wife, and yet the guy is willing to risk going to jail and ruining his life to send a penis pic to a 15 year old he doesn’t know? It’s baffling on one level, and yet on another he is dismissed as being messed up psychologically. I don’t think he is as far removed from other men as people would like to think.
The way male chauvinism affects men is that it creates an artificial definition of what manhood is as much as it does for women. Male chauvinism makes men into sex objects too, just not for their looks.
For men all the demands of perfection, of being number one, of their value being their productivity or the size of their wallet is just as demeaning and diminishing. Having sex and having a woman submit to you sexually is proof of your manhood, your prowess as a man. At the same time, men are taught by the way people treat them that they are superior, that their fundamental superiority is a reflection of their manhood, and that is what is loved about them. Being in the role chauvinism has laid out for you is how you get love.
It becomes a safety-security issue for men, because you need love, you need women to love you to survive, starting with mother of course. And men are shown what is expected of them in the way that people treat them, especially growing up as a child. Men are praised and admired for acting appropriately to the chauvinist role, and hurt and humiliated if they vary at all from that formula.
And where it leaves women angry, it leaves men massively confused about what true manhood is and really afraid to even look. If being a strong man doesn’t mean being a highly competitive money achiever, a stud with women, “the boss”, how do you be a man then? What is a healthy definition of a man? At least the chauvinist definition is clear, have a lot of sex, make a lot of money, act powerful and dominate every situation you are in. Women having sex with you is a prize you get for being a successful man, and money is the key to getting that in the chauvinist formulation.
Through my twenties and thirties I deeply processed my entire life and child/adolescent years, and came across in meditation memories of being a small boy and realizing that I was getting all this deference and positive regard from the adults around me because I was a boy. As young as I was I still marveled at that. I looked down at my penis, and wondered at what magic this had to create that kind of reaction from people. As I child I knew I was getting special treatment because I had one of those, but I did not understand why. I soon repressed all that and became like everyone else, unconsciously superior because I was a man.
Now on the occasion when I am around young mothers and their little boys, I have to hold my tongue when I see a two year old being praised as “momma’s little man” or expectations communicated that he should be grown up. Small boys are constantly urged to grow up, to be a man, to do way more than his age might suggest is appropriate. No, he’s a baby, a child, not a man. People unconsciously constantly lay those expectations on small boys. It’s considered cute or even positive reinforcement, but it is not.
When from childhood on you are treated as superior because of a body part it becomes so ingrained in you that you don’t think about it any more, or are even conscious of it, you just live it. Part of you always knows it is a lie, yet your whole identity as a man is built around that lie. So to look at manhood and manhood issues becomes very frightening. To question that definition threatens giving up your power, be weak, be rejected. And the biggest fear and point of confusion is that if you don’t have that, what do you have? Are you a wimp? How do you be strong and powerful without being dominating and competitive? If your manhood and your power and acknowledgement in the world is a lie, what are you going to replace that with? What is a man really anyway? Men become massively confused about what their manhood is, and the whole topic just scares them.
I can’t tell you I have this all sorted out myself, despite thinking about it for decades and observing others confusion. I think we still have a long way to go on this one. So little attention is paid to it, but men are apparently here to stay and until men get fixed this problem is going to continue.
But looking toward an answer, in the case of an Anthony Weiner (Weiner, God sure does have a sense of humor) he is obsessed with sex, with demonstrating his sexual prowess
Now, I am not trying to explain all the complete psychodynamics of Anthony Weiner, but on that one dimension of sexuality there is massive insecurity about his manhood and needing to prove it, and being so on edge with it that he needs a child to prove it with because an older, stronger woman might reject him and crush what little manhood he has left. Or so he fears.
There are other dynamics at play here, but a key psychodynamic for men is a tremendous fear of rejection if they open up and love. If a man penetrates a woman, he is completely encased inside her. That is a very frightening thought for men. So they go for control, which leads to picking a woman who is easy to control, in Weiner’s case a child.
At bottom men are looking for love and approval inside a sexist belief system that will never allow it, both because vulnerability is defined as weakness, and because it is based on a definition of manhood that is not real and designed to make them impermeable. They need women, they have to have that mother love to survive. Men can get weirder and weirder about their sexuality and become violent as they ironically try to move past this contradiction and find a connection to love.
Many men are really hurting inside around all these issues, and they get very little support to go through this. Men’s groups sprung up in the 80’s and they are still around, I have never been to one. I have thought of it, read “Iron John” and “Fire in the Belly”, but somehow that never really resonated with me, and I don’t see them as having done a whole lot to help men sort all this out.
The upshot of these groups seems to be to try to be a man under the old terms of chauvinism but just be nicer about it, try to express more love, and also to try to open up to love other men. There is a lot of talk about relation to father, but the real problem is more with mother and women than father. Father was just stuck in the same boat you were.
Notice that they really didn’t turn into any kind of huge movement. The last time I was told about one that I ought to go to I went to the web site and looked, and it was a lot of infomercials about how great it was and how it was going to change you, without saying a word about what they did or what their point of view was. In fact, it was specifically avoided, with a “you just have to go and see but it will be incredible” pitch. Last time I heard that it turned out to be Amway, so no thanks on that.
Women are going to have to help men with this, women have a stronger ability to make that connection together with each other than men do with each other. It typically comes more gracefully for them. The actual problem stems from men’s relationships with women, not men, and the need to balance their male energies with their feminine energies within.
An obvious point is that if you have a penis you are a man. End of story. However, being a man is different than being a boy, and being a woman is different than being a man. So male identity becomes a matter of what is unique or particular about being a man.
The true definition of a man has a lot more to do with qualities of energy that you possess than what you have or what you do. It is in your state of being. It means allowing male energy, which is doing energy, spirit, action, thinking and an active search for meaning. Being conscious of and accepting those energies, then balancing them with your feminine energies. Not that women don’t have those things, they have male energy too, but men have more of it as they should as men. Things can vary with any individual person, but in general men have more male energy than feminine, women more feminine, which is appropriate.
The characterization of men and women in the male chauvinist view is dimly true, just heavily distorted by the bias of male superiority, female inferiority. When a man is secure in his maleness, is conscious of his doing energy, his will and search for meaning, he can then have a stronger place to stand to balance his male energy with his feminine, of being, of feeling, imagination, nurturing and the ability to be nurtured. These are not exhaustive lists by any means, but pointers to a kind of energy that flows through us.
It is ultimately women who will guide men through this, men are not going to find their maleness by stiffly hugging other men in groups or making paper mache penises to march around a bon fire with. Women have more feminine energy and that is the healing aspect that is needed here.