There are many ways we wriggle free from the confines of patriarchy. We are born and live as tiny figures held under a giant’s thumb, lifted just high enough to dance on its palm without being tempted to jump off, learning to clutch for safety the ropes we are given that eventually noose our necks. We find ways to escape it while still in it. We band together. We keep each other’s secrets. We stay too long and remain too silent. We protect our spirits this way, hold on to what is left of ourselves, split ourselves into inner and outer beings. We put aside and avoid our grief so that we can move on in our lives. Sometimes, the pain is too much and we escape or become like them, like the oppressors, we flee; we cut ourselves off from our pain and also our true selves.
I have fiercely maintained that the place to conquer patriarchy is our own homes. In our homes, we can be artists and craft an aesthetic of grace. This is the place aesthetic counts, for we live in a world that worships what is superficial and detached. In our homes, we can create an aesthetic in our words, actions, and spirits that is connected and deep, meaningful and rich.
Most of the time our sense of communion with each other is marred by dissociation. The more I learn about therapy and therapeutic practices, the more I’m convinced that the circle of rupture and repair of relationships is most effective is when everyone is dealing with their symptoms of dissociation and attachment issues. Dissociation can include being cut off from the feelings of self and others. To the degree that one lacks empathy and sensitivity is the degree one’s relationships will be marred.
(A good explanation of dissociation is found here:
“Dissociative symptoms can be relatively mild such as feeling foggy or fuzzy, having a hard time talking about experiences, feeling dizzy, and feeling tired. More intense symptoms include feeling “out of control,” having lapses of memory, or reports of “lost time.”
Complex PTSD and dissociation is maintained by defenses such as denial, repression, idealization, or minimization of the past. Or we use substances or maintain other addictive behaviors to avoid feeling the pain.”)
And that makes raising a son the most important job one can do, because patriarchy stubbornly clings to habits of shaming, blaming, and controlling, therefore making its systems and adherents of its system the most cut off and contemptuous of humanity. the antidote to that is to teach altruism and cultivate empathy. Much of the time that involves teaching them how NOT to turn out like their petulant fathers and do better than that. But for a sensitive boy, this can be hard.
I have hope for my child, though. I had a conversation with my boy about feelings. He was in a situation where he felt left out. He has been extremely insightful and surprisingly self-aware. In his life, he has had a large amount of personal safety and agency taken from him, and has been given messages from key figures in his life that he is not good enough. He was able to tell me how he thought about telling his friends he felt left out an that it presented a dilemma for him. We discussed how hard it is to feel left out and what ideas he could come up with to deal with that feeling next time. He said he could just play with them and say things like, “it’s my turn,” or express interest in what they are playing, or otherwise insinuate himself into the situation and just take care of his feelings rather than expecting others to take care of them for him. However, I also acknowledged the importance of sharing your feelings with others and how and when to do that. This led to a discussion about people who are safe places to share your feelings…people who will truly hear you and acknowledge your thoughts, ideas, and pain. One of the things he said he felt in addition to feeling left out was not heard. Again, he has a key relationship in his life where he is consistently not heard, and no amount of sharing his feelings and using his voice to stand up for himself will change that situation. So he has to practice this with other people, and learn to find people in his life who accept him as he is and receive his feelings with love. We talked about how there are different levels of relationships, and some are more superficial than others.
It made me sad to be aware of how lonely my son is right now. Since his world changed this summer with a change in schools, he feels like he has only one person in his life that is his go-to friend, that truly has his back. My wish for my son is that he finds more kindreds in his life, more friends of the heart, more sensitive boys like himself.
In my enthusiasm to do better for the next generation by being a strong woman, I took for granted that my son, in opening his heart, would also feel the pain of being different…of being a “Have Feelings” in a world of “Have Not Feelings.” Good lord, I’ve been punished a LOT for using my voice and having an opinion. I’ve channeled Elizabeth Warren, Hillary, and Christine Blasey Ford against the Trumps, McConnells, and Kavanaughs in my life. Because one thing those kind of men forget is how utterly unoriginal they are. They are parrots and cuckolds and basically the same person. How on earth they are able to sell mediocrity and cruelty to the masses is beyond me.
Even my son must find his way to wriggle out of the chains put on him by family, culture, and patriarchy. And the biggest chain is dissociation…and the way out of dissociation is grief.
We joy, we grieve, we find our way out of this mess.