“Are women trying to take over from men?” my tween son innocently asked in response to my enthusiastic announcement that both the Cambridge mayor and regional chair were now women.
Are we? I know I’m not. I attend Take Back the Night marches and talk to my daughter about “girl power.” All over my newsfeed, I see memes and t-shirts declaring “The Future is Feminine.” While I can’t speak for all women, I believe the future is all of us.
At the heart of all abuse is power. To go back to my son’s initial question, we need men and women working together, sharing power and challenging those who are abusing their power. According to Rashed Bael, Schools over Violence program manager at Peace Over Violence, a non-profit organization in the States: “Most men do not want to harm women, but if we truly want to be seen as good men, then we must accept that we created patriarchy and step to the forefront to destroy it. Only then can we truly say “not all men.””
As a therapist to many trauma survivors, as well as a friend and family member to countless women who have shared their personal stories of objectification and violations by men, it’s hard not to get caught up in angry rhetoric; to not wonder where all the “good men” are in #MeToo conversations or global movements aimed at addressing domestic and sexual violence.
Through awkward and crucial conversations at home and being the only woman in a room full of men in our agency’s Partner Assault Response (PAR) program for nearly 10 years, I’ve discovered how easily we can become triggered and launch into defenses against shame creating further divide.
Social media can be a great way for people to share their stories and break their sense of shame and isolation for survivors, but it can also be a pressure cooker for hate rhetoric on both sides. Are “good” men staying silent or feeling like they need to defend themselves because of language like “toxic masculinity?” Or is it the shaming hashtags and videos that make men feel like the core of who they are is under attack?
Language has the power to divide or unite. I fear instead of inviting men into the conversation to work towards solutions, they are feeling like the enemy and staying silent for fear of saying the wrong thing or lashing back. If we want to move past an “us or them mentality” we have to create brave spaces for crucial conversations and collaboration beginning in our homes. We need a fundamental shift in how we relate to one another and the words we use especially when we are angry. We have to be willing to show up with humility and acknowledge that we can learn from one another and that all of us can do better.
Effective communication and emotion coaching are skills a lot of us have not been taught. But they can be learned through individual therapy or in groups like our agency’s “Healthy Living: Positive Steps for Dealing with Anger” and “Women Helping Women.”
We can continue to attack one another or we can seek to understand and find common ground. Everyone’s voice is needed. The future is all of us.
Nicole Schiener is a registered psychotherapist in Cambridge