He had a light brown beard and was wearing a flannel shirt over a t-shirt. Blue jeans. A little pudge over the top of his belt. White.
I stopped the car and let him cross in front of me, feeling suddenly an immense compassion arising from my gut.
He waved gratitude, walked on.
I've never seen him before. Won't ever see him again, likely. Don't know his name, his story, his life.
But one thing I do know: Patriarchy has harmed him.
These words trouble me, my own words. I fear the backlash, internal and external, for claiming patriarchy and European colonization have harmed a white man. Because of course the white man has benefited too.
He is taken more seriously in business. He is told his ideas are wise and wonderful and important even when they are mediocre and boring. He is believed when he tells his story. He is given role models and made the hero of every story. He is represented and overrepresented in every ruling body in this country and many others.
White men are also overrepresented among those who seek direct harm against those who are non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-supremacist, non-nationalist, non-citizen, non-cis, non-straight, non-conventially-abled, non-conventially-wired, and otherwise marginalized.
I have felt rage. So much rage. Like coals in my belly, in my womb (with gratitude to Mary Standing Otter for the teaching that carrying rage is like carrying hot coals).
I have hated men.
Men have hurt me. So many men. So many ways.
I fight men. Metaphorically, spiritually, energetically. I fight them to give me my place among them. I fight them to give me my place in the world, in business. To give me the space that is rightfully mine.
I have watched them in parking lots, in online forums, in intimate gatherings. I have watched them take more than their share, of space, of time, of resources, of energy. I have watched them fall to pieces when a woman claims even a portion of what is hers. I have watched the angry lash-back, the attempts (often successful) to put her back in the tiny box the patriarchy built for her.
So where, I ask you, where on Earth and in heaven, in the four corners and the seven directions, fire, earth, water, air, from WHERE does this compassion suddenly arise and direct itself at some apparently cis definitely white probably completely average dude crossing the parking lot in front of me?
It arises from my womb.
It arises from the darkness.
I also am the mother of boys. One a man, now. One on the cusp. One still a boy with only the hints of manhood approaching.
Even as I have raged against the patriarchy, I have watched my own sons struggle. I have watched them fall in love with pink and sparkles and dressing up and high heels, and then fall into fear of being othered for loving those things. I have heard my son confess that he loves the pink lining in his boots but fears the disdain of certain people should they look inside his boots and see the evidence of apparent femininity clinging to the insides of his clothing.
I have heard others tell them they are wrong to cuddle with their parent. I have heard others tell them to "be a man" and stop crying. I have experienced the shocked looks of visiting young people upon seeing one of them cuddle with me. I have watched them struggle with anxiety and depression and fear. I have watched them modulate their expressions of physical affection for their friends, in response to others feeling "weird" about it (which, it bears noting, is the correct response–consent is important–but the "weirdness" so often is engrained messaging from the patriarchy and inhibits rather than supports the boy's own internal sense of what he wants). There is so much I cannot shield them from.
I have learned also to examine my areas of privilege. Relative financial privilege. Whiteness. Mostly normative physical ability. Ability to pass as cis.
In 2016, Abby and I participated in the Charlotte Uprising protests. We were new to social justice work and learning. Whew, did we learn. What a cauldron for it.
At one point, we had just witnessed a (white) man pull a gun on us and the rest of the crowd of (mostly Black and brown) protesters. Had heard gun shot nearby as well as about half a block away. We later learned that the half-block-away gunshot resulted in a young man's death. At the time, what we experienced was chaos. Shouting. Tear gas canisters exploding. Sound and light and fear and people running in all directions.
I was terrified.
We were at this point near one of the many police lines that had been deployed to monitor the protests.
I stood in the street in that moment, my heart full of fear, and I looked to the police line and I thought to myself, "I could be safe. I have only to step to the other side of that line, and they will protect me."
I wanted to do it. Oh, how I wanted to do it.
I also knew that my choosing was available to me because I was white and that the privilege of unquestioning protection was especially available to me because I was a (apparent, cis) woman.
Here is the thing about privilege. Privilege is like dog treats. We are all trained by the systems of oppression to take our dog treats and perform as expected.
As a white (apparent, cis) woman, I have choices that Black women do not have. I can marry a white man and assume almost all of his privileges as well, so long as I'm willing to live under his umbrella and acknowledge that they are his privileges that I am borrowing. A Black woman can marry a white man, of course, but she will never be afforded all of his privileges.
I can have the benefits of those privileges, as long as I choose to ignore the oppression of my Black sisters, and defend the privilege of my white husband at their expense.
I can step behind the police line and be safe, so long as I don't mind leaving others in the line of fire.
Those dog treats are awfully tasty, y'all.
Most white women take them, as you can see from the voting patterns of that demographic. As a demographic, we are complicit in patriarchal oppression.
After all, to get the treats, we have only to sell our souls.
Now, as a (apparent, cis) woman, I also have areas of not-privilege. Were I born a cis white man, my dog treats would be different. They would be things like people paying attention to and respecting what I have to say in business meetings, even if I'm just repeating what a woman has already said and been ignored for. They would be things like the medical establishment respecting my right to autonomy over my body. Not getting attacked in dark parking lots for my gender. Making more money for the same work. Being represented and overrepresented in government.
Actually, the dog treats for white men are pretty damn tempting, wouldn't you say?
But the price is the same. It's only the soul.
Because patriarchy also tells boys this: Don't feel. Don't cry. Don't touch other men except as an act of aggression. Don't depend on anyone. Don't wear pink. Don't be soft. Don't be vulnerable. Never show weakness. Don't care about fashion.
To get the dog treats, all they have to do is give up all those things and pretend not to notice that other people's dog treats aren't as nice as theirs.
Is it any wonder that most white men take the dog treats?
What, after all, is the alternative? To be bullied. To be hated. To be called a traitor. To face your complicity and own your responsibility and risk all your privilege and for what? What good does it even do?
I am not excusing men for their complicity. I am not excusing white women, either.
I am not saying that Black women, Black men, and others of other less privileged and/or more marginalized populations do not have a right to rage.
Rage is an appropriate response.
What I am saying is that, having listened yesterday to the rage I have carried in my womb, I was able today to hear another voice from my body, the voice of compassion.
We as individuals did not create the systems of oppression that dole out privileges like dog treats.
We are all victims of it.
I don't know anything about the man crossing in front of me at the grocery store. Nothing at all about what is going on inside him. But I do know that he has been told all his life that he doesn't get to have close friendships, that he doesn't get to hold hands with people he loves, that he doesn't get to enjoy touch that isn't sexual and/or aggressive in nature, that he doesn't get to feel and hurt and be sad and cry. I know he has been offered dog treats in exchange for subjugating and burying those deep human needs.
I know he was offered those treats from infancy, from a time when he was completely dependent on the goodwill of the people offering them for his very existence and acceptance. That when the diet of dog treats began, his choices were to accept them or starve; to eat them or be sacrificed, emotionally, spiritually, and possibly physically to the gods of white supremacy and patriarchy.
I know the treats are tasty, and that they only cost his soul.
Whether he continues to take the treats or not is between him, whatever gods he works with, and eternity.
But whatever he chooses, his choice is not easy, no matter what it looks like to me.
Whatever he chooses comes with a cost, exacted by a system established long before we were born and sustained by powers far beyond the reach of our current individual incarnations.
Inside, he may be struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, worthlessness, guilt, shame, loneliness, anger, fear, sadness, emptiness. He may not even know why. He may be fighting battles I have never had to fight.
We are not enemies, he and I. We are victims of the same oppression, with different relationships to it.
Perhaps, if we knew each other, we would be allies and fellow warriors against it. Perhaps we already are.
I know nothing about the man who crossed in front of me at the grocery store. All I know is that when I listen to my rage, I am better able to listen to my compassion, and that I need both. We all need both.
May you honor your rage. May you honor your compassion. May you feel the alliance of all the powers of love and truth. May we know in the end that we are free and that all else is illusion.
Blessings upon you, whoever you are and wherever you are in this journey. Blessings upon your family and your allies. Blessings upon your darkness and your battle. Blessings upon you.
Fen Druadìn (they/them) is a storyteller, a visionary, and a book midwife.
Fen's mission is to change the world for the better, one paradigm-shifting book at a time.
Fen works with CEOs and consultants who care deeply about their impact on the world and want to enhance both their legacy and their personal effectiveness through the power of a professionally published work, in their own words.
Fen has applied the magic of more than two decades of professional storytelling, an impressive business background, and a deeply rooted, trained connection to earth-based medicine and spiritual practice to develop a system that helps clients do their most focused, powerful work, and produce a book they're proud to hold in their hands.
When they're not working with clients or writing their own books, Fen can usually be found wandering the woods alone, sitting around a campfire with friends, or swimming in the cold spring waters native to the Southern Appalachians.