“…we have been socialized to be the keepers of grave and serious secrets—especially those that could reveal the everyday strategies of male domination, how male power is enacted and maintained in our private lives.” ~bell hooks, The Will To Change
I was the target of male rage throughout my childhood. To soothe my physical and mental pains, I sought the peace and support of the women in my life. They hugged instead of hit; smiled instead of sneered; joked instead of jested. Life was calm around them, not callous. But by 12 I began to look like a man and the women stopped hugging, smiling, and joking with me. I was left to discover how to love on my own.
But how was I to learn about nurturing relationships with love when I rarely experienced or witnessed acts of love by the men in my life? When I was nine, my dad said I was too old to sit on his lap; at ten he stopped kissing me before going to bed; at eleven he stopped hitting me as punishment; and at twelve, we got in an argument and he challenged me to a fight. Over those years I learned how to hide emotions, withhold my affection, and intimidate with dominance. My father and I have shared moments of love and joy. But the memories of his rage and oppression are overshadowing. Men “…cannot change if there are no blueprints for change. Men cannot love if they are not taught the art of loving” (Will to Change).
There are many honorable men who are loving and kind. However, a loving and kind man may still choose dominance over love: “Many of these men were radical thinkers who participated in movements for social justice speaking out on behalf of the workers, the poor, speaking out on behalf of racial justice. However, when it came to the issue of gender they were as sexist as their conservative cohorts” (Will to Change). I’ve struggled with unlearning what patriarchal culture taught me. My willingness to change motivates me to relearn how to love others and myself.
When I was young the abuse and bullying confused me. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing and how to make it stop. I often wondered why people who said they were my family and friends hurt me. Was I unlovable? The people I wanted to talk to about my pain became the same people who hurt me. Over time I learned to hide my emotions from myself and others. The result of boys not experiencing or feeling love leads to the sad truth that “Boys are not seen as lovable in patriarchal culture” (Will to Change). Perhaps a reason why men struggle with saying “I love you” and sharing affection with their sons, brothers, nephews, fathers, and friends.
It’s easier for a man to act violent towards others who he doesn’t love. As a boy, I saw men yell at their wives, slap their children across the face, and withhold affection to gain emotional control. What I didn’t see were men who treated their wives as equals, were affectionate with their families, and nurtured lasting relationships. The Will To Change encourages men to nurture relationships with love and to “…let go the will to dominate…and be willing to change.”