“Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.”
“Men who win on patriarchal terms end up losing in terms of their substantive quality of life. They choose patriarchal manhood over loving connection, first foregoing self-love and then the love they could give and receive that would connect them to others.”
from The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, by bell hooks
I recently finished this book and have been mulling over its implications ever since. The author, bell hooks, is a well known feminist theorist and cultural critic, so I was instantly intrigued when I found out that she had written a book focused on men and masculinity. The two quotes above sum up the general thesis of the book, but throughout the text, hooks argues very persuasively that liberation from patriarchy is just as necessary for men as it is for women.
She examines multiple areas of life such as work, family, sexuality, culture, and spirituality to show how patriarchy oppresses men’s ability to be whole, integrated, and freely loving beings-in-community. By exploring all of these different avenues, hooks helps reveal that the “dominator model” of patriarchy keeps men isolated and unable to experience the fullness of love that can only be known through mutuality and interdependence.
A big part of what makes this book compelling is the way it spells out so clearly what is at stake for men when it comes to dismantling patriarchy. It does this not only by exposing the ways men are harmed by patriarchal systems but also by describing a vision for liberated masculinity.
While I am still mulling over this vision for what it means to be a man, I can’t help but also think that this is the kind of necessary work that all allies for justice must do if we are going to stand in solidarity with those most directly affected by oppression. Whether we are talking about gender, race, sexuality, or any other way that our identities make meaning in our lives, we must be clear about the ways that our own liberation is bound up with the liberation of others. This is true especially if we are on the receiving end of the benefits of systems of domination and may be blinded to the ways those systems harm us.
Only when we have all done this kind of work can we then begin to imagine the new kind of “beloved community” we can create together.