Monday, June 11, 2007

bell hooks Monday -- Talking About Men's Pain

I've missed a few weeks of bell hooks Mondays but seeing as the last two bell hooks Mondays posts haven't garnered much in the way of comments (no offense to Hugh, the lone commenter), I suppose it hasn't been missed!

Still, I've missed it, so here's some more commentary about The Will to Change. (And, depending on how it all plays out, y'all may hear about this book from Andrew over at Man in Self-Arrest about The Will to Change as well.)

In chapter one, hooks plunges headfirst into what I see as both a necessary and extremely problematic subject as regards feminism: Speaking to the pain that patriarchy causes men, and speaking about it in feminist circles. Early on, hooks notes:
“The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, “Please do not tell us what you feel.” I have always been a fan of the Sylvia cartoon where two women sit, one looking into a crystal ball as the other woman says, “He never talks about his feelings.” And the woman who can see the future says, “At two P.M. All over the world men will begin to talk about their feelings—and woman all over the world will be sorry.”


Seeing as I love comic strips, I wish I could find this particular Sylvia comic, but I have searched a bit to no avail.

A few words about the idea that the 'whole culture' is telling men "please do not tell us what you feel" are in order, I think. There are plenty of counterexamples to this, individual examples in my own life and in the culture at large which go against what hooks is saying here. That said, I think it's hard to argue against the idea that the general tone of most cultures is to stifle men as regards expressing their emotions. The strong, silent type is often thought of as the pinnacle of manhood. I would love to hear that hooks is wrong in some general sense here, but I have not yet run into many examples which would show us that she is. And even exceptions to this general rule in my own life--times and places where good friends have encouraged me to express myself, to cry, to let them help me bear my pain (even though bearing pain alone is what men are taught they're supposed to do)--even these exceptions tend to be exceptions in a larger sense, too; that is, even in the flow of my life, with friends who are aware of the trappings of traditional masculinity, it isn't the norm for me, as a man, to express my feelings to a great degree.

hooks goes on to lament the role that women have played in helping to encourage men to keep their feelings bottled up, and I do want to talk about that because I think it's important, but I think it may be more important that men talk to other men about this, that men encourage other men to speak their feelings. Sure, it's important that men and women be able to encourage each other to live full, rich, emotional lives--but I place a good deal of the burden of changing men's attitudes toward this among men themselves.
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