Why men need therapy

Or better, 'white men' need therapy

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Growing up in the most conservative era of American history, the post world war 1950s, James Baldwin, a homosexual with black skin, certainly had his fair share of encounters with bigoted minds. Yet miraculously he rose above all of the prejudicial ignorance of his time to become one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century.

He recorded these words in his brilliant book The Fire Next Time - published in 1963 as part sermon and part confession - and they were aimed at prejudice of all kinds but mainly in the context of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I wanted to use these powerful words to preamble this article because it will attempt to address ignorance in all of its beastly incarnations, cultural ignorance, racial ignorance, sexual ignorance and gender ignorance. 

Is there actually a way out of this type of thinking? Because one thing is for sure, the leading consensus of our time, the zeitgeist if you will, is that something is very wrong in the way we are conducting ourselves socially, culturally and above all humanly. One could argue that every generation has probably complained about this, but this is the first generation where the writing is literally on the wall and the bigotry is clearly accessible for everyone to see.

On one side there are people policing others for the way they talk or the words they use and in response, the other ‘side’ poses a callous disregard for anything that remotely reflects human dignity.

The pot calling the kettle black and vice versa, in perpetuity

Yes, in a roundabout way we are talking about political correctness, the so-called cancel culture and how we are living in one of the most polarising times in human history. Even the very term ‘culture’ seems to be melting right in front of our eyes and this is because all human dialogue is now openly visible across the internet. Every opinion, from every political orientation, class, gender and upbringing is clearly there for everyone to imbibe. No wonder there is this cultural outrage happening right now.

Self-proclaimed cultural vanguards such as Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson add further fuel to the flames of ignorance and confusion. The former by always assuming the position of devil’s advocate in all of his discussions and never really taking an intellectual position on anything by acting like the friendly dunce and the latter by doing the exact opposite, standing firm in his often ill-gained opinions, like some come-to-life Internet troll, crudely dismissing any opposing voice (behold these belong to women!) with arrogant malice, wielding the ax of his academic proficiency with cunning, oft nigh’ unintelligible academic gibberish and hiding behind the shield of his professorship quoting random (mostly fictitious) studies to support whatever batshit crazy argument he is making at the time.

For further reading, both the New York Times and the New Yorker have published excellent op-eds on how Dr Jordan Peterson preaches the gospel of masculinity as custodian of the patriarchy. Well worth your time.

Both of these figures enact all of the most dire traits of the 21st century toxic alpha male. Almost comically so. Jo being the gung ho martial arts jock and Jordan the tweed-suited intellectual Professor with that exquisit je ne sais quoi bullshit facade. Neither of them really stand for anything. They are acts, outdated puppets of a crumbling patriarchy. If you trawl deep enough into their interviews, you will find hypocrisy upon hypocrisy, one paradoxical statement after the other - constantly shifting the intellectual goal posts when challenged like insecure high school debate team members. Their rhetoric is thoughtless and mostly filled with hot air.

Empty rhetoric used to do what? In Joe’s case boost his Spotify and Youtube plays and in Jordan’s case, to sell books presumably. No such thing as bad publicity right?

Both eat meat exclusively. Both are middle aged. Both hold borderline sexist views. Both lament cancel culture. Both are as white as the Arctic ice. 

Both are extremely dangerous on their soap boxes, corroborating all the old male stereotypes, inspiring everything and everyone from horny incels hating on women from the confines of their grandmother's basements, to neanderthal college frat boys experiencing hormonal overdrives daydreaming about their next date rape, to chauvinistic venture capitalists and Wall Street boy's club, stock traders. The whole gamut, the who's who of macho toxic masculinity, enabled and validated by these two empty blouses behind microphones. If the emperor had no clothes on, these two have no brains, in. Hmmm. Not good.

#metoo meets #notallmen meets #blacklivesmatter meets #alllivesmatter

I wanted to share an experience I recently had with a friend of mine regarding femininity and the patriarchy. It proved to be a proper revelation for me, not only in my understanding of myself being an advocate for feminism and the plight of women existing in this patriarchal society we have been living in now as a collective species for centuries, but also my very own shortcomings as a human being.

It all started when my friend shared a post by this man about the difference between how men and women deal with relationship breakups. In essence he laid out that women will go celibate and seek counseling/therapy and silent meditation retreats, essentially working on themselves and trying to become better humans, whereas men after a break up, will traditionally not seek help and instead escape and seek comfort in substance abuse and the consumption of pornography and video games to distract themselves long enough until the next ‘victim’ who can make them whole again, comes along. That essentially men used women as rehabilitation clinics because they didn’t have the courage to work on themselves.

Eventhough I understood the exact sentiment, something in that post triggered me and I replied that this was not true in all cases and that none of my friends would treat women like that nor shy away from seeking help. From my own experience of seeking counseling, having mental breakdowns, being committed to mental health facilities and generally not using women as rehabilitation clinics, I was angered that all men would be judged by the fallacy and cowardice of some other men. 

What my friend came back with was genius, she pointed out that just because this was my learned experience and I had not encountered that type of male behaviour did not not make that type of male, a reality for many women. I then had a profound and shocking revelation. As the holistic psychologist Dr Nicole LaPera points out in her book How to do the Work, sometimes when you dig deep inside yourself, you can get blindsided and blinkered, attributing your own experience on to other people.

In my case, I had done what many white people had done when initially confronted with the black lives matter movement, by ignorantly stating ‘all lives matter’ and establishing moral equivalency between the obvious plight of black people living in a system that had systemic racism built into its very foundations and the fact that yes, some white people were treated poorly too. This not only reflects a blanket disregard for the very real experience of black people living in a racist society, it is also tremendously patronising coming from people who have never experienced racism on their own being, let alone their family, friends and businesses.

When I realised my folly, I was deeply embarrassed. Having grown up with two very strong minded sisters, I have been exposed to the feminist movement from a young age and have also borne witness to stories of how horrible men can be.

Yet still I had been triggered by that well intentioned message. Why, I asked myself? Why had I fallen into that trap? My friend then also pointed out that an entire internet movement had grown around that exact mindset, it was rather dismissively called #notallmen. She then went on to outline how difficult this gender equality battle really is, if someone as sensitive and “in the loop” about the plight of women living in the patriarchy as me, would react like that. Imagine how hard it would be for men who never spent a second contemplating the gender imbalance to understand this nuance?

“What are men afraid of losing by giving up the patriarchy?”

My friend asked.

“Power. It's all they've got. The temporary illusion of power, which they are slowly losing their grip on.”

I replied.

King of the jungle? Think again.

This previous encounter was a shocking revelation that I then had to spend over an hour talking to my therapist about. It really affected me to my core.

My therapist is a psychologist who specialises in the LGBTQI community and often acts as a legal advocate for patients who want to have gender reassignment surgery. In short, she knows her stuff and is a pretty switched on cookie. I confided in her a feeling I have had for a very long time, that this incident had brought out in me. The fact that I felt nonbinary. I couldn’t identify with that aspect of the male psyche and hearing stories about how not only dominant but also violent men could become in relationships with women, I felt completely ostracised by my gender. 

My therapist said that this was a very common thing for nonbinary people to experience and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed for not identifying with the sterotypically worst behavioral traits of my gender and that all I could do was to let women lead the charge in this battle:

“Take a back seat and cheer women on by all means, but in essence this really is a fight between the archetypes. And even that ground is shifting beneath our feet. What constitutes a male and what a female? The lines of the definitions are not clear by any means.”

I then thought that maybe men have been jealous of the procreative power of women since the dawn of time and that’s how this patriarchal divide was established. Men could not handle the fact they couldn’t bear children, so they enslaved and legislated against this divine ability to give life. In essence to exercise power over a more powerful being than itself. Men do it all the time, look at zoos with their iron bars harbouring powerful animals or even the domestication of wild cats and dogs.

Some of the men reading this right now may have an erroneous knee jerk reaction that “this is just the way things are, it is a biological reality that men dominate women and that is why this patriarchy reflects in society at large across all cultures and also in nature” but let me remind you, that this is in fact not a biological reality at all, not in our species and not in most of the animal kingdom. Let me just rattle you off a small list of animals where the female is the dominant leader of the species, this may just blow some of your David Attenborough trained minds' socks off:

  • Bonobos

  • Elephants

  • Orcas

  • Lions

  • Hyenas                           

  • Rats

  • Bees

  • Clownfish

  • Lemurs

  • Spiders

…. and the list goes on and on, read more here - including many historical human cultures, before the patriarchy kicked into overdrive that is. 

Today there still are matriarchies surviving all over the globe, most notably the Khasi tribe in India, where women pass down their name when they get married, the Tibetan Buddhist practicing Mosuo women of China, where property is inherited by the first born daughter, the Akan people of Ghana where all decisions of the tribe are made by women and men hold no leadership roles at all, the BriBri people of Costa Rica where women are revered and are the only ones to practice sacred rituals, the Minangkabau people of Indonesia, where the common belief is that mothers are the most important members of the tribe and women make all major domestic decisions and also the Kenyan Umoja tribe where men are indeed banned and have no rights, in fact even the word “umoja” in Swahili translates to “unity.” 

So blaming the patriarchy on a skewered perception of gender disparity or worse, a biological reality reflected in the operations of the natural world, is a complete fallacy.

The reality proves to be completely different.

I can’t possibly be racist, some of my best friends are black!

There are many similarities between humans experiencing racism and those experiencing sexism. One aspect is that the culprit is more often than not the same; white heterosexual men. And another aspect is that it is often invisible. As in people don’t realise they are being racist or even sexist. And especially for a white, heterosexual male to realise what it is like to suffer the slings and arrows of prejudice, is almost impossible.

Empathy can go only so far (well, in some instances it can actually go further.) But what I would like to share with you is an anecdote one of my best friends (yes, “some of my best friends are indeed black”,) told me. It is a story that can help white people understand what racism feels like.

This was a friend I had lived with during university, in quite an ethnic area of Bristol in the UK, in the time when Banksy was just starting to spray the city, Massive Attack, Portishead, LTJ Bukem and Finlay Quaye were all still in their infancy and the city was experiencing a cultural renaissance, particularly in black and Caribbean culture. 

This friend and I studied biochemistry together and we would often discuss racism and what it constituted. It was through this friend that I learned that the term “people of colour" was actually derogatory and that using “black" was okay, he would also often lament about why people felt the need to mention colour- as in when the person is “white” people usually didn't feel compelled to outline what shade of white. But with black people suddenly the tonality of their skin mattered? He also pointed out why it is never okay, even in jest, to say the n-word. I had already understood this but was surprised by how many white people I encountered in my life who felt comfortable with the term. Shocking really.

He had grown up in quite a poor Jamaican suburb of London and had attended a predominantly white prep school in Clapham Junction - so he had experienced his fair share of racist abuse as a child. Years after we had both graduated and he was working as a lawyer for a human rights organisation, he told me his experience as a law clerk at quite a prestigious London law firm he had completed a summer internship at. He recalled him and all the other interns goofing around one afternoon, almost home time, playfully throwing scrunched up paper balls at each other, there were about 7 of them, when a particularly disgruntled senior partner walked in and shouted at them to keep it down. He then singled out and eyed-up my friend for being the one responsible for this ruckus. Later he got called into the human resource director’s office and was accused of instigating unprofessional conduct. 

When my friend told me the story he then also identified the hopelessness of the situation:

“I was the only black guy in the room, standing at 6 foot 6, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Of course that white man, who’d presumably never seen a black person in his firm up close, would identify me as the trouble maker. That, my friend, is racism in a nutshell. It is not the loud and ignorant ones shouting the n-word, it is the subtle, quiet racism that is the real killer. The one that brings shame.

That last line floored me. How would it feel to be ashamed of your own skin colour? Or let’s rephrase that, to live in a society that makes you feel ashamed for this? To feel scared for your skin colour? Or gender? Or sexual orientation? To be ashamed and fearful for what, and not who you are in society? This must be the most horrible way to live a life. But yet people do it every day, all over the world. Submitted to shame, castigation, stigma, prejudice and malice based on nothing that they are responsible for. For being a woman, a lesbian, a black person or indeed, even a differently abled person.

It becomes very painful when you think about it, the pain then slides into shame. 

The shame of being a white, heterosexual man in this world. The pain that my kind has subjected the world to. For centuries.

This got me thinking as to how we could possibly ever reconcile all of this hurt and guilt. There is no surefire, swift solution to combating racism and sexism. Every person needs to come to the realisation that what has been going on in the world for centuries is not only wrong, it is inexcusable. That’s why no amount of gender equality, women in boardrooms, affirmative action on race, reparations for slavery will ever come close to paying back this massive emotional debt that white men owe the rest of human society.

Then it hit me: Not only do we have to own it, we also have to feel it.

It is my firm belief that the only way we can overcome this history of shame subjected, is by white men feeling the exact same shame and fear that women and black people have felt over the ages. To feel it deeply and experience what it is like to be a minority in the world. 

By owning and experiencing this shame, this exact shame and prejudice that my friend had experienced in that law firm, for no fault of his own but for being born with a different skin colour, white men can start growing into the type of human being we need them to be, in order to bring about healing in this world.

And therapy helps with that.

Just as James Baldwin said, here again for good measure:     

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

And the pain will come white man. The great reckoning is coming.

It is already here.

You are at the root of ALL of our world’s ills, climate change, sexism, racism, classism, poverty and so on. So the time of reckoning is NOW.  
Deal with the pain and get someone to help you. Therapists are a great start.

And please make it your practice to view people with different skin colours or different genders as if they were part of your own family. If that’s what bonobo monkeys do, then that’s what we should do too.

As the zoologist Amy Parish so beautifully states as to why bonobo society is so calm and relaxed between male and females from different families:

“The goal is to behave with unrelated females as if they are your sisters.”

Amen. No one benefits from the existing patriarchy. Absolutely no one. Not women, not men, not anyone. 

Beyond the white patriarchy

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

- Rumi

If we can completely move away from the traditional stereotypes of gender ‘expectation,’ and respect that we are all different things at different times, then maybe we will be able to transcend the existing narrative. Maybe we will be able to beat prejudice in all its forms.

No more stereotypes. 

As briefly mentioned before, I don’t consider myself a man or a woman, neither context of the given gender stories fit my persona or character at all, I have a bit of both in me. And none of either too. I assume a lot of you out there may feel like this. I have been identifying as nonbinary ever since I was a child, when the requisite ‘characteristics’ of being a male seemed completely alien to me - yet I never had a word for how I felt or who I was. I was delighted in recent years to find out that other people feel the same and that nonbinary was a thing you could be. It took me a while to come to grips with this as I am a very sensitive person and cry easily. I pick up on sensory cues and nonverbal communication like how other people smell things - it is incredibly difficult for me to be in a room with other people. As I pick up on everything. In Myers-Briggs I am classed as the mediator - INFP - Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, Prospecting. I tell you it can be a nightmare being around other people. This is partly why racism and sexism upset me so much, I can sense their prejudice even without them saying a word.

Talking to a therapist helped me identify who I was as a person and it made me feel heard in a way that close friends and family never could do as they were intricately woven into the fabric of my life. You need someone completely separated from yourself to help you move.  

And if you are a man reading this who feels like they want to talk but don’t know who to turn to for help, online counseling is a click away and a very affordable and effective psychological service. Especially in the context of saving your relationships with your partner, your job, your family and your friends. It takes a while to find the right type of counselor as you really need to click with each other's personality, but eventually you will find that person. 

The great thing about doing counseling online is that you are not restricted by geography and if you are anything like me and loathe being around other people, in this scenario, you don’t have to be.

Try it out, it will literally transform your life, and contrary to the traditional views, it will make you more of a man because you will know yourself better. And that is what we are here on this Earth for, to know ourselves and to help each other heal. But in order to do the latter effectively, we need to do the former properly. You need to find a suitable forum for expression, to have yourself heard beyond your reliant echo chamber.

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I began with the words of the incredible writer and human James Baldwin and I would like to end this piece with the indelible words of another great human, namely Carl Jung:

“The reason for evil in this world is that people are unable to tell their stories.”

Tell your story. 

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NB

<and for those of you, like my amazing niece Saga, who are eagerly awaiting the next instalment of the swimming ordeal, it will be out next week. Thanks for your patience.>


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Mauri Ora.

“It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”

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