Aaron: Thatís a great question. Iíve been criticized by some of the menís movement people for doing this gender reconciliation work. They say that Iím abandoning men. We don't even have a menís health week yet. And certainly, as Warren Farrell states and I stated in Knights Without Armor, men haven't been heard. But what Iím finding is that now that Iím talking with women, and bringing men into conversation with women, Iím educating about men's issues ten times more than I was when I was just talking about Knights Without Armor. Because I have ten times as many forums. Now I have to share those forums with Elizabeth. I only get to talk half the time. (Laughter.) But I get to talk ten times as often. Universities are open. Schools are open. Government agencies are open. Businesses are open. The television, radio and print media are open. Because this is a much more interesting conversation.
More importantly, not only do I get to talk ten times as much, but women are listening. Before, four or five years ago, men talking about these issues were talking only to men. That was wonderful and supportive, and healing for men, but most women weren't getting the message. They didnít want to hear it.
But when women know that men are coming to the table, willing to listen to them, they have no choice, out of sheer interest and fairness, to listen to the menís side of the story. An "Iíll show you mine if you show me yours" kind of game, like little children play. Iíll look at your wounds, if you'll look at mine. Iíll tend your wounds, if youíll tend mine.
Instead, weíre stuck in fighting over crumbs, which is what a lot of the battles between women and men are. The crumbs are left over from the oligarchy, which has enormously concentrated the wealth and power of this nation into the hands of a few. When feminism says men have all the power, maybe 80,000 or 40,000 men have a lot of power. But the other hundred million plus males in America donít have that much power, compared with women. If we start reaching out to one another, and figuring out how to help one another out of the mess, when we move into a whole different dynamic, and thereís some hope for us.
Elizabeth: I think the same thing is true for womenís issues and concerns. At this point itís a better strategy to try and form an alliance with men to change the workplace. The fear is, and I think this is true for both the women's movement and the men's movement, is that weíre going to lose the piece that weíve found. The piece that women have found by meeting alone and getting together. In coming into conversation, they fear, they will fall back into old roles and end up just taking care of men, not taking care of themselves. And I think men have same fears. In the menís movement itís "Wow! I can pay attention to me!" They can delight in the discovery of masculinity, and not having to respond to womenís pressures and all the things we put on one another. Thatís why we have really encouraged, in our book and in our work, for women and men to continue to meet in same-sex groups. Coming into conversation with each other does not mean abandoning that connection with your own affinity group, your own gender culture. Thatís actually essential. Weíre not saying to abandon the menís movement or gender ground. That is the strength from which we need to expand in order to have these conversations.
Aaron: Itís a pillar we can anchor our bridge to.
Elizabeth: Itís about "both/and," not "either/or."
Bernetta How can a man and a woman work together on these issues in their own lives, on a one-to-one basis with your partner? In a large group youíre sort of monitoring things and thereís the safety of making sure that everyone gets their say. When you've got two people, itís easier to get out of hand, because thereís no third person. Thatís where it first begins, first with yourself, and then with the people closest to you?
Elizabeth: To begin with, men and women need to accept the idea that there are these different cultures. These different cultures have different expectations, needs and taboos. We need to educate women and men about these cultures. For example, over and over again in our workshops we hear that women want men to talk more. Theyíre really frustrated that men donít talk. Men feel that women bug them too much to talk. They want to be left alone, to retreat and have more space.
This is a very common theme, although itís not true for every couple. What happens most of the time is that the woman thinks thereís something wrong with the guy ...
Aaron: That he doesnít love her.
Elizabeth: Or heís screwed up. The man thinks sheís a nag ...
Elizabeth: There are all sorts of judgments that get bandied back and forth. We need to recognize that these are themes that go on, that men by their very nature like to have more space than women, and need to heal themselves by drawing into themselves on a fairly regular basis. Women need connection. Itís part of being a woman. Thereís nothing wrong with us that we need that. And thereís nothing wrong with men for needing what they need. Recognizing that takes away the whole blame thing.
Aaron: Weíve begun to realize that a lot of the conflicts that go on in one-to-one, personal relationships are not personal. Thatís the importance of learning about these gender differences and gender values. Then we begin to see, "Oh, thatís not something sheís doing against me personally. Sheís behaving in a way thatís very consistent in our culture." Thatís why we keep coming back to groups, to get at the larger issues. Couples in our groups gain more understanding about the differences, and that tends to raise less blame. Then thereís more opportunity to negotiate.
We arenít suggesting that guys are just the way they are, love them or leave them, or that women are just like that and you just have to live through it. We are saying that a womanís whole training in life is to develop her sense of identity through her relationship with others. A manís whole training in life is to develop his whole sense of identity through separating from others, through being the lone hero, the independent guy who can solve the problem on his own. Thatís how he gets his sense of accomplishment. A woman gets her sense of accomplishment by having created a collaboration with the children, women, the church and their social network. Women weave the social fabric together. They get their sense of satisfaction from having done that. When we understand this, then we say that neither men nor women are wrong for being like that.
Historically, from the beginning of time, weíve had different mandates. Men had to go out and hunt. Thatís a solitary sort of thing. Itís done with just a few other men, traveling far from camp for long periods of time. Moving in silence and stealth. Women had millions of years of evolution as gatherers, where they talked to one another. Plants wouldnít run away when you talked. Women did child care. There was a lot of face-to-face contact, a lot of socializing. Of course we have a different society, but those old tunes are still being hummed by the DNA. A part of us still dances to those old tunes.
A part of us also has the social conditioning, when men are encouraged to make the touchdown, to be the hero. Theyíve got to be on top of it, whether itís in the bedroom, the board room, or the playing field. Itís through their performance that theyíre going to be loved. That comes back to the one-to-one relationship. The woman says, "Why don't you tell me you love me?" The man says, "Well, I mowed the lawn. I fixed the screen door. I worked 10 hours of overtime this week, so we could take a vacation this summer. You didnít say anything about those things I did, you just took them for granted." What he was doing in all those things, from a male point of view, was saying, "I love you. Iím doing those things because I care about you, I care about us having enough money to do the things we want to do." That may be the way a man expresses his live, instead of with flowers and verse.
But a woman may say, "The way I know Iím loved is through verbal acknowledgments, touch, or something like that." Men need to understand that. They need to cross over the cultural gulf, and let her know in language that she can understand, that sheís loved.
One of the things we hear a lot of in our councils is that both women and men feel that the important things that they bring to the relationship are not seen.
Elizabeth: The theme of invisibility comes up a lot. Women feel invisible in different arenas. In the workplace. We hear the theme over and over again that women donít feel that men respond to their opinions or give them value and merit for what they contribute. One story we hear a lot is of the woman who suggests an idea and is ignored. Ten minutes later a man says the same thing, and everyone says, "Great idea!"
At the same time, men feel invisible at home, that their contribution to the relationship is not recognized or valued, or even seen.
In our councils we have enough time to work a lot and get down into this stuff, and we can actually begin to negotiate back and forth. Thatís the real core of the work. The guy says, "I really have to retreat when we have an argument." The woman says, "We really need to talk about it." How do you reconcile the seemingly opposing currents between women and men? I think thatís the trickiest part of the work, and where the diplomacy comes in. Basically you negotiate compromise and taking turns. One of the things that weíve worked out is that women give men the opportunity to go into retreat, but men make an agreement that they will come back after an agreed-upon length of time and respond with the womanís need to deal with the issue and come to some resolution.
Aaron: Then women will respect that when a man says he canít deal with it right now, that he really means that. Maybe heís just too overwhelmed with the other stresses of his life. Maybe he doesnít feel as secure in relationship and emotional issues as the woman does. It often takes a man longer to get in touch with what he feels, because weíve been trained for a lifetime to disassociate from our emotional bodies. Itís like our feelings are at the bottom of a dark well. When a woman asks him how he feels about something, she drops a bucket into that deep well and starts cranking it back up. It may be Tuesday before he knows what it was that he was feeling in that argument on Sunday. When women say "youíre avoiding," or "you never deal with the issues," thatís pathologizing a normal feeling. When a man says that a woman is a nag, a shrew, or a process junkie, he is pathologizing the female mode of feeling.
When we can understand one anotherís differences, a woman can say, "OK, go to your cave. But the deal is, when youíve regrouped, you donít go out of your cave and slip out to have one with the boys. Youíll come and talk to me." He says, "OK." Her feeling is that she will not follow him into the cave. Itís very dangerous for a woman to follow a man into the cave. Whatís when a lot of the domestic violence happens. When a man feels up against the wall.
Bert: Part of the gender conflict may arise from our myths about gender. You talk about Aphrodite as a goddess of the sun. "Solar fire infuses a woman's being and enable her to bring herself forth into the world, while retaining her femininity, her sensuality, and her grace." You discuss male gods of the earth. In our culture, we are so used to "Mother Earth, Father Sky." You say "It is possible to extend our world view and see both genders expressed in all elemental and natural forces. This style of imagination breeds partnership. The alternative is to continue to divide the universe, allocating one domain to the female gender, and the other to the male. This now-outmoded style of imagination breeds war." Can you elaborate?
Elizabeth: What we have come to believe is that the earth is female and the sky is male. Weíve completely divided up our natural world into these gender qualities. What happens from that is that men canít identify with Mother Earth. They can't feel that sense of connection with all of what we associate with Mother Earth, which is generativity, nurturing, home, a sense of connection of the body. All of those things are interpreted as being female. For a man to identify with those qualities, heís always faced with coming to imagine them as feminine. That presents a problem for men, because theyíre not given a way to discover what might be a male mode of generativity, a male mode of nurturance, a male way of being embodied.
By the same token, we have imagined the sky as being male. When women imagine themselves as becoming assertive, aggressive, fierce and powerful in the daylight world, powerful with a lot of physical vitality, even the kind of spiritual consciousness that is associated with the sun and the swirl of energy, then in order for women to get in touch with those qualities they have to imagine themselves as being in touch with their masculinity. We think itís much healthier for women to discover what is the feminine form, the feminine quality, of the sun. How can women come into the workplace, get in touch with their focused and goal-oriented power in the world, manifesting power, power to make money, power to be successful, in a way that is not necessarily getting in touch with their masculine? We think of this as being part of how men and women are intrinsically different, that women will have a different style of coming into the world and into the workplace. Itís much healthier for women to discover the feminine sword of power. This is something we donít really know a lot about.
And by the same token, there might be a particular, masculine mode of creating a home, parenting, getting in touch with your spirituality and self-reflective mode of being.
Aaron: Weíve divorced ourselves from a lot of the old myths, in which we imagine the world and consciousness as a much more rich and variegated, polytheistic world. This has been one of the shadow sides of monotheism. The foundational myths of Western culture are also the foundational myths for gender war. Women divorced from their power in the world, and men divorced from their bodies and their capacity to nurture. Old man God is in the sky and looks over the earth. Sometimes heís a nice guy and takes care of his people, and at other times heís really pissed off and he creates war. He doesnít have a relationship with the feminine. Sheís down there on the earth somewhere, under his dominion.
The point Iím trying to make here is that when we talk about myths, weíre not just talking about fantasy. Weíre talking about the foundational metaphors that literally organize human behavior and give us our psychology and philosophy, and the way in which we imagine ourselves as women and men. If weíre going to change our gender roles, and change the dynamic between women and men, we have to look at the foundation. Thatís why we come back to mythology.
So when men imagine themselves as like this sky god, which is the primary image of sacred masculinity in our culture, we think, "Gee, I have to be like the sun. Always the same."As we talk about in the book, in many ancient cultures men were not imagined as the sun but as the moon. Osiris. Thoth. Chandra and Soma from East India. The Sumerian Inanna. Osiris was the Nile river. He was cyclical, like the moon, ebbing and flowing every year, re-greening the earth. As I think of myself as a man, as a moon, which in our Western culture is the domain of women, I can say to myself, "Gee, I donít have to be the same all the time." Now we think itís not masculine if I canít "get it up." I always have to be positive and optimistic and get the job done and be the same every day, like the sun. If I see that I ebb and flow, some days Iím ready for that activities, but on other days Iím on the wane, going into myself. Some days Iím completely dark. I just want to be alone, away from the world. Then I shift again, and I come back into being in the world. My sexuality is like that. Male sexuality is much more like the moon than the sun. It rises and falls, If we think that it can only rise, when it falls we feel lesser than a man.
Thatís why working with the metaphors and the mythologies, our deeper imagination, is really very important. Weíre sometimes ridiculed for that, by the concrete, literal-thinking world. But it deeply affects how we think about ourselves. Now that Iíve embraced this idea of inner masculinity, I donít think Iím a wimp, a geek, a sissy or a jerk, somehow lesser than a man, when I feel vulnerable or soft, or dark. I see that Iím cyclical. Iím on and Iím off.
By the same token, as Liz was starting to say, when women imagine themselves as only being connected with the earth, itís lovely in certain ways but in other ways itís a trap. Camille Paglia talks in her book Sexual Personae about the Dionysian swamp of nature that women are sucked down into. She doesnít understand that the solar value is also a feminine value. Sheís still in a dichotomous place. But sheís got this right, that women can be drawn down into this swamp. Claiming your achievement in the world is not through claiming your masculinity per se, but through claiming the solar goddess.
Elizabeth: The solar goddess. I like the idea of feminine fire, this fierce femininity. Itís difficult to talk about because we have so little idea of what this could mean. What could it mean for a woman to come into the workplace with a strong femininity, and still being in her power? Most of us have come to see these as mutually exclusive. Women have thought they have had to divorce themselves from their femininity and become more like men in order to be more powerful in the world. They have to put on the same kind of male coat of armor that men have had to wear. Iím suggesting another possibility, that we could be forcefully feminine, that we could be feminine but direct that energy outward, rather than just keeping in inward in an earthy way. The solar gives us something that is almost like mythological permission or inspiration to imagine ourselves as shining light. We have a lot to discover about what, exactly, that would look like.
Bert: Youíre bringing up something that Bernetta and I have been looking for for over a year, and we havenít found it yet. We have an image of the masculine archetype of the king. What is the queen? The queen is not must a feminine king, like Elizabeth I chopping off a lot of heads. What is queen energy?
Aaron: I think it involves the feminine fire that Liz has been talking about. And feminine authority.
Elizabeth: Yes, female authority, but I think weíre changing our notions of both male and female authority. Iím not sure exactly what you mean when you say we know what king energy is. My understanding is that weíre beginning to change our notions of what authority is, altogether. It incorporates, for example, for both men and women, the capacity to undertake the underworld journey. In our culture, this is not considered to be strong. The capacity to express emotion is considered weak. To fall apart. To allow yourself to descend into feeling, and then to come back up again.
I think a female queen and a male king would have the capacity to express many different people, many different forms. Thatís why Iím particularly fond of the goddess Inanna from the Sumerian culture. Sheís the queen of heaven and earth. She descends into the underworld, so that her power is not restrictive. I think thatís what we need in this time. What is demanded of us as men and women, to have the freedom to be multidimensional.
The queen and the king have a partnership. Thereís room for both. We have the opportunity to go down into the underworld, meet death, meet grief, meet vulnerability, and then come back and bring the gifts of those things back into the world. So the qualities of the cyclical nature, that Aaron was talking about for men, and the cyclical nature of the menstrual cycle, that those powers, which we donít think of as "power" in our culture, can be brought into our concept of authority.
Aaron: I feel that there can be no real kingdom without the queen, and there can be no real queendom without the king. Ultimately that authority and that power becomes balanced. In most of our myths itís in concert. The one enhances the other. When the powers are separated from one another, we donít feel very powerful. Men and women in same-sex groups have a sense of empowerment, and certainly thatís important. But I donít think it comes into its fullness, in any sense of the word, until it comes into partnership. Because sameness does not provoke us in the same way that otherness does. Youíll notice in the book that we donít use the term "opposite sex" any more. Because we donít think that the differences are necessarily in opposition to one another. This is another way in which metaphors are powerful. The "other" invokes the sense that because you are "other" you may have some great mystery, some great gift, something deeper. The "other" tends to draw us closer than does the idea of "opposite."
Because the queen is different from the king, her very "otherness" provokes a transformation. Thatís why we fear the "other" so much. Because the "other" has the power to transform us. It draws us into the unknown. It draws us into a different kind of journey, where we have less control. We feel less control when weíre with the other sex. Thereís a lot of risk involved. Thereís a risk of loss. But in order to transform spiritually and psychologically, we need to take that risk.
Thatís why the images of the king and queen are used a lot in the old language of alchemy. The alchemists worked together as husband and wife to make the Philosopherís Stone and the Elixir of Life. It seems to Elizabeth and me that the reason itís so ultimately challenging for men and women to come together is that out of strife, out of fire of conflict, out of the fire of working through our differences and staying with our face in the fire, staying connected with one another and dealing with these issues, that the soul-making process is accelerated and deepened. It becomes more rich and complete.
When we come incapacitated, when we can't stay the course of the male-female journey, it falls apart, something gets lost along the way. Thatís why we see so much malice and squabbling in the women's movement and the menís movement. Thereís a failure to develop the full king and queen. A failure to develop the adult, mature power. Kings and queens donít squabble. They have a parental sort of wisdom, a leadership, a compassion, a capacity to hod the fabric of the entire community. That comes from moving out of this adolescent phase of rights and trying to dominate one another, shout at one another, and into a more mature phase of dialectic and interchange, a soul-making process where we can deepen one another and support one another. Then weíll have a healthier kingdom.
Elizabeth: Iím still thinking about your question, about what the female queen is. Itís an intriguing question thatís provoking a lot of thought in me. I think itís a hard question for women, because weíre searching for that right now. What would it be like to be completely empowered as a woman? Uniquely feminine and standing in a female body, and being a vehicle for generations of what [Jungian therapist] Naomi Lowinsky calls in Stories of the Motherline that inherited body of wisdom that comes down from generations of women. [Ms. Lowinsky describes the "motherline" as the "embodied experience of the female mysteries" -ed.] The king holds and transmits the fatherline to the kingdom. The queen holds the motherline and transmits the motherline and her queenly wisdom it down to her queendom.
Bernetta: It seems like her role would be in empowering other people, and giving them her blessing.
Aaron: Thatís one of the main criteria when you look at a person whoís in a position of leadership. Are they blessing and empowering everyone around them? If the leaders of the menís movement or the womenís movement are not doing that, then we can see theyíre not really manifesting their king or queen energy.
Bert: Our ability to manifest king or queen energy depends on our own sense of beauty and power. Elizabeth suggested in your book that our need to control the person of the other gender comes from our loss of our sense of deep beauty and power as men and women. She said, "The challenge in the coming days of the seminar was to learn how to access their own beauty and power in the presence of other people." This led to mutual empowerment. Can you elaborate on that?
Elizabeth: Itís much easier for women to feel powerful when theyíre with other women. If you remember the week-long wilderness retreat we write about in our book, after the women went off by themselves there was an argument about coming back, because we had this wonderful experience about feeling good about our bodies, feeling empowered, strong and vital. Thereís this fear that we canít bring that beauty and power into our relationships with men, that somehow it will get lost. Thatís the challenge, to be able to hold that in the presence of the other sex. Can we bring our sense of authenticity, our wildness, our being-ness, our sense of self-esteem, can we bring the gift of what we discover in our same-sex group back into our dialog with men and bless each other?
Aaron: Often in menís groups I hear men say, when theyíre in the middle of a conversation and talking about the truth of their experience, "God, I could never tell this in front of a woman. I could never speak the truth of my experience to a woman." Thatís a very poignant point when that comes up. Theyíre not saying, "Get the women,", or "letís have power over women." Heís just talking about how heís been hurt, how heís confused, the struggles heís having in his life and how misunderstood he feels. We find it helpful when that starts to happen in same-sex groups. It feels safe, and we never want to abandon that.
In addition to that, we encourage some women and some men, when they start to feel strong enough on their own gender ground, to meet with one another.
Itís important to recognize one caution we throw in. They should not try to do it when theyíre not ready for it. Some women really need to just be with women. A lot of men just need to be with men. This was especially true in the early days of the menís movement. Women had been gathering for the last 20 or 30 years to talk about these issues, and itís only been 5 or 7 years that men have been gathering together to reexamine their roles. The dialog isnít balanced yet. Just as there are 50 womenís books for every menís book, we know a lot more about women's issues than we know about menís issues. A lot of men need more time to be with their brothers and get a sense of where they stand as men, and what their feelings really are, so they can articulate them to women. They shouldnít come into these mixed-gender conferences naively.
Thatís why we think itís also important for these conferences to be facilitated. Weíve talked to a lot of people around the country who had good will, and tried to get together and do it, some with good results and others with pretty poor results.
Elizabeth and I have had the opportunity to do hundreds of these gatherings, for as little as an hour or for a week, with thousands of women and men. We carry some of that collective experience in our bodies and in our psyches, and we can host that conversation. There are others who are doing this kind of work and have this experience. One of the things we try to do is train a lot of other people. We offer trainings a couple times a year where people who want to host this kind of work can come and get more than they can just get in the book.
Certainly these groups can happen without facilitators, and people can get a lot of good guidelines from the book on how to host the group. But we think that people shouldnít do this naively. People really have to come together step by step. There has to be a real sense of justice and balance.
Elizabeth: We were here at a humanistic psychology conference up here, on Olympia, a couple of years ago. We were working with a gender community, and there was a lot of bad feeling. If the leaders have a lot of prejudice against the other sex, that will come out. If the leaders are not balanced, and not equally giving concern, care and voice to both sides, then what happens is that that manifests in the group.
Aaron: This happened at that particular conference. A couple of angry women were leading it. It was supposed to be a gender conference, but in fact it was a "letís get angry at the men" conference. The men were very conciliatory. It was not very beneficial to men or women, and it did not feel very good.
Itís really important that the facilitators have worked through some of the material, and can stand in this place that you might call between the king and the queen. Holding court and making sure that both sides have an equal opportunity to speak, and being considerate, recognizing that everybody at the council has intrinsic worth. That men and women are equally brilliant, often in differently ways.
But to the degree that itís even possible to quantify our pain, men and women are equally suffering, and are equally powerful in creating change. Whenever we come to the table with that premise, thereís a real hope for movement. But whenever we come to the table with the attitude that whet weíre really going to do is get the men to come around to our feminist position, then itís just another gender battle.
Bert: In the group you wrote about in your book, Gloria needed to hear the men state their accountability for the ways in which they have wounded women. The men had a similar need. Thus far, both sides had avoided taking much responsibility for their parts in the war. At that point you asked each group to ponder the question, "What do you contribute to the war between women and men and, furthermore, what weapons are you willing to lay down in order to make peace?"
Elizabeth: Thatís a good question. Thatís a place we hope to get to in our conferences and seminars. Itís a process to get there, because if one group is willing to do this but the other isnít, thereís the possibility of taking too much on, and being shamed. Itís really something that has to be done bilaterally. We encourage men and women to walk into this together. One of the most human things that happens is when men and women are willing to admit how it is that they have created the gender war, and to take responsibility. For a woman, thatís a very big step, because women have been locked into the role of the innocent victim. Weíve been told that this has been done to us by the patriarchy, that the culture has done this to women, that women are the oppressed class. So itís difficult for women to take that step.
Itís also getting very difficult for men, because they're getting blamed for everything. Itís hard for men to take some responsibility, without thinking that theyíre going to have to take it all.
Aaron: In any situation, whether itís a violence situation, a custody dispute, a conflict in interpersonal relationships, or a work-related conflict, whenever one gender is being held accountable, that situation is always shaming, always detrimental. Thatís why we have such resistance to being held accountable. Because most of the demands for accountability are unilateral. Itís women demanding that men apologize for destroying the earth, or men demanding that women be held accountable for the way in which they steal children away in unfair divorce hearings, or the way in which they manipulate men with their sexuality.
Any time those demands are made, itís shaming. When we acquiesce to those demands, which many men do, it breaks our spirit. There are a lot of feminist men, and although I respect their chivalry and their desire to care for women, in our councils we find that a lot of them are really ashamed of being a man. Theyíre very ashamed of their masculinity and apologetic to women. They canít stand on their masculine ground and say itís beautiful and wondrous, that itís a mystical, magical, spiritual, incredible thing to be a male.
A lot of women acquiesce to a dominating man. We call them co-dependent. Or their whole concern is about how to keep the man from being angry and making sure that his needs are being taken care of. A lot of these women are meek and depressed, not standing on their ground. Itís fantastic, erotic and powerful to be a woman. The dynamism, the great intrinsic beauty and potency of the feminine; they cannot stand on that ground.
But when we come together and are equally accountable for what weíve done to one another, enormous healing comes out of that kind of conversation. We hear women stand up and say "Yes, Iíve manipulated men with my sexuality." "Yes, Iíve ripped men off financially because my feminist principles told me that men have all the power, and I should get it any way I can." "Yes, I slept my way into a job." "Yes, I lied in a court hearing, my ex-husband is actually a great father. I said he had abused the child when he hadnít."
The men get up and say, "Yes, Iíve said I loved women when all I really wanted to do is get into their pants." "I've battered my ex-wife." "I undercut a woman in the workplace, who was completely qualified, because I couldnít stand the idea of a woman being my equal."
These kinds of things come out. When they do, a lot of the people in the room are weeping. Not because theyíre ashamed, but because thereís so much relief in the atmosphere when they finally hear one another admit that theyíve been perpetrating this war on one another. Out of that we just find hearts open up. The room fills with love. Community seems to flow from it. But you canít get there until youíve told what Elizabeth and I call the "whole truth." You canít get to this accountability until youíve worked through all the other aggregations of feelings weíre talking about.
Elizabeth: Itís the last step of the process. You have to have an opportunity to express your anger and your hurt, and spend some time with your own gender group. Those are all necessary steps to take, so you can have enough self-esteem to hold onto your self-esteem and admit that youíve screwed up sometimes.
It's a very interesting thing to notice that womenís weapons are very different from menís. Thatís another aspect of the difference between male and female cultures. The ways that women and men make gender war are quite different. They have different styles of expressing cruelty, manipulation or dominance. Thatís something itís important for men and women to have an opportunity to talk about separately. To discover these things, and see how we do them. Discovering what the secret, the shadow is, that we hold inside of us. Cleaning out our own houses.
Bert: You had another quote in your book. "The wellspring of renewal and nurturance that runs through an intact community is relatively dry in our current culture. Driven by thirst, women and men jostle for position at the few available waterholes rather than cooperate in digging deeper wells, capable of sustaining everyone."
Elizabeth: Thatís the conflict weíve been talking about in our gender justice conferences, in really beginning to work together as women and men. If we were to go into the workplace and work together, the changes that could be made would be far more extensive than anything weíve seen so far. And thatís true for our family systems, our educational systems, our political systems, every aspect of our society.
In our book we quote from Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth, that if we we're to stop being divided by gender conflict, the enormous political power and the spiritual force that would come out would be enormous. We don't even have a glimmer of what would happen if we stopped the gender way.
Aaron: We should not be naive about the forces that are trying to perpetuate the gender conflict. Advertising, The role of the media. The power structure is run by the producers of products. What advertisers have realized is that the best way to get people to buy products is to get them to feel that they lack something. To create a sense of insuifficiency.
Feminists have done a pretty good job of analyzing whatís happened to women, that the media has made women feel insufficient around their beauty. The other message is that if you consume these products, you will become beautiful enough, and youíll feel good about yourself as a person.
But what are you becoming beautiful enough for? To attract a certain kind of man, a wealthy and powerful man. Men are being told by the advertisers that they are insufficient as men. You need this Lexus in order to attract a beautiful woman. Weíre constantly being bombarded with these messages that say that you are not enough, you donít have enough, you donít do enough, who you are is not enough. If you consume these products you will be enough. The way that you know that you are enough is that you will attract someone from the other sex who is enough. You will attract the alpha male or the alpha female. Thatís really driving us all nuts.
Bernetta: Right, because there never is enough.
Aaron: The guy with the Lexus also has an ulcer and an alcohol problem. What we want is a man who is totally focused on his work, who works 12 to 14 hours a day and can't be there for his kids. Who doesnít even have enough energy to make love to his wife. Thatís the shadow of the alpha male.
What guy really wants to be with a woman who spends her whole day in front of a mirror, who has to constantly visit the plastic surgeon, and who spends all of her money on clothes. When you get right down to it, thereís this enormous shadow to the beauty thing. But weíre all heavily addicted to the beautiful woman. Thereís a part of us that never feels whole unless we have what Warren Farrell calls the "genetic celebrity."
Women are just as addicted to menís productive power. We hear all the time that women never feel valued as a woman unless the man is producing, making more money than they are. There are all of these social forces that push us into these stereotypes, so we will consume more. Those are powerful influences that we see in every newspaper and magazine, on television and in the movies.
Gloria Steinem and other feminists say they really want men who will be schoolteachers and homemakers, but who are they going for? Multi-millionaire businessmen. Jane Fonda is with Ted Turner, not the kind nurturer down the street who might be a fine schoolteacher or reforesting the planet. Those kinds of men get very little celebration, praise or admiration. Women reinforce men being jerks when they admire how much money a man makes. Men reinforce women to be witches when the only thing they reinforce or admire in women is how well they sharpen their beauty power. We drive one another crazy by reinforcing these stereotypes. To the degree that we can work on ourselves and free ourselves of these stereotypes, we can heal ourselves by looking at the intrinsic worth of people rather than the superficial images.
In our gender diplomacy conferences men can reveal themselves as who they are to women, and women can reveal who they really are to men. We get different mirrorings in the community. We start to get a sense of what itís like to be living in a community with one another, and helps to break down these stereotypes that weíre conditioned to.
Bernetta: If we donít heal our personal wounds, then we reflect the wounds of the community. Itís like being a victim. But if we heal our wounds, we have a chance to develop community.
Aaron: Exactly. What weíre addressing is the need for personal growth. If we feel sufficient in ourselves, we don't think we need to claim our wholeness from the other. This is why the menís movement is so important to women. Women often ask, "Whatís in it for us?" Whatís in it for women is that if a man is solely dependent on her, and men have been conditioned all their lives to divorce themselves from their emotional body, Women have been conditioned to be intact with their emotional bodies. What draws men to women is to reconnect with soul, with feeling, with mystery. But the woman carries all of that. Our best friend, confidant, mother, sister, our muse. Then, if things donít go well in the relationship the man resents the woman for not giving him those things.
Bernetta: The man feels the woman is responsible for the relationship.
Aaron: Thatís right. But if the guy can make connection with six or eight other guys, that he shares intimacy with, and in the group they have a sense of beauty and magic, mystery and play, those guys can be his confidants, his friends, his allies. That takes a lot of pressure off of the personal relationship. Then heís not coming to her empty, half a person. He can say, "Iím getting nourished by my relationships with other men. Maybe things arenít going well in my relationship with my woman. I have someone else to talk to. Iím having trouble in my work. Slipping in my recovery Just having a bad day. Iím afraid." There's someone else to talk to. So itís a great blessing for women. He comes to the table more full. The relationship is not so much about filling our emptiness, but about sharing our fullness.
Women need to realize that this is also threatening to them. On the one hand, women love to see the man being more emotionally independent. But thereís also a power that women have over men. That power is lost. Thatís why thereís such a backlash against the menís movement. Not because the men are a bunch of Neanderthals running around in the woods, but because men are learning how to get some of their emotional needs met from other men. That diminishes womenís negative power, their hold over men.
The same thing is true of women moving into the workplace. On the one hand, it takes a lot of pressure off of the relationship if women are not so dependent on men economically. They can hold their own in the relationship and make the same amount of money as the man. Fix the car. Fix the roof. Do dangerous work. Learn martial arts, so if a burglar comes in itís not just the man thatís expected to face him. Thatís wonderful for men, for women to claim their assertiveness and their abilities in the world. The men don't have to be heroes and full-time bodyguards and breadwinners. But itís also threatening. Men think the same thing that women think. If he doesnít need me so much emotionally, maybe heíll leave. Maybe if she doesn't need me so much economically, she may leave. So men lose some of their power in the relationship.
But we need to understand that this way of holding relationships together is very dysfunctional. Itís about power. Womenís emotional power over men, and menís economic power over women. There are definitely risks involved in this healing process. The way people come together is not so much in taking hostages as it is with a sense of mutual respect, shared interests, love, and mutual appreciation, in which men have an equal level of emotional and nurturing power, and women have an equal degree of political and economic power in the relationship. Weíre talking about a whole new organization for relationships between women and men. But if weíre going to talk about equality, itís got to be this kind of conversation. Equality is not just women taking on the privileges that men have, but none of the responsibilities. Itís not just women saying "We want to fly jets and get the big salaries that come with being officers," but not being subject to the draft the way men are. Thatís not justice. Thatís not equality. Thatís just trading one set of privileges for another. But this other idea of gender justice, gender diplomacy, egalitarianism, balance and fairness in relationships brings about another hope.
Aaron: We can't exist in isolation from one another. Ultimately we must come together and forge community together. We want to do this from a position of mutual strength, rather than from weakness.
Bert: Elizabeth sums it up well at the end of the book. "Liz sums up, "We all started with our anger, and then got in touch with the fear of one another that was hiding behind the anger. As we worked our way through the blame and shame, a great deal of grief came up and then, going to an even deeper layer, we experienced the authentic wellspring of love and appreciation we have for one an-other. I think that in every circumstance in life, all those elements are present and that if we fail to tell the whole truth to one another, not much is going to happen that is of value."