The Disease of Partially-Woke Folk
When men believe they are emancipated, and they really are emotionally constipated. But that’s only part of it.
(Fair warning, this is a long article. I hope to make it worth your while.)
The other night I read two pieces (here and here) by Mark Greene, whose focus is on what he calls the Man Box. Not all men fall into that trap, millions if not billions do, certainly too many, even those who are grappling full-on with evolution. We’re all touched by it, often in ways we can’t always see. He was writing about how men, especially white men of an age, are in something of a No-Mans’-Land of figuring shit out.
That shit, if you will, is how if they (and the women who support toxic victim- blaming and sexual assault and the rules of engagement as they currently exist) don’t fundamentally change WHO they are, HOW they behave, WHAT they say and teach each other and their little girls and boys, they are now and forever part of the problem.
The problem as he defines it of our culture of toxic masculinity, which demeans women and doesn’t allow our boy children and our men to evolve outside a sick set of proscribed behaviors about what it means to be a guy.
I am all for evolution. But we are all of us faced with a lot of resistance in this regard, not only from men who like Things As They Are, but also women and institutions who benefit from Things As They Are.
The beginnings of any huge social movement inevitably involve Denial, which is the first stage of true transition. Something has to die and when something dies, we enter the stages of grief. This is how it looks when it’s working, but it’s a long, messy process.
As it pertains to the evolution of men who genuinely wish to be better humans, there is a piece which not only has dogged me for a decade, but it is a pernicious aspect of many women’s lives today, as we search, sometimes in vain, for the guy who gets it, and end up with something else entirely. Something that can drive us crazy as we do our best to navigate these changing waters.
Greene’s articles speak to those he describes as very fond of claiming to be woke, while at the same time demonstrating the precise opposite. Guys that are at this point barely tipping their toes into the teeming waters of transformation, finding them a little uncomfortable, as it were.
You wanna know discomfort? Get tits and a vagina, why don’tcha.
In other words, it’s a veneer. Sometimes a most convincing one, enough so that they can draw in women under the guise of being a good guy, when good guys (or good guise, if you will) they most certainly aren’t.
They cannot, or more likely, will not countenance the notion that they are little more than Little Me versions of their fathers but with a nice coat of paint.
Some time back I read a story online, now lost to memory and my ability to track the damned thing down, by a GenXer who was writing with real sadness about his brethren. In achingly beautiful prose, he noted that these men, and my most recent ex , who is closing in on 51, live in the Demilitarized Zone between their brutish fathers -not all but too many- and the demands to live up to the very different promise of their mothers. Women who were often strong, struggling and independent, who suffered badly in their marriages. Some were single moms. They were often pretty amazing role models.
But role models aren’t enough to fight off the intense conditioning, peer pressure and cultural messaging of our society. That’s like flipping a bird at a tsunami wave and expecting said wave to back off.
The writer explained that these men had done a fine job of learning how to say the right things, adjust certain overt behaviors in just the right way, enough to convince themselves they were woke. This is before that word had entered the general lexicon.
However, he points out, they most certainly aren’t woke. These very men had convinced themselves, as had my ex, that they were awake, aware, and concerned. Considerate, emancipated, and above the fray. They would never hit a woman, nor would they keep her from being all she wanted to be.
I’m all for women’s liberation was the rallying cry for partially-woke men of my generation. They had no real idea of what that meant. Too many connected the hippie Free Love movement with the Feminism movement, and were looking forward to a lot more free love. That’s what liberated meant. Not hardly, but you and I will always interpret a societal movement in terms of how it benefits or threatens us, not how it benefits another group of people. Lest you forget, the women’s vote and civil rights. Gay marriage.
Societal growth and evolution exacts a tax. You and I have to give up a little so that others can also benefit and grow. Same way that our streets get paved, bridges are rebuilt and maintained (well some, don’t hold your breath). When it comes to our fellow (wo)man, we all have skin in the game whether we like it or not, in order for all society to benefit from all who are in it. Those rules chafe the holy shit out of folks who have not only owned the sandbox but have expanded to own the entire yard around the sandbox. Ownership being 99% of the law, it’s damned hard for invested folks to divest even a little in the effort to create a more equitable world. Just ask Trump and his cronies, but I digress.
We seem to be all for social movements for two reasons: a) what it will get me, b) as long as it doesn’t cost me. Ay, there’s the rub.
These days, it’s about being all for women’s becoming All They Can Be, if I might pilfer an old Army recruiting slogan. Some men are all for that, too.
That is, until it was inconvenient.
This made partially woke men even more dangerous. The underlying attitudes, the sniping, the undermining, belittling and sexual gaming had done little more than settle into a layer of sewage at the bottom of their life rivers.
Sewage that would swiftly rise with any kind of turbulence on the surface. As in conflict, or the woman in question doesn’t want to clean the shit stains out of his tighty-whiteys. She’s got a dissertation to write, if you will. Do your own laundry. Well, how dare she.
Or, as one Medium writer penned the other day, claim-to-be-woke men barely forty who fully expect their women to cook, clean, scrub, put away their dirty laundry, clean up the mud they track into the house, and not expect in any way that they, the man, might lift a finger to put a dish into the dishwasher. She dumped him. Good for her.
These issues are hardly limited to an age group. Nor are they limited to men, nor to anyone of a Certain Age. Stay with me here.
For the GenXers in this writer’s article, if their dominance got challenged by a woman’s independent nature, or if they felt their needs (their rights as men, in this case) weren’t being met in ways they believed they were entitled to, they got righteously angry. They might not hit, they might not be that direct. But the sniping, the undermining, the verbal abuse did just as much if not more damage.
That woke veneer is exceedingly convincing.
The writer said, with real sadness, that his was a generation of jerks who had no idea they were jerks. My god. In a nutshell, precisely. But it’s not limited either to that generation, nor that gender. Therein lies part of our challenge.
One of the reasons I kept getting sucked back into a very dysfunctional relationship was the man’s utterly charming external trappings, what he said (including in his lovely but dishonest profile on Match.com) and how he said it. Those words tended- largely because I so desperately wanted to believe his story-to undermine what I was seeing. Hearing. Experiencing.
The cognitive dissonance was awful.
This is how we end up going batfuck. The man in question completely convinces our family, our friends, everyone in our circles that he is the Buddha incarnate. Once during couples counseling, one psychologist heard my long-ago ex-husband pontificate for a while. He then turned to me and asked, in all seriousness,
What’s it like to live with Buddha?
Hm. Hey doc, ask me that again the next time “Buddha” puts his fist through the wall right next to my head, wouldja?
I divorced that man back in 1998. He went on to have a heart attack, get terribly heavy from steroids and develop other health problems. I have no idea how he’s doing these days. I think he married another Julia, which would have been his third. Go figure.
Buddha. Right. Guy had an IQ of 160, but the emotional IQ of a nematode.
Let me kindly address the other side of this muck up. Us girls, if you will.
The puerile argument that women are nuts has a history (and a hysterectomy, if you will pardon the pun). Ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that women who were in extremis (pick your issue: hormonal imbalances, menopause, a wife-beating bastard of a husband) also believed that her uterus was going walkies around her insides. Truly. That her primary girl part had disengaged itself and gone walkabouts around her guts.
From the NIH article:
It is also interesting to note that in the many treatises diffused at the time (Constantine the African’s Viaticum and Pantegni, but also the Canon of Avicenna and Arnaldus of Villa Nova’s texts) women were often not described as “patients” to be cured but rather as the “cause “ of a particular human disease, defined as amor heroycus or the madness of love, unfulfilled sexual desire . (author bolded)
Given how women were treated in ancient Greek society and elsewhere, well, who can blame them, then or now? This is the etiology of the world hysterical. Uterine melancholy, if you will. My girl parts are off-kilter, therefore they need to be removed. Message: to be more like men, less emotional. Less like women, in other words. Because to be female is messy, emotional. Favorite boy child insult: you are such a little girl.
This deep belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with the female body and her psyche is so entrenched in the medical community that Female Genital Mutilation was performed by American physicians and paid for by Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance until as recently as 1977. From Wikipedia:
In addition to its prevalence in immigrant communities in the US, FGM was considered a standard medical procedure in America for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Physicians performed surgeries of varying invasiveness to treat a number of diagnoses, including hysteria, depression, nymphomania, and frigidity. The medicalization of FGM in the United States allowed these practices to continue until the end of the 20th century, with some procedures covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance until 1977. (author bolded)
It has long been assumed that the very thing that makes us women- our ability to reproduce- a condition that has its own magnificent set of challenges- is also the very thing that men love to point to as our inherent insanity. That which makes us female makes us crazy, in other words.
No, boys. It isn’t. It seems that your inability to be full of awe and wonder at the complex, difficult and remarkable instrument that happens to both give you pleasure AND produce your progeny is the problem. You don’t seem to like that we aren’t men, at least in this regard: We don’t act like, reason like, or deal with life like MEN. So anything outside your comfort zone is crazy. Hysterical. Uncontrollable.
Once that handy label is applied, then you can control and medicate all you want. Today that includes almost all medical professionals across the board, who have terrible difficulty dealing with the feminine. Researchers have long eschewed using women in their studies. Too much work. They have to think, in other words.
Men are so much easier to research, which is why we have medicines for women and children that can kill, because our bodies and those of our children do not process those meds the same way, and most certainly not at those doses, which were developed for a 200-lb male, usually white. Of course they were.
I would add this observation: what makes us female drives men crazy. No argument. Men abuse the privilege, and when that abuse drives us crazy, then it is of course our fault. Faultless logic. Been working for men for centuries. Their inability to control themselves is our fault, then when we get sick from mistreatment, it’s our fault. God damn that’s handy. Especially in religion, especially the extreme ones, which go so far as to blame female toddlers for being dangerous because of the sexual feelings that arise in the men around them. How dare we hold men accountable for their uncontrollable urges.
Here’s how that works in real life. After my spate of military rapes and assaults at the age of 23, I later developed severe eating disorders and behavioral issues. Rather than ask the harder question (which was extremely dangerous for me to answer honestly at the time in the military) which was WHY did those behaviors come about, I got medicated. This is the military’s- and the medical industry’s- knee-jerk response to any kind of anger from a woman. However that anger presents whether that’s rage (NOT ALLOWED) or depression (MEDICATE). A spate of diagnoses, without testing, followed.
Their assessment: You’re bipolar. Um, no I’m not. I’m fucking MAD I got raped. But given the climate, the military culture, all that anger got inwardly-focused. Most women I know can relate. What I have is PTSD. That’s not bipolar. I. Got. Gang Raped. Repeatedly assaulted. Then I had to spend the next three years behaving like the Perfect Soldier. Then nearly forty years later when I told the VA what happened, they (men of course) pointed to my perfect soldier record.
And you wonder why we go fucking ballistic on people (both men and women) with balls? This is what I am now calling the Kavanaugh Effect. Many of us can relate.
Happily there is some enlightenment at the VA these days, because, surprise, more women are working there, as are some woke men.
This is a terrific piece by Medium writer Tom Secker, which speaks to the awful lying heart of the military, my story and that of every other veteran and active duty woman who was mishandled. The VA claims we’re bipolar, shoves toxic pills at us, and expects us to shut the fuck up while they rewrite history so that the recruiting effort isn’t affected.
And you wonder why we go batfuck on people? You wonder why we’re angry enough to shoot or maim the men who have emotionally or physically maimed us?
No. We are NOT crazy. We are pissed off, in a world which not only frowns on but punishes negative emotions in women. A justice system that favors the right to rape, scrape off our female parts and use what makes us female to subjugate our natural, fully-justified emotional response to being brutalized.
Nothing much has changed since the Ancient Greeks. What’s different today is the layer of toxic icing that men load onto their private agendas. Not all, by any measure, and thank god. But enough so that the battle for any kind of honest interaction continues to be undermined by the wholesale fight to protect the patriarchy, the right to dictate to women that our emotions are due to a “chemical imbalance” which is monumental PAP.
Kindly do your research before you take me to task. I dumped ALL my meds, and surprise, boy did I feel healthy again. Please see A Mind of Your Own The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives, by Dr. Kelly Brogan. It’s an eye-opener.
Also, that constant anxiety so many of us feel might well be alleviated if we didn’t constantly live in fear of being groped, touched, grabbed, felt up, and not have permission to either call it out or flatten the man’s family jewels for his trouble. For those who are transgender, LGBTQ and non-binary, the terror not only of public censure but for their very lives, with their religious communities engaging in outright attacks and condemnation. Just what Jesus would do. But God LOVES you. Of course He does. We’re made in His image, but He despises what we are?
Uh-huh. But I digress. The problem is that all these issues are connected, overlapping and inextricably entwined. They all touch on our human condition.
The #MeToo movement has helped, but it has also backfired in some ways, to the glee of those who benefit from the status quo. Three steps forward, two back.
It flows backward when those men who claim they support their women do not, at the most organic level, have any intention of forfeiting agency over our bodies. Nor what they fundamentally believe what they are entitled to, which often includes servitude, obedience, and sexual rights.
I have read far too many Medium stories by women much like me: strong- willed, high-energy, successful, high-achievers who find themselves with partners who surreptitiously undermine who they are. We sometimes act in quiet concert with this, often without having any notion that we are subsidizing these toxic behaviors, in our very sincere desire to want a woke man, even as we are watching them be anything but.
While I am not privy to all these men’s reasons, my most recent ex- wrote me while I was on a trip to Indonesia, that
“You don’t need to be doing this any more.”
THIS being adventure travel, which I love more than just about anything except massaging animals, and which feeds my heart and soul.
Nancy Reagan I am not. That comment didn’t go over well. Still, I ignored the red flag. There were a great many of them. But his other words spoke to woke. I wanted more to believe his words than acknowledge the deeply bitter truth of his actions.
He really and truly believed, and still believes, he is both woke and wonderful, a nice guy to the nines. Incapable of being unkind or cruel.
That claim doesn’t track with the facts.
As a prize-winning journalist, a keen observer and damned good writer, I have more than ten years of journal entries and behavioral observations that give lie to his lies. I know how to write an incident report,which is what I did. I simply outlined his actions (you can’t change what you did which is measurable. I have no idea and no longer care what he was thinking). After a while there were many pages of those actions, all of which gave lie to his lie that he was a nice guy.
He couldn’t countenance that feedback. If anything he would redirect, rewrite my narrative, and make it all my fault. OMG was he good at that. Other readers can relate; this makes you question your sanity. I did question my sanity. I got so sick during the time he lived at my house I contemplated suicide. This is how we end up going nuts. These guys question our version of reality. Here’s another great piece for those of you who think you may be crazy.
I finally realized that I was living with a narcissist. It took me way too long to figure that out. Again- this is how our righteous anger morphs into insanity.
He is a classic narcissist. Of course he couldn’t see that either. What he saw was a carefully-curated portrait of one hell of a nice guy, beautiful to look at, great old school manners, and kind. Always and forever kind. Just ask me.
I told him once that he was going to end up eighty and alone. I don’t doubt that one bit. He’s gorgeous to look at, cancerous inside. His romantic life is little more than scaffolding with convincing canvas draped over it: a great trompe d’oeil, but devoid of substance.
His ability to both maintain and sell that slick veneer is part of what was so hard for me, and women like me, who genuinely want good male company, to let go. It takes a long time, in my case more than a decade, for me to finally reach the realization that this guy was not and never would be the Real Deal. He was a shitheel. Just like his brothers, from whom he distances himself, but is attached to at the hip both in attitude and action.
My military experiences (1973–1978) were riddled with rapes and assaults. One perfect example of a dangerous, partially-woke man was a general who was grooming me for his later enjoyment. He awarded me the Army Commendation Medal, then got me assigned to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Inaugural as a butter bar (brand new second lieutenant). I had no business doing that job, but it was career-maker and he knew it. Much later, when I was in his office, he tried to bend me over his desk. I knew his wife, his ten kids. They were family to me.
He professed to be so pro-woman. Yes. He was, especially when and if his efforts to promote those women also promoted his over-active penis. He retired a three-star, is now 91. I doubt the man has any memory of this at all. I can only imagine how his many, many sons treated women with a father like that. A great many of them also attended West Point, where their father had once been the commandant. This is how shit cascades downhill.
Woke by words only, especially when the actions that are on the surface geared to show that you’re completely pro-woman, but behind closed doors you fully expect that service member to service your member.
I believed that man, who was my commandant for a number of years, was one of the true Good Guys. Not even. In his dotage, he now has a ton of medals and awards to his name. Nobody bothered to check how many bastards he fathered. Given his behavior with me, his many years of service and the implicit and explicit power he wielded over his troops, I suspect the SOB has a veritable Army of his own out there.
Here’s the tough-awful part.
What adds to the issue is denial on my part, just as damaging and just as unfortunate as my ex’s. I have raked myself over the coals about this lengthy and problematic connection as well as blamed both him and myself for what went wrong. That study has forced me to see where my self-imposed blindness, my unwillingness to see the bright red flags that were virtually slapping me in the face, simply gave credence to his version of the story that he was of course a nice guy. I was the one with the problem.
In this way, we women empower the men to continue the behaviors. It’s unintentional, but it’s the result of continuing to believe, support, and stick with partially-woke men.
This is part of what Mark Green touches upon. The patriarchal, unhealthy thinking that infects generations of men who believe they are emancipated but are still constipated by the beliefs and behaviors cascaded upon them by their fathers. The deep societal (and religious) conditioning to which we are all subjected is the disease of the partially-woke, defensive and deep-in-denial male. They perpetuate the worst while protesting their best.
That disease is also ours to bear as women as long as we buy their stories, how they hijack reality for their own purposes, and make us question our sanity in the process. No wonder so many of us go nuts, are nuts, have terrible anxiety issues. The guys- mine included- simply claim we’re crazy. How. Fucking. HANDY. Because of course, we’re living with Buddha.
Denial is a terrible disease.
The challenge, and invitation if you will, for men who are partially-woke, is to embrace the deep discomfort of realizing that they are in denial. That they do indeed continue to perpetuate the outdated and unfortunate ideals of their fathers. That they are part of the problem, if not more so, due to their denial that they haven’t changed one bit. They simply changed what they said.
They are still, to use Green’s vernacular, in the Man Box.
In some ways, whether I care to admit it, I am also in the Man Box, as long as I continue to buy the lies I hear, give credit where it’s not deserved, and make excuses for inexcusable behavior. It pains me to be part of the problem. But in this way I most certainly am. If I give safe haven and validation to men who have yet to do the real work of transformation, I rob them of the chance to redefine their manhood. And in redefining what makes them male, create a world that so many of us say we want.
Ouch. As my mother would say, Shit Piss and Corruption.
But there it is.
As Medium commenter DrFields wrote (and put me on the floor in hysterics):
Over the years, I’ve learned (the hard way) that one of the most reliable signs of an Asshole is having a lot of Crazy exes.
I had to enable those behaviors for them to continue. This is why just getting men out of the Man Box isn’t enough. Not even.
As a Boomer woman, I have to find my way out of behaviors, assumptions, ideas, generational expectations and messaging which would — and have — led me to enable the kinds of behaviors that I find so deplorable. That’s my journey. I’m not woke either, a fact that embarrasses the holy shit out of me at the same time it gives me a way forward.
That’s deeply uncomfortable. Greene points out the deep discomfort that these men feel when they realize that superficial yapping is hardly enough. Nor is it for me. It has taken me a very long time to embrace what I have done, and still on occasion do, to encourage or support such behavior. Not the rapes. The fundamental dishonesty of the men in my romantic life whose emotional alimentary canals are seriously backed up.
Again. Shit, piss and corruption.
As long as I buy the bullshit, drink the Koolaid, believe what men say/write and excuse away what they do, try to tell myself that it’s all my fault or I’m just not seeing things the way they are, that there must be a really good reason why X is doing what he’s doing (yes, because he’s partially-woke Asshole) then I have become an enabler.
I also live in the Man Box.
This is the price of becoming woke, if you will. If all we do is point at men and call them cretins, we perpetuate the war. For all of us are complicit. I don’t care how uncomfortable that is. It’s the truth. I don’t like it either. But I am monumentally grateful that after all that work, all that pain, all that anger, I can see a way forward.
And that is one hell of a wonderful Christmas gift. A box, if you will, that I can open.
With heartfelt thanks to the Mark Greenes of the world, for the men who mean what they say, and there are many of you, the men and women who are doing their level best to level the playing field, and to find their way to a more fair, loving, and caring world for all of us. It’s hard work. And worth it.