Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq. In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.
He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California. He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community. He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in the SF Bay Area.
Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.
When I was in Iraq, I saw men holding hands all the time. As you might imagine, most of us Marines assumed there was something homosexual about doing this, and all sorts of jokes sprung up as a result. After more than ten years, and a lot of personal reflection, I don’t believe this anymore. I’m more inclined to think that Iraqi men were simply comfortable with openly loving one another. Damn, that must feel good.
Sociology professor at American University of Beirut in Lebanon, Samir Khalaf, said, “Holding hands is the warmest expression of affection between [Arab] men. It’s a sign of solidarity and kinship.”
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a good friend, and Marine Corps Iraq Veteran, recently about patriarchy. He concluded that patriarchy was not a significant aspect of American society, and that it does not affect males in dangerous ways.
While my jaw dropped internally, I was not surprised that he felt this way. Most of us can barely define patriarchy. We recognize that it has something to do with fathers, men, control, and family. Yet what we cannot see is how the deeper, more insidious and invisible system of patriarchy influences all our lives. Does it operate in your life?
Patriarchy is not simply a way to organize a family or political system, it is a culture and social system. A way of thinking and behaving that has led to a lack of male love. It is about men not being connected to and sharing emotions. It is about the refusal to change in this way, and the belief that men are built differently – unable to be emotionally aware and conscious. Patriarchy is about denying the love that can make us feel whole, and how manliness has become: withholding, withdrawing, and refusing. It is about the deep internal grief of males, and the torment of our souls when we are unable to love.
The way that I used to deal with emotional pain or anguish as a U.S. Marine and Veteran in my twenties and early thirties, and believe me, there was a lot of it, was to shut it down. I got really good at it. When I would start to have negative feelings, I would close my eyes and imagine a thick zipper located near my belly button. This cold, metal tab would slowly begin inching its way up from my naval to my gut, and upward towards my chest – where it would tighten relative to the intensity of the feelings coming forth. It acted to seal off my stomach, chest, throat, mouth, and mind from feeling or processing any particle of my pain. This was a way for me to keep everything inside and push my emotions down and out of the way. I refused them any breath or light. It worked too, I was a machine that didn’t have to feel, since I figured out how to control them. This, of course, led to the demise of my mental health, and I suffered for a long time with depression, anger, and often rage.
The above example is the essence of patriarchy. bell hooks defines patriarchy as:
Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.
Millions of boys in America have their own zipper and inclination towards dominance. The zipper is formed by a traumatization that begins at a young age: we force boys to feel pain and then deny their feelings. Men become dominators because mothers, fathers, and society believe that is who they are naturally, and so an environment is fostered where these qualities can thrive. Patriarchy is a social disease.
This is the reason we have so much male anger in our society today. Women are angry too, but moreso because they are hungry for male love. Both genders are collectively yearning for love, which is why it is all the more important to learn about patriarchy, acknowledge it’s affects in our lives, and begin the process of dismantling it.