My last in studio portraits are going up next week, and so ends this project. I did take some portraits out in the streets, and if this project ever gets made into a book I will definitely included those photos in the epilogue, but I am ready to let go of this thread. Maybe let go is the wrong word…I’m ready to follow this thread to another place.
I find it appropriate that I would end with a final post about love. The title of the project insists on it.
A Colored Woman’s Subjective Wearable Reflections on an Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy
How I Learned to Love
I will let words from bell hooks‘ All About Love, help me put my most recent realizations into words. Appropriately, I picked up this text on Valentine’s day. I spent the evening with a close friend. We stopped by the SF public library so she could pick up a book about scarves and bandanas. I remembered that I was never able to check out All About Love earlier in this process, though I had wanted to. It was always checked out. Fortunately there was one copy waiting for me on that day.
bell’s words always reach the deepest part of me. I feel fortunate to relate to her experience in such a strong way. It makes me feel like I’m being true to myself, because the things she suggests are by no means easy. If I can relate it means I’ve been staying on my path, doing work that’s not neccessarily fun, but that will help me navigate though the challenges of my life. I sometimes wish I could type up everything she’s written because I feel it’s that important. Each word is like a delicious nugget of wonderful wisdom.
If I’m not mistaken, hooks came under fire after publishing several works with love as the theme. As a young, black feminist hooks’ words were filled with anger, calls to action, and a certain attitude that could cause the spirits of even the most unmoved to stir. Her words were fierce and fiery. As she matured she began to focus more and more on love. In All About Love she references this saying, “When I travel around the nation giving lectures about ending racism and sexism, audiences, especially young listeners, become agitated with I speak about the place of love in any movement of social justice. Indeed, all the great movements for social justice in our society have strongly emphasized a love ethic.”
She goes on, “When I talked of love with my generation, I found it made everyone nervous of scared, especially when I spoke about not feeling loved enough. On several occasions as I talked about love with friends, I was told I should consider seeing a therapist…most folks were just frightened of what might be revealed in any exploration of the meaning of love in our lives.”
In this publication she defines love as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Of all of the theories I’ve looked over during the past two years this description of love seems most satisfying. It’s neither completely self-serving or self-sacrificing, it requires a kind of mature interdependence that is necessary to surviving and making a beautiful life on this planet. Additionally it includes spirituality (not religion), which is further defined as “that dimension of our core reality where mind, body, and spirit are one.” It is not dependent on variables like passion, or intimacy, that no doubt change and morph over time.
She questions the idea that love is something that is innate to human existence, rather, she recognizes that like anything else love is something that has to be taught. To her it ends up being the combination of open and honest care, “affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust.” To love is a choice like any other, it’s a creative process, it’s not innate. We also have no formal ways of teaching love in our society, and think that this instruction should be done in the family, so most people get it all fucked up. Especially men, sorry dudes.
I recently vehemently disagreed with a female anthropologist who was doing her studies on the subject of masculinity. She wanted to do something to change the way men perceived themselves, something to encourage them to occupy more roles than the “limited number” they currently occupy in our society. ”Why does a woman need to do this work,” I insisted. ”Shouldn’t guys be doing their own goddamned clean up for once!” I also figured that no man would listen to a woman’s investigation of masculinity even if she tried, cause guys hate it when girls tell them what to do. I told this grad student I thought her work was silly, and practically dismissed the discipline of anthropology as a result (Yes, I make firm and sweeping judgments that are often…well, wrong. My bad.).
And then I read chapter three of All About Love, titled Honesty: Be True to Love, and I kind of kicked myself. It starts with this John Welwood quote :
When we reveal ourselves to our partner and find that this brings healing rather than harm, we make an important discovery – that intimate relationship can provide a sanctuary from the world of facades, a sacred space where we can be ourselves, as we are….This kind of unmasking – speaking our truth, sharing our inner struggles, and revealing our raw edges – is sacred activity, which allows two souls to meet and touch more deeply.
Word. This is why I make art, this is why I have female friends, but I am just now having my first experiences like this with men, where revealing myself hasn’t led to ridicule, or shaming, or some type of exploitation. I am learning a lot of important things right now.
Hooks draws from John Bradshaw’s work, which attempts to find “the link between male domination (the institutionalization of patriarchy) and the lack of love in families….Bradshaw believes that ending patriarchy is one step in the direction of love.” So I am going to focus on chapter three, a chapter about honesty and an analysis of dishonesty (lying) in men and how that is associated with domination over women.
I find this important to talk about because although I have throughout my life been what some people might call a dirty cheater, I have never, ever lied about it or done it to grab or hold some kind of power. Or at least I don’t think that’s what motivated me. My cheating was never done with the intention to deceive, in fact, I always admitted to my transgressions as soon after they occurred. They were acts of emptiness and done with the intention to fill up the spaces created by a deep loss.
I have words for my feelings thanks to Judith Viorst:
Severe separations in early life leave emotional scars on the brain because they assault the essential human connection: The [parent-child] bond which teaches us that we are lovable. The [parent-child] bond which teaches us how to love. We cannot be whole human beings – indeed, we may find it hard to be human – without the sustenance of this first attachment.
I’ve been feeling not human for a while now. I went through a period where I had to declare to everyone how not human I felt. People looked at me strangely during this phase saying, “but you are” and I insisted that somehow, I was not. I now feel justified.
Over the past few years I’ve been on many sides of all kinds of men’s lies. I’ve been the other woman without knowing it (one of the main reasons why I no longer desire one night stands and casual dating. Men fucking lie.). I’ve been lied to through silence, and with words. I’ve been lied to by men who I consider friends, men who I hardly know, and men that I’ve known for decades. The lies come so frequently that I wonder if these men actually know who they are. I try to get angry and push these people out of my life, but lying and manhood seem to be forcefully intertwined, and I want to love men, but I don’t know how to love and accept the dishonesty.
Another point hooks touches on is how lying is related to men trying to gain power over women. One of my exes cheated on me during a time that my career was in a major stage of growth, and this private transgression served to create enough chaos that I couldn’t bear to stay in the same place as him. He used deception to gain power and totally fucked up my balance. My sense of self shattered, I’ve been picking up the pieces steadfastly. This book represents another piece.
So without anymore avoidance I’m about to type of the 20 pages that make up hooks chapter on truth and patriarchy. Please read it faithfully and commit it to memory. It will help you when you least expect it, trust me.
It is no accident that when we first learn about justice and fair play as children it is usually in a context where the issue is one of telling the truth. The heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be. In recent years sociologists and psychologists have documented the fact that we live in a nation where peopel are lying more and more each day. Philosopher Sissela Bok’s book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life was among the first works to call attention to the grave extent to which lying has become accepted and commonplace in our daily interactions. M. Scott Peck’s The Road LEss Traveled includes and entire section on lying. In the Dance of Deception, Harriet Lerner, another widely read psychotherapist, calls attention to the way in which women are encouraged by sexist socializaion to pretend and manipulate, to lie as a way to please. Lerner outline the various way in which constant pretense and lying alienate women from their true feelings, how it leads to depression and loss of self-awareness.
Lies are told about the most insignificant aspects of daily life. When many of us are asked basic questions, like How are you today? a lie is substituted for the truth. Much of the lying people do in everyday life is done either to avoid conflict or to spare someone’s feelings. Hence, if you are asked to come to dinner with someone whom you do not particularly like, you do not tell the truth or simply decline, you make up a story. You tell a lie. In such a situation it should be appropriate to simply decline in stating one’s reason for declining might unnecessarily hurt someone.
Lots of people learn how to lie in childhood. Usually the being to lie to avoid punishment or to avoid disappointing or hurting an adult. How may of us can vividly recall childhood moments where we courageously practiced the honesty we had been taught to value by our parents, only to find that they did not really mean for us to tell the truth all the time. In far too many cases children are punished in circumstances where they respond with honesty to a question posed by an adult authority figure. It is impressed on their consciousness early on, then, that telling the truth will cause pain. And so they learn that lying is a way to avoid being hurt and hurting others.
Lots of children are confused y the insistence that they simultaneously be honest and yet also learn how to practice convenient duplicity. As they mature they begin to see how often grown-ups lie. They begin to see that few people around them tell the truth. I was raised in a world where children were taught to tell the truth, but it did not take long for us to figure out that adults did not practice what they preached. Among my siblings, those who learned how to tell polite lies or say what grown-ups wanted to hear were always more popular and more rewarded than those of us who told the truth.
Among any group of kids it is never clear why some quickly learn the fine art of dissimulations (that is taking on whatever appearance is needed to manipulate a situation) while other find it hard to mask true feeling. Since pretense is such an expected aspect of childhood play, it is a perfect context for mastering the art of dissimulation. Concealing the truth is often a fun part of childhood play, yet when it becomes a common practice it is a dangerous prelude to lying all the time.
Sometimes children are fascinated with lying because they see the power it give them over adults. Imagine: A little girl goes to school and tell her teacher she is adopted, knowing all the while that this is not true. She revels in the attention received, both the sympathy and the understanding offered as well as the frustration and anger of ther parents when the teacher calls to talk about this newly discovered information. A friend of mine who lies a lot tells me she loves fooling people and making them act on knowledge that only she knows is untrue; she is ten years old.
When I was her age I was frightened by lies. They confused me and they created confusion. Other kids poked fun at me because I was not good at lying. In the one truly violent episode between my mother and father, he accused her of lying to him. Then there was the night an older sister lid and said she was baby-sitting when she was actually out a date. As he hit her, our father kept yelling “Don’t you lie to me!” When the violence of his response created in us a terror of the consequences of lying, it did not alter the reality that we knew he did not always tell the truth. His favorite way of lying was withholding. His motto was “just remain silent” when asked questions, “then you will not get caught in a lie.”
The men I have loved have always lied to avoid confrontation or take responsibility for inappropriate behavior. In Dorothy Dinnerstein’s groundbreaking book The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise, she shares the insight that when a little boy learns that his powerful mother, who controls his life, really has no power within the patriarchy, in confuses him and causes rage. Lying becomes one of the strategic ways he can “act out” and render his mother powerless. Lying enables him to manipulate the mother ever as he exposes her lack of power. This makes him feel more powerful.
Males learn to lie as a way of obtaining power, and females not only do the same but they also lie to pretend powerlessness. In her work Harriet Lerner talks about the way in which patriarchy upholds deception, encouraging women to present a false self to men and vice versa. In Dory Hollander’s 101 Lies Men Tell Women, she confirms that while both women and men lie, her data the findings of other researchers indicate that “men tend to lie more and with more devastating consequences.” For many young males the earliest experiences of power over others comes from the thrill of lying to more powerful adults and getting away with it. Lots of men shared with me that it was difficult for them to tell the truth if they saw that it would hurt a loved one. Significantly, the lying many boys learn to do to avoid huring Mom or whomever becomes so habitual that it becomes hard for them to distinguish a lie from the truth. The behavior carries over into adulthood.
Often, mem who would never think of lying in the workplace lie constantly in intimate relationships. This seems to be especially the case for heterosexual men who see women as gullible. Many men confess that they lie because they can get away with it; their lies are forgiven. To understand why male lying is more accepted in our lives we have to understand the way in which power and privilege are accorded men simply because they are males within a patriarchal culture. The very concept of “being a man” and a “real man” has always implied that when necessary men can take action that breaks the rules, that is above the law. Patriarchy tell us daily through movies, television, and magazines that men of power can do whatever they want, that it’s this freedom that makes them men. The message given males is that to be honest is to be “soft.” The ability to be dishonest and indifferent to the consequences makes a male hard, separates the men from the boys.
John Stoltenberg’s book The End of Manhood: A Book for Men of Conscience analyzes the extent to which the masculine identity offered men as the ideal in patriarchal culture is one that requires all males to invent and invest in a false self. From the moment little boys are taught they should not cry or express hurt, feelings of loneliness, or pain, that they must be tough, they are learning how to mask true feelings. In worst-case scenarios they are learning how to not feel anything ever. These lessons are usually taught to males by other males and sexist mothers. Even boys raised in the most progressive, loving households, where parents encourage them to express emotions, learn a different understanding about masculinity and feelings on the playground, in the classroom, playing sports, or watching television. They may end up choosing patriarchal masculinity to be accepted by other boys and affirmed by male authority figures.
In his important work Rediscovering Masculinity, Victor Seidler stresses: “We learn to use language as boys, we very quickly learn how to conceal ourselves through language. We learn to ‘master’ language so that we can control the world around us….Even though we learn to blame others for our unhappiness and misery in relationships we also know at some unspoken level how our masulinity has been limited and injured as we touch the hurt and pain of realizing how little we seem to feel about anything….” Estrangement from feelings makes it easier or men to lie because they are often in a trance state, utilizing survival strategies of asserting manhood that they learned as boys. This inability to connect with others carries with it an inability to assume responsibility for causing pain. This denial is most evident in cases where meen seek to justify extreme violence toward those less powerful, usually women, by suggesting they are the ones who are really victimized by females.
Regardless of the intensity of the male masquerade, inwardly many men see themselves as the victims of lovelessness. Like everyone, they learned as children to believe that love would be present in their lives. Although so many boys are taught to behave as though love does not matter, in their hearts they yearn for it. That yearning does not go away simply because they become men. Lying, as one form of acting out, is a way that articulate ongoing rage at the failure of love’s promise. To embrace patriarchy, they must actively surrender to longing to love.
Patriarchal masculinity requires of boys and men not only that they see themselves as more powerful and superior to women but that they do whatever it takes to maintain their controlling position. This is one of the reasons men, more so than women, use lying as a means of gaining power in relationships. A commonly accepted assumption in a patriarchal culture is that love can be present in a situation where one group of individual dominates another. Many people believe men can dominate women and children yet still be loving. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung insightfully emphasized the truism that “where the will to power is paramount love will be lacking.” Talk to any group of women about their relationships with men, no matter their race or class, and you will hear stories about the will to power, about the way men use lying, and that includes withholding information, as a way to control and subordinate.
It is no accident that greater cultural acceptance of lying in this society coincided with women gaining greater social equality. Early on in the feminist movement women insisted that men had the upper hand, because they usually controlled the finances. Now that women’s earning power has greatly increased (though it is not on par with men’s), and women are more economically independent, men who want to maintain dominance must deploy subtler strategies to colonize and disempower them. Even the wealthiest professional women can be “brought down” by being in a relationship where she longs to be loved and is consistently lied to. To the degree that she trusts her male companion, lying and other forms of betrayal will most likely shatter her self-confidence and self-esteem.
Allegiance to male domination requires of men who embrace this thinking (and man, if not most, do) that they maintain dominance over women “by any means necessary.” While much cultural attention is give to domestic violence and practically everyone agrees it is wrong for men to hit women as a way of subordinating us, most men use psychological terrorism as a way to subordinate women. This is a socially acceptable form of coercion. And lying is one of the most powerful weapons in this arsenal. When men lie to women, presenting a false self, the terrible price they pay to maintain “power over” us is the loss of their capacity to give and receive love. Trust is the foundation of intimacy. When lies erode trust, genuine connection connot take place. While men who dominate others can and do experience ongoing care, they place a barrier between themselves and the experience of love.
All visionary male thinkers challenging male domination insist that men can return to love only by repudiating the will to dominate. In The End of Manhood, Stoltenburg continually emphasizes that men can honor their own selfhood only through loving justice. He asserts: “Justice between people is perhaps the most important connection people can have.” Loving justice for themselves and others enables men to break the chokehold of patriarchal masculinity. In the chapter titled “How We Can Have Better Relationships with the Women in Our Lives,” Stoltenberg writes: “Loving justice between a man and a woman does not stand a chance when other men’s manhood matters more. When a man has decided to love manhood more than justice, there are predictable consequences in all his relationships with women….Learning to live as a man of conscience means deciding that your loyalty to the people whom you love is always more important than whatever lingering loyalty you may sometimes feel to other men’s judgment on your manhood.” When men and women are loyal to ourselves and others, when we love justice, we understand fully the myriad ways in which lying diminishes and erodes the possibility of meaningful, caring connection, that it stands in the way of love.
Since the values and behavior of men are usually the standards by which everyone in our culture determines what is acceptable, it is important to understand the condoning lying is and essential component of patriarchal thinking for everyone. Men are by no means the only group who use lies as a way of gaining power over others. Indeed, if patriarchal masculinity estranges men from their selfhood, it is equally true that women who embrace patriarchal femininity, the insistence that females should act as though they are weak, incapable of rational thought, dumb, silly, are also socialized to wear a mask – to lie. This is one of the primary themes in Lerner’s The Dance of Deception. With shrewd insight she calls women to account for tour participation in structures of pretense and lies – particularly within family life. Women are often comfortable lying to men in order to manipulate them to give us things we feel we want or deserve. We may lie to bolster a male’s self-esteem. These lies may take the form of pretending to feel emotions we do not feel to pretending levels of emotional vulnerability and neediness that are false.
Heterosexual women are often schooled by other women in the art of lying to men as a way to manipulate. Many examples of the support that female receive for lying concern the desire to mate and bear children. When I longed to have a baby and my male partner at the time was not ready, I was stunned by the number of women who encouraged me to disregard his feelings, to go ahead without telling him. They felt it was find to deny a child the right to be desired by both female and male biological parents. (No deception is involved when a woman has a child with a sperm donor, as in such a case there is no visible male parent to reject or punish an unwanted child.) It disturbed me that women I respected did not take the need for male parenting seriously or believe that it was as important for a man to wat to parent as a woman. Whether we like it or not we still live in a world where children want to know who their father are and, when they can, go in search of absent fathers. I could not imagine bringing a child into the world whose father might reject him or her because he did not desire a child in the first place.
Growing up in the fifties, in the days before adequate birth control, every female was acutely conscious of the way unwanted pregnancies could alter the course of a woman’s life. Still, it was clear then that there were girls who hoped for pregnancy to emotionally bind individual males to them forever. I thought those days were long gone. Yet even in the ear of social equality between the sexes I hear stories of females choosing to get pregnant when a relationship is rocky as a way of forcing the male to remain in their life or in the hope of forcing marriage. More than we think, some men feel extremely bound to a woman when she gives birth to a child they have fathered. The fact that men succumb to being lied to and manipulated when the issue is biological parenting does not make it right or just. men who accept being lied to and manipulated are not only abdicating their power, they are setting up a situation where they can “blame” women or justify woman-hating.
This is another case where lying is used to gain power over someone, to hold them against their will. Harriet Lerner reminds readers that honesty is one one aspect of truth telling – that it is equated with “moral excellence: an absence of deception or fraud.” The mask of patriarchal “femininity” often renders women’s deceptions acceptable. However, when women lie we lend credence to age-old sexist stereotypes that suggest women are inherently, by virtue of being female, less capable of truth telling. The origins of this sexist stereotype extend back to the ancient stories of Adam and Eve, of Eve’s willingness to lie to even God.
It is possible to speak with our heart directly. Most ancient cultures know this. We can actually converse with our heart as if it were a good friend. In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts that we have lost the essential art of taking time to converse with our heart. - Jack Kornfield