In the entanglements of identity, we struggle to sort out who we are, beset on every side by biases that are gender-based, faith-based, race and ethnicity-based, biases that compete and sometimes collaborate to concoct an identity recipe for every man to cook up and consume. I am speaking today largely to men rather than women, though our enlightenment often, paradoxically, comes from each other rather than from our own kind.
The impetus to write this post came from two immediate stimuli: first, an invitation to be interviewed for a forthcoming article on managing inclusion in organizations in such a fashion that it reduces the risk of gender discrimination against men; and, secondly, stumbling upon a rather long and complex, but extremely stimulating post entitled, "How to hurt like a man", which, no matter your gender or sexual orientation, I encourage you to read. We understand each other best by sharing our stories.
Whatever your level of identification with the author may be, his attempts to describe the storm of gender identity will appeal to your moments at sea with events in your own life related to gender. It's a very human story, not just a male one. Treading water, he describes how we grab at the more accessible flotsam and jetsam, as we are torn about by the currents of hurt, disappointment, inadequacy, anger, and impulses to violence towards others and ourselves. Unable to gain a footing or reach the shore, we are thrown what appear to be life saving devices in the form of cultural, social, religious belief, promises, and palliative new age advice, fragments of the shipwreck we came from, asking us to grab onto them and be hauled aboard another ship whose ultimate destination is not revealed to us. Should we wonder why desperation is only a few strokes away from radicalization?
When I first began my career in diversity and intercultural work, I wrote an article which was widely distributed called, "Gender – the Ultimate Cultural Difference", which, on rereading, still has some relevance. The context? It was about 30 years ago that a friend and I created and delivered workshops for men on the topic of "How to love an angry woman", assisting men to respond both sensitively and effectively to the rising voices of women as feminism bit them. This task is perhaps even more pressing in our contemporary world where the war of words drones on and the real war of drones is horrific, where insatiable fear is stoked and turns to anger and what some experience as the short-lived breath of release found in violence. Many of us could be carrying a suicide bomb, even unknowingly, set to detonate by gender identity triggers.
In this context, it is easy to blame men for being the men they were influenced to be by cultural affirmation, rather than exploring together the discourse that determines our gender behavior in a way that gives us the permission to change the template individually and socially. For starters, I invite you to reflect and explore, to tell your story, at least to yourself at the start if you are not ready to share it with others.