Our Response to ‘The Problem That Never Goes Away’
‘The Problem That Never Goes Away — The frightening normality of sexual violence’
The text that follows is an overview of my wife’s and my own response to a challenging and important article, written by my good friend Mary Adams for her online organisation 3rd Space titled;
‘The Problem That Never Goes Away — The frightening normality of sexual violence’
In her article Adams outlines, how frequently this all consuming existential fear, can permeate her own life and by extension, all women’s lives. Furthermore, despite there being the appearance of advancement in the public sphere, Adams’ highlights the almost incomprehensible blanket denial of the immense scale, of occurrence and unconscionable everyday frequency, of male sexual violence.Therefore she elucidates an insidious and almost conspiratorial web of avoidance and collusion, that is so immense, that very few are able, to cognise the boundless breadth, depth and scope of its existence.
In terms of the incremental progress of awareness, in public life, the #Metoo movement initially made it relatively less intimidating, for women to announce, disclose or whistleblow about their experiences of male sexual oppression and exploitation. Additionally, the sheer public outcry of #Metoo also made it permissible for some outrageously shocking revelations, to be brought into the centre of public discourse. Also the very recent ‘Everyone’s Invited’ disclosures brought the issue back into the centre of public discussions, highlighting routine abuse and violation of women mostly in school settings. Nevertheless, the overwhelming prevalence of male sexual violence, Adams’ argues, has yet to be addressed at a scale that is congruent with, the appalling reality, frequency and viciousness of its manifestation.
Shadow Reality of the Male Experience
After reading the article aloud to my wife Caroline, we discussed that an essential prerequisite, to ending the widespread collusion described in the article. Is at least for highly educated and privileged men to begin, to unflinchingly face, into the many facets of male violence. These discussions needs to confront the fact, that almost for all of male existence we (men) have been instinctually driven by the limbic system, the source of the male primal reproductive urge, as well as our fight, flight, or freeze reactions. Mostly to have the dawning recognition that civilization, as we currently know it, in terms of longevity, is only the thinnest veneer over all of these raw primal impulses.
Absent conscious realization of this shadow reality, lingering below the surface appearance of modern life, male behaviour can and will, under stress be overridden by this morass of archaic behavioural patterns. These often invisible urges underlie ‘regular even normal behaviour’, however being social animals, these darker instincts over time have been temporarily subdued, sublimated, even repressed by personal, familial, social and cultural conditioning together with the parallel evolutions of culture and cognition. Steps toward confronting these facets and dimensions of male experience, need to be admitted into individual consciousnesses. initially perceived and then made transparent, which can at least be brought to light within the wider male social body. This might begin to help illuminate the individual and collective ‘blind spot’ that is seemingly driving these egregious male sexual behaviours.
Whilst the ubiquity of male violence is well known primarily through the lived experience of women over the eons and while finally, modern news media is bringing the phenomena into mass social awareness. Even the media providers themselves have been also inescapably enmeshed in scandals of sexual and gender based tyranny. We wondered, as Adams’ article also points out, how could current life conditions on the planet, be contributing to the apparently more frequent violations in public or private spaces and places? How have the normative expectations of civility and respect been eroded to almost wafer thin durability? One only has to look at social media to see how frequently conventional societal norms are being violated and transgressed. Additionally the omnipresent accessibility of porn, accompanied by its overwhelming misogyny, might also be playing an insidious role, in activating these primal instincts in impressionable young as well older male minds.
Moreover, enduring male social roles and norms, have been also under siege due to the diminution of the historical male archetype, as provider, protector and de facto leader. All of the above factors have been exacerbated by the failure of both religious, secular and materialist culture, to define and adequately represent, suitable alternatives to these historical male archetypes. Such circumstances are undoubtedly contributing to the displacement and disruption of what the male ego has formerly represented for millennia. The decline in moral authority of churches, as well as political leaders as exemplars of right livelihood, has combined with an upsurge of neoliberal dogma, with its implicit moral relativism and prioritisation of the rights and freedoms of individuals. These have all frayed the social fabric and inadvertently fertilised the unconstrained expression of these dark male instincts. Quite possibly over all previous epochs the underlying reality was not so different, but such was the role of men and the all encompassing dominance of patriarchy, the incidents that did occur, were most probably suppressed, denied, avoided and ignored. Today’s febrile climate fulminated by mass media and advent of the internet, has arguably allowed the true underlying condition of the male psyche to surface.
Deeply Personal Implications
Subsequent to reading Mary Adam’s piece, my wife brought up the subject of my occasional angry outbursts, as examples of male violence and that she sometimes feels afraid of me when I occasionally ‘lose it’ even, if these flare ups are never directed at her. She raised this challenging topic, in a genuinely curious and conversational way, absent of any emotional undertones conveying blame, shame or guilt. Nevertheless from the outset of our talk, part of my experience in my body was a sort of rigidity and a more than uncomfortable feeling of exposure to this issue barely addressed by us, yet brought to light by my friend’s writing. Nevertheless in a sincere spirit of co-creative enquiry we explored some of this territory together.
Given this formerly untraversed territory in our relationship, we seemed to be pioneering into not only our own, but into the collective common psyche. Our journey into this unfamiliar depth felt supported by the trust, love and inner development work, that we have cultivated over time and it buoyed us as we engaged together in this subject matter. It seemed to be critical to the voyage that our inquiry was founded upon a shared partnership. Whilst women have suffered terribly from the worst effects of male violence over the eons, it became clearer later, that our bond of love was being strengthened through an honest appreciation and ongoing experiential investigation into the roots of male violence within both our psyches.
Our inquiry was in effect a deep emotional archeology, peering through obscurity into ignorance, revealing unconsciousness in areas, that so far we had barely bothered to speak about. While we were exploring, it felt like we were swimming against the deep currents, of mostly our shared unconscious collusion, of the reality of my own male violence. It was clear that in not opening the conversation up in a big hearted way, even at the micro interpersonal level between ourselves as a couple. We were unwittingly contributing to the mass social avoidance, of the much larger corrosive and destructive impact of male sexual violence. Paradoxically the sincere shared engagement and spirit of co-enquiry, into these archetypal mostly unconscious patterns, was very liberating and resulted in a release of shared joy and renewed enchantment with one another. On reflection we identified,the following enabling conditions that might foster similar discussions, at the smallest unit of social interaction at least between committed and loving couples.
Cultivating Conditions for Co-Enquiry
- Having ongoing grounded same gender conversations, ones that explore these archaic layers of gender conditioning, in an atmosphere of trust and mutuality, honour and respect
- Having a shared clear vision of what you want to create as a couple, of manifesting as your best selves for each other and for the world.
- Having a rich, creative life together that is full of joy, lightness of being, of sharing and mutual pleasure.
- Another prerequisite to the exploration, was our autonomous inquiry into existential questions, which deeply informs an atmosphere of mutual curiosity, interest and aliveness to experience, as well as to relatedness.
- Timing the discussion and inquiry when each other’s emotional temperatures are at their coolest, where each person’s experiences can be really heard, seen and expressed for what they are.
- Where personal manifestations of prehistoric patterns and embedded conditioning can, be witnessed as such, and not some as a kind of ultimate expression of the self.
- Avoiding seeing the appearance of the archaic and the primitive as a personal problem (unless it is), not hindering the process with a problem/solution attitude or accusatory mentality.
- Assuming a generative and spacious attitude to conversation, of being appreciative, feeling sensing and being open whilst moving away from reaction towards response.
- Sharing a lightness of being, of humour leaving each other alone. Letting this lightness of touch, inform mutual discussion and inquiry together.
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About the Author’s wife:
Caroline van Veggel is by training an actress and employs these skills and capacities as an expert communications trainer. As an inspirational leader and coach, she guides professionals in increasing their impact. With thirty years of experience in training, storytelling, corporate theatre, workshops and coaching, she offers safety, humor and enthusiasm while drawing on a wide range of training and communication models and creative methods to facilitate improved individual and organisational performance, across a range of diverse sectors and settings.
About the Author:
Dave Pendle is synthesising almost 30 years experience in non profit enterprises with over 40 years of deep personal development experience. He is a teacher and transformational agent, keen to help shape education that is fit for a new paradigm. He aims to develop ecosystem leaders who embrace that they were born for this moment. He helps evolve their capacities to inspire and uplift themselves, stakeholders and systems to create a world that works for everyone.
Follow Dave Pendle’s Facebook page to learn more how you can engage with him and his leadership development business Generative You.