I saw this meme above shared around on Facebook this morning and I loved it so much and not just because I, hand to God, had an imaginary friend as a child named Nancy Drew. I was too young to have read the books but my sister had a whole set of them that we used to cover in fabric to make beds for our barbies to sleep with Ken in. My imaginary friend Nancy Drew lived in all the McMansions I’d see in my town in central Connecticut and every time we’d drive by a house I’d say “that’s Nancy Drew’s house… oh, wait, no, THAT’S Nancy Drew’s house.” Until one day my mom suggested we knock on the door to see if Nancy Drew was home. We walked all the way up to the door and in the nanosecond before my mother’s knuckles rapped on the door, I quickly blurted out “Uh, she’s probably not home today.” Weird….
So, anyway, there’s a lot of talk these days about women’s rage and anger. Uma Thurman for instance has been quoted explaining that she’s unable to answer questions about what’s going on right now because she doesn’t want to let her anger lead her to say something she’ll regret.
Women are PISSED OFF. I know I am. After hearing that Woody Allen said we needed to be careful not to start a witch hunt in reference to Harvey Weinstein, when the love of my life uttered similar words I yelled at him for the first time since I’ve known him. I used to yell a lot when I was still drinking, yell at my ex, yell at my mom, yell, yell, yell… but I quit doing that a few years ago, realizing that in general we tend to get what we give and I don’t like being yelled at back. But all the news coming out just draws out of me rage at shit that has been dormant for 30 years or more. Rage at shit that I can’t control, rage at shit that is caused by structures and institutions that are so much bigger than any individual. There’s no one to yell at because there are so many people to scream at. So, we’re all out of fucks to give…
This makes sense to me on personal and on a logical level. But I also saw this meme this morning:
… and I was all like, that’s RIGHT! But it led me to ask, why are men, as a group so angry? And why aren’t we talking about that. Women have easy access to killing machines and, by God, I assure you, we are pissed off right now, but we’re organizing marches, we’re sharing funny memes on facebook, we’re getting mad at our partners, but we’re not shooting up fucking streets and churches and mosques and schools. We’re not asking men if it’s okay for us to show them our private parts. We’re not actually killing Bills (I never actually saw that movie, so hopefully that makes sense as a sentence). Who is doing these things? A lot of white men.
We seem to like to individualize white men’s behaviour (he was a lone wolf! a rogue shooter! he was nuts!) and contextualize or explain the behaviour of women or all people of color. It’s not so bad when the explanation for these latter groups is structural racism or sexism, but often the explanation is that women are crazy liars and less intelligent than white men or Black/Brown people are inherently violent and less intelligent than white people. Although we might WANT to explain away the perpetrators of these crimes as individual whack jobs, it doesn’t take a degree in statistics to see a really common thread among the shooters and the sexual predators.
So, why are white men so angry? What do white men have to be pissed off about that is unique to white men? We could say “oh the economy! Loss of jobs!”, you know, the stuff Bernie Sanders and his minions like to talk about to avoid having to acknowledge the reality of racism and sexism, but women and men of color are affected by those things too, and ACTUALLY, disproportionately negatively so. We can say #notallmen, and after I finish rolling my eyes until I get a migraine, we can reply with no shit sherlock, but the study of social groups involves the implicit assumption that we’re not talking about EVERYONE when we’re trying to understand why certain groups of people engage in certain behaviours at different rates.
Or maybe we might say, testosterone! It’s biological! It’s innate! They just can’t help themselves!!! If that TRULY were the case, then we seriously need to just put every single man in jail. I mean if you can’t help it, safety first, and then you don’t have to worry about accidentally shooting or raping or sexually harassing anyone. But personally, I have a number of men in my life who don’t do these shitty things and I’d miss them terribly. And, knowing that it’s possibly for my sons and partner not to do these things, suggests to me that maybe men CAN help it. Maybe men have the capacity not to act like monsters.
Some psychoanalytic feminists, like Nancy Chodorow, suggest that men’s anger emerges in the early stages of childhood when boys feel the need to develop a sense of self in opposition to their mothers, especially when they do not have nurturing fathers to teach them how to be men without being assholes (I’m not an expert on Chodorow’s theories, she probably uses a word different from asshole.) Her theories are important for rejecting biological imperatives about gender, by suggesting that gender roles are learned from such an early age that they can seem like they are biologically determined. I also think that it is likely true that in family situations where boys are nurtured and loved they have less to be mad about. But this doesn’t explain why children raised in lesbian families with no male role models have been shown to have better outcomes overall.
So, *scratching my head*, what are white men so mad about? As far as I can tell, the one thing that sets white men apart from the rest of us, is their access to power. In fact, sociobiologist Joan Huber suggests that the origins of gender inequality emerged in hunting and gathering societies due to women’s need to breastfeed (FASCINATING!). It’s not that breastfeeding is therefore *bad* it’s just that the reality of human existence meant that babies had to be fed at least every 15 minutes about 10,000 years ago which meant that men could go off and get political with other groups of people in a way that women couldn’t, unless we all wanted to die as a species. Actually, I have made the argument before that perhaps this suggests that men should breastfeed too. While all men probably can’t sustain a child’s nutritional needs, some maybe can and all can at least provide non-nutritive suckling akin to a pacifier. Men have milk ducts and nipples. You probably have seen them, since only men’s nipples can be shown on social media .
Most of my publications are related to breastfeeding, so it’s obviously important to me as an explanator but it doesn’t explain the rise of white power. Although there is lots written about the racialization of breastfeeding and the use of images of bare-breasted black women to dehumanize them, I don’t think that breastfeeding explains everything.
Regardless of *why* white men have more power in American and Canadian social life, they do. White men are the majority of political leaders, CEOs, bosses, and whomever else has the most influence on society. There are rich white women and rich people of color, so, yes, #notallpowerfulpeople but disproportionately the powerful people are the white men. BUT, you might say, some of the shooters weren’t themselves powerful. Yes, the sexual predators in Hollywood and D.C. we’re hearing about are powerful people, but not the shooters, some are just kids in high school.
Well, I would suggest that this goes back to the issue of entitlement I wrote about the other day. When anyone feels entitled to something, they are going to fight to get it or keep it. We get REALLY pissed off when we feel that we’re being denied the things we’re entitled to. I think the reason why people are so surprised by women’s anger is because for so long we were told that we weren’t entitled to our place at the table. We fought for it, we sensed we ought to have it, didn’t like it when we were kept away from it, but we were told that we were just crazy bitches or angry black women or that WE were the entitled ones when we got mad about it. So we got therapy or drank alcoholically, or yelled at our partners or our children and then were told that we were ruining our children’s lives and so we had to parent even more intensively to make up for this misguided anger.
We don’t think about men’s anger in the same way we think about women’s anger; men have been more entitled to their anger than women. We often don’t like it, women create shelters to shield other women from it, but we don’t question it in men as a group. We often harness men’s anger for our entertainment or our political ends as weapons on football or battle fields and then go on to give million dollar contracts and medals for this anger. Men have also been seen as entitled to their power. Despite Donald Trump being unqualified for his position, I have yet to see his supporters frame his rise to power as being due to the affirmative action of the powerful wanting to make sure that their group was represented in office.
If white men believe that they are entitled to all they have achieved, no wonder why they’re so pissed off. If white men have been told for thousands of years that they get to make the decisions, they get to set the terms of negotiation, they get to make all the decisions, no wonder they are fighting tooth and nail to keep what they’ve got. They’re willing to die over it because they believe it’s their birthright. The men who don’t kill or rape or harass, seem to be men who get that they aren’t any more entitled to the good life than anyone else. Perhaps they didn’t always have power, perhaps they had parents who loved them and told them that they were good enough without having to piss on others to prove it. I really don’t know.
What I do know, though, is that men aren’t entitled to do whatever they want even if it feels like they are, which is why, I think, this cascade of allegations is so disorienting. White men aren’t actually smarter or better negotiators or better with money or less crazy or less angry or more deserving or any other adjective that can explain why they happen to be in power. They just aren’t, even if they have a couple of scientific studies to sort of make a claim to it, even if they have been treated all along they they are, even if we’ve all been going along with this charade for thousands of years. It’s like we’ve all been sitting in our car seats going “sure, sure, let’s see if Nancy Drew is home, no problem” and suddenly there’s been a knock at the door.