I worked fifteen years as a therapist within several different community mental health agencies. The first twelve of those years I spent working with convicted sex offenders of various ages. My first four years as a therapist I worked exclusively with adolescent boys, roughly from ages fourteen to nineteen. I observed firsthand how warped power dynamics led victims of abuse to victimize others, trying to reclaim the power that was taken from them. “Hurt people hurt people” is a popular phrase in some therapeutic settings and it is also quite accurate.
Somewhere between convicted sex offender and young average adult male, there lies an underdeveloped form of manhood that is particular to American culture. We raise our boys and young men in such a way that lip service may be given to doing the “right thing,” but behind the scenes doing the right thing is casually disregarded as something done for appearances only. I am referring primarily to the misogyny, sexism, and bullying that is common to our culture. We are still creating clandestine boys club’s where we are encouraged to hurt others, particularly women, and frequently each other. It is, unfortunately, engrained in our culture. I’m going to call this white male culture (WMC) but it is by no means limited to this. I know WMC better than any other culture because I was raised to be a member of it, and so I feel free to comment and observe.
In this context, power can be stolen from others physically, emotionally, and sexually. A common scenario is an adolescent male, typically pre-teen or early teens, will experience ongoing emotional abuse from a parent. In an attempt to replace what was stolen from him, the adolescent will victimize another weaker child. In essence, he is trying to replace what was robbed from him by robbing from another. This leads to the younger child repeating the pattern with another child in his own attempt to reclaim the self-esteem and agency that was stolen from him. This is not to say all boys who are victimized turn into abusers, many do not. I can say from twelve years of concentrated experience, however, that I never met an abuser who had not been abused themselves.
How did I get wise to this? I had to put a lot of this aside in graduate school and consider a different way to live if I was going to have a career as a therapist. I also had to confront a lot of the wrong shit I had subscribed to.Ted Morris
By the time we hit thirty or so, many of us raised in WMC have achieved a kind of emotional numbness rooted in denial, suppression, abuse, and ambivalence. There are a multitude of examples of healthier ways to be, but we have been conditioned to disregard any indications there is a healthier, more pro-human way to live. To use a traffic analogy, we blew through a bunch of stop signs to get to age thirty. How did I get wise to this? I had to put a lot of this aside in graduate school and consider a different way to live if I was going to have a career as a therapist. I also had to confront a lot of the wrong shit I had subscribed to.
Part of my impetus for writing this was input from former clients. I have had many clients, all of them convicted of a sex offense of some kind, comment during a group they wished someone had taught them different when they were in high school. I took note of this because I would hear it in different treatment groups a few times a year. Many men on probation or parole develop crystal clear hindsight after they are part of the judicial system, but why did it have to come to that? If it did come to that, it means someone was victimized and our client arrived at these salient observations as a result of incarceration. The person victimized will never be the same again, they have been forever changed. All of this so one guy in one of my groups can realize he bought into a tragically flawed and destructive way of living? This lesson is too expensive, particularly for the women, girls, boys, and men (yes, I said men) whose lives are irrevocably changed after they are victimized.
WMC has been fixated on power and control for the last several hundred years. I believe it reached critical mass in 2021 because enough of us realized how absurd this cultural standard is. It is abusive, coercive, and toxic. Why would we want to perpetuate this? Because WMC does not want to lose its position of unearned superiority. This position wasn’t earned, it was taken. The fear behind this is WMC will be the “same” as everyone else (as in not “special” any longer) or lower down the line of hierarchy where some other group squats on them the way they have squatted on others. This fear is based on knowing wrong has been done to others and they may seek payback. Mass shootings and sexual assaults are not cultural hallmarks to be proud of. The fact they are both prevalent in our culture should cause genuine alarm on a national level.
Its Glengarry Glenross in the bedroom; closers don’t get coffee, they get condoms.Some guy who thought he was clever
Why are we so good at producing a culture that thrives around the either/or of victim or abuser? There are a few million options between those two extremes. The middle area is what I was referring to at the beginning of this post when I referred to average American adult male. How much effort do we put into looking the other way when we see or hear things we know are wrong?
One of the factors that contributes to the cultural distortion within WMC is sex being perceived as status. It means the number of partners you have increases your level of respect among your peers. It has nothing to do with caring whatsoever for whomever your sex partner is. This is purely a numbers game (“hit ‘em and quit ‘em,” “cum and go.”) It means the number of partners you have increases your respect among your peers. More partners equal more “respect.” From this point of view, sex partners are commodities that reflect manhood. More partners equate to added status. Fewer partners equate to less status, perhaps no status at all.
This has contributed to the term involuntary celibates or “incels.” This is a recently coined term for cisgendered heterosexual males who cannot find cisgendered heterosexual female sex partners. For one reason or another, their targeted pool of potential sex partners find them unappealing. This variety of entitlement creates pressure for the incel to pursue women for sex in order to validate themselves. The alternative is facing up to the shortcomings that make them unappealing to whomever they are trying to attract. That alternative is often a bridge too far for most. Admitting you bought into a cultural more that assigned you to last place is not strong incentive, is it? Is it better to double down and try to coerce someone into having sex than admit you have distorted values?
How to counter invincible ignorance? Categorizing sub-groups in this respect seems to border on name-calling, which I am trying to avoid. Distorted values lead to negative outcomes which is what I am addressing. All of these values, beliefs and attitudes have roots in the same place. What does doing the right thing look like? Loyalty to one’s own cultural group? Loyalty to group despite it treating your mother, wife, daughter, and sister as inferiors and objects? Its ok if we treat everyone else’s mother, wife, daughter, and sister like trash, but treat mine right…Is that what we are endorsing? Where is the line? Double standards and hypocrisy abound throughout this common attitude.
Another important point is this won’t take care of it itself. Let’s do the work to change instead of propping up a dying cultural attitude. Are you OK with your mom being treated as a second-class citizen?