Women are leading the way, but we are not alone. There are also men taking a stand for justice, equality, and transformation. In the aftermath of the tsunami of sexual assaults and general misogyny that has surfaced in the news and social media, several of my male friends have asked me directly what they can do to support me and women in general. Some of the men have even confessed to actions that were “probably,” they said, “borderline abusive.” Others were sure they had never violated women, but they wondered if their attitude toward women was misogynist or tinted with patriarchal prejudices. Many of these men were genuinely upset that women in general, and their friends and family in particular, had been harassed. They were also enraged when they realized how ubiquitous sexual assault is in every stratus of society. They wanted to do something about it and asked for my counsel. As one of the #MeToo women, I offered my suggestions, first to the men who thought they had hurt women, and then to the men who wanted to change patriarchy from the inside out.
Express your remorse, not your guilt
First, if you are a man who has indeed committed some level of abuse toward a woman, contact her and genuinely express your remorse. Women deeply appreciate your remorse; however, they do not want your guilt. Guilt implies you are probably beating yourself up internally, which makes a woman feel like she has to reassure you and take care of you, rather than having the right to feel and express the pain you have caused.
Additionally, women are well aware of the cycle of violation, which starts with apologies and self-flagellation and leads back to more abuse. Therefore, guilt does not help anybody, nor does it resolve anything. Remorse, however, is different. Remorse implies that you are reflecting on what you’ve done and are committed to changing your attitude and behavior. Remorse opens the door to self-awareness and determination to face your shadow and transform it by applying both love and self-discipline.
Listen from your heart without getting defensive
Restrain from defending yourself or arguing about attenuating circumstances. Listen from your heart about the pain that you caused her, if she wants to talk about it. Listen even if it hurts to hear her pain. If she happens to express some frustration or anger, please, take some deep breaths, stay grounded and just listen until she is done and her emotional tone has settled. I promise you, this experience can be healing for both of you.
Apologize, but do not ask for forgiveness
Forgiveness is something you can only give to yourself when you feel you have transformed the part of your internal shadow that acted in an abusive way. In truth, forgiveness is not something that she can grant you just because you ask, because forgiveness is a process, and she might not be ready to offer it to you at that time.
Rather than asking her to forgive you, ask instead what you can offer her to repair the damage and pain you inflicted. For example, I know a man who went through the process I am describing here and volunteered to pay for therapy so that the woman he hurt could heal the trauma he had caused. The therapy was very helpful and harmony was reestablished. If, for whatever reason, you cannot contact the woman you injured, then support and give generously to other women who are in need. These actions are effective ways that you can give back to women what you have taken from them and will heal your soul.
Men must take responsibility to change the violent and destructive aspects of patriarchy side by side with women. Whether you have violated women or not, you must commit yourself to transforming the misguided, patriarchal values and attitudes that you have internalized if you want a life founded on love and a society based on equality, compassion and creative abundance.
In practical terms, what can you do to better yourself and society? In my blog post, The Real Reason Why Sexual Harassment Is So Pervasive, I describe how the patriarchal man is fundamentally disconnected from his own feminine nature and the sacred archetype of the Mother. Our feminine nature is the part of us that is intuitive, receptive, connected with our inner world of feeling and emotions, wise with the knowing that comes from our inner guidance, nurturing and unifying. We refer to this aspect of ourselves as the inner feminine. (To learn more about the two fundamental components of our human psyche, please see my blog post about the inner masculine and inner feminine .)
Connect with your inner female
If you suppress your inner feminine, you also become afraid of her, and anything that is of the feminine, such as your emotions, intuition, and deepest wisdom. If you are afraid of that part of yourself, you will continuously try to control it. The catch is that you also desperately need your inner feminine to feel connected with yourself, intimate with others, in touch with the sacred in life, and nourished and loved from within. But if you cannot connect with your own inner feminine, you will try to find her through the womb of a woman. The problem is, if you are afraid of the feminine inside yourself and do not consider that part of yourself important, you will also be subconsciously afraid of women, particularly those who embody a powerful inner female, and you will try to control her, dominate her and even demean them. That’s where the violation begins. At the root it’s all about fear and the frustration of fearing that which you deeply desire.
A patriarchal man steals intimacy through sex and abuse because he needs to take it by exerting power over her, instead of through consensus or intimacy. Consensus is too scary for this kind of man because it implies a level of freedom which interferes with his need to control the interaction. Rage and violence then are the expression of his underling fear of being overwhelmed and possessed by the feminine nature of a woman he cannot control.
If you are one of the “good guys” who is sick of patriarchy and wants to do something about it, start by deprogramming yourself of your societal conditioning by getting in touch with your own inner feminine. Note: getting in touch with your inner feminine does not mean that you let your inner masculine collapse, which can make you feel overly emotional, indecisive and wimpy. On the contrary, getting in touch with your own inner feminine is actually nourishing to your inner masculine, which enables you to be even more active, assertive, protective, disciplined, boundaries setting, generous, and giving. Both you and the women around you need your inner masculine to continue to be strong in a healthy way. The task is to create harmony between the two, so that your inner masculine and your inner feminine become loving collaborators in your daily life.
How to put this all in practice
Here are some suggested practices to defeat the patriarchy within you and in the world around you by developing a healthy relationship with your inner female:
- Twice a day, stop whatever you’re doing and ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Give a name to the emotion you are feeling. (Here is a list of emotions that you can refer to, if needed) Your inner feminine is the one who feels the emotions that you often suppress because you are too busy “getting the job done.”
- When someone else is talking, listen without mentally preparing an answer, a plan of action, or an argument. Just listen. Connect with that person and feel with your whole being, including the sensations in your body, what he or she is trying to communicate to you. Let the inspiration of whatever is most appropriate to say or do emerge naturally, without forcing a solution or advice or interpretation. Your inner feminine is comfortable with silence, receptivity, self-reflection and a slow rhythm of response. She will give you a very clear message when it’s time to act or speak.
- Hold the person you love in your arms, exchanging affection without having sex. Let your body be touched. Feel the sensations in your body, feel your heart and receive the affection of the other person. If you get turned on, that’s ok, just choose to concentrate on the love in your heart. This kind of intimacy might be scary in the beginning. Do it one step at the time. Receiving love and affection is part of the sensual and receptive nature of your inner feminine. Your inner feminine is also the one who nourishes you from within.
- Go into nature, not to challenge yourself athletically, but simply to get in touch with your senses, to slow down your mind and open your soul to healing and inspiration. Look at the colors, listen to the sounds, smell the aromas, touch the grasses and the leaves and the bark of the trees. Let your inner feminine connect with what is sacred, abundant and loving in the temple of nature.
- Resist doing, and just be still, even for a few minutes during your day. Do nothing and rest. Three minutes is enough, but more is better. At night, let your body and mind be open and deeply restore yourself in the nurturing safety of the darkness. Your inner feminine is perfectly comfortable navigating in the unknown.
Be courageous and daring
If you try these practices and find yourself feeling uncomfortable, know that it’s probably an aspect of your inner masculine that has been conditioned by the patriarchy to react in fear. Also know that the more you retrain yourself with these practices, the easier it will be for you to feel at ease with women. Instead of feeling confused, puzzled and intimidated by them, you will view them as equals, and it will become natural to be respectful and supportive of them while still maintaining the potency of your masculinity. You will have created a relationship of collaboration and harmony between your inner masculine and your inner feminine. That internal relationship will be reflected in a dramatic shift in your external relationships with women in your life, and you will become a powerful agent of change for a better world.
Photo credit: Lukas
How do you stop the negative effects of patriarchy in your own life?