The Need for Men's Liberation

Warren Farrell and Ken Wilber
February 24th, 2010
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Dr. Warren Farrell talks with Ken Wilber about power, oppression, and the urgent need for men to begin redefining their roles for today's world.

Come on, let's say it together: "Men are being oppressed." It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? It sort of sticks in the back of the throat, and we almost need to look around to make sure no one is listening before we say it out loud. In today's academic and cultural climate, it's not easy to make a point like this—the kindest reaction you might receive is a cynical eye-roll.

But really, why is it so difficult to admit that men could use a little help learning how to redefine themselves in today's world, and how to "man up" in a new way to meet the challenges of our modern lives?

Maybe it's because our definitions for words like "oppression" and "power" are too limited, restricting our understanding of these dynamics to just a tiny shred of what's actually going on beneath the surface of male/female relations. Just as our notions of "oppression" have often led us to perceive women as perennial victims, robbing them of a dignity they had never really been without, so do our notions of "power" keep our attention diverted from the very real issues men are dealing with today.  

"But men do have more power," you might say, "just look at who is running the world!" A fair argument in some circles, but kind of falls apart when we take a closer look. For one, the amount of power men yield in economic and political spheres has very little impact upon the average guy in the street. And while it is certainly true that throughout history men have largely dominated the "public sphere", it should be noted that the ratio of women in the workforce and the overall income gap between men and women is rapidly approaching some degree of balance.  

But more than anything, this critique of men's power (and powerlessness) is completely missing the mark—because power is not defined by the amount of control a person has over other people, but the amount of control one has over his or her own life. In this sense, women's power is too often overlooked, while men have yet to fully come to terms with their own power, as they are still being primed from birth to equate "manhood" with "disposability."  

Men are constantly being locked into a single option—to excel in the "public sphere", even to the point of breaking their own backs—with very little understanding or training around the "private sphere" options available to him. Meanwhile, men continue to place an unfair amount of cultural pressure upon women to pick up the slack in both spheres, without doing their own work to spend more time with the family, to develop their own emotional availability, to become a more involved father, and to focus on the interior realities of the home life.  

We are looking for new role models, new behaviors, and new ways for men to define themselves. We are looking for a path beyond the merely macho, beyond the feminized 90's guy, and beyond the disposable hero. The goal is not to neuter men or to neutralize the sexes—quite the contrary, we are trying to find a radically improved masculinity, as well as a radically improved femininity, honoring the very real power yielded by males and females alike in both public and private spheres. We are now discovering a new generation of men and women—newly integrated men and women who can see beyond the narrow definitions of gender that have been handed to us, fluent in both interior and exterior realities, and finding new ways for both sexes and both genders to show their love for themselves and one another.

Topics Include:

• "Power" is not defined by the amount of control someone has over others, but the amount of control one has over his or her own life.
• Feminism can be defined as freeing females from being coerced into traditional female roles, and the same work needs to be done by men.
• Feminism did a great job of exploring issues of male power and female powerlessness, but not a great job at exploring issues of female power and male powerlessness.
• In terms of recognizing and developing their power, men are in a similar position today as women were in the late 1950's, at the dawn of the feminist movement.
• As long as men do not rise to the challenge of redefining themselves for today's world, women continue to be pressured to learn how to "row on both sides of the boat," while men keep to their own side. The result? The boat just keeps going around in circles....
• In order to succeed, men need to learn from the feminist movements of recent decades, and use their work as a jumping-off point—and not to hold feminism or women's studies as an opposition to men's liberation.
• In order to take a truly comprehensive view of sex and gender, we need to look through at least four lenses: subjective/psychological (e.g. masculine vs. feminine), objective/biological (e.g. male vs. female), intersubjective/cultural (e.g. gender roles and definitions of "man" and "woman"), and interobjective/social (e.g. the techno-economic realities of the time).

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