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Patriarchy’s Last Stand

The future is (still) female. The bumper sticker and T-shirt that have long energized women and girls, and many male allies, is still alive and well. Let’s not forget who won the popular vote in the US presidential election on November 8, even as Donald Trump won the presidency. (Mr. Trump is right about one of his refrains; his election can absolutely be attributed to a rigged system: the Electoral College.)

What would have been an electrifying moment—US voters electing Hillary Clinton as the country’s first female president—became for more than half the country one long Edvard Munch-like scream as the reality sunk in that Mr. Trump had won. An army of angry, hurting white male voters had been conned. And many of us, like the Clinton campaign, had overlooked the signs of their suffering.

For many of those white men, Donald Trump is seen as the great white hope, the last best chance to restore some of the luster to their badly tarnished brand of masculinity. Men in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, for example, projected onto the brash New York businessman the image of a rough and tumble “man’s man.” Mr. Trump, meanwhile, managed to project a caring Big Daddy image, appealing to vulnerable white men concerned not only about their own perilous economic position but also by women’s social and economic gains—by feminism’s success at accelerating women’s ascent to equality.

He seduced them into believing they’d be able to return to the glory days when men were a family’s sole breadwinner, making good middle class money working in plants and factories. He suggested to them that they could once again be king of the castle. Mr. Trump fanned the dying embers of days gone by; he sang “Happy Days [Could be] Here Again” because he knew that “The Times They Are a-Changing” would have fallen on deaf ears.

Truth is, those happy days have been over for years. But men saw in Mr. Trump a chance to reverse history; he represented a fantasy of re-empowered manhood they desperately wanted to believe in. They love Mr.

Trump for feigning paying attention to them, for temporarily accomplishing the impossible: breathing life into an extinct creature.

In his heartfelt, politically astute movie, Michael Moore in Trumpland, the Academy Award-winner took to a classic old theater’s stage in October in (of all places) Clinton County, Ohio. At one point he offered the audience an imitation of the howling and screeching of white male supporters at Mr. Trump’s rallies. “Ah-awwghhhh! Ar-urrrrghhh! Ya-awrrrrghhh,” Mr. Moore bellowed. “You know what they sounded like?” he asked. “Dying dinosaurs,” he answered, a sadly apt definition of many white men today. “We had a good run at being in charge guys—10,000 years,” Mr. Moore remarked. It was, he said, women’s turn. But Mr. Moore was wrong—for now.

For a range of activists—from Millennials who worked their hearts out for Bernie Sanders, to veterans of the sixties civil rights and antiwar movements—it’s a time of delayed gratification. We were poised to step into a new era, one where the United States would be led for the first time by a woman president. It was not to be.

So now, in the aftermath of a dream deferred, what are white men who support gender equality going to do? How are we going to respond? The men who voted for Mr. Trump will come down from their high soon enough when they discover they won’t be returning to the coal mines or the auto assembly plants. What about the rest of us?

Beginning several decades ago women learned to cross-train, to add law, science, medicine, computer programming, and engineering to their old standbys—teaching and nursing. Men have been reluctant to learn new skills. What are we waiting for? We’ve tried being angry, sullen, shut down, uncommunicative. We’ve perfected stubbornness and denial. Men have so much to gain from letting go of our old ways.

Four decades ago a small—but growing—movement of men began working to redefine manhood. Our voices are still largely unknown, our support of gender equality still beneath the radar. The election of Donald Trump is an opportunity to recruit new men to the cause—and to reach out to our struggling brothers.

Sometimes, before a species goes extinct, it has a last gasp, a final burst of energy. That’s how I am choosing to think about what happened in the U.S. on November 8. When history looks back at the election of Donald Trump it will, I believe, be recorded as patriarchy’s last stand.

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Rob Okun is a psychotherapist practicing in Amherst, Massachusetts and the editor of Voice Male, a national magazine chronicling the transformation of masculinity.

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