3 Takeaways from bell hooks' "The Will To Change"
At an afterparty for an event I was at this summer, I was perusing the bookshelf of the host. Coming across bell hooks' The Will To Change, I was intrigued. I've long been interested in the topic of masculinity and its meaning-evolution in recent times. hooks' book promised a deep dive into this topic, from one of the preeminent Feminist authors of our age, so I dived in. Here are some takeaways I have been pondering since finishing the book.
1 - "The truth we do not tell is that men are longing for love."
The masculine pretence is that real men feel no pain. They are objective, rational, unemotional, and capable. Love is a word that floats around our culture, yet is impossible to grasp because we place conditions on it. In order to be loveable you must be... and for men, this often translates as a very particular set of skills and capabilities.
I've certainly seen this in my own internal dialogue around love, and my need to earn it.
I have felt profound loneliness because I couldn't reach out to ask for help from anyone who wasn't my absolute closest friends, and my mother. I would never ask my brothers of this, revealing my vulnerability that I desired their love but couldn't just ask to be loved.
"When men speak of fearing intimacy, they speak of fearing subjugation."
2 - Patriarchal culture socialises men in a way that is not in their best interests.
The "white imperialist patriarchy" as hooks describes it, makes a number of promises to men around the fulfilment they will feel when they follow the patriarchal ideal. If they are strong, they will feel strong inside. If they are violent, they will be respected. If they work hard and seriously, they will be rewarded with long-lasting satisfaction. If they are unemotional, others will do the loving for them, stepping into the chasm. The ultimate promise of all of this is sexual fulfilment: that if they play the game, they'll be able to fuck. They'll be able to dominate and feel whole.
When these promises are inevitably broken; if and when sexual fulfilment occurs and it doesn't satisfy like they were told, the world comes crashing down around them, and so we have a culture in which violence, especially sexual violence against women, is common.
But the tragedy is that all of this is in nobody's interest, bar those that profit off the commodification of products and services that reinforce these beliefs.
"If patriarchy were a disease, it would be a disease of "disordered desire"; to cure this disease, then, we would all need to reconsider the way we see men and male desire. Rather than seeing the violence men do as an expression of power, we would need to call it by its true name - pathology. It's a mental illness.
- Terrence Real
hooks notes that many men, after retirement, often feel that ageing allows them to break free of the patriarchy. With time on their hands, they are often compelled by extreme loneliness, alienation, a crisis of meaning, or other circumstances, to develop emotional selves.
3 - A profound revolution in values is required to combat this.
The root of the word "respect" means "to look at". To respect women is not to goggle and objectify, but to delve into; to understand; to hear.
hooks presents the partnership model of selfhood: seeing interbeing and interdependency as the organic relationship of all living beings.
Patriarchal masculinity teaches males to be pathologically narcissistic, infantile, and psychologically dependent for self-definition on the privileges (however relative) that they receive from having been born male. Hence many males feel that their very existence is threatened if these privileges are taken away.
In a partnership model male identity would be centred around the notion of an essential goodness that is inherently relationally oriented. Rather than assuming that males are born with the will to aggress, the culture would assume that males are born with the inherent will to connect.
This will take work, but having entered the journey, the highs it presents, after some hard work along the way, are so joyous. Being able to connect with women and men on this deeper level could not be more pleasurable, and being able to imagine passing this on to a new generation gives me immense satisfaction.
To quote Tony Kushner's theatrical epic, Angels in America: