I Am Sick of Being a Man.
Around the year 1935, Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, wrote a poem entitled ‘Walking Around’.
In this lamentation of passivity, Neruda declares that his lack of care for the suffering of others made him “sick of being a man.” I too am “sick of being a man.”
Several recent incidents have spurred me to feel disgust concerning the gender which I was born into as well as towards my lack of action to relieve the suffering of others.
First, the reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by prominent men are deplorable. Secondly, my hometown of Yerington, Nevada, made national news in late 2017 because of racist comments posted on Facebook by high school students, as well as in the gross mishandling of the issue by adult members of local law enforcement, all of whom were men.
Lastly, I am generally appalled at the seemingly complete lack of compassion displayed by political leaders, including the President of the United States, as they endanger the lives of so many millions of people around the world. For those reasons and others, “I am sick of being a man.”
In the interest of full disclosure, please let me be clear that although I am not guilty of committing sexual abuse, I have certainly failed on many occasions — as my former romantic partners would gladly attest — to give the emotional support and attention deserving of those who were giving that to me.
I have also made poor decisions motivated by fear and my own emotional wounds that had led to the suffering of others and of myself. I mention those failings because I do not see my lack of ability to be compassionate towards my romantic partners or employees, the sexual (or other) impropriety of so many men, sexual abuse committed by men, or acts of war declared by men as separate issues.
The underlying thread connecting those acts is simple, as many writers before me have pointed out: the abuse of power. All men in today’s society have power. Relinquishing that power is frightening. That is likely one reason why so many of us have done less than raise a finger to address the abuses of power that we knew were taking place. That is another reason why “I am sick of being a man.”
Before I continue, please let me also be absolutely clear that there is no excuse whatsoever for any of the less-than-compassionate acts mentioned above. There is no excuse for abuse.
Having made that clear, I want to argue that although we live in a strongly patriarchal society in which Caucasian, adult men enjoy far more control, power, and privilege — by far — than any other demographic, they have inadvertently repressed themselves sexually with dire consequences for everyone else.
The sexual repression comes from multiple aspects of society. Instead of trying to identify all of those sources, I want to point out just a few that I hope will illustrate the point that more deep looking and dialogue is crucial in order for men to gain the self-awareness they need to avoid abusing other people in less powerful positions.
Monogamy represents one fundamental sexual conflict that many men, particularly in Western developed countries feel. I am referring to the conflict between basic male biology and the monogamous structure of society that powerful Caucasian men created, likely as a means of social control.
There is a strong male desire to procreate, and to procreate with many sexual partners. This urge lies at the base of what it means to be a male from a biological sense. Clearly, if men went around satiating that urge whenever they felt necessary, society as we know it would not be possible, nor would basic human rights.
I am not arguing that monogamy is bad and needs to end. Rather, I am suggesting that it may be necessary for a society that values basic human rights for all. However, because monogamy conflicts with the male biological urge to procreate as often and as with as many partners as possible, it represents one source of male sexual repression in the male psyche.
We must also consider the way sexist marketing campaigns exploit the basic male desire for sex in order to sell products from cars to toothpaste.
On the one hand, men are told by society that their desire for sex should be confined to only one partner whom they spend their entire lives with, but on the other hand, they are told, in no uncertain terms, that being successful is all about obtaining the object of their sexual desires.
Can we really be surprised when men whom our society labels as successful, who hold positions of enormous power, commit acts of sexual abuse?
What we have seen recently in some highly visible men’s behavior is not indicative of just a few bad men. It is indicative of men in power, a category to which all men belong to some extent.
Since most men have never been anywhere except in a place of power, it is incredibly difficult for them to understand what it is like to not be in that position and to recognize that they are there in positions of power in the first place. Moreover, too many men do not know how to take care of their sexual energy in ways that are appropriate in today’s society.
Men who find themselves in places of power, who perhaps lust for that power and success, might confuse that power-lust with sexual lust. They abuse their power in order to fulfill those desires at the expense of people in less powerful positions around them.
The incredible taboo around sex in our culture only complicates the matter of untangling which urges men are really feeling. Is it biology, societal norms, something else, or more likely a combination of many factors?
Perhaps a few men alive today such as the Dalai Lama are truly innocent of ever using their power to take advantage of other people.
The rest of us — whether we have not paid due attention to our lovers, have not adequately supported an employee, have cheated on a partner, or have committed the deplorable acts that so many once well-respected men have done — are all guilty of abusing our power to some extent.
Male sexual repression has real, unintended, and sometimes unconscionable consequences that we need to look at and talk about. Power, sexual repression, and violence are not separate issues.
We all must take a strong stand alongside those who lack power, and those who are abused, to ensure that our society moves in the direction of more respect, more equality, and more compassion. If we can do that, if we can remove this sickness that plagues our society, then perhaps I won’t feel as sick of being a man.
Samuel Singer is an outdoor science educator who has been mesmerized by the night sky for as long as he can remember. He currently administers a nonprofit organization called Wyoming Stargazing that is dedicated to inspiring and educating through Wyoming’s extraordinary skies. In 2013, he completed his doctoral work in Science Education at the University of Wyoming. His dissertation focused on the intersection of spirituality and outdoor environmental education. He currently lives in Jackson, Wyoming, where he trail-runs, meditates, brews kombucha, teaches people about the cosmos, and much more, but in no particular order.