I’ll start by saying “I believe women.”
I’ll follow by saying I am a white, straight, cisgender, male-identifying person. That’s my identity, I’ve thought it over, I have the privilege to know that. To know that also means that I have to own up to what it means to be a part of that identity.
It was in bell hooks’ The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love that I learned that the thing we are most afraid to unpack is the threat and weight of masculinity itself. It’s what’s making writing these words for me, in 2017, so difficult.
I am, no matter how hard I work against it, part of hooks’ imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy. I just am.
I started covering the arts four years ago. Then, the predatory artistic type we were unpacking was Woody Allen. I had a hard time with that one, being from New York and remembering the iconic setting of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blueover a slow pan of urban intimacy.
A google search and a couple books later and I was unpacking Gershwin for appropriative and/or predatory behavior for myself. Little talked about by white musicologists, his history with minstrel shows, with Blue Monday, and the wealth of nuanced critique of Porgy and Bess in books like Blackness in Opera made an impact.
Then it was Wagner, reading the quotes from barely musical related ramblings, the verbiage, the outright anti-semitism. The berating of Mendelssohn in essays like Jewishness in Music, whose impact, minus the racism has held such that the default is treating Mendelssohn as second rate.
This is testament to the idea that the unpacking I caught on to with Allen is not new, and it’s developing as I write. Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Chris Brown, Louis CK, Roy Moore, Al Franken, the list goes on.
One of my former role models in alternative media and independent journalism, whose name I won’t use to deny him the satisfaction of the web traffic, just “came out” as an Anti-SJW. A claimed Radical Feminist, Leftist, Progressive Comic and Radio Host, now an example to cite for folks that are radically anti-PC and Mens’ Rights Activists.
Locally the continued efforts of the Chicago Theater community, of movements like Not in Our House, has put on the pressure. According to Performink, just yesterday Brian Posen stepped down as Creative Director at Theater 773 amid Social Media accusations.
There is no corner that toxic masculinity hasn’t pervaded. National, local, conservative, liberal, progressive, rich, poor, it’s the least common denominator. It’s part of my identity, and it’s part of the person I am now. That’s where I have to work from.
Whether or not the most recent news is shocking to you, if the #metoo campaign was overwhelming or confirming for you, if you’ve spent years unpacking what your identity means to the world around you or you’ve considered none of that at all, we are part of this issue.
We are not above politics. It doesn’t make you cool or ~edgy~ to say that the issues surrounding you don’t reach you, that you don’t care about politics. That’s a privilege. For those who identify similarly to me, there are political issues you consider trivial that affect someone solely because of how they identify.
While not “that big a deal” to you, restaurants going cashless in a mostly low-income POC neighborhood means that someone that can’t afford a bank account can’t afford to step inside. A gender-neutral bathroom may be an adjustment, but it can literally mean life or death for a trans person.
The idea of prison reform or even defunding the police may seem radical, but entire neighborhoods go without school funding so the white folks in the neighborhood next door can “feel safe.”
While it can feel overwhelming to look inward on what is toxic white masculinity and how it manifests in the way you interact with women, or queer folks, or POC, or trans folks, or literally anyone, your actions stifle and shackle marginalized people every day.
In the words of my friend and collaborator Dennis Kalup, “ALL men are guilty of some sort of sexual harassment/intimidation/discrimination towards women. Myself included.”
Knowing what to say or what point to make with a piece of writing like this is hard to wrap my head around, but I want you to know that I’m doing the best I can to listen more than I speak. To raise voices otherwise ignored. To be a positive part of discourse, and to educate those who don’t have gender, orientation, race or class distinctions that have been made political by the world around us.
I hope you are too.