What’s The Straight, Cis, White Man’s Role in a Post Patriarchal World?

Active listening is a valuable skill and something I can offer in the Post Patriarchal world. Photo:  Daniel Johnson

Active listening is a valuable skill and something I can offer in the Post Patriarchal world. Photo: Daniel Johnson

Hi there. I’m Ethan. For those of you who are reading this and don’t yet know me, I’m a 33 year old straight, white, cisgendered man. I’ve recently been going around town with a couple friends asking people to creatively express their vision of a Post-Patriarchal world and sharing the responses on an instagram page and website. On the surface, it would appear I am delusional, both in asking this question given our current state of ‘pubic’ affairs and given my self-identified gender, race and sexual orientation. ‘Who does this silly white dude think he is asking this ridiculous question?’

To answer that question… I think I am both a provocateur and a radiant optimist (something I have actually provocatively branded as being a ‘Love Extremist’) and I have been studying our patriarchal culture and some of it’s historic and current alternatives for a few years now. This question and the exercise of answering it in some creative way, has been a liberating experience for me and my peers and I feel deeply, the real healing and personal liberation that takes place when we take steps to collectively redesign our future.

In the responses and my own study I’m discovering the Post Patriarchy as a world where the myth of the powerful ‘lone wolf’ who must fend for themself and exploit all others is replaced by that of the collective. In a Post Patriarchal world I believe we collectively share and celebrate our power instead of horde it, we can then use this collective power to educate, heal, feed, inspire and co-create.

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In my experience I often find that so many of my peers, other straight, white, cis men who are truly eager to support the evolution of our culture in this community oriented direction, still see the world and understand progress through the lens of the binary (men and women) buckets and the property ownership based lifestyle and economic model as the only path forward.

When I’m not amongst my white, cis, straight peers and find myself amongst activists of all stripes who are pushing for change on a major scale, the conversation is intersectional and beyond the binary ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. I’m learning that race, gender, economics and culture are exponentially evolving and the binary framework of approaching our new world feels dated.

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Unfortunately, I have found few peers who self-identify as I do. I’m not seeing many of us actively participating in intersectional conversations about the Post Patriarchal world. I have concern that this lack of participation will only lead to misunderstandings and deeper inequality and alienation and wrote this piece as a call and a resource for my fellow white, cis, straight men to push past the obstacles they may encounter and engage!

Here are a few personal obstacles I’ve been challenged with as I’ve begun to engage with the Post Patriarchy (feel free to add yours in the comments).

1) I Realize I’m Fearful: It’s scary to step into an environment where I don’t initially feel welcome. I’ve been quick to assume I’m the enemy, I’m hated or evil, even if I’m arriving with the best intentions and never hurt anybody, there’s a lot of trauma that has been experienced through the hands and bodies of straight, white, cis-gendered men and I can’t disassociate myself from that regardless of what I say or do.

2) I Feel Ignorant: I remember often stepping into conversations feeling so unaware of the context of Patriarchy and why it was such a big issue. It wasn’t until I took a friend’s suggestion and read The Will To Change by Bell Hooks that I really got the bigger picture of how White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy affects every aspect of our modern American life (far beyond America).

Then when I dug into When the Drummers Were Women by Layne Redmond and The Magdalen Manuscript by Tom Kenyon and Judi Sion I could see how our modern Judeo-Christian, monotheistic religious cultures have imprisoned, defamed and suppressed the Goddess and her sacred traditions and deified the singular, male, white God.

I am forever grateful to the women who have given me these important books and lit my path to a better understanding of the current and historic contexts of how the Patriarchy came to be.

***It’s important to acknowledge that we (being white, cis, straight men) are responsible for educating ourselves however we can and not relying on women and or people of color to be our teachers. This learning is peer to peer and academic, it’s youtube and the library, there’s podcasts and lectures and no shortage of places to expand your knowledge, feel free to use the comments box below this piece to share your resources with other readers as my three book recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg.

3) I Hold a Ton of Shame: The crippling feelings of shame that come up as soon as I became conscious of our history made me want to avoid confrontation at all costs. My growing awareness of toxic masculinity and the damaging effects of the patriarchy led me to feel personal shame around it. In many situations where I would interact with people who had experienced trauma and aggression at the hands of my peers or even myself I would fall silent and feel unable to respond appropriately.

Some folks get defensive or lose their ability to truly listen when their shame comes up. None of these responses are wrong, the fragility of all humans shows up when we’re triggered regardless of background. My challenge has been to keep showing up even when the shame is there and to move through it with respect and truth.

4) I’m Deeply Privileged: The topic of white male privilege is not a new one. It’s the comfortable balcony from where we can watch the revolution and not get bloody or lose our voices marching in the streets. I have found that this privilege is dissipating in many circles where change is afoot.

I’m learning important methods to engage with my privilege, use it when appropriate and drop it when inappropriate. For example, if I notice I have earned the trust or ear of someone in a position of power, usually of an older generation, I may use that trust to advocate on behalf of someone without that privilege. This is not always warranted and shouldn’t be assumed it’s always helpful, but with clear understanding and communication I can be a bridge to empower someone else’s goals and vision.

5) I Never Learned Self-Love: For most of us, regardless of what our body looks like, we weren’t taught how to love ourselves. Almost every human is challenged with self-love and self-confidence. I am confronted with this challenge daily and falter constantly. Self-love, and in turn learning to love others whether it’s a partner or a stranger, is one of the biggest challenges of my life.

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had over the last year is the mirroring effect we all have on each other. Two of the most powerful ways to give and receive love is to simply smile and actively listen (see below).

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Pondering an ancient patriarchal tool during a nature quest back in 2009

Pondering an ancient patriarchal tool during a nature quest back in 2009

Now that I’ve shared my obstacles, here’s some simple tools I’ve learned to support my own participation and that of my peers in the Post Patriarchal (r)evolution that is currently underway.

  • Learning How to Listen is So Key. Actively listen with your body and full attention. Do your best not to interject, not to make noises of understanding or dramatic body gestures, just practice presence and listening. (Here’s a great how to video). There will be plenty of time to respond, share your opinion and be heard when it’s your turn. I’ve found it valuable to first give your full attention to what’s transpiring, to the visionaries who aren’t straight, cis, white men. They are courageously stepping up to make their voices heard and leading by example. Listening is unto itself a powerful act of empowerment and a loving gift you can always give.

  • Understand Empowerment as Power. Empowerment isn’t about delegating all those topics and conversations you don’t want to face for others to handle, rather it’s about listening (see the above paragraph) and offering yourself, your voice, your privilege and your body in service to those who have been silenced for generations.

  • The art of empowerment is subtle and blends humility with inspiration, we have been taught to use these tools in many settings, especially when it comes to ‘chivalry’ in dating and romance. There’s also a fine line as your body language and tone may be read as patronizing, especially when coming from a defensive or shameful stance. When we’re able to empower others authentically and offer space for them to share their truths, we gain incredibly powerful trust and respect.

  • Participate Respectfully in Uncomfortable Conversations and Environments. There is always a lesson, a value in listening in, making your body present, on time, staying till the end, showing consideration and attention to others. Even if you’re not amongst peers or you’re the topic of attack, to be in that space and remain level headed and respectful, even giving, will only benefit you and your brothers in this new world. You can be an example of how good we can be, how we can be accountable and honorable, present and participatory in the changing world.

  • Always bring love. This means you must first learn how to love oneself and others without expecting anything from them in return. Love is a universal gift you have to give. When you give it without any expectation, it always comes back to you in some way. Imagine a future governed by love and not money or power, become fluent in the languages of this future, it is fast approaching. A simple smile or hug, when appropriate, is a great starting point and always check yourself first to ensure you’re not expecting something from it unable to give that same love to yourself.

  • Bring gifts, you’re stepping into sacred space. Just as if you were being hosted in another culture or country, your presence in the evolving world is an honor not to be taken for granted. White men have excluded women and people of color from their circles of power for millennia, we can just as easily be cut out of the future building projects if we don’t respect the spaces where they’re held. It’s so important to be grateful and offer your gifts to the collective, it may be your humor, your smile, your cooking skills or your listening skills, know your gifts and offer them freely. Earn your place at this beautiful, diverse, intersectional fire circle.

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The Post Patriarchal world is showing up in so many forms. I believe this future will be free of the toxic hierarchical power structures that oppress and exploit people and planet. It may seem far off, our selves and our peers of all colors and genders were born and raised in the structures of power and scarcity that dominate everyday life and we hardly know a life without these systems, but we can get there together. There is an important seat at the table for us straight, cis, white men, we know what the power structure looks like first hand and will be pivotal in the dismantling process so it doesn’t continue to destroy our communities, our systems and our planet.

As mentioned above, a gender diverse group of us have started @postpatriarchy on Instagram and the associated site to vision board what this future can be. It may feel distant, but the first step to getting there is to reach into our dreams and share what they look like. You’re invited to join us and submit your visions in any form they appear to envision(at)post-patriarchy(dot)org and we’ll publish them. Together let’s redesign this beautiful galaxy we call home.

Follow Ethan on Medium for more musings. This blog originally appeared on Medium on June 11, 2018.