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Recovering ‘patri-holics’ can be men as well as women

By Ellen Snortland 05/02/2013

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Gloria Steinem, a paragon of the human rights movement centered on gender justice and equity, has said on many occasions that her fondest wish for the “women’s”  movement is to have small groups attend leaderless meetings held in church basements or gyms all over the world. This is modeled on the famous Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon 12-step programs created by Bill and Lois W. I put “women’s” in quotes because the women’s movement is really a misnomer: It’s really a movement for all of us, including men. We are all shackled by rigid gender norms and most of us suffer from being stuffed into “feminine” or “masculine” strictures that bind and sometimes kill. (Hyper-masculinity expressed in everything from barroom brawls to warfare.)

For the three readers of this column who aren’t addicted to something, there are 12-step meetings for the following compulsions: alcohol, drugs, gambling, co-dependency, overeating, debt accrual, shopping, hoarding, bingeing, purging and list making. Kidding about the list making, but you get my drift. It applies to anything that causes suffering, takes one away from balanced living and can be a compulsion or addiction that is harmful to a general sense of well-being. For example, I have at least two friends (that I know of) whose homes are dangerous from their out-of-control hoarding. I know scads of alcoholics and food freaks, recovering and not in recovery. Some people see fat people as slovenly and weak. I see them as suffering from a compulsion to eat in order to self-medicate and not feel intense feelings.

Regarding our slavish adherence to the male-dominated status quo, I’ve heard Ms. Steinem say, “The definition of a co-dependent is a well-socialized woman.” Hear, hear! Let’s peek in on what a gender-centered Feminists Anonymous (FA) 12-step meeting might be like:
Me: “Hi, I’m Ellen S. and I’m a recovering Patri-holic.”

All: “Hi Ellen!”

I continue, “I was in line at Costco the other day with one item. A man about 10 years younger than I also had one item and asked if he could go in front of me. I said no, and then he called me a bitch.”
Nods of recognition.

“I noticed that I was ready to compulsively say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and let him go ahead of me. However, it was he who was in a position to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ not me. Instead, I said, ‘You have really poor manners. It’s inappropriate to call me a bitch for saying no to you. You can wait your turn.’ Thank you for letting me share.”

Lots of applause. General nodding again, as there is no “crosstalk” in 12-step meetings, meaning that the person sharing has the floor.
Johnny, the FA secretary, is not a “leader,” as there is no hierarchy in a 12-step meeting — simply volunteer positions which are based on the number of days of “sobriety.” Johnny says, “Who else would like to share?” He sees that Kenny B. has his hand up and calls on him, “Kenny?”

Kenny: “Hi, my name is Kenny and I’m a recovering Patri-holic.”

All: “Hi, Kenny!”

“I wanted to just say how thankful I am for these meetings. I was on the phone yesterday with my mother, who was berating me for not being man enough to have a ‘real’ job. She doesn’t understand why I would want to stay home with the kids. I told her being a homemaker is a real job! She wants me to be like my Dad, who was desperately sad for many years and never let on. At the end of his life, he told me he was proud of me for finding a wife I like and respect. So, rather than yelling at Mom and arguing, I took a deep breath and told her that my wife is happy with the arrangement we have agreed on. My taking care of hearth and home is helping her to fulfill her dreams, and mine too. Our marriage may not look ‘normal’ to her, but it’s what works for us. Before these meetings, I would have felt guilty and ashamed. That’s really all I have to say. Thanks for being here.”

One of the huge misconceptions about the women’s movement, fueled by a decades-long media backlash, was that being “for” women meant being against men. While there were plenty of pissed-off women in the 1960s and ’70s, it didn’t take us long to see that men were just as trapped as we had been, and still are in many ways.

Historically, this gender readjustment has been going on a long time, even if many people don’t know about it. Mary Wollstonecraft was a feminist foremother in the 1790s and was accused of “waywardness.” Rebecca West, a famous English author and journalist in the first half of the 20th century, said, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

Gloria Steinem is brilliant. Catch up on her and dozens of other great feminist thinkers by checking out “Makers: The Women Who Make America” at makers.com. You’ll be amazed at the history you’ve lived through without even realizing it.

Ellen is a writing coach in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com

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