Confessions of an old white guy
I was raised in a culture of racism and sexism on a farm in rural Iowa. This culture was blessed by church and government. It all seemed normal and a given.
As I grew up, there were few challenges to this worldview.
If you had white skin and male anatomy, you started life on “first base” and assumed it was all due to hard work and entitlement.
Challenges to my worldview started in high school and college. I was exposed to a more diverse world and learned about people of differing cultures. We truly don’t understand and see the current “normal” culture without stepping outside the culture in which we have lived.
It takes a long time to recover after years of marinating in this culture of sexism and racism, and the most I can say is that I am “recovering” or “in recovery.”
I remember in my childhood (the 1950s) watching “The Honeymooners.” In one episode, Ralph comes home to his wife Alice and proclaims in his best macho attitude, “Alice, I am king and you are nothing!” To which Alice responded, “Big deal, Ralph, king of nothing!”
This was a subtle way to challenge a worldview and the first I can recall.
One can take the view that old white men are under siege and threatened, but this is taking a “poor victim” view instead of a courageous evaluation. This cultural view must be challenged and re-evaluated.
The South felt that they were under attack when slavery was challenged; men felt that way when women were given the right to vote; families felt that way when child abuse was outlawed, years after animal cruelty was condemned.
Change is difficult and usually painful. Hence the bumper sticker, “Change is inevitable, resistance optional.”
This issue is not man versus women but a human issue.
Every week in my job, I sit across from abused people — both men and women — and listen to their stories of being abused by persons in power, including men, women, parents, grandparents, pastors, priests, teachers, community leaders and, yes, even counselors. Yes, even in THIS community. Of course, people don’t want to see or hear about it.
How can we respond?
First, if you feel challenged, get in recovery and examine yourself.
Question how you see and treat people who are different. Studies have found that when men and women are more integrated, then violence decreases.
Second, how should we raise our sons?
Scientists have found neurons in the human brain called “mirror neurons” that we use to imitate and be like others.
For example, when we hear someone laugh, we tend to laugh along. That’s why there is canned laughter inserted in comedy shows on TV.
There is a theory in social science called the “Hundredth Monkey Theory.” If one monkey on an island behaves differently, there is no change. But once other monkeys imitating the one monkey reaches a critical mass of 100, the behavior imitated is normal for all the monkeys.
When our boys see their male role models treat women with respect and equality, then it becomes a new normal.
I have three boys. Am I afraid for them? Not at all. They are light years ahead of where I was at their ages.
Change is inevitable.
There are other ways to address the issue, but ultimately it will take courage from all of us.
David J. Ohrt is a licensed mental health counselor in Jefferson and a former member of the Greene County Community School District board of education.