I’m worried about white men. I know this is a risky thing to write. White middle-aged men in particular. I know, you may think I’m a racist, or an ageist. Or fomenting conflict. From my point of view, I am genuinely worried about white-middle-aged men (and yes, in case you don’t know me, I’m also concerned about African American men, women and other social groups, and aware of many of their struggles).
Why white men? There are several reasons. 1) It seems like almost no one else is. 2) We white men are the prime reason women are harassed and sexually abused—which suggests we have a lot of unprocessed trauma. 3) We hold higher social rank than many women and men of color, which means we’re also prone to being unconscious about the needs and feelings of others, for that often goes along with high rank. 4) We have taken a pretty good hit, in a variety of ways, since #Metoo exploded in Oct 2017. (yes, well-deserved and for every good reason!). and 5) Most importantly, we middle aged white men make up the majority all suicides in the USA, according to the AFSP (70% in 2017). It is even worse in the UK where suicide is the #1 cause of death for white men.
I have been touched deeply by suicide. When I was in the seminary, one of priests on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame—a middle aged white man— took his own life. Also, a gifted and gregarious seminarian took his own life—which shook us all to the core. And one of our neighbors, a friend of our son’s, took his own life just two years ago.
Plus, on a much more mundane level, just a few days ago I was in a not very straight line at a Costco with Kristen, my wife. It was hard to tell whose turn it was to move forward. I felt that we were next, so I moved ahead. I noticed two women who did not look happy about that, and also were moving ahead. One was definitely behind us. I deferred to both of them. It seemed like the right thing to do. My wife was not pleased with me. The same thing happened at another store about an hour later. Only that one was worse. Disturbed by the two who went ahead of me in Costco, I said something I almost never say anywhere, “I think it is my turn to go.” They said, “No, we are next.” It disturbed me.
Houston, I believe we’ve lost some rank. The social rules are changing.
Furthermore, I was contacted recently by a Fortune 500 company about leading a “Courageous Conversation” with about 1,500 people about the #MeToo movement, with a focus on how it has impacted men. Why? Because they report that some men are afraid to interact with women and it is hurting business. Wow.
These experiences suggest that some women are feeling empowered and men are “on their heels” (no pun intended).
I do not expect any empathy from most women on these observations. We all know that you have suffered in a variety of serious ways because of some men, and have been treated far worse that I just was in line at these stores. When 27,000+ tweeted “MeToo” in Oct 2017 it sent a clarion call of awareness to the world, and in particular to men. I do expect, from women who have been “healed enough” in their relationships with men, and their upset about the fundamental gender-injustices, curiosity and a willingness to have a conversation.
Things have been unequal for a very long time. It is time for change. Many women are feeling powerful. Some of us men are feeling vulnerable. “Welcome to the club!” the ladies say. “It is about time.” “Your turn to suffer.” “Let’s get out our little violins.” I know, revenge is natural response, I feel it too some days.
And I’m just a little worried about what is happening to men. I believe that men have fewer relational resources. We tend to have less friends than women, and we tend to be less emotionally intelligent, which is a proven key to success in life. And we are less likely to work with our trauma, our inner wounds. Call it “male fragility” if you wish.
What is the solution to all of this? Who knows?
I do have four ideas for men and three for women:
- Keep finding and healing your trauma
- Expect things to be different at work and home. Some women who used to defer to you are not going to now and that is just the beginning.
- If you have seniority at work, find ways to empower women…but do not forget other men.
- Remember the reasons women are claiming power. We have taken it, or abused it, in a variety of ways, for a very long time.
- Do not forget your emotional and relational rank. You tend to be far better at connecting and making friends. This is no small advantage you have. Connecting with others is a primary and essential human need.
- Keep growing your power. We men will be better off as you claim your power.
- And please, if you are feeling the need for revenge on men, find a way to transform that feeling.
Please let me know what you think of all this. I know these are hot issues right now. If you want to create more balanced and healthy human communities at work and home, please be in touch. I’d be honored to be a part of making that happen!