The multi-talented writer sits down and has a good, frank
talk about men
Named one of Time magazine's "50 Future
Leaders Of America," Rebecca Walker is an activist,
writer, editor, and entrepreneur. After graduating Yale
in 1992, she founded Third Wave Direct Action Corporation,
a non-profit organization devoted to cultivating young women's
leadership and activism. Following in the footsteps of her
mother, Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker is the author of To
Be Real and Black, White and Jewish. In her latest book,
What Makes a Man, Walker compiles 22 essays by various writers
(including Michael Datcher, Ruth Bettelheim, and Michael
Moore) on the topic of being male in the 21st century.
addition to your book What Makes a Man there are other prominent
writers such as bell hooks (We Real Cool) who are covering
the topic of masculinity in their work. Can you explain
why this topic was of interest to you?
decided to do this book when my son came home from school
sullen and withdrawn. I kept asking what was going on and
he wouldnt tell me. Finally after he had calmed down,
he casually said to me, Do you think I should play
sports so that girls will like me? I was really shocked
by that. To me, it was like if I had a daughter and she
came home and said, Do you think I should pretend
Im dumb so that boys will like me? The more
I talked to him, the more I learned that in his seventh-grade
social scene, in terms of having social currency, he had
to either play violent video games which we didnt
allow or be an athlete. It occurred to me that if
you make boys feel like who they are is not good enough,
if you make them feel that they are not valuable unless
they are fighting or competing, then it wouldnt be
hard to convince them to pick up a gun if that was a way
that they could get, not just sexual affirmation, but also
societal validation. I did this book to give something to
my son to show him that who he is, separate from this impetus
to fight and win and compete and dominate, is valid and
beautiful and important.
your new book, you also talk about how women will say that
they want a sensitive man but then they go right to the
run off with the construction worker (laughs). Its
a very mixed message. Which is not so unlike the mixed messages
that women are getting which is about be strong and tough
but also be able to work a stripping pole. I think that
were all trying to break out of this one-dimensionality
of our identity. This is an evolutionary process. If we
could just move those boys along (laughs) and help them,
hopefully we can get to them before the planet is destroyed
by the men who have not deconstructed their masculinity,
like our president. Though I think that those men are just
basically victims of this, as bell hooks would say, white
hyper-capitalist patriarchy. Im sure George
Jr. is easily replaceable and is desperate for the love
and affirmation from his father. I just wish he would stop
doing what he's doing!
What Makes a Man, you say, What many men today are
missing is themselves, the complex and unique experience
of self that has been rerouted and suppressed in the name
of work, war, and the arduous task of being a man.
What would our country look like if it was run by a man
who has found himself?
think we wouldnt have leaders who need to define who
they are through the subordination of other countries and
leaders. We would have leaders who were more able to negotiate
complex psycho-social dynamics. We are in need of deep vision.
I think in the past, deep vision has come from individuals
who have transcended and punctured the bubble of politics,
like Gandhi or Dr. King, people who managed to find the
language to elevate the discussion to our deeper humanity
and to call on every individual to change. Id like
to see someone who could hear and respond and integrate
those kinds of ideas. I think what we are seeing now is
not an attempt to deeply address human suffering because
there is a real resistance to even feeling it.
kind of effect do you think television shows like The Bachelor
and Joe Millionaire have on mens psyches?
think that one of the tropes of contemporary masculinity
is this idea of turning everything into a competition
its all about winning. Because its about ratings,
those shows exploit our deepest fears
that we wont
be chosen, that we wont win.
to the quote from your book, you talk about masculinity
and war. In relation to our status in Iraq, can you talk
about how masculinity and war are related?
of all, how you get a man to believe that he needs to kill
has to do with an annihilation of self. Its the process
they put those guys through to turn them from the boys their
mothers raise into the men on the field with guns. The humiliation,
the breaking down of their innate sense of self-dignity
and self-worth, and the peer pressure they endure. I interviewed
Tony Swafford, who wrote Jarhead, a memoir about being a
Marine in the Gulf War, and one of the things he said was
that a friend of his spent the entire time in the Marines
afraid that he was going to fuck up in some way. They are
beaten down so intensely that they basically spend the entire
time in a state of high anxiety that they may not be doing
something right and that they may be punished. As the mother
of a son, I understand what they are tapping into there
because there is a strong desire to please in all of us,
and that beautiful, human instinct can be exploited and
abused, especially when you are dealing with young men struggling
for the acceptance of their peers and so- called superiors.
the case of Jessica Lynch, she told Diane Sawyer that the
way the military publicized her rescue really bothers her,
including the filming of it. It does bother me that
they use me in a way to symbolize all this stuff,
she said in the Dateline interview. Its wrong.
What do you think about Jessica Lynchs response to
what happened to her in Iraq?
is the problem, its a pathological need to dichotomize
life, to make everything black or white the heroes
and the victims. I am proud of Jessica, that she had the
courage to challenge the way she was used, that she had
the self-confidence to say, "Hey, way it a minute,
the whole thing is more complex than that." It isnt
just a matter of good and bad, right and wrong. Do you know
anyone who is all bad or all good? Until we become more
adroit at negotiating complexity, we will always be projecting
the idea of enemy onto a group of people and wanting to
kill them. We must move toward a more evolved and skillful
view. I mean, if we are so advanced, why havent we
figured out a way to make war obsolete?
do you think a males response would differ?
think a man would not have come forward because the price
would be too high. He would be humiliated by his peers for
acknowledging that it was a much more complex situation
because the masculinity code is based in not talking about
vulnerability, not acknowledging that you are not the superhero.
Its about keeping that silence, especially in the
military. Whereas, the feminine code is about relationships,
so Jessica is being a classic woman in that she is trying
to build bridges where there are none. She gets a certain
validation for that because she is a woman, because we expect
women to do that.
you could create a new law, what would it be?
citizen should be guaranteed access to health care, including
homeopathy, acupuncture, massage, and all the other non-traditional
healing arts also including birth control and abortion
you were running for President, who would you pick as your
Holiness the Dalai Lama.
you could create a bumper sticker that reflects how you
feel about our current president, what would it say?
only bush I trust is my own."
In your new book, What Makes A Man, you talk about how a
re-education within the feminist movement has been really
good for women and that there should be something parallel
like that happening for men. Do you think that the feminist
movement should include men in the struggle, and if so,
womens movement has always included men in the struggle.
Part of it is doing the work to remind people that thats
true. Its like we need white people to deal with their
own racism, we need straight people to deal with their heterosexism,
and we need men to deal with their sexism. We need for us
to not be the only ones deconstructing these limiting identities.
People are deeply unhappy because of the expectations put
on them in terms of who they are supposed to be. We all
need to figure out how to put a little more space between
our own minds and the demands that are being constantly
projected onto us.
think men have to do their part. The more that men understand
that the repression of their emotions and the way they were
taught that the only way to express themselves is through
violence and rage and the more they connect with their desire
for peace and their connectivity with other human beings
that they love
.the happier we will all be (laughs).
One has to be strategic about the bringing together of people
whose awareness has not been raised to point where they
can peacefully exist with people that their behavior can
hurt. Im not against women-only spaces or women only
groups; I dont think that men being involved in this
work means that men should be everywhere up in the movement
(laughs). The door is open for men to find creative and
authentic ways of helping us to get out of this.
current struggle surrounding gay marriage seems to include
a redefinition of what marriage is. What are some of your
thoughts on this?
remember when we were all saying that we shouldnt
be fighting for gay marriage. There was a lot of discussion
around why are we fighting for marriage, its
just re-inscribing the same old problematic paradigm of
the nuclear family. People felt so strongly about
it that thats just where it went. What I like is that
its pushing our consciousness about love and Im
all about love (laughs). It is really asserting that love
is the primary force here and it cannot be restrained, it
cannot be denied and we are going to love each other in
all of our different configurations no matter what anyone
says about it. I think the people who resist it find themselves
to be enemies of love. Its such a self-defeating position.
Its akin to the civil rights movement in that its
coming, you know? Its unstoppable. They can try, but
we are not going back to a colored water fountain. Its
the same tide of that unstoppable force towards true liberation.
Im all for it. We are in a very interesting cultural
moment and whether its a reaction to the coming of
age of all of these sons of the movement or all these sons
of single moms or lesbian moms
but its happening
and Im really glad. It gives me hope.
what we are going to call this piece, ITS HAPPENING