This is how I’m talking to my friends about misogyny.
Back in October, when the cultural wounds re-opened by the Kavanaugh hearings were still fresh, my wife helped me organize a discussion group for some of my closest male friends to help us process what it had (again) revealed about the pervasive misogyny in which we are steeped, and which we all play a role in upholding.
It fell off for a bit over the holidays, but we got together again last night and recommitted ourselves to the work of processing knowledge into understanding and understanding into action.
Since our group started, I’ve learned about a number of other similar groups that were initiated around the same time, including some by other friends of mine. I’ve also learned that no two groups are approaching it in the same way, or following the same frameworks. This is great, and I have been really interested in learning about, and from, the other approaches that different facilitators are taking.
In the interest of collaborative learning, I wanted to share the one that our group has adopted. I’ve pasted in some of the core bits from our framing document, but I have also linked to the document itself. (It’s a living document that we are continuously revising, so when you read it, it may differ slightly from what I’ve included in this post.)
One important thing to understand about the group we’ve organized is that, demographically, we are extremely homogeneous. We are almost entirely white, heterosexual, top-decile income earners, and in our mid-30s. Most of us were raised in top-decile households, we all attended college, and a good number of us were (unsurprisingly) raised in conservative households. That is an important backdrop, and it has deeply informed our particular approach.
If you have your own framework for facilitating hard discussions about misogyny culture with the men in your life, I would love to learn about it!
This group is adopting a framework for discussion that is rooted in the traditions of both nonviolent moral philosophy and restorative justice, which provides a theory of change distinct from our current model of retributive justice.
This approach makes several important assertions:
- Retributive justice is premised on an ability to categorize people as either “good” or “bad” based on their actions, but this model is deeply flawed and plays a critical role in leaving intact the systems that incentivize bad actions.
- Individual perpetrators of bad acts, whose actions are socialized and incentivized within oppressive systems, are not ‘bad people’; it is the system of oppression itself that is bad and that must be targeted for retribution. We need to destroy oppressive systems while also healing oppressive individuals. This is the restorative model of justice.
- Within oppressive systems, no individuals are off the hook. Everyone is impacted and everyone participates.
- Systems of oppression cause universal harm, including to those who ostensibly benefit. Though the harm experienced or perpetrated by oppressors is not equivalent to that experienced or perpetrated by those being oppressed, every individual within the system plays the role of both victimizer and victim. These dual roles are weaponized against the oppressed, but also leave the seeds for moral awakening.
- Systems of oppression, whether formal or informal, gain their power through silence and compartmentalization of information. Through openness and transparency, they can be starved of their power.
- It is only through a restorative, rather than a retributive, framing of the problem and its solutions that we can create the environment that allows for openness and transparency to exist at the scale required to break the machine.
Our goal in this group is to interrogate the underlying mechanisms of misogyny as a system so that we are equipped to disrupt its machinery. By examining the many roles we play in reinforcing this system, and by acknowledging the harm we cause — to women, to our children, to each other, to our community, and to ourselves — we are doing our part to deprive the system of its power and opening avenues for broader restorative discussion and action.
Honoring victims by understanding trauma
We will also take a close look at the nature of trauma, which is a more complex phenomenon than we routinely acknowledge. We will look at how it is experienced, how its damaging effects can be both alleviated and exacerbated, and how our own daily actions, inactions, and words can cause it to be compounded in those whose psyches are invisibly scarred by it. We will use our understanding of trauma to illuminate a clearer path through interactions that presently feel, to far too many men, like a “minefield”, and to hold ourselves accountable to the power we regularly wield to unintentionally inflict pain.
Some things this group IS NOT about:
- This IS NOT about personal absolution.
There is a ton of uncomfortable shame and embarrassment to go around. The difference between the shame and embarrassment experienced by women is that theirs is wholly unearned. Absolution is possible only in cases when those harmed by our actions have first had theirs; the rest we get to live with.
- This IS NOT about self-flagellation.
We intend to dig into things that are upsetting and that will conjure uncomfortable feelings of shame. Shame is natural, but it is not a goal, and experiencing shame doesn’t earn us any points.
The full document can be found here. In it, you’ll find an additional preface and the group norms that we have adopted.
And if you have your own framework, please share it!