I recently came across an article by Clifford J. Green on the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved in the German resistance to the Nazis and was eventually imprisoned and killed by them. Bonhoeffer questioned at length his own desire to be a Christian theologian, and Green argues that the personal issues Bonhoeffer faced in himself became part of his theology. That’s the overall thrust of Green’s article.
I was interested in how Bonhoeffer analyzed his own self-perceived egocentricity. He describes an egocentric as (1) “a man of impressive power” who (2) “dominates others”, viewing them as “things”. This way of relating to others (3) violates human relationships and destroys community. His conscience, instead of repairing what he destroys, (4)justifies his “autocratic solitude”.
The word “man” is used by both Bonhoeffer and Green as if it refers to humanity in general. But I ask you, does this four-fold analysis describe women? When Bonhoeffer generalized from what he saw in himself, does anyone think he considered women? Of course not. The idea is ludicrous.
YET — in pretending to talk about humanity through terms like “man”, academics like Bonhoeffer and Green lose the opportunity to discover insights about men.
Bonhoeffer made his remarks in the 1930’s. Green’s article appeared in 1967. Even though exactly the same thing continues to happen, I thought this article showed particularly clearly how men — in failing to see women — fail to see themselves.
Bonhoeffer’s analysis is an acute indictment of patriarchally-conditioned masculinity. I am particularly struck by his conclusions regarding male “autocratic solitude”. It makes perfect sense that when people seek power to dominate others, they can have no true relationships with others. Masters and slaves aren’t intimate with each other, and that includes when the master is the husband, and the slave is his wife. As a consequence, men are alone. And lonely.
Recent male commentators are starting to suspect that men join misogynist and racist hate groups primarily for a sense of belonging. How desperately lonely do you have to be to join misogynist MRA groups where participants howl out their pain over lack of female companionship? Does serial rape fill the void in the heart?
I doubt that the patriarchy can be dismantled without male cooperation. So I think it’s essential that men figure out that they are half the human race only, and start paying attention to the other half. By that I don’t mean paying attention to women’s sexuality, or to all the other ways that men have coerced women into serving them.
I mean paying attention to them as if they were just as autonomous as men, living their own lives for self-directed purposes. I mean referring to men as men, not as “menandwomen”, thus leaving open a space for women. And I mean becoming curious about what’s in that space.
“Masculinity” , when it’s confused with “humanity” through such words as “mankind” is, if anything, anti-humanity. That’s because it offers the human being as a uniped rather than a biped ( to use a very appropriate metaphor). Human beings’ personalities comprise countless attributes. Men in patriarchy divided them all into two large categories — the masculine and the feminine. These categories are ideas only. They don’t actually exist.
Still, the world men see contains people with the “leg” of femininity bent and bound at the knee, forcing people to stump along on only the “leg” of masculinity. It doesn’t work. Humanity has not progressed since patriarchy began about 8000 years ago; it simply cycles between less brutal and more brutal. We cannot progress until men unbind the “leg” of femininity and unpack and legitimize the contents of that category.
Both men and women need the attributes of both categories. Feminine compassion without masculine discernment leads to the enabling of all kinds of things that should be contained rather than enabled. And masculine judgement without feminine empathy leads to state-sanctioned murder.