MEN’S LIBERATION…BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

  By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

          Thank you very much for inviting me to share my ideas about the dynamic and mysterious relationships between men and women. I am quite aware that you are trying to raise social consciousness in men especially regarding violence towards women.

          In my opinion the Women’s Liberation Movement has been one of the major social movements of the 20th century. In the West activists like Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir and in the East writers like Ismat Chughtai, Kishwar Naheed, Fehmida Riaz, Farough Farahzad and many others paved the way for women to improve their self confidence and fight for their rights. Because of their efforts there are more and more women in the world today who want the same rights and privileges as men in their communities and cultures and are proud to be women.

          Since women’s personal, social and political lives are intimately connected with those of men, men’s liberation is crucial to complete this process successfully. In my opinion men are lagging behind in this evolution. The time has come for men all over the world to do some introspection regarding their attitude towards women. They have to realize that they need to resolve their anger and resentment towards women and develop a respectful relationship with them as neighbors, colleagues, friends and lovers, if humanity is to grow to the next stage of evolution.

          As a psychotherapist I have had an opportunity to work with many men in helping them change their attitude towards women and develop a healthy, happy and respectful relationship with the women in their lives. Those experiences were very rewarding and the women in their lives welcomed the changes.

Many people ask,

Why do men resist the process of liberation?

Why are they angry with women?

Why do they abuse women?

Why do they not respect women?

Why do they not treat them as equal to themselves?

These are very significant and complex questions and there are no easy answers as there are many psychological, social, religious and political factors involved in this process.

          Most of the men I met in my personal and professional lives have been the product of patriarchal societies where for generations they experienced social and cultural conditioning that women are not their equals, and these men also had poor role models. In their families and communities women were treated as second-class citizens and considered inferior to men. When women demanded equal rights they were subtly suppressed or violently oppressed. It is unfortunate that many holy books also told them that men were superior to women and they accepted male privilege as their birthright.

          After a lot of introspection as a psychotherapist and a secular humanist I have come to the conclusion that the process of liberation in men is quite different than the liberation of women. One fundamental difference is that when women become aware of their role as second-class citizens they want to change themselves and their environments. Gradually they realize that by redefining themselves at personal, social and political levels they will gain a lot of power. So many women have become actively involved in that process and have succeeded in achieving some of the goals for themselves and other women.

          On the other hand many men believe deep down in their hearts that if they redefined themselves, they would lose the control and power that their forefathers have enjoyed for centuries. That is one major reason they are resistant to change. There are only a few men I have met over the decades that are genuinely liberated. They are humanists and are sensitive to the inequalities of life. They are against all kinds of prejudices and injustices. They realize that for centuries what they considered their rights were actually privileges…even unfair and unjust privileges. They know that our society has been so male dominated that most men are not even aware of it. Such a bias exists in most aspects of our lives:

…in religious circles people call their God “Father”

…in families, women take their husband’s name or retain their father’s name. Children do not take their mother’s name. This tradition makes no practical sense since nobody can be one hundred percent sure who is their father but everybody is sure of their mother

…in common English language usage, the male pronoun is used for women as well as for men.

          Genuinely liberated men believe that relationships at a personal, social and political level need to be reviewed and changes made at every level so that men and women enjoy equal rights and opportunities. They know that gender liberation is just one aspect of human liberation. I have seen the process of liberation in men beginning in two different contexts:

A,…as a positive response to the liberation of women. When women in their lives became independent, they welcomed that change and reviewed their philosophy and lifestyle. It is ironic that those men who try to genuinely liberate themselves and become kind, caring and compassionate towards their wives and sweethearts are sometimes teased and tormented by their macho male friends, colleagues and relatives and are called, ‘sissy’. ‘wimp’ and ‘zan mureed’ [slave of the woman]. Rather than being appreciated they are ridiculed. Such social pressure can become a hurdle in men’s liberation.

B,…as a part of personal liberation. Some men during their emotional growth realize that many attitudes they have grown up with were not very healthy and they must cast off these biases to gain a more mature outlook on life. These could include attitudes towards people from other cultures, religions and races. In this journey they also become sensitive to women’s struggles and sufferings. They liberate themselves by changing their attitudes towards themselves and others, including women.

          To such men the experience of liberation in their relationships with women is a part of a larger experience of human liberation. Arthur Schlesinger in his article, The Crisis of American Masculinity wrote, “…if this is true, then the key to the recovery of masculinity does not lie in any wistful hope of humiliating the aggressive female and restoring the old masculine supremacy. Masculine supremacy like white supremacy was the neurosis of an immature society. It is good for men as well as women that women have been set free. In any case, the process is irreversible; that particular genie can never be put back into the bottle… The key to the recovery of masculinity lies rather in the problem of identity. When a person begins to find out who he is, he is likely to find out rather soon what sex he is.”

          These men usually realize that this process of liberation is quite complex. It has intellectual, philosophical, emotional, social, religious, political, and cultural and many other dimensions and sometimes they are successful in one area more than others.

          Changing oneself is more difficult than one realizes. Some men are successful on their own after a lot of soul-searching while others need professional help from a psychotherapist. I am fortunate to have been part of that journey with many of my male patients. I saw the transformation of abusive and angry men transforming into kind and loving men. It was a rewarding experience for both. I learnt as much from them as they learnt from me. I was glad that when I asked them, “How can you hurt someone you love?” they responded positively and did some introspection and developed a healthy attitude and lifestyle.

          One such story is of Ben and Wanda (names changed to respect their privacy). When I asked them to share their transformation while receiving psychotherapy Ben wrote,

      “Growing up I didn't have much of a role model as far as marriage went.

My father abused my mother both mentally & physically. It bothered me alot as a kid & I swore I would never do that to my wife.

When I met my wife I had no worries that I would ever be like that to her, but as time passed, progressively I began to become verbally abusive.

It started off with small things like saying she did something stupid.

Each time I got angry, I found it easier & easier to go further, to a point when I was calling her names. She had told me, many times how she felt when I called her names, but having grown up with it, I didn't think I was being abusive.

   My wife & I had many fights, & many times she cried, to a point where it didn't register with me that she was even upset.

  We had spoken of counseling many times over the 9 years we've been married,& she had threatened to leave many times over those 9 years. I guess I didn't think it hurt her as much as I did, because I never believed she would go.

  Finally, we had a big fight & she told me exactly how she felt.

I still didn't pay attention until she told me what she'd lose if she left.

It turns out the things she'd lose were:

-crying every day after I left for work

-waiting for me to come home to yell at her

-wondering what name she'd be called that day, and so on.

   It was at this time where, I realized what I was about to lose.

I was lucky that when I decided to come to counseling, I already made the decision to change.

This is the biggest step for me & my wife .

  Dr.Sohail has helped us a lot, but if I didn't make the decision to change, I don't  know how much he could have helped us...”

 

His wife Wanda shared how Ben had changed with his soul-searching and therapy.,

 

“I have been married now for just over nine years. I lived most of those years trying to make sure everything would go right. I was always afraid of my husband getting mad. I never had a fear of him physically hurting me. He was just emotionally abusive. Back then, the smallest thing (like not being able to find his keys) could set him off. I remember going over in my mind at night almost an item check list, thinking of where his wallet, keys, cell phone, & anything else he may need in the morning, so that I could tell him where they were so he wouldn’t get upset. I took on the responsibility for everything. I didn't want to upset him. I felt very alone as the only time I saw him smile or be happy was when he was with his friends. I wanted to make him happy but felt like I never measured up. Then one day we had a huge fight and I felt so angry I was screaming. I told him I could not tolerate his abusive behaviour anymore and I was going to leave. After that day life changed. We also started receiving therapy from Dr Sohail. Gradually he became a changed man. My husband who I would be afraid to ask to stop for fast food, was going to pick it up with me, even taking me to different restaurants without me even asking. We spend more time together now, we talk all the time, & even better, we laugh together ! I now look forward to him coming home. He hugs me when he walks through the door & tells me he loves me. Now I can feel those words. He worries about me in times that he would have never before. Best of all, he respects me now.
He doesn't call me names anymore.. We have been getting along great for the last three months & I know that we will continue down this road we have chosen for our relationship. I am now proud to say I am his wife.”

        I also met some men who were fascinated with the idea of liberation but once they found out the emotional price they had to pay for that change, they backed away. Others who had a keen interest and were genuinely motivated went through the process, step by step, and finally achieved a richer quality of life and more rewarding intimate relationships.

One of my writer friends Saeed Anjum used to say to traditional men, “if you want your son to become a prince, you need to treat his mother like a queen. If you treat her like a slave your son will never become a prince.”

          I believe we are reaching that cultural stage in human evolution where women are discovering their masculine side and men are getting in touch with their feminine side. More and more men and women are achieving a balance of power in their relationships. I am looking forward to the day when men and women would be able to become friends as well as lovers and bring out the best in each other. I strongly believe that growing together is better than growing alone.

          In my personal life I feel fortunate to have a loving relationship with my sister, aunts, nieces and female friends. My sweetheart has been my wonderful friend for the last thirty years. All these women helped me respect women and become a better human being. Thank you 

Note…Men’s Role in Breaking the Silence on Domestic Violence

Presented in a seminar in Toronto Canada Jan 30th, 2008

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