Reaching for Women and Men

From a talk by Tim Jackins at the East Coast USA RC Women’s Conference, March 2004

I’ve talked about how sexism makes you feel bad about yourselves. That comes in from the outside. It’s not your creation. It’s never your creation. It sometimes happens harshly and explicitly, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes gradually, but it all comes from the outside and is not you, is not your doing, is not your fault. But it is yours now—you’ve got it, and nobody can get it out of you but you. It’s like all of our distresses—they’re ours, and changing them is up to us.1 We can create the conditions for discharging them, and we can remind ourselves to not believe them until we get them discharged and they’re no longer a struggle.

Not only are these distresses ours, but every time we get hurt, what comes in is not just the targeted side but also the oppressor side, the active side, of the distress. We get both. Both are recorded; both are ours now. We may never have acted out that other side, but it’s there. It’s ours. I think of people of German heritage born after World War II. Some of them want to disassociate themselves from being German, want to say that what happened years ago wasn’t them. And it wasn’t them—but if you grew up with people who had that material2 and who acted it out, you have that material, too. It’s not your fault, but you can’t pretend you don’t get your folks’ material. Yes, you are blameless. And yes, you’re a carrier of those distresses. You’ve got them, and you need to work on them.

This is true of all the distresses we carry, including sexism. Sexism gets acted out here among you women. All of the ways you feel bad about yourselves have a backhand to lash out at somebody else, in pretty much the same way you were targeted. Whether or not it gets active, you see it run through your mind. (laughter) Come on, come on. Okay, you see it run through her mind. (laughter) It’s there. You can work on it.

You have to ’fess up to it.3 You have to be quite explicit about the horrible, nasty, catty, vicious, mean, petty things that go through your mind about other women. How are you going to be a clear ally for other women if that stuff runs in your head and you can’t even tell anybody it’s part of your struggle?

We all try to treat people well, and we do okay—but with a certain amount of pretense. We’ve got to get out of that. Sometime at this conference—in a mini-session, long session, or group—you need to look at those negative feelings and talk about what tries to take over your mind. It isn’t you, it’s not your doing, and it‘s not your fault—but it’s there. It doesn’t go away until it gets discharged, and that means you have to tell somebody about how it blocks you.

The other thing is about guys, and our material. (lots of laughter) Guys have been made unaware, even with our best intentions. You need to work on all the stupid things we do. Not just the meanest, harshest things you’ve read about that scare you most. You are saturated with the little things we unawarely do. They have a profound effect.

A lot of guys—all the guys in Co-Counseling and probably most of the guys outside of it—are functioning on their best intentions almost all of the time, trying as hard as they can to do the right thing. They can hang on to the idea of doing the right thing, even if they can’t think clearly or notice the effect of it. The intention is there. You need to remember that, when you can’t figure out what a guy is doing. The odds are good that there’s a good intention back there.

That’s not enough, of course. And a good intention is not a reason to accept misguided distress-laden sexist behavior toward you, or to take pity on the guy and leave him there in that distress. It is not of human benefit to a guy to excuse him quietly without giving him a nudge that pushes him out of that distress a little, so that it’s at least questioned. You can do a lot more than that if you have the time and intention. Please do. It’s not a favor to be sympathetic to someone who’s trapped in his or her distress, including guys around sexism.

A lot of you live with us—every day. Every day! You need a chance to look at all the ways guys with whom you live (or with whom you have the most contact) haven’t been able to figure things out. Knowing they’re functioning on their best intentions can make you sympathetic and tolerant—reactively, not thoughtfully. Being thoughtfully tolerant is understanding what the behavior is and where it comes from, not getting upset back—but also figuring something out that gives the guy a chance to change it and gives you a chance to change the situation. Giving up on4 having any effect just because the same noise has come out of him every day for the last seventeen years is not good for you, and certainly not good for him.

A lot of good work is being done with men in Co-Counseling. It’s better now than ever. Men are shifting. We’re not apologizing for our existence nearly so much, and some of us even like each other. We’re getting more alive and are more alive around you. But for those of you who live with us, you are the main resource. You have to understand this. You are still the main resource. You’re the main avenue we have for getting a better picture of reality, and that means a big set of things. It means that when you get lost, we don’t know what to do. We’re counting on5 you, though maybe unawarely. (laughter) It is reactive, but it’s not only that. There’s also an important logic to using you as the best picture of reality we’ve got. It is often exactly true. For a lot of guys, the woman they live with is the best picture of reality they get, period.6 So it’s not a surprise that when you or your relationship to a guy starts to rattle, the world gets very shaky for him. He often doesn’t know what to do about it.

Of course it doesn’t have to stay that way. We guys can think more about the relationship, about ourselves, and about you, and we can interrupt our own unawareness that comes with sexism. You can help make this happen, if you work on all of the ways you’ve given up on us—and there are a lot of them. You also have to understand that we may have given up, too.

Guys give up. The guy you’re relating to probably gave up before you met him and just kept going because there wasn’t any other alternative. We try to keep going, and we make the best of it. But often in a guy’s mind is the thought that although being with this person is about the best thing that has happened to him,  at some point he will disappoint her enough that it will end. The expectation sits there that he will be alone again. You need to know that. You don’t need to take care of it, but you need to understand it, so that when various things happen, you have some context for how lost a guy can get—how quickly and on what small pretext.

The other thing is that sexism trains you to expect men to save you from certain pieces of oppression, including sexism. Because we’re supposed to save you from some of it (or at least find you a safe place to hide from it), you have odd frozen expectations of us that no one could begin to fulfill—and that we’re usually in no shape7 to even be aware of. (laughter) There’s no hope of even pretending. Many of us can’t even go along with your fantasies about it. (laughter)

Sexism often hits women with, “Some guy will be different enough, good enough, see me clearly enough, won’t be lost in this way. Some guy will be different from guys.” Somebody will have escaped what happens to guys and will somehow find you and take care of things. A lot of guys reactively wish they could be that.

Part of sexism is that all of us have difficulty believing we can have a fully human relationship, so we end up trying to get someone stuck on us,8 get someone fascinated and restimulated so that he or she can’t get us out of his or her mind. Because we don’t really trust that mind to think and be engaged, and because a fascination is better than the indifference and neglect we often feel, we try for fascination to attract each other—essentially try to restimulate each other’s distresses. You know how to do it. You’ve been trained. Come on, don’t sit there quiet. Come on. (laughter) You know how to sit, you know how to look, you know how to be, (loud laughter) and men do feel like we like it.

But it’s not what you want, and it’s not the relationship we want between men and women either. It’s easy to understand why men get locked there, but when you’re lucky, you get past that initial reactive attraction. Then you get a chance to actually notice each other, and something else can build. That’s when you’re lucky. When things work, you get past that façade and you actually get in communication with each other and get to build a real relationship.

We need to interrupt all these pieces of distress so that we end up really having each other, having full contact with each other’s intelligence. That’s what we all arrive looking for but are forced to give up on. We are made to settle for these other limited versions of being with each other. We, all of us, want another chance at a full relationship.

1 Up to us means our job.
2 Material means distress.
3 ’Fess up to it means confess to it.
4 Giving up on means abandoning hope for and effort toward.
5 Counting on means depending on.
6 Period is a way of saying “and that’s the whole story.”
7 In this context, shape means condition.
8 Stuck on us means preoccupied with us.

Last modified: 2015-03-24 23:48:32+00