Tag Archives: communication

#MeToo and Human Liberation

31 Oct

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Accepting the definition that the #MeToo movement is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, I am saddened that this movement even needs to exist. My sadness is the need for women to still, in the 21st century, demonstrate in mass against sexual harassment and sexual assault. I am incredulous that sexual harassment and sexual assault, with the suffering that is the result of it, still need a mass movement to speak out against these forms of violence and abuse. It was about 50 years ago that the Women’s Liberation Movement began to speak out and protest against not only gender inequality and patriarchal social norms, but also all forms of abuse against women. The classic name for men who sexually harassed women was ‘Chauvinist Pigs’. Back then, this term was widely and enthusiastically shouted in many different situations of sexual harassment.

Having been a psychotherapist with female clients who were experiencing or had experienced abusive behavior by males, I developed an understanding of the suffering that this type of abusive behavior creates and I joined other men in severely criticizing that behavior. So to see that still, after 50 years of serious discussion and demonstration against all forms of abuse, that it is still so prevalent in our society makes me sad and angry. And so on a one level of my response to the #MeToo Movement is disbelief and sadness that the victims of sexual abuse, still need to actively demonstrate in mass against abuse and the suffering that it creates.

On another level, my disbelief and sadness that the #MeToo movement is so obviously needed is the fact that accompanying the Women’s Liberation Movement of 50 years ago was the Men’s Liberation Movement. Men’s Liberation then was a thoughtful response to examine and define the issue of men and masculinity. 50 years ago it was based on the introspection of how the patriarchal society was not only harming and oppressing women, but also men. For when men began to analyze the social norms and rules that the patriarchal society placed on them, they began to realize that there were many harmful conditions. Some examples of the questions raised by men about growing up male; sex role pressures in the socialization of the male child, as well as that men are lower self- disclosurers than women; are less insightful and empathic; are less able to love and more subject to demoralization than women. All of these aspects of manliness have negative consequences in health, relationships, self-esteem and longevity. So 50 years ago, as a response to the insights of the Women’s Lib movement about social norms and their incapacitation of both male and female potentialities and capacities, men began standing up against that oppression for both themselves and their female counterparts to create happiness, reciprocity and in general less repressive and more open and expressive lives.

In the 1960s, with the beginning of Men’s Liberation, conscientious men sought to aid in destroying the destructive sex-role stereotypes for men and women established by restrictive unfair sexual identities. One such group of men at the Berkeley Men’s Center wrote a manifesto. This group was typical, at that time, of many men’s groups throughout the USA and consisted of a group of men struggling to free themselves from sex role stereotypes and to define themselves in ‘positive non-chauvinistic ways’. A section of their manifesto reads as follows: ‘We want to relate to both women and men in more honest human ways – with warmth, sensitivity, emotion and honesty. We want to share our feelings with one another to break down the walls and grow closer. We want to be equal with women and end destructive competitive relationships with men. We don’t want to engage in ego battles with anyone. …We believe that the half-humanization will only change when our competitive male-dominated individualistic society becomes cooperative based on the sharing of resources and skills. We are oppressed by working in alienating jobs as ‘breadwinners’. We want to use our creative energy to serve our common needs and not just to make profits for our employers. We believe that in Human Liberation there is no hierarchy of oppression, every group must speak its own language, assume its own form, take its own action and when each of these groups learn to express itself in harmony with the rest this will create the basis for an all-embracing social change.’

So my sadness of seeing the pain and suffering that still is routinely being foisted on women is based on both the oppression and suffering of women and also the corrupt social norms which still raise young boys into oppressive and abusive men. That the insights won 50 years ago by thoughtful, empathetic intelligent men have lost their momentum. What I see at the heart of the #MeToo Movement is the protest against harmful cultural and societal norms with which men are raised in the society- the Growing Up Male effect. My hope is that now men again put at the forefront of their personal agenda not only to analyze growing up as a male but also the unlearning of dysfunctional masculinity that will expunge the power and control mandate that is so harmful to not only women but to themselves. Male Liberation calls for men to free themselves of the patriarchal sex-role stereotypes that limit their ability to be fully the empathic persons possible. To give up those sex-role stereotypes often considered the characteristics of manly success; that men should be highly achieving, competitive and domineering. One example of dominance that is potentially open to any man is dominance over a woman. When society generally teaches men they should dominate, that they should have power and control to be successful, it also teaches women that they should be submissive – making it easier for men to dominate women. More and more, as the #MeToo Movement shows, women are rightfully reacting against the suffering of being dominated and controlled. But the battle of women to be equal and respected will not be a battle against men, as the oppressors, once men liberate themselves from oppressing themselves and others. Whether or not men are the enemy is a choice for men themselves. Until that time, women must continue to demand respect and non-abusive environments.

So my appreciation of the #MeToo Movement is not only their advocacy of the necessity and even obligation for women to demand social equality and non-abusive behaviors on the part of men, but it also highlights the vitally important progress that men need to continue what began 50 years ago. That is for men to analyze, discuss and change the social roles that handicap and bind them into creating lives promoting inequalities, suffering and unhappiness for not only others but also themselves. In the end, my and other’s hope still continues to be that a Human Liberation will be the end result where society’s norms and culture includes the promotion of health, cooperation, safety, equality, empathy, individuality and all groups living together well.

The Language of Democracy

9 Jul

This is a short blog on communication skills. Previously I had written a blog on how compromise is fundamental to the workings of a democracy and that blog was ‘inspired’ by a discussion I had with some Italians who were students in my English lesson. Recently, I had another discussion with students which prompted my writing this blog.

To explain: in my teaching English as a Second Language I make the point that to have good communication skills one must know not only correct grammar, vocabulary, intonation, pronunciation, etc., but also know how a culture uses the language. In short, what is seen by a specific culture as good communication skills? Now, this is a very interesting topic in itself (I taught a university course on ‘Cross-Cultural Communication’) but in my less intensive ESL classes, I bring to students an awareness of the model of assertive communication. While I clearly understand that assertiveness is not a model that all cultures have adhered to (e.g., Asian and Native American) in English speaking countries, esp. the business world (many of my students are learning English for business purposes) – but not only – assertiveness is seen and taught as a viable method of fostering clear communication, improving problem-solving and goal achievement, and reducing conflict between co-workers. Also, as a clinical psychologist, who did a lot of couples/marital therapy, I also used the assertiveness model to foster clearer and less problematic communication skills between my clients.

So, in one ESL lesson, we were talking about some basic principles of the assertiveness model:  Assertive communication is effective communication. It’s how to deal confidently and successfully with the people around you. Assertive people feel in control, they achieve win-win outcomes in any interpersonal transaction. They make their point persuasively whilst supporting the opinion of others. They build co-operation within a team and between teams. Assertive people communicate self-respect AND respect for others. When we are assertive we communicate what we want or prefer. We state our preference clearly and confidently without making ourselves or others look small, without being threatening or putting others down. This results in open, more genuine relationships. The four types of communication are aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and assertive.

As we talked, one of my students said, “This is the language of Democracy.” Surprised by this spontaneous comment, I paused and with quick reflection, I said, “Yes, you are right” but we didn’t have time to take the comment up for a discussion. The next day, upon reflecting on this comment, I had to agree again with it. As I wrote in another blog, ‘What Are the Necessary Conditions of Democracy’, democracy requires ‘a political culture of negotiation, compromise, accommodation, and a willingness to lose. It is widely recognized as essential to democratic stability. Especially important here is the argument that democracy institutionalizes a means of nonviolent conflict resolution- – -the willingness to negotiate, compromise, and debate, rather than fight.’ R.J.Rummel

So, it is evident that effective and clear communication is also a necessary condition for a well-functioning Democracy. So my student was correct, the description of assertive communication above certainly fits the bill. Often political discussions in Italy, as well as other democratic countries, can degenerate into name-calling with no reasonable debate on the issues. When they do, the discussions no longer follow the guidelines of assertive communication; both, in the intent or desire for a political culture of negotiation, compromise, accommodation, a willingness to lose and also, the use or knowledge of the specific assertive communication skills. The desire and knowledge of good communication go together for successful communication necessary for a democracy. Without the desire for a ‘win-win’ situation as well as a functional knowledge of good communication skills, the functioning of dialogue about concerns, negotiation, and debates will rapidly break down into poor communication and confusion and deadlock. Therefore, I suggest a public interest group, in all democratic countries, form to do a continuing evaluation of how well politicians communicate in an effective assertive manner.