The Obama/Buttigieg Difference: On the Refreshing Appeal of a Post-Patriarchal Man
Why so many Americans like what we see…and need it.
by Karin Swann – Nov 18, 2019 (Medium.com, severely abridged)
the large pool of candidates for the democratic ticket in 2020, the
once relatively unknown, Pete Buttigieg, continues to make a big splash.
Early in 2019, few would have anticipated that “Mayor Pete” would now
be the front runner in the Iowa polls.
Buttigieg distinguishes himself in many ways — he’s the youngest
candidate, an outside the beltway democrat from a red-state and, of
course, he’s gay. People are impressed with his grounded rhetoric, and
his down-home, reasoned and whip-smart common sense. Likened by more
than a few to Barack Obama, Chris Cillizza writes: “Don’t look now, but
(another) skinny kid with a funny name is turning heads in the
Obama, Buttigieg does have that remarkable ability to focus his sizable
intelligence, (he’s a Rhodes scholar with a philosopher’s reflective
interest in all-things-civic), on our complex political reality in
readily, relatable ways. Also, like Obama, he has that unflappable
capacity to sound reassuring with every answer he offers, coming off
cool no matter the curveball.
I think there’s another reason why Buttigieg reassures us. Of all the
candidates, he has something Obama had that’s essential to our future
and yet that’s rare among men in leadership today. It’s what I would
describe as a post-patriarchal masculinity.
It’s a mouthful of a word that admittedly sounds far too dusty and ‘academic’. But here’s my manual. We’ve gotta start somewhere!
see this kind of new man, sometimes ironically in some of the older,
quieter men I know who, worn down by the pressures placed on them over
their lifetime, have grown in wisdom and found themselves able to see and
appreciate the women in their lives, recognizing the value of
relationship over single-minded focus on ambition and success. These
men, sometimes in their seventies and older, however, have regrettably
already taught their sons the wrong lessons. The lessons of their
Nonetheless, I also see evidence in younger, millennial, and even middle-aged men who have taken the journey to figure out who they really are,
motivated by any myriad of life circumstances, including maybe having
gay friends or maybe because they were encouraged by women, who aware of
their own value, lovingly raised the bar for the men in their lives.
men have found their way towards questioning the masculine identity
they were raised to assume, they’ve wondered if all they are is the
salary they bring in, if they’re more than their hipster cache, if their
life purpose really lives in “success” and standing out as exceptional
and above the rest, or simply in the muscle they wield or the number of
women they’ve sexually conquered. They’ve
wondered if the self-reliant, transactional approach to life they were
raised to engage really reflects who they are or want to be. They’ve
done this self-reflection — often, usefully, with other men — in much
the same way many women and POC’s have done the inner work to transcend
self-images internalized from the mainstream culture of their childhood.
short, I feel like I know this kind of man when I meet him — he is a
man open to his own becoming, he has an authenticity and reliability
about him — he has weathered the storms inherent in questioning whether
he is who he thought he was. And this is where Barack Obama and Pete
Buttigieg come in. They are both men who have found reassuring ways to
untie the gordian knot of patriarchal masculinity — a knot that left
tied risks binding us to our current, disturbing fate.
But, getting more specific, what are
some of the elements of what we might call post-patriarchal
masculinity? To be clear, there’s no one type of post-patriarchal man,
just like there’s no single feminist or prototype for a woman. Many
intersecting factors that play a role in being more authentically
gendered, but perhaps what we can say is that the work of unraveling a more self-reflective, self-aware sense of self is a process, not a destination. This
may be the best place to start: The stamp of post-patriarchality (-;
shows in a man who is committed to a process of self-reflection and
growth. (Yes, that does mean a man who is willing and able to say “sorry” and “I made a mistake.”)
this isn’t enough. A man who gazes at his navel does not a
post-patriarchal revolution make. What, happens, though, when that
self-reflection changes how a man acts, values and lives differently?
Post-patriarchal men have come to understand the value of partnership
over domination. Partnership means collaboration, mutual respect, the
ability to negotiate and approach the world from the standpoint of
relationship, recognizing that real power is what gets forged between people not through the stance of domination and control over them.
Renowned feminist writer, Riane Eisler, made partnership
the cornerstone of her writing for good reason. It is the single most
important ingredient for change that signals a shift from patriarchy’s
defining, dominating practices. Partnership, when it shows up in
leadership, means being able to hold the complexity of multiple points
of view with confidence and sensitivity. It is the tension point that
any leader today needs to effectively live in, and act from, in order to
uphold democracy’s future in an ever-diversifying world. But how is the
capacity for partnership (over a domineering approach to life) formed?
2. Shedding the skin of their ‘fathers’. To
see beyond the familiar, self-reliant leadership of the patriarchal
way, a man must be able to see daylight between himself and his
(patriarchal) father. This doesn’t mean all claims to masculinity are
tossed, but rather that a man looks at the relationship between him and his father with such honesty that it takes him down to his core.
Such men have either chosen to, or their life circumstances have
somehow forced them to, honestly grapple, then, with their own
was clearly a deep thread influencing the development of Obama’s moral
character, which he wrote about in his autobiography, (and was
well-portrayed in the movie, Barry).
Obama wrestled with his absent and aloof yet, as he eventually saw it,
insecure father, and with the approach to authority and power he
encountered in his step-father. It was also an emotional thread — an
inquiry that required honesty and vulnerability, and, yes, tears, facing
hard truths, and, in so doing, reconnecting with himself at a deeper
level. Somehow, working through the impact these men had on him and his
subsequent struggle to find out what kind of man he was, had a foundational impact on who Obama became as a man, a husband and a politician.
a gay man, I would expect Buttigieg has come about his reflection on
patriarchal masculinity differently. His father was a kind,
humanitarian, Episcopalian academic, perhaps himself a post-patriarchal
fore-runner who planted a seed for his son. (He recently passed away.)
Instead, Buttigieg has lived in the liminal zone relegated for LGBTQI
Americans whose life path has forced them into a confrontation with the
patriarchal gender binary. That binary proscribes that men (superior)
should look and act this way and women (inferior) should look and act this way,
and only men and women should love and marry one another. This
heteronormative binary is another cornerstone that lives at the core of
patriarchy’s social engineering.
an LGBTQ activist in an earlier chapter in my life, I’m familiar with
the strength of character and courage it takes to weather the prevailing
cultural winds of ‘normal’ gendered behavior. It’s impossible to choose
a life path outside of patriarchy’s normal gendered mandates without
developing a reflective awareness of its conditioning through often
traumatizing, shame-invoking prescriptions for what is acceptable in
‘men’ and ‘women’. I do not know the details of
Buttigieg’s ‘coming out’ journey but know that this step in one’s life
requires a deep self-reckoning about one’s values, one’s loves and what
one is willing to risk to be real. For many — let alone someone
with a background in military culture, which Buttigieg has — coming out
amounts to a deeply heartfelt awakening. Surviving it with any degree of
happiness requires self-compassion.
racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes live in us as powerful
restrictive mechanisms that once deeply witnessed, felt and personally
overcome, can generate empathy with others who have been similarly on
the receiving end of patriarchal oppression. Whether honestly reckoning
with one’s real father, or with the authority of the rules of
patriarchy, then, the daylight that can form is the crack of this
reckoning is the space where compassion, for a different kind of man, can come in.
3.) Letting Go of The Master’s Tools. Getting
space from the old father to become a newer, self-reflective man also
means letting go of some of the worst of the master’s tools moving
forward. Letting go means letting go, it means not getting tangled in the need to prove oneself to a competitor one no longer sees as worthy.
In a recent Politico interview
Buttigieg shared this about Trump: “If we are in any way emulating this
president, we’re already losing. Look, I’m comfortable hitting back
when hit, I’m comfortable dealing with bullies, I’m comfortable dealing
with incoming fire, but I also believe the moment we start making all
our thinking about how we’re going to serve it up to President Trump, it
gets us into a mindset where it’s almost as though he’s the one we’re
trying to impress.” Buttigieg, like Obama, has a
way of communicating that clarifies his confidence and vision, but it’s a
confidence as a different kind of man who doesn’t get caught up
fighting against an old order he clearly sees as empty.
ability, when built into one’s character — to step in as needed but to
elect to step out with clarity and confidence to focus on what really matters
— is hard-won in the killing fields of Donald Trump. It exists only in
those, I would suggest, who have honestly faced and survived the legacy
of patriarchy full-on in themselves, those who’ve
something true within themselves, a foundation they can count on where
they no longer fear The Father’s rejection or feel they have anything to
4. Respect for the ‘Feminine’. There
was a time when the traditional patriarchal man was raised to respect
the feminine. Then, there was a time when that patriarchal feminine was
challenged by Betty Friedan and a second wave of feminism that exposed
the stereotyping of women as weak, domesticated dependents. So, what do I
mean by feminine here?
way to answer this question is simply to look at all the things that
the ‘last gasp of patriarchy’ himself seems to revile or, alternatively,
feel so threatened by. They may as well be the signposts pointing to
the essential, universal feminine long disavowed by patriarchy:
qualities of vulnerability, compassion, empathy, and especially those
that reflect our dependence on, and intrinsic connection to, the natural
world. They are all things that define us as human and that Trump works so hard to deny in himself and diminish in others.
Related, I use this word here to refer not just to women, but to the qualities of life that become available to women and men when we recognize we live an inter-dependent existence, inter-connected, each unavoidably impacting the other, and, as such, all inherently vulnerable.
Obama, a black American man who reckoned with his father and Pete
Buttigieg, a gay man who reckoned with his sexuality in the face of
homophobia both know what it is to be vulnerable. When someone develops
the ability to be compassionate about being on the receiving end of a
dominator hierarchy, a sympathetic resonance gets born, be it for other
humans, for children, for animals, forest eco-systems, white factory
workers or immigrant mothers fleeing violence.
of the Green New Deal, like Buttigieg, see systemic impacts, they get
how this ‘feminine’ that needs respect is impacted in our communities,
our bodies and on our planet, and by our continued refusal to pay
attention to the great “No!” our climate is trying to communicate. This
“No” is related to the “No” of the #MeToo Movement in that it demands
sensitivity, respect and empathy for the experience of others. When we see this empathy in a man, not compassion that simply comforts but an empathy that drives action, perhaps then, we can say we have seen the post-patriarchal daylight.
Beyond “Post-Trump”: The Task of Creating a Post-Patriarchal Future.
In a recent interview, “Mayor Pete” shared that in this day and age, any platform that aims to “Make America Great Again” inherently includes a false promise.
He understands that the world is changing, changing a lot, (one
wildfire, hurricane and arctic blast at a time). Part of that change,
also, is that patriarchy’s offer today of an identity for men is itself a false promise.
If there is any hope of uniting this country, of forging forward in a better America and, no less, a livable future sensitive to the needs of our planet, we need a new and viable version of, and for, (white) masculinity.
Among the many challenges we face, then, is the one that demands we don’t throw in the towel on the value of a good man.
I believe many of us know a man like this when we see him — somehow
something in us says “yes!” I think it’s why Buttigieg is leading in the
I’m not endorsing Pete Buttigieg, but I’m really close, and what I can endorse, is the value of the man I see in him. If a man is going
to take leadership in these times of peak-patriarchal backlash, let it
be one of the men who’s created something new in himself against the
strong, prevailing winds of patriarchal conditioning in his life. Someone
who, on the other side of the ‘last gasp’ is going to step up with a
refreshing new voice that sounds honest and true in that
way-we-somehow-find-ourselves-trusting. A man with a voice that says in
these perilous times, ‘It’s time for compassion, respect and
partnership. Let’s get to work!’
[read in full at Medium.com]