We began this mini-series a few weeks ago as listener Brian Stout and I co-interviewed Dr. Carol Gilligan as an introduction to the topic of patriarchy, how it is present in every aspect of raising our children, and the negative impacts it has on our children's lives - both on boys and girls.
The interview with Dr. Gilligan laid the groundwork for us, and in this episode Brian and I are back for a conversation about what we learned and what implications this has for the way we will raise our children. We discuss:
- Why Brian, a cisgendered, heterosexual white male - an apparent beneficiary of patriarchal systems - is so interested in dismantling it
- Some of the specific ways we parents perpetuate patriarchy through our parenting, even if we don't realize we're doing it!
- Why 'masculine' qualities like logic are prized over 'feminine' qualities like understanding the physical experience of the body and recognizing emotions (and why it's ridiculous that these qualities are gendered in the first place)
- How patriarchy hurts men (mentally, emotionally, and physically) as well as women
- Brian's top four conclusions and actions to take to begin the work of dismantling patriarchy in our own families (and, by extension, in society more broadly)
[accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"]
Jen: 01:25 Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today's episode is a followup that my guest today, Brian Stout and I did recently with Dr. Carol Gilligan on the topic of patriarchy and if you aren't very familiar with what this is and the role that it plays in our lives as parents then I definitely recommend that you go back and listen to that one before you listen to this episode. And I'm glad today that we have a bit more time in this interview for me to properly introduce my guest whose name is Brian Stout. And as with so many of the topics that we've covered related to privilege and social systems, patriarchy is kind of one of those things I might never have considered as relevant to parenting and child development if someone hadn't helped me to draw that connection. And the connection was drawn in a really roundabout way.
Jen: 02:09 Brian actually first reached out to me because he had read a series of blog posts that I'd written on how to do a 10-day hike around Mont Blanc with my then 8-week-old daughter. And he wanted more information because he was planning to do a similar trip with his wife and daughter. And we've kept in touch on and off over the years. But it wasn't until recently that I learned a lot more about his work at the intersection of progressive philanthropy and social justice movements. And so Brian holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Amherst College and a Master's in International Relations from Johns Hopkins and he has a background in foreign policy, conflict prevention and international development. He's been exploring his role in dismantling patriarchal systems for some time now. And when I read the second in a series of long blog posts that he'd written on this topic, I wrote to him and I said, dude, I think you're one of the smartest people I know and I want to do at least one podcast episode on this topic.
Jen: 02:57 And so he recommended some books for me to read and we spent quite a bit of time thinking about who would be our ideal guest for this. And we quickly landed on Dr. Gilligan for the introduction to the topic. But unfortunately we weren't able to find a single researcher or thinker who is specifically working at the intersection of patriarchy and parenting, which of course is our main concern. And so we're going to have a chat about the researchers whose work we have been able to draw together ourselves. So welcome back Brian. Thanks for being with us.
Brian: 03:26 Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Jen: 03:28 So, let's start with something that I felt when we first talked about patriarchy a few months ago, we were talking about the podcast and I asked you what you were working on and you were mentioning that you'd been doing a lot of thinking on and work to dismantle patriarchy. And I have to say that my first reaction was one of surprise because not to put too fine a point on it, but you're a white, cisgender, heterosexual male and aren't you essentially the beneficiary of patriarchy. So why would you be interested in dismantling it?
Brian: 04:01 Yeah, thank you. It's a super important question and what I continue to struggle with. I think to some extent I've been in this journey my whole life, but to be honest, I've only been focused specifically on patriarchy for about 2 years. So for the first 35 years of my existence on this planet, I had no meaningful understanding of what patriarchy was or how it operated. And this was despite the fact that I grew up with what I consider a strong feminist mother identified as a feminist since I was a teenager. I took gender studies courses in college. But for me the turning point came when I first read bell hooks. She wrote a book back in 2004 called The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. And there's a line in there that stopped me when I first read it because she says, “Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease, assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation”.
Brian: 04:53 And I confess, when I first read it I thought maybe it was a typo. I’m sure she meant female, right? But she didn't. She meant male. And as I read on, I found myself nodding along and recognizing in her words aspects of my own lived experience that I had ignored or silenced or otherwise not had language for. And honestly for one of the first times in my life I felt seen and I credit bell hooks both with giving me the words with which to understand my own experience, but even more importantly the courage to name that was happening. I think most of what she said in the book was not new to me, but it was more that she gave me permission to trust and believe what I had always felt. And I think, you know, we can talk more about the interview with Carol Gilligan later, but I think one of the things that I found so powerful in Carol's writing and research and work is exactly that, that sense of an alienated voice coming back.
Brian: 05:42 And it's exactly the point you raised. I mean, how could I as a straight white man with class privilege possibly have anything to complain about? And so my own dissatisfaction, my own pain, my own discomfort within the system felt somehow illegitimate. So maybe I can just offer one anecdote to connect this back to my life and specifically with my own quest for belonging in this world and that is that as a child or an adolescent and into adulthood, I was always a sensitive kid, probably somewhere in the empath scale. And I'm the middle child, so I've always been very other-oriented, a people pleaser and I sought out deep relationships. I wanted emotional intimacy even though as a kid I didn't have language for that and I couldn't find it in homosocial spaces. So with groups of boys or men, you know, sports teams, for example, homophobia and the fear of intimacy made that kind of authentic connection that I was looking for impossible.
Brian: 06:33 And while I could get there one on one with some of my male friends, usually they couldn't reciprocate. They didn't necessarily have the emotional tools or intelligence to respond in kind. So I found myself gravitating as a kid and as an adolescent and adult towards friendships with girls and women. They seem to better able to kind of hold these types of conversations. And as an adult, I've sought out feminist spaces. But of course the irony is that I don't belong there either. Right? And even to this day, I still struggle to find places where I feel like I can bring my whole authentic self. And even sort of naming that and giving myself permission to hold that as a loss is part of my own journey in this work.
Jen: 07:11 Yeah. And even the idea that you as a man have some conception of what your whole authentic self is. I mean, aren’t you supposed to be just the solid Oak who doesn't really have any feelings and can't express any emotion other than anger?
Brian: 07:23 So I've been told.
Jen: 07:26 Yeah. And just to go back to something you mentioned right at the beginning about what bell hooks was saying about that, you know, this is something that's hurting men. And it made me think of another book that you told me to read, which was Liz Plank's book. And it's new this year, it’s called For the Love of Men. And she really pulls together a lot of strands of research on specifically how patriarchy is hurting men. Can we talk through some of those?
Brian: 07:48 Yeah, I think again, it's one of those things that we sort of know intuitively but don't name and don't think about. So this series I recommend to folks is there's a podcast series called MEN by Scene on Radio. The same folks who did Seeing White and it's fantastic and they walk through over the course of nine or 10 episodes, different ways in which they sort of archetypes of masculinity hold us back and harm us. So the obvious one that often gets talked about is suicide, right? Men commit suicide rates way higher than women. Another one is just violence, right? We often think of male violence as targeting women and it does, and that's horrible, but 75% of homicide victims are male, right? Most violence among men is targeting other men and targeting ourselves. So that's another component. The other one that often gets talked about in most people in heterosexual partnerships can relate to is around mental health and emotional well-being.
Brian: 08:43 Most men don't have language for their own feelings, didn't get the skillset to articulate them. And there's still a very strong stigma in society against seeking mental health support, seeking help in general. I mean, even to this day, I've been in therapy now with my wife for two years and it's so helpful. And even with all that, I still find it very difficult to ask for help. You know, just even with something simple. I broke my foot two years ago and had a hard time asking my wife to hold the door for me. So even something like that simple is really baked in and it sort of has knock-on impacts throughout the way we move through the world around our ability to really participate.
Jen: 09:19 Yeah and the stress associated with dealing with mental health issues in those ways I mean, it makes men turn to things like alcohol and other not socially acceptable, but I guess it is socially acceptable for men to deal with their emotions in that way rather than seeking out help.
Brian: 09:39 Yeah, absolutely. No, I think there's been a growing literature in the last few years on this subject. Anne Case, and Angus Deaton talked about the Deaths of Despair that initially focused on sort of middle aged white men and Appalachia, but it's a much broader phenomenon now and increasingly includes women too. So it's a bigger concern for American society. But what they found was that basically men's life expectancy is going down primarily as a function of what they call Deaths of Despair, which is men either killing themselves, self-mitigating to the point of death, opioid use and alcohol and basically checking out of a sort of relational support systems. And that is something I resonate with. And that doesn't describe my immediate life, the dynamics it describes feels very similar to me.
Jen: 10:21 Yeah. And so listeners are now getting a feel for how my conversations with Brian always go. I always end up with a massive reading list at the end of it. So we'll make sure to put all these resources that Brian's mentioning into the references at the end so that you can go and dig into them yourselves if you want to. And so, okay. So we've talked a little about kind of what patriarchism and why it's hurtful. And just to reiterate something that we drew out with Dr. Gilligan that we are not anti-men here. We're not saying that men are bad, men are evil and feminism is a better way to go because of that. We're saying that patriarchy is a thing that is not working for us as a society and that both men and women will be better off if we find a different way of relating to each other. Right?
Brian: 11:04 Yeah, absolutely. And I think for me, one of the hardest things about this work is understanding that we tend to conflate male with masculine, right? We equate feminine with female. We can equate patriarchy with sexism and these terms are not synonymous. There's nothing inherently--there's no greater connection between male and masculine than there is with male and feminine. Right? These are human qualities and human capacities. And I think part of what we have to struggle with is sort of degendering those terms and allowing ourselves to learn about sort of who we are as whole people.
Jen: 11:36 Yeah. Okay, so let's start to get into the practicalities of what this means for parents and thinking about how the system persists. And I know that you've read Dr. John Bradshaw on this topic and bell hooks whom we've mentioned already as a feminist thinker, and I'm going to read a few quotes from her book where she quotes Dr. Bradshaw as saying that “Patriarchal rules still govern most of the world's religious school systems and family systems.” And then she says. “The most damaging of these rules are a “blind obedience” the foundation upon which patriarchy stands the repression of all emotions except fear.” And just as a side note here, I thought it was interesting that Bradshaw says fear and not anger, which is what Dr. Gilligan calls out specifically. And then back to bell hooks, the destruction of individual willpower and the repression of thinking wherever it departs from the authority figures way of thinking.
Jen: 12:23 And then later on she goes on to say patriarchal thinking shapes the values of our culture. We are socialized into the system, females as well as males. Most of us learn patriarchal attitudes in our family of origin, and they usually taught to us by our mothers. These attitudes were reinforced in schools and religious institutions. So let's kind of pick these apart one by one. Most mothers, myself included, probably haven't given much thought to patriarchy until now. And I suppose that's kind of the point, right? So what are those, some of the ways that mothers teach children about patriarchal attitudes and what is their role in this system?
Brian: 12:55 Yeah, I mean I think to me the hardest part of parenting, especially under patriarchy, is realizing that it's not about what you say, it's about what you do. And so we can be well read and have the best intentions, but what do our kids see us doing each day, right? As we espouse, we have lean in values or whatever sort of gender equity mantra be we believe in our heads and where kids see picking up the laundry or wiping the tables or doing the shopping or doing the cooking, we can't help but an act gender roles and countering those patterns takes serious intentionality. Right? And partnership to both parents. It's not enough that a woman cannot do this on her own, right? And a heterosexual partnership, the male, the father has to be an equal partner in this. So one way I think about it is that if patriarchy at its core, it's about hierarchy and domination, right?
Brian: 13:40 Carol in the other episode was talking about the opposite of patriarchy is democracy, right? Equal voice.
Jen: 13:45 Yeah.
Brian: 13:46 So how many of us run our households as democracies, right? How many of us actually sincerely practice this in our relationships with our partners, with our kids, right? Our very model of parenting, they know sort of parents as authoritative figures, children learning by parents all the rules is inherently patriarchy. So I don't actually think there's much utility in singling out women here. Right? I think you get blamed for enough as it is. I do think it's important to recognize that women also perpetuate these dynamics and it's not enough for men to change, right? Women have to change too, and of course we need each other to support that change.
Jen: 14:18 Yeah. And so I think gender roles is one aspect of how this works. And another thing that bell hooks calls out and she says the perpetuation of male violence through the teaching of a dominator model of relationships comes to boy children through both men and women. Patriarchy breeds maternal sadism and women who embrace its logic. What do you make of that?
Brian: 14:36 Yeah, I mean that's tough, right? I feel like in reflecting on my own childhood that the example that bell hooks talks about of how sort of the patriarchy is enforced in the family dynamic is normally sort of the male, the father figure will assert some sort of domination over their child whether it's in the form of spanking, which thankfully is increasingly passé or raising the voice or using physical with the child and then the child will turn to the mother for support, for help to say, Hey, this is wrong, this is wrong. I don't support this. And then the mom will often side with the father, right? So upholding the patriarchy over sort of this relational connection between the child and the mother. And so there's kind of a double heartless, right? It's the harm with the father in the first place. And it's exacerbated because the mother sort of then isn't there to support the child and help in that way.
Brian: 15:26 So that's one way it shows up. I think another that I've experienced and continue to experience is I was a more sensitive kid. So I would make claims on my parents' attention and make claims on my mother in particular for my emotional needs and where those needs strayed too far towards sort of the “feminine” they would be ignored or punished, you know, some version of the kind of man up. And with intimate partners as well, like I think a lot of men, one of the fears we have in heterosexual relationships is that the women in our lives won't support our vulnerability. Right? And they say they want it and then we show it and they're not there for it. And so I think there's this dynamic of each of us is looking to the other for a signal that we can be finally safe, but we can't do it alone.
Jen: 16:10 Yeah. And just to sort of really pull that out and when we're talking about the dominator model of relationships, we're not just saying things like physical force and shouting and things that you might think of as well, yeah, that's wrong. We're also thinking about things like shame and other tools that parents may not even realize that they're using to teach children what is acceptable behavior for their gender.
Brian: 16:35 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think for folks who haven't yet watched the still face experiment that Carol referenced in the other episode…
Jen: 16:42 We’ll put a link to it in the references.
Brian: 16:46 I mean, I myself am guilty of that. I've watched the scene, deep into attachment theory, I think a lot about patriarchy and its force. And yet if one of my children does something that they know they're not supposed to that I find unacceptable, what’s my first instinct, right? I ignored them. My face goes cold. I avert my eyes and if I'm present in the moment, I'll catch myself and try to reconnect. But it's so deep and it's so ingrained and it's just we're reacting and enacting patterns that we grew up with.
Jen: 17:16 Yeah. That is still practiced in disciplinary methods that are taught today. I mean, there are disciplinary methods out there where the educators will tell you reward behavior you want to see and ignore behavior that you don't. And so what happens when that happens back to bell hooks, quoting John Bradshaw again and the splitting that takes place when a child learns that the way they organically feel is not acceptable. And she says the feeling that I have done something wrong, that I really don't know what it is, that there's something terribly wrong with my being leads to a sense of utter hopelessness. It means there's no possibility for me as I am. There's no way I can matter or be worthy of anyone's love as long as I remain myself. I must find a way to be someone else. Someone who is lovable, someone who is not me.
Jen: 17:58 And hook says that, “Sexist roles restrict the identity formation of male and female children. But the process is far more damaging to boys because not only are the roles required of them more rigid and confining, but they're much more likely to receive severe punishment when they deviate from those roles.” So, you know, this is really profound stuff here that when we respond to our child in that way, even if it is just a still face, when they've done something that we disapprove of, they are taking such a powerful lesson from that about what it means to do something that you don't appreciate what's going to happen to them. And if this happens on a tiny little incident when they're young, they carry that forward. And as they get older and the issues become different and bigger, are they going to come to you when they are in trouble, when they need help figuring something out?
Brian: 18:44 Yeah, no, for sure. I think to me, yes, every small interaction does matter, but not to make too big of point. But I think we have the capacity to repair and that to me is what's so powerful about Carol's work is that she encouraged us, reminds us that we are going to mess up, right? We're human. Parents were going to have mistakes and not show up that we'd want to show up for our children and for each other. And then we have to fix that. And I think that to me is where being intentional connecting through the kind of life we're trying to lead and raise our kids into and how we show up is really important. There's a line that stayed with me since I first encountered it that says, “No one enters into violence for the first time by committing it”.
Brian: 19:27 And what that means, it's sort of obvious, right? Like kids aren't born violent, right? They learn these behaviors and the flip of that is also true, right? That we need to first experience love. That is we have to be loved in order to learn how to love, right? It's sort of this obvious reality. And yet we, you know, particularly for our voice, we don't often have a skill set. I was very lucky to grow up with two loving parents. And even then, I mean, the love that was expressed was still very much couched within the patriarchal society in which we grew up. And so as an adult now, I've been married for over 10 years and I'm still practicing accepting love like believing that I am lovable as I am and not just focusing on loving my partner and trying to be a good provider, a good caregiver and that to me is still, you know, yeah, I mean part of what's challenging about this.
Jen: 20:23 Yeah. And I think that this kind of tends to fall to mothers as, because we're often considered responsible for a lot of children's socialization. And so I'm thinking about balance here and we want our girls to be liked by others. That's often a goal of parents is to make sure that all of our children, but particularly girls are liked by others. And that kind of means they have to be nice, whatever that means. And we want our boys to be independent and not dependent on us. And so how do we do this while we tell our girls to be quiet and that they shouldn't say things that aren't nice. And we tell our boys not to be scared of things. And I'm wondering what's an appropriate balance because we want our girls to be able to say what they feel, but we also don't want them to be rejected because we haven't taught them how to function in society. And we want our boys to know that they can come to us with any problem that they have. But we also, most parents I think, don't necessarily want them living with us for the rest of their lives. And so how can we kind of think through where do we find that balance in these skills?
Brian: 21:21 Man, yeah, that question is so hard. I think to me it's an even broader question, right? It's how can you survive and indeed thrive in this world, the one that we live in while we work to bring about what we desperately want.
Jen: 21:33 Yeah, and that's a big question I get from parents when I start exploring this is like, yeah, I'm on board with this. I'm on board with socializing my son so that he can be dependent on people and express love. But what happens when he gets to middle school and he gets shamed by all the other boys? I mean, how is he going to function in that situation?
Brian: 21:49 Yeah, totally. I mean, first caveat is we don't know, right?
Jen: 21:53 Right.
Brian: 21:54 I have no idea. We do the best we can.
Jen: 21:55 You're not supposed to say you don't have any idea, guest don't say that.
Brian: 22:00 I will say, I mean my wife and I, we do two things. One is we try to teach them our values about how we think the world ought to be and then we tried to explain why sometimes it isn't that way. So it's about, and you know, believe me, we fail on this all the time. It's a work in progress, but encouraging and giving them courage and resilience so that when the world tests them as it will, they have the strength to resist. And I think that's again referring to Carol's conversation in the earlier episode, kids have this inherent internal resistance, right? It's present. So we just wanna encourage them to trust that instinct and at least even if the world is not there for them, we will be. So the best we've been able to do so far and you know, our kids are two and a half and four and a half and you might be detecting a theme to my answers here is to try to model it, right?
Brian: 22:45 And it's super hard and it's super important. So maybe just to share one anecdote to kind of make this point is a few months ago we were having a family dinner and I'm serving some chicken from a shared bowl onto my four-year-old’s plate. And my wife did notice that this is what I was doing. And she reached over and grabbed the bowl kind of while I was mid scoop. And so I gave her this kind of passive aggressive look like what the hell, which of course she doesn't notice ‘cause she's serving herself some chicken and then she puts the bowl back and I shrug it off. It's been like, you know, resume serving in this whole thing took maybe five seconds, but my daughter's been watching and she speaks up and she says, daddy, you can use your words you know. So this is one of those things I’m like, you know, definitely a husband fail in that moment, right? Not my best self, but a parenting win, right? Like our kids are getting the skills that we're trying to convey, which is like this is how we ask for what we want. This is how we treat each other. And that to me felt like a mini celebration even if it was not completely.
Jen: 23:46 Yeah. And so what are some of the other ways that we try and kind of bring these ideas to our children? I'm just thinking through, you know, boys get to rough house and climb and girls are prompted to be careful. So maybe we cannot tell our girls to be careful as much. Maybe we cannot tell our boys that they're strong. And the girls that they're beautiful because there was a fantastic study done that dressed up a baby in boy clothes and girls clothes and it was the same baby. And people responded to it differently. Not telling our girls to be quiet and be nice and our boys don't cry. And another thing that I think parents often do, and I've done this myself, is to switch out the genders of the boy dominated children's books so that girls can have exciting adventures in books too.
Jen: 24:26 But in a way, I think this is part of the problem, actually, this particular one, not part of the solution because what we're doing when we do that is we accept that the male view of the world is the norm and that girls should want to have these strong masculine traits that we see in these kinds of books as well. But we don't support girl’s femininity and we especially don't support boys in expressing femininity. So where are the books about caring and where are the boys in those books particularly? So it seems as though this is such a fraught path for parents.
Brian: 24:53 Yeah, totally. I mean, you know, daily struggle for sure. I think to me the most striking aspect of how hard this is and where it shows up is just simply how much we as a society insist on gender in our children, right?
Jen: 25:05 Yeah.
Brian: 25:06 It’s the first thing we want to know, are you having a boy or a girl? When we need a tiny baby whose gender is totally ambiguous, we fished her clues, right? Pink hat and blue hat. And I am totally guilty of this all the time. I mean, I remember when we first found out that our first child was a girl, I thought, Oh wow, you know, this changes things. And I had thought for some inexplicable reason that we'd be having a boy. And then my second thought was, actually, no, of course not.
Brian: 25:31 It should change nothing. Right? Like what possible difference can my child's gender, particularly in the early years have to do with anything? And then we speak to them, right? We gender that you're a smart girl, right? You're a good boy. And then we gender the world, right? Look at that firearm man or that woman over there. And kids are smart whatever we call out, they will understand to be significant. So one of the ways that my wife and I tried to combat this and to be clear, we fail daily, is to avoid gendering things where the gender isn't relevant to the point that you're trying to pick, right? Which if you think about it is almost everything like gender is almost never relevant to a point you’re making. That person over there is doing this, you know, the fact that they look one way or another is usually immaterial.
Jen: 26:13 Yeah. And I'm just thinking back to the episode we did quite a while ago now with Dr. Krista Brown where she was talking about essentially the same idea in her book Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue. And the only exception that she made to that is when children make a statement that is not true. And she gave the example of her husband is a firefighter and she and her children have been going to the fire station since they were tiny. There's a female firefighter there who is dressed in firefighting outfit. So it's clear she's a firefighter and they leave the firehouse one time and they're in the car on the way home. And Dr. Brown's daughter says, women can't be firefighters. Dr. Brown was like, what do you mean? We just saw a female firefighter. And so her point was when children have these incorrect ideas about the world that we should correct them, but the rest of the time, the vast majority of the time, gender is just kind of irrelevant. And we in our culture just over emphasize it constantly where it just doesn't.
Brian: 27:09 Yeah. And I think, I mean, one of things that we struggle with is, you know, so we pay a lot of attention to what books we get for our kids. Right? And there's one that our four year old likes and there's a birthday party for six year old and this kid supposed to be six in the book. And the people come to the party, one of them says, Oh no, there's going to be a girl there, it’s a boys party. What an awful statement to have in a book. Right? And so, you know, the first time I read it, I just skipped that part. Just skipped over it. But then it's sort of relevant to the context of the kid's facial expression of the picture. So then I tried to read it and we have to stop right there. So okay, is that true? Is it bad that a girl comes to a boy's birthday party? No, of course not, right? That's ludicrous. But even the fact that this was a pretty progressive book we were reading and it was supposed to be sort of racially diverse. Those messages are everywhere. And so if we don't call them out, we risk reinforcing them. Even calling them out gives more weight to them that I want to give them. Right? So it ends up being this tough struggle.
Jen: 28:07 Yeah. I'm in the process of looking for books that we can read almost like a safe list of books. And it's a hard thing to do because you never know if the issues are being ignored because nobody's thought about them or if you're always getting, because there are only a few pages and a short story, you're getting part of the story. You're getting a strong female character or you're getting a caring female character and you almost never get the kind of true depth and nuance of people that have both traditionally masculine, traditionally feminine qualities that we see in real people.
Brian: 28:44 Mm-hmm. When you finish that list please send it.
Jen: 28:48 Yeah, yeah. I will add it to the reference list, assuming I can find enough books to put on it. And so we've talked a lot about mothers, but I'm also interested in fathers and bell hooks talks about boys being traumatized by relationships with what she says are distant or absent fathers. And on my first read of that sentence, in that phrase, I thought she meant physically distant or absent fathers. And then I realized that she meant also the lack of emotional connection between fathers and sons as well. What do you think about how this lack of closeness with father figures impacts boys specifically?
Brian: 29:19 Yeah, I mean, super important and hard to overstate. I think, you know, one way I've thought about this, and again this is like just trying to make sense of the world is my parents' generation, right? So the boomers is the first generation maybe ever where men had some freedom to explore a more emotionally available relationship with their children, right? Their parents, by large were greatest generation right here in America anyway, sort of stoic went to war, right? That traditional model, most of our grandfathers were, but of course our parents, they didn't have a good models. They were trying to experiment and build something new that they had no experience with by and large. And I was and I am fortunate to have a really close relationship with my own dad. But there's a difference between close, which we are and emotionally fluent, which we are not.
Brian: 30:03 I mean he did not grow up with the skills for how emotion to relay. And the very fact that he's as able as he is is to me amazing. That's a testament to his own journey and strength, and sort of willingness to be different is the model that he didn't have in his own life. But most of us didn't get that experience, right? We don't have, you know, handy models that we can turn to for what emotional authentic relationships look like with male figures in our life. And I will say, I mean, one way that I've kind of backed into the subject in my own life is thinking about the movies that get to me that make me cry and invariably, like I sort of was talking about this with my wife, I was like, wow, every single movie that makes me cry has to do with a sort of fraternal or parent bond between men.
Brian: 30:45 And so I don't generally recommend scrolling through YouTube comments as a way to spend time. But I will say that any movie where this is a theme, men will gather in huge numbers and YouTube comments and show all kinds of vulnerability. And it's amazing. So the movie example that I'm thinking of is this 2011 movie called The Warrior with Tom Hardy.
Jen: 31:06 The Warrior?
Brian: 31:07 The Warrior, yeah.
Jen: 31:08 Okay.
Brian: 31:09 So it's a mixed martial arts fighting movie and feels very masculine. But embedded within that is a really complicated relationship between these two estranged brothers and their estranged father and sort of how they come back together as a family to heal. And one of the comments in the YouTube that made me laugh is some guys said this is Titanic, but for men, right? This is where guys come to cry, which sort of struck me and the other movies that I like, you know, Dead Poets Society.
Brian: 31:36 Same thing. There's relationship between his kid and his father who doesn't understand him, how the boys and the men in that relationship, in that movie, sort of bond together to find emotional connection where they don't get it in their own families. It's so powerful and so relevant and so resonant. That even for me thinking about unpacking why that speaks to me so powerfully, I think it is part of this sense of loss. And I think maybe just one final thought to name here, a lot of us watch Brene Brown, right? And her audiences are typically 75 to 80% female. And I had a conversation with someone with her team about why that was and they related this anecdote, which Brene has talked about of how hard it is for men to be vulnerable and then how hard it is for their women to support them in that vulnerability. So I kind of alluded to this earlier, but it's this repeated refrain where men don't have the examples in their own lives as they're trying to create it out of whole cloth.
Jen: 32:35 And so you mentioned as we were talking through that the idea of this being a skill that your own father didn’t really learn and so where do we learn skills? We learned skills from our parents when we can. We also learn skills in schools, but in school we really, the way schools are envisioned right now, we learn how to think rationally, how to follow a train of reason, how to back up our assertions with evidence, how to remove ourselves from our writing. I remember being taught at age 11 that scientific writing involves removing yourself from your work by writing everything in third person as if the person doing the experiment is this value neutral person who makes no judgment that might impact the outcomes of the experiment, which I've learned a couple of decades later is actually not the case. And so on the flip side of that, we teach nothing related to the energies that are considered more feminine things like how to care, how to nurture.
Jen: 33:27 I'm learning this stuff now at age 40 that holding space for someone else's pain is one of the hardest things to do. And I'm pretty new to meditation. And I went to an introductory session at a center near us recently and the person who was giving the talk said that he had never been taught in school how to just be, and I'm thinking, yeah, that's because it's more of a typically feminine characteristic, which is devalued and not something that's important enough to be taught in school. And so that's why you have to stumble in midlife. And so yes, we are now seeing schools support students in things like learning to regulate their emotions and resolving conflicts. But it seems as though they're doing these things so that the students' emotions and disagreements will stop distracting them from the real work of learning. Do you see it in the same way?
Brian: 34:13 Yeah, I mean 100% I think, you know, one of the great disservices of patriarchy is that it devalues half of humanity, right? Half of the humanity that we hold within ourselves and then, you know, and the world. And so we don't get any training or education on how to cultivate the other half of ourselves. And I think there's this irony where women are expected to figure it out on their own, right? ‘Cause you're supposed to be more nurturing and therefore you have these inherent relational abilities. Good luck with that, right? And men are expected to do it at all. Not only we’re you not taught and there's no expectation that we'll figure it out. And then our wives and partners wonder why, you know, in our twenties and thirties that they're married to someone who is incapable of emotional connection. And it turns out, like our therapist said to my wife and I, you know, last year, she's like, yeah, 95% of the heterosexual couples she sees, it's this dynamic where the man has been taught his whole life and indeed survived because he's been taught not to show vulnerability.
Brian: 35:07 And then lo and behold, the marital relationship, wife or partner is asking them to show vulnerability. It feels like a bait-and-switch, right. We've been taught one thing and now suddenly wants other thing. And I think, I mean from an education standpoint, sex ed to me is the clearest example of this where it is one of the most important aspects of human relationships, right? And how do we connect sexually and it's relegated to this cursory and often, you know, segregated by gender, right? Boys over here, girls over there discussion about anatomy, right? No discussion of consent, of love, of pleasure, of cultivated desire, and we wonder why it continues use to break apart relationships. Like here I am 37 years old, married for 10 plus years and still with myself, with my partner, trying to figure out how do we cultivate our own, embrace our own desire and I get angry.
Brian: 35:53 Even just thinking about what a disservice my own willful lack of education was in this respect. I think therapy is super important. I mean any practice that we have that helps us cultivate emotional intelligence, presence. I like what you're saying about trying to get out of our minds and into our bodies, which is something a quite dominant culture, patriarchal culture we’re taught not to do, right? So somatics, yoga, meditation, you know, sports, anything that allows us to connect with holistically. And I will say, I mean we can talk a bit more about this in a second. I think it's changing. There is now an expectation hopefully that we will have social emotional learning as a component of our children's education. And I think for me like when I am now touring schools for kindergarten for my eldest child, and if that's not front and center, that school's off the list. I want my kid to have a holistic education about things that matter and how we connect to each other. What could be more important though?
Jen: 36:46 Yeah. And I think the examples that you're giving there about integrating the brain and the body are really important because we do tend to have this split where the brain and the body are kind of separate and we think about them separately. We don't think about the ways that the things we're experiencing mentally and emotionally affect our bodies. And they do. And the sort of the rational mental side of things is privileged and seen as more important than dominant. And if we can bring back this connection between our brains and our bodies, then I think it gives space for us to kind of exist in the world in a much more holistic way.
Brian: 37:23 Yeah. And I think, I mean for me this came out really clearly in the work of might get his name wrong, but the Vivek Hallegere Murthy, the surgeon general under president Obama, he's done a lot of talking about loneliness. And there is empirical data, medical data that says that the effects on the body of being lonely are equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Like absolute direct impact on our body for something that we tend to think of as, you know, abstract or theoretical. What is loneliness, right? And I think giving people language to understand that that's a real felt human need and that that connection is more than just nice to have that actually has some impact on our health to me is part of how we move out of this.
Jen: 38:10 Yeah. And so as we start to think about what it means to move on from a patriarchal system, we've talked about Liz Plank's book and how she draws together the data showing that patriarchy is really hurting men in real ways, reducing life expectancy and making them vulnerable to illnesses like heart disease and lung disease as well as of course the depression, alcoholism, suicide that we talked about. And there are links obviously as well with violence towards a partner having been arrested, substance use and so on. And on the flip side of that, there's actually some limited, I will say, limited causal evidence showing that gender equality seems to have a positive effect on well-being of men as well as women. And so I think one of Plank’s biggest points is that historically there hasn't been much of a way to get men interested in this feminist thinking because in the way that radical feminists have described feminism, men don't see a meeting of equals. They see capitulation, they see, well, I was on top and now I'm going to get walked all over. So I'm curious about how you're envisioning a feminist world that also includes a really meaningful and valuable role for men.
Brian: 39:15 Yeah, I mean obviously we're having this conversation ‘cause I think it's hugely important and I think, you know, everything we do should be couched in language and practice that invites everyone in the conversation, right? This is something that we all need, and I will say, you know, as a man, I can't change if you don't also change, right? If you are still holding on as a woman to an archetype of traditional masculinity that sees me as a provider or breadwinner, a sort of a stoic partner, has no emotional needs and then all of a sudden I come to you and say I have emotional needs. I need you to hold and witness my vulnerability and be okay with that. It can’t work, right? If she's not ready for that, that bid for connection is going to fail. So I think, I mean what's hard about this moment is women aren't under attack, right?
Brian: 40:02 Women as a gender, as a class of people. And that's true all over the world. So there is a need for a robust women's movement that is focused on women as women, right? And that term can be inclusive and expansive to include transwomen, you know, folks who identify as feminine. But the very fact of that identity is relevant and does matter. So we need a strong women's movement, right? At the same time, we need a feminist movement, a feminist movement that includes everyone, right? Men, women, every other gender, everyone in between because we are all in this together. And so to me, I think we need both. I think we often conflate the two and we use these terms interchangeably. Oh, women's movement, feminist movement. Feminism is about the women's movement. That's not true. And I think what's hard is holding space for each. I think there is an important need right now to support women organizing as women because the threats you face on account of your sex gender is different from what I face and we need to partner together for a vision for liberation that includes both of us and frankly everyone.
Jen: 41:03 Yeah. And I'm just thinking back to something, I'm trying to flip through my notes here back to what we were talking about with Dr. Gilligan and you made the point that you're trying to hold space for the binary I think was the phrase that you used. And there are so many binaries in this and that we need to allow there to be space for us to experience both of those. And it made me think of the anecdote in one of the books that you made me read, I can't remember which one. I think it was a conversation between Terrence Real, is he an anthropologist?
Brian: 41:32 Psychologist.
Jen: 41:33 Psychologist. Okay. “As Masai wise man, and so I guess the Masai man had been asked to name the traits of a good warrior and he responded, “I refuse to tell you what makes a good morani [warrior]. But I will tell you what makes a great morani. When the moment calls for fierceness, a good morani is very ferocious. And when the moment calls for kindness, a good morani is actually tender. Now what makes a great morani is knowing which moment is which.” So we're not saying guys don't ever be aggressive or the all of your typically masculine qualities are bad. It's just that we need to use these differently than we're doing right now. Each of us needs to have some capabilities and the abilities were acknowledged that we have traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine qualities. You know, I'm going to post your blog post where you have that diagram of the two heads in it where it lists out the, I think they're called masculine energies and feminine energies.
Jen: 42:25 And just looking down that, I mean it's so obvious that the vast majority of men that I know have really well developed “masculine qualities” and the vast majority of women have well-developed feminine qualities. But we each have something of the other one. And actually in myself I see more of the masculine qualities and I think that can make it hard for people to relate to me ‘cause they're like why? Why do you have these qualities? This is not your role. And on the flip side of that, when we meet men who have very well developed feminine qualities, we tend to look at them and say, well, that's kind of weird when actually I think, you know, when I meet men who have these super well-developed feminine qualities, it's really refreshing to me and it makes me think, Oh, that's different and this is a really valid way of experiencing the world and it brings something of great value.
Brian: 43:12 Yeah, no, I mean I totally resonate with that. I mean, I think I talked earlier about my sort of quest for belonging in this world, and I think one of the paradoxes for me is I'm a large person, I’m a large white man, 6 foot 4, and yet I identify and looking at the graphic that you're referring to with most of the feminine qualities that some points more than the masculine ones and people don't know what to do with that. It throws them off because I come in a certain container yet I expressed differently. I will say, I mean, I've thought about this a lot and my own sense is that there actually isn't any utility to defining human attributes as masculine or feminine. It just doesn't serve us, you know, we can call them blue or red, we call them anything we want, but associating them with a certain gender I think is super harmful.
Jen: 43:56 Yeah. Pointless and harmful.
Brian: 43:59 Yeah. Right. I mean you can be whatever you want. If you find to embrace more blue energy or red energy go for it, right? It doesn't matter. And as long as we tend to conflate male and masculine, female and feminine, that's gonna be hard for people. And so I think, you know, ultimately what we want to do is get to a place where we can degender these attributes entirely and how much freewill we all be if people could just express whatever aspects of themselves they felt to be true. And if women want to be more masculine, great. Go for it. Men want to be more women, fantastic, do whatever, go for it, right?
Jen: 44:29 Yeah. And what a world that would be where everyone gets to experience the world as they are meant to experience it rather than getting forced into these boxes that don't fit us very well.
Brian: 44:42 Absolutely, and I think that to me is one of the things that's exciting about the trans movement and a lot of sort of feminine activism last few years is this notion that just exploding the binary entirely. How much I look forward to as a cisgender to a world in which I can identify as whatever I want and that doesn't even matter anymore.
Jen: 45:02 Yeah. Which leads us neatly into thinking about intersectional issues and bell hooks again, one of our favorite authors on this topic is written that white women have historically driven what we think of as feminism and “These were the women for whom feminist liberation was more about getting their piece of the power pie and less about fraying masses of women or less powerful men from sexist depression. They were not mad at their powerful daddies and husbands who kept poor men exploited and oppressed. They were mad that they were not being given equal access to power.” And so I'm wondering, do you think that feminism is moving in any way beyond these issues of class and race to a more all-encompassing vision?
Brian: 45:38 Yeah, I might reframe the question a little bit. I don't think it's moving beyond, so much as taking account up. We have, you know, yes, gender and race are social phenomenon, right? But they exist and we have to account for that reality and how we think about the world and I think, you know, just as women aren't monolithic, there is a huge diversity of feminisms, right? And I think there's no doubt that what hooks critiqued in that quote you gave is still happening. Right? That's absolutely a feature of modern feminism. But it's not the whole story. And what's encouraging to me is how much interest there is everywhere. I see in a more thoughtful, deeply rooted feminist view, one that explicitly accounts for how all these identities that we hold. And there's a guy Trabian Shorters who talks beautifully about this thing called asset-based framing as opposed to deficit framing.
Brian: 46:28 He talks about basically anything that talks about a gap, we should immediately be suspicious of. So whether it's the context of the achievement gap in school or the wage gap in the workplace, that language implicitly accept the dominant frame and steps the norm that what we are striving for is whatever the dominant group has and the society that's what white men have. So I think equity is essential, but we can't stop there. I want liberation. I use the metaphors in times of purgatory like that's the dominant culture. Better than hell to be sure, but a long way from heaven or, I mean even just thinking about some of the context we're talking about earlier, right? We're not trying to close the suicide gap to put it crassly right? We're trying to create a world where people don't kill themselves and thinking that if we set a bar at whatever the norm currently is, I think we miss an opportunity to invite new people into an exercise of improving all of us, right?
Jen: 47:19 Yeah. I'm hearing John Powell’s ideas come through in what you're saying.
Brian: 47:22 Yeah, for sure.
Jen: 47:24 Yeah. He's somebody that I'm considering talking with about a potential episode on othering, which is the idea of seeing particularly often the kind of white middle class way of viewing the world as the default way and anything else is other and often less than. And that bringing everybody up to the white middle class standard is kind of missing the point and that we should be aspiring for better for everybody.
Brian: 47:50 John is best in class on this.
Jen: 47:52 Yeah. I wonder if part of the problem is in the word feminism, do you think we should just call it something different?
Brian: 48:00 You know, I think language is super important. I'm not a narrative expert so I'll defer on that one. I think, you know, what me too has done and was this modern wave of feminist movements is doing is creating a more inclusive vision for what feminism can be. There are many of us who find that term perfectly fine, right? I have seen myself in it even, you know, I joined the women's March, I didn't feel threatened by that. So it can be done. If it becomes an impediment, fine. You know, arose by any other name.
Jen: 48:31 Yeah. Okay. And so as we kind of head towards the conclusion here, I'm thinking, okay, how do we make this super practical for parents? What can parents do here? And so if patriarchy is essentially a system of dominance, it seems to me that one of the most powerful things that we can do as parents is not to raise our children in a household system of dominance. And so I'm curious as to whether you agree on that and what other ideas you have that you're putting into practice in your own household or that you want to put into practice that the other parents can look to and say, Oh yeah, I want to try that too.
Brian: 49:01 Yeah. I mean I think that the first thing is just a note of encouragement that patriarchy is an ideology. We made it up and therefore we got to make it, it wasn't always this way. The second is that we are all complicit in perpetuating patriarchy. And so any effort to dismantle it must first begin within ourselves. However you identify, whatever your gender this work begins with us. And then, you know, the context of parenting with the partner in our lives. So the third point is that despite the daily barrage of it seems like everything, the trend lines actually are positive. I think patriarchy is crumbling before our eyes. And I think what we're seeing to some extent is the backlash. But it's also so exciting. Like granted I live and you live in little enclaves, right? I live in Seattle, but you know, I see kids all the time for whom the notion that one of their six year old classmates identifies as a gay is wildly uncontroversial and indeed totally normal.
Brian: 49:59 And that gives me a lot of hope, right? That some of the youth I work with and some of my professional contexts have an anti-patriarchal sort of anti-white supremacy lens as a core piece of their work and their way of being in the world. So I think it's already happening and I think the surest and best way to interrupt that cycle is in our families, right? First with our partners, we can't do this alone. Please don't try to do this with just your children with leaving your partner out of it. It won't work. And then with their children. This work is super hard but it's super worth it. And I think, you know, to your invitation around how do you practice a way of parenting beyond power, I think we already do this, right? I mean your podcast, I love it.
Brian: 50:36 It's my favorite podcast because you are offering us a set of tools, perhaps not couched in this language, but designed with the same end in mind. Like nonviolent communication is explicitly a way of confronting dominant cultural norms and flipping them, right? It's about sort of moving towards more equality and equity and how we communicate with each other and with our children. Any approach, any parenting style that centers the child's experience, so aspects of positive discipline is already anti-patriarchal in nature and helps support a different way of being. I think the other thing is, you know, get support, right? Find help in doing this. This is super, super hard and therapy is great if you have access to it. If you don't, a community of practice, whether that's like a group of other parents. I really encourage folks to try to find mixed gender groups.
Brian: 51:23 Women gather together, men gather together. It's nice. There's a place for that. But part of what we're trying to do is be together in different way. And so having mixed gender groups is really important. I do have and I'm happy to share as a resources around convenience that are both virtual and place-based for support around sort of dismantling patriarchy. I'm part of a couple of men's groups that do this. There's virtual convenience nationally and I will say, I mean just a note of hope for folks that, you know, in the last 12 months I've been invited to three or four different men's groups that are focused on dismantling patriarchy. So it's already happening. These guys are doing it, these guys are gathering and there's increasingly stuff in different places. You know, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, New York, probably others that I'm not aware of. And people just need to find a place to plug in to know that you're not alone and that there are resources out there to support you in this journey.
Jen: 52:11 Okay. So yeah, we definitely appreciate that list of resources. Thank you. And I just want to pull through a couple of the things that you said that you said patriarchy is crumbling before our eyes and I don't know, I want to push you on that a little bit because yes, I think that the trends are probably good for the people who are listening to this show who are already, you know, they've already had an episode on nonviolent communication and they're using probably a respectful parenting approach. But I also know that this is still a pretty niche thing, this treating children with respect. You know, I was a guest on a podcast episode a while back and talking about respectful parenting and the host was saying, wait, respecting our children? I gave birth to them, they should respect me. And it was this, oh where I was like, yeah, we're in mainstream parenting. And I realized that I was not on the ground that I thought I was on. And so do you really see it crumbling before our eyes?
Brian: 53:06 Yeah, I do. I mean, I wouldn't say right. There are many pillars that support the rotten edifice of patriarchy. And I think what we're seeing right now is a concerted effort on a whole bunch of friends to dismantle those various pillars. I think parenting is an under emphasized component. I mean the very fact that we're having this conversation that we had such a hard time finding researchers.
Jen: 53:26 Yeah. Anyone to talk to.
Brian: 53:29 I think that speaks to a gap. That gap is being filled, right? There are people who are increasingly making the same connections we are and that's awesome. But I will say, I'm just reminded of folks, you know, who are following mainstream media in the United States, right? The autumn of 2019 which we are just now living through and finishing has been the more mass human protests around the world than any point in human history, right? This is a moment of global uprising. Most of these movements are led by women, you know, young women often, there's a viral chant going right now started by a Chilean feminist collective called Las Tesis that has gone viral around the world, right? Women are getting arrested in Turkey for doing this. Indigenous people in Pueblos and Bolivia are doing this and women are at the front of these movements because they see that the system can't service anymore and increasingly there is absolutely a backlash and a resistance to this.
Brian: 54:21 Not going to be naive about that. And there is also men joining. The example I love from early this year was the Kerala women's wall in India, you know, a 600 kilometer long group of women holding hands to make a line across the hall to southern state of India and their men, their husbands, brothers, sons right across the street, just standing in solidarity with them. That's powerful stuff, right? In India, which is a historically extraordinarily patriarchal culture. And change is happening. So you know, will it happen fast enough? I don't know. I think part of it is all of us sort of putting our backs to the oars and sort of rowing in the same direction and parenting is a huge part of that.
Jen: 55:01 Yeah. And then one of the other tools that you mentioned is going to therapy and I'm just thinking, okay, so do I go and find a therapist and I show up on the first day and say, can you teach us how to dismantle the patriarchy in our relationship? How does that play out in real life?
Brian: 55:16 It’s a great first question.
Jen: 55:18 Is this how you screen your therapist?
Brian: 55:21 Yeah, I mean, you know, people should go with whatever relationship philosophy works for you. I personally suggest Gottman, it is a nice framing place to start, John Gottman. I also love Esther Perel’s work. And I think part of what you want, I think what we want in a therapist is someone who is attuned to both our needs and the world we're trying to create. And so being sex positive has to be that way in every therapist and not everyone is so that has to be important screen. Being open to kind of supporting the model of parenting we're seeking to embody is really important. Right? So a lot of therapists, you know, people who are at our age or older grew up in the same sort of patriarchal dynamics we did. So if they still hold onto a view of, I birthed my child, they should respect me, probably not the right therapist for you.
Brian: 56:09 So I think we've been quite explicit in our therapy, both as we were looking for a therapist and what the one we found that this is absolutely vitally important to us and we want a partner, a therapist who is able to support that journey. So, yeah, I think it is fair to say like how do you think about gender equity affecting heterosexual partnerships? How do you think about patriarchy affecting men and a good therapist who's ready to work with this should have an answer for that question, right? Maybe not a perfect one, but it should be something that we're thinking about. And the same way that, you know, if you're a mixed race couple and you asked what are your thoughts on sort of navigating mixed race parenting, they should have an answer for that and if they don't, that's a problem.
Jen: 56:48 Yeah. Okay. So we'll post lots of lists of resources. I've been keeping notes as I always do whenever we talk and we'll post references and books and Ted talks and those kinds of things by a lot of the people that you've mentioned. So thanks so much for, I guess thank you for reaching out to me and asking about the Tour du Mont Blanc all those years ago and for where this has led us today. I'm really grateful that you took the time to come on and share your ideas with us.
Brian: 57:11 Yeah, thank you for your podcast and for the opportunity to share some of this journey. I will say I may be doing a closing thought for folks like, you know, my wife and I send a holiday card every year and thinking about the highlights of the year and for the last two years, one of my highlights has been this journey, right? This process of healing, of going to therapy, of becoming a better human. I actually really enjoy it. Like, yes, it's hard and it's also awesome. And my relationship with my wife has gotten so much stronger as a consequence. So much better parent. I'm a better professional. So I feel like, I don't know, I might be a masochist in this, but the process of learning and of better understanding ourselves and the world we live in, I think is deeply gratifying and I find a lot of joy in it. So just to let people know that smashing the patriarchy can be fun.
Jen: 58:00 Especially if you're a masochist, but also if you're not.
Brian: 58:03 Indeed.
Jen: 58:04 Yes. Well thank you. Thank you for sharing that with us. And so once again, if you heard something that you're interested in today and you want to learn more about it, all of the references for the things that we've talked about as well as the other books that we read and the papers that we consulted as we were researching this episode can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/ParentingPatriarchy.