Image by James Steinberg
For men who have followed women’s lead in working to topple patriarchy, not just to end its chokehold but also to wake men up to how we collude with it, a question looms: In this historic Black Lives Matter moment (movement) where is the parallel collective societal awakening to women’s plight?
To a large extent, the #MeToo movement represents that parallel societal awakening. The backlash against it—despite its tremendous gains—speaks to patriarchy’s endurance, its hostile pushback. For many people, particularly men, #MeToo’s searing truth telling helps us to “see”—many for the first time—how hard sexism and misogyny have been pressing down on women’s necks. Yes, #MeToo wounded patriarchy, but didn’t put it out of its misery. We best beware of this wounded animal.
My sense of optimism has been stirred by the accelerating change in consciousness among millions of people confronting our country’s legacy of slavery after they saw the video of George Floyd’s 21st-century lynching. Nevertheless, the simple fact that white people viewing it began to acknowledge our country’s poisoned roots did not prevent police from murdering more Black men, or a Black man from being paralyzed after a police officer shot him in the back seven times.
Let’s not forget the many Black women —like Breonna Taylor—who also have been murdered before and since. Black women have been central to resisting both misogyny and racism throughout the struggle for racial justice. (Indeed, Black Lives Matter was founded by Black women; lesbians who had been active in the labor movement and whose vision extends far beyond their personal politics.)
Men inclined to read a magazine dedicated to transforming masculinity (or men newly introduced to Voice Male) might say, Yes, I see that racism has a knee on the necks of Black people. But do they recognize that patriarchy has its other knee on the necks of women? Are they ready to acknowledge that white male supremacy provides the legs that allow those knees to stand? Are they willing to work so both legs buckle?
It is four centuries past time to do the right thing—to end white supremacy and to make reparations to Black people in the United States. It is also time to end the orangemandemic along with the coronavirus pandemic; each revealed how big a part racism and patriarchy have played in the unfolding story of 2020. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of white women’s success at demanding and winning the right to vote (it would take another four and a half decades before Black and other women of color also gained that right in practice), patriarchy’s knee is still choking women. Men, we cannot work to topple the pedestal of racism and ignore the pedestal of misogyny.
The brilliant antiracist writer-activist Barbara Smith recently shared a friend’s suggestion that what the country needs now is an anti–white supremacy Peace Corps. I’d like to broaden the idea to include an anti-patriarchy Peace Corps. Smith envisioned dedicated organizers “fanning out across the country to help communities figure out ways to rid their local schools, courts, workplaces, hospitals, and houses of worship of entrenched white supremacy” and patriarchy. We don’t have to wait to begin fleshing out the details until January 20, 2021. Let’s start working on it now.
Responding to this summer’s events, this issue is largely devoted to a special section, “Voices Against the Hard Rain of Racism,” a series of essays, poems and memoir pieces edited by E. Ethelbert Miller and Kirsten Porter. Ethelbert is an acclaimed poet and literary activist, a member of Voice Male’s national advisory board who directed Howard University’s African American Resource Center for 40 years. In June I asked him to serve as guest editor of “Voices.” Happily, he agreed and invited his literary assistant, the talented writer-editor Kirsten Porter to coedit it with him. The fruits of their efforts begin on page 12.
Also in this issue is a story about the growing global Black Lives Matter movement; a feature about a new film on white male identity and the presidency— timed for release before the election—and a story about men and mask-wearing. We’d love to hear what you think.
Finally, the back cover of the magazine is headlined: “Believe in Gender Equality? Ever Thought of Running a Magazine?” It’s a call to readers to help Voice Male find a new publisher, someone(s) to carry on our decades-long legacy of chronicling the antisexist, profeminist men’s movement. I am ready for your suggestions. I will welcome your ideas. Please be in touch.
Rob Okun is the editor of Voice Male.