CONTENT WARNING: Sexual assault.
I’ll bet many cisgendered heterosexual men have a story like this. After telling it, I’ll describe how I understand its origins, and the ways in which I’ve felt guilt and shame shut down its lessons.
1982. My friend showed me how to do it on the way to school. When the subway car was packed, boys our size could easily maneuver into position behind women, with our palms facing out.
The women were going to work. Form-fitting skirts were the uniform. The general mood was claustrophobic. It was easy to pretend you had no choice but to be stuck with your hand wedged in there, just like so, cupping.
If a woman felt something suspicious, we could plead innocence, break out the baby face. It was like we knew how to find that first entitled space between “boys are not men” and “boys will be boys”. How did we know? Continue reading “Eleven-Year-Old Boys, Touching Women on the Subway”
Image: A chinstrap for children, designed by Moritz Schreber. Illustration from: D.G.M. Schreber: Calligraphy. Leipzig, 1858
On Facebook, I posted a brief note about starting to learn what is painfully obvious to women: patriarchy inflicts the stress of constant bodily vigilance at best and acute terror at worse.
The post took off and the comments were stunning. So many stood out, like those that reported on strategies for increasing safety in taxis. One commenter wrote that she always video-chats with a friend while she’s alone in an Uber, dropping details that signal to the driver that someone knows where they are. If men don’t know about this kind of defensive labour, they’ve got to learn.
One genre of comments sent me down a real rabbit hole. The commenter would start with congratulations about my sensitivity to this kind of thing, because the commenter commonly interacts with men who simply think they’re irrational, neurotic, angry or bitter.
But I could feel instantly that such a compliment was undeserved, because I know in my bones what minimizing the other feels like. Continue reading “On Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex”
I’d like to share this sharp reflection from a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook, and record a few additional points that have been inspired by it, as well as a whole lot of personal memories.
The thing that disgusts me most about that tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault is not him (although that is *plenty* disgusting), but Billy Bush’s response. Because I’ve heard that kind of response my entire life. When you are a guy, you occasionally find yourself in unwanted proximity to these two kinds of toxic masculinity: the alpha male and his sycophantic toady. The former brags about doing things to women against their will, while the latter laughs and showers praise on him for doing so. But while the former is pathological in all sorts of ways, the latter is enraging *and* pathetic. Because the toady is both perpetrator and victim of the patriarchal power exercised by the alpha male. When Bush cravenly exclaims “Yes! The Donald has scored. Whoa, my man!” he is abjectly trying to gain some purchase on the privileges of heteromasculinity from which he feels excluded (the fact that Bush is widely rumoured to be gay only reinforces this point). But the toady can only accomplish this through endorsing and even trying to share in the assault on women’s bodies. The bodies of the women waiting outside the bus, unaware of their role as currency in the exchange between alpha male and toady.
Tl; dr: Trump is to rape as Billy Bush is to rape culture. And the GOP, by keeping Trump as their candidate, are all Billy Bush now. And how fucking pathetic is that. — Derek Nystrom
- Rape culture is a hierarchy, and toadies strike a dirty bargain to gain advantage within it, in relation to the violence of the alpha male. Their need to avoid violence is plain when we see that they are often physically smaller than the alpha. If they are the same size or larger, they are often physically other or inept in some way that makes them vulnerable. Vaudeville enshrines this as a basic sight gag: the sidekick is a shrimp or a geek or a lurch or a fat guy. Each are targets, each knows it. The internal pressure of the toady’s anxious defensiveness reflects the alpha’s psychic armour and doubles the charge of his aggression.
- The toady has likely gone through an initial hazing, and is subjected to periodic and arbitrary exclusions and humiliations. That these are arbitrary is key: the shadow-fuel of the toady’s enthusiasm is knowing that he can be excluded or fired or sued or mocked or physically brutalized at any moment. Enthusiasm is not just vicarious self-identification with the person who can assault women at will: it is also an attempt to sublimate immediate danger. The easiest and safest thing to do for the toady is to perform joy in the transfer of his humiliation onto another person, while stabilizing his social capital by gratifying the dominance of the alpha.
- The unconscious toxic mimic of homoeroticism here should not be missed, nor its contribution to homophobia. The toady is masturbating the alpha, psychically for sure, but even physically, by mirroring and amplifying his excitations. If the toady is homophobic himself — and he may well be in part through the process of displacing having been called faggot enough — it is in part because he can’t imagine a homosocial world without humiliation. And what if, horrifically, the toady is actually gay? Reflecting on this as a straight man fills me with overwhelming admiration for what many gay men must have to do to come out and try to be at home in the world. They have to find and trust and believe in their tenderness and love amidst the alpha-toady dyads of dominant male dynamics. Unbelievable how scary and hard that must be. I can hear a million voices saying well, duh! as I write this. I’m truly sorry I didn’t see it before, and how essential the bravery of queerness can be to dissolving male violence, where it doesn’t replicate it. What an inspiration it is, capturing my awestruck gratitude, along with, I hope, that of every other hetero man who wants a different world.
- The toady might actually loathe women as much as the alpha does and seek to likewise assault wherever he can, or he might have convinced himself he loathes women in order to limit his cognitive dissonance, or he might not loathe women at all, and be caught up in a massive internal split. It doesn’t matter to women, who carry the heaviest burden. The toady’s goal is to offload shame, and if he doesn’t assault to do it his contribution is the pathetic enabling so integral to rape culture.
- I think an unexamined voice in the horrendous victim-blaming that men use to deny or minimize rape culture is that of the toady who is really saying: “I figured out how to offload alpha violence. Why couldn’t you?” Deeper still, I can imagine a toady affecting a special hatred for the rape accuser because she is standing up for herself exactly where he couldn’t, and under circumstances inconceivably more difficult. Her nobility challenges the omnipotence of the alpha, but it magnifies the toady’s impotence. The toady must reframe her speech as whining or self-pity, which is what he’s doing inside. He hates her brave stride to regain her dignity, because it reminds him of his shrinking, dirty bargain.
- I believe the somatic trace of that bargain might be a core obstruction to some men becoming true feminist allies. I’m not talking about the alphas, for whom there’s no hope beyond damage control. I’m talking about those who live in that enabling territory all the way up to toady, but deny it through attempts to self-cleanse through mantras like #notallmen. Yes: it’s daunting to consider the ramifications of male privilege and to wake up to the oppression of patriarchy. The empathy of some might be jostled into activism from these considerations alone. But others will have to remember and feel it in their bodies — that place and moment when they absorbed the violence and dulled its pain by discharging it onto someone smaller, other, or gendered differently. Once you feel it in you, watch out: you’ll have to really recover from it instead of drinking or inflating yourself with your chosen distraction. A big reason you punched down was because you didn’t even recognize your humiliation, let alone recover from it. It was normalized. Once you recover, you may be able to ally yourself and start punching up. But that can be a long road.
- There isn’t enough time and money in the world for all the adult men who need it to do all that therapy. They’d have to want to besides. Fat chance. We’d also have to collectively offer support through yet another cultural “conversation”, designed to expose wannabe-ex-toadies to the proper self-inquiry resources etc. Who has enough spoons to “call them in”? How many toads can really change their toadiness after their 30th birthday? Emotional capital is a precious resource, and maybe shunning is the economical choice in some cases.
- Consider the littles at home and in the schoolyard, where it all begins. Where forces as old as time shape the alpha-toady bedrock of the culture. It forms through countless tiny acts of domination and submission that any woke parent can see. But with hard work, the energy within this primal economy can be transformed into rhythms of consent, nurturance, protection, and acceptance.
TRIGGER WARNING: descriptions of child rape, sexual assault, violence against women and children, cult abuse.
“Sri Swamiji [Satyananda] always loved children, and children loved him. In fact, I may call myself his first love, although I know that many others have loved him and he has loved many other children before me.” — Swami Niranjananda
“You can take even the worst possible rogue as your Guru…. You should never look into the defects of the Guru. You must deify the Guru.” – Swami Sivananda, Yoga in Daily Life
“The next day, Akhandananda came up to me and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I’m very confused.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about your mind. Your mind belongs to me.'” — Royal Commission witness Jyoti (104:10908)
“The ashram was the kind of place where, if you scream, no‐one comes.” – Royal Commission witness APR (106:11099)
“You would only have to look at Yoga for the Young, which is a book that we were very involved in – all of us are in that book, and all my drawings, and the other kids did drawings and we all contributed to that book – that book was still sold by Satyananda Ashram years later, after people knew that some of us were sexual abuse victims.” – Royal Commission witness Alecia Buchanan (104:10899)
Why I’m Writing
Something extraordinary happened in a Sydney conference room last week. A vast swath of the modern global yoga movement went on trial. Or pre-trial, as it happens.
Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard testimony from over a dozen witnesses who resided at Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain from the mid 1970s through the late 1980s, including eleven who were children or young teens at the time. The ashram was founded to spread the practices of yoga. But without exception, the former child residents told harrowing stories of pervasive physical and sexual abuse. Continue reading “Boycott Satyananda’s Literature and Methods Until Reparations are Made for Sexual Abuse”