bell hooks on relationships with men, patriarchy, men committing violence against women they supposedly love, and keeping men’s secret of the violence they commit within relationships.
I’ve been reading Ch. 5 of bell hooks’s The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love on repeat the last couple months. The chapter is titled “Stopping Male Violence.” I beg everyone to read it. Everyone of all genders. I’ll scan the chapter if you can’t access it otherwise.
Because every sentence, every paragraph has such gems that I don’t know what to do with it. I started taking notes and rallied I’d be writing the whole chapter. (I don’t feel the same way about the rest of the book. Overall, a very important book, but many problematic comments and statements I’m not comfortable with. But ch 5? I… just wow.)
Here are some of the gems I couldn’t keep to myself. Note, of course, that any typos in the quotes are mine.
“We are not allowed in this culture to speak the truth about what relationships with men are really like… To be true to patriarchy, we are all taught that we must keep men’s secrets” (as emphasizes in Terrence Real’s How Can I Get Through to You) (p 56)
“One of the truths that cannot be spoken is the daily violence enacted by men of all classes and races in our society–the violence of emotional abuse…. Emotional abuse is ‘an ongoing process in which one individual systemically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another. The essential ideas, feelings, perception, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled….” (p.57)
She frequently talks about the violence of her father (and how her mother protected him) and of the abuses of the men she was in relationships with. She talks about her ex-boyfriends who had been enlightened and totally in favor of feminism in their 20s and 30s but then became the monsters they were claiming to fight by the time they were in their 40s.
“In our family, Dad was not consistently enraged, but the intense emotional and physical abuse that he unleashed on those rare occasions when he did act out violently kept everyone in check, living on the edge, living in fear.” (57-58)
“Usually a cold, silent, reserved man, Dad found his voice when speaking in anger.” (p. 58)
(This is so important. Abuse is inconsistant, and the abuser’s behavior is unpredictable, and you never know when they’re going to be violent with you. It may be rare, but it’s dangerous and violent.)
“My second longtime partner I chose in part because he was a major advocate for stopping violence against women, but as our bond progressed he began to be emotionally abusive now and then.” (p. 58)
Quoting Terrence Real: “The way we turn boys into men is through injury… Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection IS masculinity.” (as quoted on pp. 60-61)
“Patriarchy breeds maternal sadism in women who embrace its logic…. No wonder then that male rage is often most directed at women in intimate relationships.” (p. 61) [And as she goes on explaining this, it’s one of those moments where I go, “Ouch! Let’s not blame mothers/women for every fucking thing, tho.”]
This is mind blowing and unbelievable: “Years ago the television show The Incredible Hulk was the favorite of many boys. It featured a mild-mannered scientist who turned into an angry green monster whenever he felt intense emotions. A sociologist interviewing boys about their passion for this show asked them what they would do if they had the power of the Hulk. They replied that they would ‘smash their mommies.'” (p. 62)
“In our household growing up, it was clear that our mother believed wholeheartedly that it was the role of the man to be a disciplinarian, to be in charge. When our dad used excessive violence, she merely saw it as his right. Lots of women who believe that it is the right of men to dominate feel that they should not resist male violence toward themselves or their children. Not surprisingly, these women, my mother included, use all manner of violence to discipline children.” (p. 64)
Because “Fearful of being the objects of a grown man’s rage, they [women, mothers] may desire their children to be perfectly behaved so as not to arouse Daddy’s ire.” (p. 64)
“Ever since I started writing about love, I have defined it in a way that blends M. Scott Peck’s notion of love as the will to nurture one’s own and anther’s spiritual and emotional growth, with Eric Fromm’s insight that love is action and not solely feeling. Working with men who wanted to know love, I have advised them to think of it as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust.” (p. 65-66)
“The fact that men often mix being caring and being violent has made it hard for everyone in our culture to face the extent to which male violence stands in the way of males’ giving and receiving love.” (p. 66)
Quoting Reel: “In our culture, boys and men are not, nor have they ever been, raised to be intimate.” (p. 67)
“Kay Leigh Hagan’s autobiographical essay ‘A Good Man is Hard to Bash’ begins with the story of her dating a man who she felt was abusive and was potentially capable of physical violence. She calls his best male friend for advice about how much abuse she should endure, saying, ‘If I’m serious about him, and if I want the relationship to work, to last, there will be ups and downs. I don’t think I should run away when it gets hard. I should be willing to tolerate a little abuse if I really love him.’ The friend looks her directly in the eyes and tells her, ‘Kay, in a loving relationship, abuse is unacceptable.'” (p. 68)
“Ever day women explain away male violence and cruelty by insisting on gender differences that normalize abuse.” (p. 68)
“If only one party in a relationship is working to create love, to create the space of emotional connection, the dominator model remains in place and the relationship just becomes a site for continuous power struggle.” (p 69)
“As it is for many men today, it was much easier for him [hooks’s emotionally & physically abusive ex] to accept equal pay for equal work, sharing housework, and reproductive rights than it was for him to accept the need for shared emotional development. It’s more difficult for men to do the work of emotional development because this work requires individuals to be emotionally aware–to feel.” (p 70)
“Patriarchy rewards men for being out of touch with their feelings.” (p 70)
“Poor and working-class male children and grown men often embody the worst strains of patriarchal masculinity, acting out violently because it is the easiest, cheapest way to declare one’s ‘manhood.’ If you cannot prove that you are ”much of a man’ by becoming president, or becoming rich, or becoming a public leader, or becoming a boss, then violence is your ticket in to the patriarchal manhood contest, and your ability to do violence levels the playing field. On that field, the field of violence, any man can win.” (app 71-72)
Except that: “Men who win on patriarchal terms end up losing in terms of their substantive quality of life. They choose patriarchal manhood over loving connection, first foregoing self-love and then the love they could give and receive that would connect them to others.” (p 72)
Contrary to anti-feminist claims that violence against women has intensified because feminism: “Male violence in general has intensified not because feminist gains offer women greater freedom but rather because men who endorse patriarchy discovered along the way that the patriarchal promise of power and dominion is not easy to fulfill, and in those rare cases where it is fulfilled, men find themselves emotionally bereft. The patriarchal Manhood that was supposed to satisfy does not.” (pp 72-73)