writing on suffering and awakening

A meditation on men and #MeToo

When I reflect on why men so often mistreat women, I see the origins in a conflict between who we are and who we think we are supposed to be.

The whole universe is inside each one of us. We are not separate from anything, and everything that exists is a part of us. A fractal is a useful way of understanding this—parts of the pattern look different from a distance, but examine each up close and we see that they all contain the whole.

In addition, no aspect of ourselves is permanent. Anything that we can describe with words comes and goes—our bodies, our thoughts, our feelings, our particular sense of who we are at any given time. We don’t get to keep any of it.

But these two truths run smack into our cultural expectations for how men and women should be. Most of us grow up learning to see male and female as separate and inviolable categories of being. Boys, at least, are taught that our dignity and self-respect rests on maintaining that divide.

Because of this, most of us feel the need to push away any aspect of ourselves that we consider feminine. In some corner of our minds, we know that our sense of ourselves as men is not solid or permanent, and we feel afraid. “Who are we really?”, we wonder. “What do we have, if not our first and most basic identity?”

We think there’s something wrong with us, and we scramble to shore up our wavering sense of self and to maintain the male-female divide that we feel our self-respect and identity requires.

At the same time, however, we also want to experience all of our humanity, including the pieces of ourselves we may see as feminine. So we get stuck—pushing away part of ourselves while simultaneously wanting what we are rejecting. That conflict causes us inner pain, and spills out to color our relationships with women we encounter in the world.

We hurt women by trying to be what we think a man should be.

Some of us cause more hurt than others. But none of us are clean, because we can’t be. We are all a part of this culture and this global community. All of us are affected by suffering. Indeed, all of us who see ourselves as separate can’t help but cause suffering, and who among us doesn’t constantly fall into that trap?

That means we’re all responsible for doing better.

What can we do? Take note of how we see ourselves, and don’t take ourselves so seriously. Stop fighting to maintain our concepts of separation and how we ought to be. Trust that we don’t need to protect our masculinity in order to be men, and offer up our identity as a sacrifice to our greater liberation. Open ourselves up to the full range of our human experience. Understand that what we do to others, we are doing to ourselves.

Doing this can only help us to be kinder and wiser.

Male and female are nothing more or less than costumes. Our bodies should be honored and appreciated, but we can do so with the awareness that one day they will crumble into dust. So too will our ideas about who we are supposed to be.

We can play our parts lightly, with the understanding that really, men and women are one and the same—embodying aspects of the divine whole and holding the whole itself.

Ian Cooper