Fitting in: The White Male System and Other Systems in Our Culture
The White Male System and the Way the World Isn't
When working with clients, therapists have traditionally taken one of two approaches: the "intrapsychic "or the "interpersonal." In the former, the therapist focuses on what goes on "inside "the person, emphasizing the importance of dreams, fantasies, defense mechanisms, fixations, and the like. Of special significance are the first five years of a client's life; these are seen as having shaped the person and determined what she or he would be and become in the fixture.
Many practitioners now feel that the intrapsychic approach is sorely lacking. The information gained by that methodology may be useful, but it is just not enough. True, a therapist can work with an individual's insides and make great strides, but it is also necessary to work with her or his "outsides"--specifically, to become aware of and/or involved with the significant others in the client's life. After all, no one lives in a vacuum The interpersonal approach, then, focuses on the system in which the client lives "and "on the system which is the client herself or himself.
As a practicing psychotherapist, I myself have used both approaches--the intrapsychic and the interpersonal--with my clients, depending on their needs and my perceptions. Both have worked at different times; both have helped people to become living, loving, capable individuals. Still, I have never been entirely satisfied with either approach or the combination of the two. Something is missing from each one--something which I have grown to feel is essential not only to the therapeutic process but also togetting along in the world on a day-to-day basis.
What is missing is an understanding and awareness of what I have chosen to call the White Male System. It is crucial to be able to define this system and deal with it simply because it surrounds us and permeates our lives. Its myths, beliefs, rituals, procedures, and outcomes affect everything we think, feel, and do.
Let me explain what I mean by the White Male System. It is the system in which we live, and in it, the power and influence are held by white males. This system did not happen overnight, nor was it the result of the machinations of only a few individuals; we all not only let it occur but participated in its development. Nevertheless, the White Male System is just that: a system. We all live in it, but it is not reality. It is not the way the world is. Unfortunately, some of us do not recognize that it is a system and think it "is" reality or the way the world is.
The White Male System--and it is important to keep in mind that I am referring to a "system "here and not pointing a finger at specific individuals within it--controls almost every aspect of our culture. It makes our laws, runs our economy, sets our salaries, and decides when and if we will go to war or remain at home. It decides what is knowledge and how it is to be taught. Like any other system, it has both positive and negative qualities. But because it is only a system, it can be clarified, examined, and changed, both from within and without.
There are other systems within our culture. The Black System, the Chicano System, the Asian American System, and the Native American System are completely enveloped in and frequently overshadowed by the White MaleSystem. As, of course, is the Female System, which includes women from the other ethnic systems as well as white women.
There are a few white men who do not fit into the White Male System. They form a small but growing group which is frequently perceived as a sanctuary by white men who do not want to acknowledge their sexism. Whenever I mention the existence of this group during a lecture, I can almost see the men in the room rushing to crowd into it. If they can just get into that circle, they can be "different" and not have to face themselves. I wait until they are comfortably crowded in before saying, "Of course, at this point in history that group is largely homosexual." They then quickly rush right out again I use this statement for effect, and while it is not necessarily accurate, it "does "encourage men to realize that there is more to sexism than meets the eye. This keeps the focus where it should be and is also an amusing process to observe.
Saying that you are not sexist--or that you do not want to be, or would rather not admit that you are--is not the same as doing something about your sexism. To give a parallel example, this is much like what many of us white liberals did during the civil rights movement. We needed our Black friends to tell us that we were different. We needed to hear that we were not like everyone else, that we were not discriminatory and racist. Once we heard that, we could avoid having to deal with our racism, which was real no matter how hard we tried to ignore it or cover it up.<P" had two Black colleagues who simply refused to tell me what I wanted to hear. I finally learned that the issue was not one of "whether "I was racist, but of "how "I wasracist. As soon as I was able to acknowledge this--with my friends' help--then and only then could I begin to work on my own racist attitudes and behaviors. Similarly, because we all live in a white male culture, the question is not one of "whether "we are sexist, but of "how "we are sexist. (This is true for women as well as men, by the way.)
Before we can deal with our sexism, we must learn to distance ourselves from the White Male System. We must learn to step back, take a long look at it, and see it forwhat it really is.