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Listening for the Harmony in Our lives
By Rob Okun am at a point in my life where I welcome my tears. It wasn’t always that way. Despite the work I’ve done on myself— and the work I do—sometimes it still feels unsafe to let tears come. Other times I don’t have any choice. Such was the case on a snowy December night when I was in the audience listening to David Mallett, a remarkable singer-songwriter who I first heard when I was around 30. This year, I turn 60. Throughout my thirties, forties and fifties, listening to David’s salty, seasoned Maine baritone would always tear a piece of my heart. His voice does for me as a middle-aged man what Janis Joplin’s plaintive siren’s call evoked when I was in my twenties. In his voice, all the more rich with age, his songs burrow in, massaging my heart. More men than you’d think are like David Mallett, sharing stories from our hearts. His tales of lost love, hurting, healing, and redemption are our stories, too. Listening to him that wintry night it felt as if he was making me an offering: “Here. Take these songs as a gift, man to man.” Some of the music turned over—like clumps of rocky earth—broken pieces of my heart. Missing my father, gone since ’88. Wounds from the end of a marriage two decades ago (healed over as much as those kinds of wounds can). Out of the shards of loss I’ve made myself whole, and I felt a brightness, too, in jaunty tunes of celebration of nature—both human and in the environment. They evoked in me a quiet contentment—my heart opened wider than ever, appreciating the great joy of a loving wife and the blessing of four amazing adult children. In my travels to conferences and from my perch editing this magazine, I sense more men are starting in earlier to take inventory of our lives, to more readily share what we find. Few of us have a stage to stand on like David Mallett, yet we’re more alike than different—guys who have been around the block, lines in our faces and, like the bard,
Singer-songwriter David Mallett
weathered like the Maine coast. We can hear in his voice—a harmony of strength and gentleness—our own lyrics, wisdom blending with melodies that turn song into poetry. We may not have his gifts as a poet, yet we can tap into the same well of tenderness. On that Sunday night at the dark of the year, he was our balladeer playing more than two dozen originals, songs that mapped the human heart. One, called “Beautiful,” professed love for his daughter. He sang, “You are one of a kind/a wild flower on the vine/and the whole world’s waitin’ for you/cause you are the most beautiful girl/ you are the wonder in my life/you don’t know but its true/I’m forever lovin’ you/ I’m forever lovin’ you…” His love for, and appreciation of, his father was expressed in “My Old Man.” In it Mallett sang, “My old man/Talkin’ about my old man/He was there at the start with a willin’ heart/He was there when the world began/My old man was a daddy/ Till I got too cool to call him that any more/He took my momma to the grange hall dance/And he waltzed her across the floor…/My old man, talkin’ about my old man/ talkin’ about my old man…” Like the gentle side of most men, David Mallett’s tenderness might have been
obscured if I’d only skimmed the surface— seeing in him only a road-weary troubadour, hard and stoic. How sad it would have been to have missed the truths he was sharing, just as it’s sad that too many of our vulnerabilities and longings as men are overlooked. Skimming the surface is what the culture often does with men, missing an opportunity to plumb our depths. For the mainstream media and popular culture, men are usually seen as uncomplicated beings living in the now, without histories, moving on with few regrets. We’re just after the big deal, the quick fix, or the quickie. It’s not so. The next time you find yourself—or hear someone else—describing men simplistically—think about the men you know, men like David Mallett, whose lives are made up of tenderness and tears, joys and sorrows, strengths and vulnerabilities. We may not all be songwriters and poets but each of our lives is the stuff of songs and poems. Listen between the lines every day to tap into that truth. Voice Male readers will no doubt be interested in two examples of men sharing our truths more publicly. The Men’s Story Project (our cover story, beginning on page 18) is a powerful dramatic expression of men speaking honestly from their inner lives. And V-Men, a kind of men’s auxiliary of V-Day, the international effort to prevent violence against women and girls, is beginning to hold workshops as part of an effort to create a new dramatic presentation entitled Ten Ways to Be a Man. (See back cover.) The possibilities for this next decade being one where more men share the truth of our lives will only grow stronger if more of us are willing to leave the man caves of solitude for the gardens of our hearts.
Rob Okun can be reached at email@example.com.
Changing Men in Changing Times
10 No More Mr. Good Guy?
Stepping Off the Pedestal of Male Privilege
By Tal Peretz
14 Invisible Men
Men, the Mainstream Press and Rape in the Congo
By Jackson Katz
16 Is It Anger or Is It Abuse?
By Joyce and Barry Vissell
18 Men’s Lives, Men’s Truths
The Men’s Story Project
By Charles Knight
23 A Feminist Mother on Raising Sons
By Sarah Epstein
27 Imagining a Different World to Understand This One
Through the Looking Glass of Violence
By Stephen McArthur
Columns & Opinion
2 4 5 8 12 25 29 30 31 32
From the Editor Letters Men @ Work Outlines Fathers & Sons Men and Health Men Overcoming Violence Books Film Resources
Listening for the Harmony in Our Lives By Rob Okun
The Male Straitjacket By Brendan Tapley Broken Father, Loyal Son By John Sheldon Men at Greater Risk For Cancer Death? Why Men Can’t Remain Silent By Byron Hurt
Facing Our Fragmented Selves: Cracks in Patriarchy
I appreciate the personal, world and culturespanning perspective you shared in [“From the Editor,” Summer 2009]. Never a fan of either subject of your piece [Michael Jackson and Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei], they do represent a reflection of our broad-spectrumed masculinity and so [are] a reflection of myself. Along with the other examples mentioned from the political arena that show the usual face of patriarchy (wounded and unhealthy masculinity), it speaks to the split within ourselves from the failure to face and integrate the shadow. Our fragmented selves can only act out in wounded ways when the shadow is unacknowledged and unintegrated. For the patriarchal expressions you cite, the word of caution to each of us is that we do well to look at ourselves in the mirror for what we see looking back. More personally, I need to continue to look to see what am I doing to heal the effects of the fragmented masculine paradigm I’ve been nurtured in, to ask what concepts inform my way of being a man, what actions will I pursue to be a wedge in that widening crack of the patriarchal plague that feeds the violence in our world? Thanks for getting us all to stand in front of the mirror, the primary place of transformation. Mark Chaffin Schenectady Stand Up Guys, Schenectady, N.Y. www.schenectadystandupguys.org
Thai T-Shirt Not a Joke
Editor’s Note: Below is a letter sent to The Onion in response to an ad published in the humor magazine. I am writing to request that you stop sales of your t-shirt referring to a friend who went to Thailand and “all he brought back was a kidnapped prostitute.” I’m not sure you understand how often women are kidnapped and sexually trafficked both internationally and domestically. The fact book from the University of Rhode Island on the Global Sexual Exploitation in Thailand* (www.uri.edu/artsci/ wms/hughes/thailand) can provide you with information regarding the enormity of the problem and the scale of human suffering involved. I am sure after you have spent even 10 minutes looking at this material that you will agree that a t-shirt of this kind only serves the purposes of the traffickers, pimps and slave traders by dismissing their cruelty as laughable. I’m sure that was not your original intent. I would also encourage you to develop policies regarding the sale of material that dismisses or condones the sexual exploitation of women and children. Chuck Derry Minnesota Men’s Action Network, Gender Violence Institute, Clearwater, Minn. * Around 80,000 women and children have been sold into Thailand’s sex industry since 1990, with most coming from Burma, China’s Yunan province, and Laos. Trafficked children were also found on construction sites and in sweatshops. In 1996, almost 200,000 foreign children, mostly boys from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, were thought to be working in Thailand.
Rob A. Okun
National Advisory Board Juan Carlos Areán
Family Violence Prevention Fund
All Men Are Sons
God Bless the Child Productions
Prof. of Journalism Univ. of Texas
Media Education Foundation
Bill T. Jones
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co.
Mentors in Violence Prevention Strategies
VM Needs to Reach Mainstream
I found out about Voice Male last April at the Men Can Stop Rape conference in Washington, D.C. This is exactly the type of magazine we need to get out into mainstream newsstands and bookstores to replace the crap that’s currently available to men. I will pass along the link to the folks on my grad student listserv, as some of them study gender issues/masculinity. It’s a great resource. Mahri Irvine Department of Anthropology American University, Washington, D.C.
White Ribbon Campaign
The Dad Man
Prof. of Sociology SUNY Stony Brook
Other & Beyond Real Men.
Mentors in Violence Prevention
Letters may be sent via email to www. voicemalemagazine.org or mailed to Editors: Voice Male, 33 Gray Street, Amherst, MA 01002.
Prof. of Sociology Univ. of So. California
Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe
VOICE MALE is published quarterly by the Alliance for Changing Men, 33 Gray St., Amherst, MA 01002. It is mailed to subscribers in the U.S., Canada, and overseas and is distributed at select locations around the country and to conferences, universities, colleges and secondary schools, and among non-profit and non-governmental organizations. The opinions expressed in Voice Male are those of its writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the advisors or staff of the magazine, or its sponsor, Family Diversity Projects. Copyright © 2010 Alliance for Changing Men/Voice Male magazine. Subscriptions: 4 issues-$24. 8 issues-$40. For bulk orders, go to voicemalemagazine.org or call Voice Male at 413.687-8171. Advertising: For advertising rates and deadlines, go to voicemalemagazine.org or call Voice Male 413.687-8171. Submissions: The editors welcome letters, articles, news items, reviews, story ideas and queries, and information about events of interest. Unsolicited manuscripts are welcomed but the editors cannot be responsible for their loss or return. Manuscripts and queries may be sent via email to www.voicemalemagazine.org or mailed to Editors: Voice Male, 33 Gray St., Amherst, MA 01002.
Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund
Prof. of Gender Studies Cal State Long Beach
4 Voice Male
Men @ Work
Are Glasgow’s Youth Soft on Men’s Violence?
A study in Scotland reveals that young people have a high tolerance of violence and abuse if committed within an interpersonal heterosexual relationship. In an article in Men and Masculinities (Vol. 11, No. 3), “Justifications and Contradictions: Understanding Young People’s Views of Domestic Abuse,” Melanie J. McCarry drew on empirical data from a school-based study conducted with 77 young people in Glasgow that explored young people’s opinions of abuse and violence in interpersonal heterosexual relationships. A central finding is that there is profound contradiction in the views of the young people regarding what is interpersonal violence and about who is doing what to whom. The young people in the study were ambivalent about acknowledging the predominance of men as perpetrators of interpersonal violence, and where they did acknowledge males they constructed numerous justifications to explain it. Beyond simply presenting the findings, McCarry’s article explores reasons why the young people both resisted accepting men as perpetrators of interpersonal violence and tried to justify their behavior. To learn more, go to http://jmm.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/3/325. The Men’s Action Network has created several documents that can assist others interested in developing policies at state and local levels of government, as well as with private businesses, organizations, and agencies. To learn more go to http://www. menaspeacemakers.org/programs/ mnman/hotels. growing primary prevention plan to stem sexually violent and degrading material becoming accessible and mainstreamed into our social environment.” The Clean Hotel Initiative encourages business, public and private organizations, and municipalities to modify their meeting facility policy to clarify that meetings and conferences only will be held in facilities that do not offer in-room adult pay-per-view pornography. Additionally, Derry says, the recommendation calls for travel policies to be amended to reimburse employees’ lodging costs only when staying at hotels that do not offer the inroom adult pay-per-view porn.
Network Challenges Hotel Pornography
A men’s network in Minnesota is spearheading efforts to curb sexually violent and degrading material in public places with a current focus on hotel room porn. The Minnesota Men’s Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence has drafted the anti-porn in hotels initiative with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program. The effort, according to Chuck Derry of the Gender Violence Institute, where the Men’s Action Network is located, “is part of a
Eat Soy, Stay Virile
Soy foods don’t decrease testosterone levels. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can now join President Barack Obama chowing down on a tofu-veggie stir fry. A new study published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine finds that soy foods and soy isoflavone supplements have no significant effect on male reproductive hormone levels. Findings recently published online in Fertility and Sterility, a publication of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, demonstrate no
[continued on page 6]
Men’s Resource Center: Beginning Again
We live in a time of upheaval and transformation, in which people all over the world are defining, questioning, and redefining their sense of identity—national, ethnic, racial, religious/spiritual, political, familial, sexual, and personal. . . The shift in thinking, feeling, and behavior experienced by a growing number of men is one expression of this widespread metamorphosis. Men no longer need to feel confined by definitions of maleness that value domination and violence, nor need they feel threatened by women’s struggle for equality. We can embrace both non-violence and liberation as we define ourselves in ways that allow our full development as human beings. We are committed to helping bring about a more just and peaceful world by redefining masculinity to exclude violence and embrace trust and compassion. —From the vision statement of the Men’s Resource Center for Change Like many non-profit social change organizations facing challenging financial realities, the Men’s Resource Center for Change (MRC), one of the oldest men’s centers in the U.S., is re-envisioning its role. The MRC, which traces its origins back 27 years, recently took steps to help ensure the organization’s future in the face of current economic uncertainties. Much admired, the MRC has twin aims: “supporting men and challenging men’s violence.” Among its many pioneering efforts were support groups for men with a range of experiences, a young men of color group, high school education, and free groups for women. (The center also launched a newsletter a quarter century ago that evolved into Voice Male magazine.) According to board chair Mark Nickerson, an MRC founder, the organization sold its building in Amherst, Mass., closed its office in nearby Springfield, transferred oversight of Moving Forward, its widely regarded batterers’ intervention program, to a large area social service agency (which retained all interested program staff), and replaced remaining paid positions with a cadre of dedicated volunteers. “Our foresight and success in transferring [Moving Forward], and selling the building, left us with funds that will remain a nest egg for future MRC activities,” Nickerson said, adding that the organization will continue with other aspects of its work. “Our [four weekly] support groups…continue to provide a valuable resource to many men in the community.” The organization relocated to new administrative offices and, Nickerson said, has retained “numerous talented and experienced individuals available for speaking or consultation opportunities.” The MRC was scheduled to begin a visioning process in early 2010. To learn more, visit www.mrcforchange.org.
Winter 2010 5
Men @ Work
significant effect of soy protein or soy isoflavone intake on circulating levels of testosterone, sex hormonebinding globulin or free testosterone in men. Led by Jill M. HamiltonReeves, Ph.D., R.D., of St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota, researchers assessed the effects of soy protein and soy isoflavones on measurements of male reproductive hormones. “As a high-quality source of protein relatively low in saturated fat, soy can be an important part of a heart-healthy diet and may contribute to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease,” according to reproductive endocrinologist William R. Phipps, MD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center, a co-author of the analysis. He noted that some men have been reluctant to consume soy foods due to concerns about estrogen-like effects of soy isoflavones, often referred to as phytoestrogens. But according to Phipps, “It is important for the public to understand that there is no clinical evidence to support these ideas. After conducting a comprehensive review of the existing literature, we found no indication that soy significantly alters male sex hormone levels.” To request a copy of the report, write Diana Steeble at Diana.Steeble@Publicis-PR.com.
Voices Against Violence
Voices Against Violence is a zine publishing work from people of color, indigenous folks, trans people, and queer survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual assault. Topics include: healing from trauma, enabling healing, life after trauma, self-help guides/resources, self-healing, dancing as means to healing, healing through narration, forgiveness (do we need it?), and collective trauma. Voices Against Violence is a community teaching tool, a jumping off point for dialogue, creative outlet, and conversations zine editors say ‘need to happen.” A part of Café Revolución (www.myspace.com/ caferevolucion), Voices Against Violence accepts submissions in English, Spanish, Tex-Mex, Spanglish or any combination via email, sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Translations are appreciated but aren’t necessary.)
Boyzilian Waxing: “Manscaping” for Men
With a name like ours, Voice Male receives a range of press releases, announcements and news about men and masculinity. In the interest of “transparency,” we wanted to share an edited version of a recent press release we received. ” The fastest-growing segment of the spa industry is the male client and waxing is at the top of the services men seek. Shave it like Beckham? Male body waxing is increasingly popular as awareness of WHAT BENEFITS WILL the types of waxing services I RECEIVE? available for men grows. The Increased sensitivity, re“cavemen look” is out, and men duced body odors, and more are looking for more ways to im- attention! Men also ﬁnd that prove their look and boost their their partners enjoy the cleaner, conﬁdence. fresher look and the feel of a Back in the late 80’s men little “Manscaping.” Plus, there were experimenting with eye- is a basic color effect, dark rebrow waxing, a far better ap- cedes and light brings forward. proach than tweezing one hair at Things simply look bigger when a time. Then in the 90’s athletes they are well groomed! and models expanded into body waxing, getting hair removed DO I HAVE TO HAVE EVERYTHING from their legs, chest, back, TAKEN OFF? arms and ﬁngers; anywhere their While some guys like a toskin was exposed in a swimsuit. Realizing the beneﬁts of wax- tally clean look, many men siming, the trends have evolved ply like to have a cleanup and into a “baring it all” service, the shaping. More often than not, guys just want to clean the hair Boyzilian. Boyzilian waxing “is the off the shaft of the penis and remale version of the Brazilian move hair from the scrotum, the Bikini Waxing service, but pro- anus and in between. Some trimvided for men that want to feel ming of the hair above the pubic clean and conﬁdent all the time,” bone and they’re ready for the says Susanna DiSotto, director world. It’s all negotiable, so a of Satin Smooth, a manufacturer clean consultation should elimiof professional wax products. nate any surprises. What follows are tips for the ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD novice client: KNOW? WHAT IF I BECOME AROUSED? It’s not uncommon for guys to become somewhat aroused at the beginning of a service. However, it is short lived as it becomes clear with the ﬁrst hair removal that this is a procedure, rather than an encounter. While the beneﬁts will outweigh the mild discomfort, the ﬁrst hairs to come out are usually enough to calm down anything that might have come up in the beginning. Don’t consume caffeine immediately before your appointment, as it can increase sensitivity. Wear loose clothing and cotton boxer shorts. No tight jeans or hot showers the day of the appointment. Also plan to wait a day before you share the new “do” with your mate. Editor’s Note: Have an item for the “No Comment” section? Send to email@example.com.
Boysen Hodgson H20 Marketing, website support. Tony Rominske Peace Development Fund, technical assistance.
Visit our new website for the latest news and updates
6 Voice Male
Dear Voice Male Reader, As our country’s 30,000 Afghanistan-bound soldiers’ pounding hearts amplify the drumbeat of war, I am moved to ask for your help. After President Obama’s speech in December announcing the troop increase, I found myself thinking about all the stories in Voice Male that articulate a new definition of manhood. Of course a magazine can’t stop a war. But it can help reframe our ideas about peace and about men transforming ourselves from war makers to peacemakers. And it can contribute to redefining masculinity for our sons, brothers, nephews, cousins—and for the boys in generations to come. Because I so strongly believe in the message of possibility—of a new vision of manhood—that Voice Male represents, I feel a special urgency in asking for your support. In the nearly 15 years since I first started editing the magazine, we’ve published more than 1000 articles, all with an eye toward men rethinking masculinity. The good news is, even in these challenging times, more men are changing. Voice Male at Historic Conference of College Males Consider: In November, Voice Male was at St. John’s University in Minnesota at the first national conference of men working for gender equality and challenging violence against women on college and university campuses. Interviewed for an article in Ms. Magazine online, I suggested the historic conference “represents a sea change” in feminist/profeminist collaboration. “One of the old-timers among male feminist allies, Rob Okun, editor of Voice Male magazine said, ‘There’s a new generation of men coming to these issues.’” And it was thrilling meeting with them—new gender justice activists, fired up and ready to go. It was heartening to see these students taking Voice Male out of their conference packets to read during the two-and-a-half-day gathering. (Indeed, this past year Voice Male was similarly featured at conferences in New York and Washington, and was widely distributed to hundreds of delegates from 80 countries at an international men’s gender equality symposium in Rio de Janeiro.) In 2009 thousands received the magazine, including many women and men representing key agencies in the U.S and abroad inspired by our message advocating for a healthy expression of masculinity—improving men’s health, advocating for gay rights (including marriage rights), being engaged fathers and mentors, and preventing violence against women. At the plenary session in Minnesota at which I spoke it was clear something historic was happening. While sexual violence and domestic abuse remain an international calamity, from the streets of our cities to remote parts of the Congo, young people deeply understand the issues Voice Male articulates are part of—not distinct from—the greater movement for social justice. Our “voice” is advancing our cause— and women, children, and men are the better for it. Still, we need your help. New Members of National Advisory Board I’m delighted to share the news that there are three new members of the Voice Male national advisory board: • Activist-playwright Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues, and founder of V-Day) • Profeminist activist Charles Knight (who maintains the blog Other & Beyond Real Men) • Writer-professor Shira Tarrant (author of Men & Feminism and editor of Men Speak Out) Shira and Charles have been involved in profeminist men’s work for a long time and are committed leaders. Both spoke at the conference in Minnesota. In launching V-Men—the “men’s auxiliary” to V-Day— Eve articulated her passion for women and men collaborating. In 2010, I anticipate strengthening Voice Male’s ties with V-Day and V-Men and expanding our distribution so more and more women and men—and especially younger men and women—have opportunities to read the magazine online and in their communities. There really isn’t another publication like Voice Male. With so many social issues rooted in damaging expressions of old-style masculinity, Voice Male is needed more than ever. Please support us by taking out or renewing your subscription. And, please consider making a contribution so we can grow in 2010 and beyond. With appreciation,
Rob Okun Editor P.S. Please use the enclosed response form and envelope or go to www.voicemalemagazine.org.
Anti-Gay Hate Crimes and the Problem of Manhood
The Male Straitjacket
By Brendan Tapley
n late 2008, a different “surge” emerged in the headlines. The FBI released its statistics for hate crimes in a good news bad news report. Good news: overall, hate crimes declined from the previous year; bad news: there was a 6 percent surge in incidents against homosexuals—the only category that increased—the majority of which targeted gay men (59.2 percent versus 12.6 percent for gay women). What was unclear was the reason; the FBI was quick to say its report did not assign causes for fluctuations. Now, in the wake of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act recently becoming law, it seems worth proposing one. Most men will admit that publicly demonstrating affection toward another man—even platonic affection—can incite from fellow men “the look.” Often enough, that look precedes threats or much worse, as in the cases of Jose Sucuzhanay (murdered for walking arm-in-arm with his biological brother), Lawrence King (shot in the head for giving an eighth-grade classmate a Valentine card), or any of 2008’s 1,460 hate crime victims. So far, I’ve been fortunate not to confront anything “statistical,” but the looks and slurs that I’ve received make me a guy who alternates between showing affection for my male friends and someone who worries about the implications. Whenever I’ve experienced this disapproval I’ve resented those who generate it, which is why it was interesting when I became the “looker.” I was walking in Rome when for the third time that day I noticed two men acting affectionately toward one another. I only realized my eyes had narrowed because, when I passed the third pair, arm-in-arm, they returned my gaze with irritation. Taken aback by the expression I’d made and the one it elicited, I became more astonished by the cause I knew I could assign to it. My problem wasn’t prejudice. It was envy. From an early age, men in this country are trained to go without love or loving gestures from fellow men. When that principle of manhood becomes clear, our longing for such love does a paradoxical
thing: it both intensifies and goes underground. Men cannot help but feel an increased desire to fill this void; at the same time, we rarely act on it because, by seeming gay, such a desire still contradicts our modern definition of masculinity. Enter the “danger” of gay men. These men pursue and act on male intimacy as though it should be a given, even a right. Should a man find himself in the presence of loving gestures from or between such men, he is likely to feel, as I did, a psychic split: regarding such overtures as tempting and incriminating. This internal clash between a man’s long-held desire and his selfdenial can turn a passing disapproval into problematic envy and that envy into resentment, even rage. I didn’t want to hurt the Italians; on the contrary, they had what I wanted: an open fraternity that was so unassailably appropriate its expression was blasé. But no sooner had I felt that longing than it mutated into an instinctive hostility. However absurd this reaction was, I also saw its logic. As is often true of men, anger conceals our real feelings; in this case, my sorrow. The scorn I’d felt for the Italians allowed me to ignore the disappointing ways I daily surrendered to the masculine tragedy of forgoing true male connection. Such a judgment also excused me from being a braver man who would fight against this fate by risking my own gestures. Indeed, the knee-jerk allegiance I had to what a “real man” was prevented me from actually being one, clarifying for me the real root of homophobia. The aversion to male love—whether it remains internal or becomes criminal—is not about prejudice. Prejudice is a “palatable” alibi that denies a darker truth. Homophobia is a common reaction to love between men because admitting such love is possible forces men to reevaluate the male “contract.” And that presents men with their own good news bad news situation. Witnessing real male connection—becoming aware of our longing for it—threatens masculinity, not just because it brings up in men our
uneasiness in feeling gay, but more because it exposes masculinity messengers of what is a new and coming masculinity. Those who get for the raw deal it is: an existential cheat that has defrauded men of a out of masculinity’s raw deal by no longer accepting privation enrage full 50 percent of human connection. Unlike women, who create rich those who abide by it still. Our closeted envy of gay men, rather than letting it transform us or masculinity’s rules, instead ties within the sisterhood, this forfeiture has lodged If male love makes pariahs out of the pioneers. We turn their an unspoken complaint within our psyches, a primal example into a grave offense for the worst reason: disenfranchisement that prevents our wholeness. was no longer to preserve a self-destructive privilege. But while an unapologetic conviction by men that Is it any coincidence that in the bluest states male love is part of masculinity would free us from taboo, would we in America—where homosexuality is presumably an inherent and stunting bondage (good), it would have no one to more explicit—the FBI counted most of the hate also sacrifice male privilege (a loss that, at first oppress to feel crimes? Massachusetts (80) and California (263) glance, seems bad). versus Alabama (1) and Louisiana (2). In the case of For instance, would demanding love from our better about hate crimes against gays, perhaps it is not a matter fathers be worthwhile if it meant our accountourselves? of irrational hate at all, but of rational love that men ability as fathers became more rigorous? If love just don’t want in evidence. Because even more between men was more common than exceptional, would we have to meet a standard of brotherhood that exceeded the explosive than a man confronting a perception of homosexuality frat house and was honored beyond the battlefield? If this subcon- and exercising his prejudice is the man who admits his crimes have scious grievance in maleness disappeared, would we have to get on always been against himself, and he has become his own jailer. with the business of being fully present, intimate, and responsible to the women in our midst? If male love was no longer taboo, would we have no one to oppress to feel better about ourselves? Brendan Tapley is currently writing a memoir Indeed the reinvention of masculinity ends with what some might on masculinity. His work has appeared in see as a Pyrrhic victory— the extinction of masculinity’s excuses, its the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, low expectations. Because renegotiating the male contract will strip among others. He lives in New Hampshire. from us the straitjacket whose limitations we men may uncomfortA version of this column appeared in the Bay ably but willingly wear. Area Reporter, www.ebar.com. This is the real reason men fight demonstrations of male love. Or in the case of gay hate crimes, why we increasingly attack the
Stepping Off the Pedestal of Male Privilege
No More Mr. Good Guy?
By Tal Peretz
like being “the good guy.” I really enjoy the appreciation and approval I get from women when I tell them that my chosen life’ s work involves ending sexism. I love the sense of connection I feel when they see me as an ally, a confidant, a guy who “gets it,” and I get to feel like we share a very big secret: that there are problems with the way our society’s gender rules are set. When I volunteer at a local women’s shelter, or march in a protest for women’s rights, I like to know that my presence is appreciated. Lately, though, I’ve been troubled by this feeling, especially because I’ve noticed that I sometimes get more appreciation than the other people there, and the only explanation I can come up with is that I get unearned kudos because I’m a man. I’ve been talking with a lot of men who do anti-sexist work, sometimes in formal interviews for academic research, sometimes among friends. For me, and many of these men, the reason we are against sexism is, at least in part, because of the harm we’ve seen sexist oppression do to women. The flip side of this is the unfair privilege granted to men just for being men. I worry that this unearned male privilege is still present when men are in anti-sexist spaces, doing anti-sexist work. This can create situations where, in the very spaces devised to further the concerns of women, men and their concerns take precedence. To be fully honest and complete in our work against sexism and unfair male privilege, we have to be aware of it within our movement as well, not just in the larger society. The Pedestal Effect To maintain awareness of this unearned male privilege and excess appreciation of men doing anti-sexist work, it helps to have a name and some idea of how it happens. I’ve
taken to calling it “the pedestal effect.” As one interviewee said, it’s “things like praise for showing up—I didn’t necessarily do anything, I think it’s just…people are just so pleased to see a man who actually takes an interest, and I can see how that’s comforting or refreshing. But a lot of times it’s just the fact that I’ll put in the hours, and there’s other people who do as much as I do. . . it just seems like I get more than my share for doing my part.”
Sometimes the pedestal effect is used to intentionally ensure that men know they are welcome and wanted in spaces where they are the minority, and so I don’t want to sound ungrateful. Like I said, I like knowing my presence is appreciated as much as the next person. I just want to make sure that the women doing the same work as me are getting the same appreciation. Men working against sexism are, sadly, still rare. A friend who has volunteered at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter for a number of years put it succinctly: “Most of these organizations don’t see many men come through, or even bother caring.” Sometimes just this rarity brings special attention, leading to premature self-congratulation, to paraphrase Michael Kimmel. Kimmel also encourages us, correctly in my opinion, to recognize and appreciate that men do take risks and make sacrifices in working toward gender justice. But this means that those men who show up seem exceedingly selfless, perhaps even inherently “special.” I’ve experienced this when someone introduces me and says “He gets it,” or “He’s one of the good guys.” Whereas women working against sexism are seen as working in their own self-interest, any effort men make for women’s rights is seen as selfless, and thus more virtuous than the same effort by a woman (even if the person judging is also a woman). This is one reason for the pedestal effect. A second reason is simply that pervasive male supremacy in the rest of society benefits men so much that it carries over. Men come to this work from a society that has trained them from birth to believe in their own superiority, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly. Although most men never recognize it as privilege, we are accustomed to being listened to, to people automatically assuming we are capable and competent, to being in
control of social situations, etc. The effects of this training don’t dissipate automatically, and there are very few opportunities for men to make the sustained, in-depth effort necessary for effective consciousness-raising (and of course, male socialization discourages exactly this sort of talking about emotions, deep issues, and personal pain). So, what can be done about it? Stepping Off the Pedestal A few years ago, when we both volunteered at the same shelter, a friend—let’s call him Mike—and I were talking. I mentioned that I always felt a little awkward and uncomfortable when the volunteer trainer thanked me for coming—I noticed that she didn’t thank anyone else nearly as much. Mike not only confirmed my opinion, he told me that she put him on the pedestal as well. Having been there longer than me, Mike had developed a strategy for dealing with inflated praise by saying: “If you need to [thank me], let my mother know. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.” I thought this was clever, because it redirects the focus of appreciation and the conversation. Since then, I’ve noticed other strategies some men use to reduce the effects of unfair privilege and unequal praise. Some, like Mike, pass along the appreciation to women they see doing the same work as them but getting less praise—their mothers, mentors, or other women in the room working alongside them. Others make an explicit point of frequently referencing and recognizing the contributions women have made to the work they do, and some of the particular women whose footsteps they are following. Perhaps the most important thing is just being aware of male privilege, and checking to make sure it isn’t contributing to the creation of a pedestal under you. Checking to make sure you aren’t being unfairly privileged can be awkward. It may even mean intentionally stepping back from rewarding positions that bring recognition if the position came to you due to male privilege. I was recently asked to give a talk for Women’s Week at a distant university. The organizers offered to cover my travel expenses, something not out of the ordinary in these situations. I accepted. As the date approached I got more and more uncomfortable, thinking about the fact that I was invited out there to speak because I am a man. What if some woman hadn’t been invited, so they could afford to fly me out there? Or, worse yet, what if
women were invited but had to cover their own expenses? It might not be intentional, but the scarcity of male voices speaking on the topic might make my presence seem more valuable, thus garnering me special treatment that I hadn’t earned. I spent the better part of an hour composing a very polite and carefully worded e-mail, asking whether that was the case and informing them that if the budget was tight, I’d rather the money be spent on women presenters. I made clear that I greatly appreciated their offer, and would gratefully accept any funds they could make available, as long as I could be assured that I wasn’t getting special treatment because of my gender. They wrote back and let me know that that wasn’t the case, and that they would still very much like to have me. I felt a lot better about going, knowing that my presence was not taking away from the women who are my allies. Supporting and building alliances between and with marginalized groups is one of the most important things men can do. Simultaneously, though, we need to be
holding each other accountable. We need to create spaces and find ways of supporting, coaching, guiding, and encouraging each other in the tricky and emotionally demanding task of working against our own privilege (as Mike did for me). We need to make sure we are being good people, not just “good guys.”
A graduate student at the University of Southern California, Tal Peretz has been involved in men’s groups working to end men’s violence against women for seven years. After volunteering at a charter high school for underprivileged youth, working at an HIV/AIDS resource center, and doing counseling and advocacy at a domestic violence/sexual assault shelter, he is focusing his energy on enhancing the efforts of men working to end sexism.
Fathers and Sons
Recovering from the War at Home
Broken Father, Loyal Son
By John Sheldon
I’d die laughing and grateful, from the first time I felt, in his physicality, that he could be rough and tender at the same time, there was no one in the world that I could have ever loved more. I’ve heard so much talk about a child’s relationship with his mother, the suckling warmth and intimacy of it all. Not me. I was shaped by my father’s knobby and powerful hands. When he held me or bounced me or tickled me those hands said in language plain as day, I am strong. I could kill you easily, but I won’t. And I could feel he wouldn’t. I could feel it in his hands. How could anything or anyone have inspired the loyalty in me that my dad did? Yet at 11 years old I learn that my father is broken. Why? Does it matter why? His mother abused him. He cleaned up blood—and bodies—in World War II. He drinks too much. Whatever it is, it’s not as important as what to do now. I don’t have to clean up the living room. I know my mother will do that. Everything will be cleaned back to normal—everything but my knowledge that I have a busted father. I cannot bear carrying this knowledge. So here’s where the loyalty kicks in, the loyalty that will determine the direction of my life from that moment. Because, somewhere in the barely visible outline of impending manhood, I know my job—to fix him. But how? How could a boy possibly know how to reassemble a human being? I didn’t even have the skill to fix the coffee table. So, in some dim recess of awareness, I hit on an answer. I will become broken myself! Can you see—and marvel at—the elegant logic of it all? If I am the broken one, my father will become whole again. I know this to be true. I will take this on, this brokenness, embody it, bear it away from him, suck the poison out of him and, at the same time, out of my family. It is my responsibility. Being the son, I am the protector now. How do I become broken? The answer comes in a flash: by doing what Dad did. Smash things. I’d done this on a small scale before, smashing a couple of model airplanes when I messed up, but I’d never done anything on this scale before. Over the next several years I started to smash my life. I became a fuckup at school, got kicked out, went to another school where they couldn’t kick me out, then started cutting my arm with razors and broken glass, smashed some furniture myself, and was placed on a mental ward as a teenager. There I was, away from my friends, away from my room with the books and model planes, my backyard, and yes, my dad. I became the broken one. Of course that was the opposite of what my dad wanted for me and I fixed nothing. I only set myself on a trajectory from which I am still trying to return. Working with old tools in a dim workshop I try to repair what has been damaged I did not want the job But now that I have it, I will snap at you if you interrupt me. I will reject any offer to help There is no one as qualified to do this work Of gluing my broken father back together To make you whole again What wouldn’t I do To mend your soul again What wouldn’t I go through Truth be told No glue will hold a thing so vast
What is loyalty, specifically the loyalty of a boy to his father? That’s the question John Sheldon has been pondering for much of his adult life. The singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso, who toured with Van Morrison before he was 20 and whose songs James Taylor has recorded, offers this meditation on the complicated relationship he had with his late father and what filial loyalty says about manhood. n the United States of America, a young man is expected to be loyal to his country. He is expected to defend the flag and all that it stands for. He is expected to honor all those who sacrificed for that very same flag, and to make sacrifices himself, up to and including the ultimate one—dying in war. But let’s go back. Let’s go back to look at the young man before he is old enough to accept these responsibilities. Think of him as a boy of around 11, an age at which the United States (or any country for that matter) is still an abstraction. The boy doesn’t live in a country yet. He “lives” in his school, his neighborhood, and most of all, in his family. My father was a craftsman. He made furniture. At 11 I didn’t know if his work was any good. I only knew that other men visiting our house would often admire a piece he’d made, sometimes telling me, “Your father is a true craftsman.” It came as a shock, then, one night, to hear loud crashing coming from the living room and to find my father standing over one of his masterworks—the scattered remains of a coffee table he had just destroyed. He was muttering angrily. I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. When my mother appeared, she stood in the doorway, arms folded. She didn’t enter the room or even speak. The coffee table, one of a pair Dad had made, lay in ruins on the rug. To my 11year-old self, the more he ranted, the larger its splintered legs and broken top became—no longer a pile of wood my dad had painstakingly shaped—but a dead body. My mother retreated from the doorway. Broken. Something broken. What was it? The coffee table, yes, but something else. My family, maybe? I took the cue from my mother’s silence, her folded arms; her stoicism. Something was broken, all right—it was my father. Are you listening to what I’m trying to tell you? From the first time my dad bounced me, sang to me, held me down and tickled me until I thought
12 Voice Male
Nothing that will last The time is flying Why can’t I stop trying To make you whole again Oh, my father The distance between us now So much wider I just don’t know how To cross the space Return to the place Where we can both feel strong It’s been too long Midnight has come I’ve just now begun To try to make us whole again I was 16 when I got out of the hospital. My new friends were all people who had been or were still in the hospital. My father and I tiptoed around each other, as if both of us knew the truth but couldn’t acknowledge it. I put my life back together around music, and my ability to play the electric guitar. I got work that way, and some sense of self-esteem. But I could never return to the “regular” society of school and preparation for a prescribed life. It felt as if it was all beyond me. I knew too much. I knew the keepers of the keys were as insane as the inmates. I took the fall for Dad because I loved him. Tell me this loyalty for the father is not stronger than all the flags, all the tomes about freedom and sacrifice. Tell me our leaders don’t somehow, through propaganda and rhetoric, use this loyalty to our fathers to get us to sacrifice ourselves again and again, in the wars they have started? Somebody, somewhere prove to me that this is not so! In this society few know what it means to be a man. We have few rituals where a man can pass on a healthy manhood to his son. Sons are on their own trying to interpret how to express love, or anger, grief or joy. What do
boys and men do? Follow in our fathers’ unsure footsteps? Totally reject everything they stand for? What about ending it all—the ultimate sacrifice? I know many times I thought if I killed myself then the poison I had swallowed would die with me. How wrong I was! I had friends who did it. What wells of pain and misery they left behind. Most men are typecast as the fixers of things. Maybe that’s not wrong. How many of us have opened the hood of the car to try and find the problem? Why won’t we open the hood of our stalled lives—the fatherson relationship? Can someone please tell me what is more important? Instead of wasting our time trying to figure out how to fix the car—or the country, or someone else’s country—why don’t we start with the broken love of a father and son? Is there any way we can look our fathers in the eye and say, “I love you, Pop. I’ll do anything for you, but I will not break myself for you. I will not die for you!” I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t die. I kept on playing the guitar and slowly, over time, carved out a ledge to stand on, maybe not in the mainstream, but on the edge somewhere. I survived the war at home with both arms, both legs, and with my brain largely intact. I had plenty of guilt about surviving, and the guilt caused me to linger in the land of the broken. It was easier to live in the cracked image of my father than to emerge into my own strength—probably the remnants of my loyalty to him. I could not be stronger than him for fear that it would break him more. It was only when he was ailing, dying of cancer, that I began to discover the reserves of strength and resiliency I had within me all along, qualities I felt as a child ,in his knobby, powerful hands. I believe that, in the first few years of my life, my father’s hands had taught me something after all.
John Sheldon is a guitarist, composer, and songwriter. He lives in Amherst Mass.
Men, the Mainstream Press, and Rape in the Congo
By Jackson Katz
espite a generation of feminist activism which inspired changes in countless laws and social practices, in public life it is far from clear that women’s experiences and voices count as much as men’s. United States Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently provided an inside look at how this works in the highest provinces of power, when she questioned her own influence at justices’ conferences: “I will say something—and I don’t think I’m a confused speaker—and it isn’t until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point.” Ginsburg was too politically cautious—or polite—to note that the “somebody else” to whom she was referring was coded language for a man, whose opinion is deemed more valid by virtue of his sex. Men’s expertise and opinions are routinely valued more than women’s, here and around the world. How ironic and revealing, then, that what came to be known in mainstream accounts as “The Exchange” between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a young man at a public event in Kinshasa during Clinton’s visit to the Congo in the summer of 2009 overshadowed the substance of her trip, which shone the
spotlight on the ongoing epidemic of sexual violence. (Secretary Clinton, you may recall, testily responded to the student’s question seeking “President Clinton’s” opinion about a political issue. It turned out the student had misspoken, and had meant to ask about President Obama. Secretary Clinton was evidently irritated that once again, her own opinions and experience were seemingly being overlooked in favor of the sexist presumption that a woman leader is merely the mouthpiece for a more powerful man.) Why was so much media coverage devoted to that during her trip to Africa when one of the secretary’s goals was to use the power of her voice to highlight African women’s lives? In particular, Clinton wanted to draw public attention to the ongoing tragedy of mass rapes of women, children and men in the Congo. She was the first U.S. secretary of state to travel to the war zone, and she announced a $17 million plan to fight sexual violence. Among other steps, the American government would train doctors, supply rape victims with cameras to document their injuries, and train Congolese law enforcement to crack down on rapists.
Corporate and independent media did cover this part of the story, although with nothing like the gusto with which they recounted Ms. Clinton’s short-tempered response to the African student. Many American reporters in the ever-shrinking international press corps tried to convey the scope of the horrific suffering of women and children in the Congo, as well as communicate empathy with the emotional toll it all appeared to be taking on Ms. Clinton. “I was just overwhelmed by what I saw,” she said. “It is almost impossible to describe the level of suffering.” Several news accounts observed that Ms. Clinton seemed drained by the emotional experience. Unfortunately, however, the focus in news stories on the almost-unimaginable sexual violence in the Congo had an unintended effect. It pushed women’s lives to center stage, which is appropriate, necessary, and represents a big step forward. At the same time, it kept men out of the spotlight—at just the wrong time. Male leaders often get too much credit, and our opinions are unfairly more valued than women’s. But when it comes to being held responsible for the negative consequences of our behavior,
including the widespread incidence of rape around the world, men are typically rendered invisible in the journalistic conversation. Men’s role in rape is characteristically hidden in mainstream journalism through a variety of linguistic conventions. One of the more significant of these is when writers and speakers use the passive voice—consciously or not—to talk about incidents of sexual violence (e.g. “200,000 women have been raped since the conflict began”). In addition, men’s central responsibility for the rape pandemic escapes critical examination whenever writers and speakers use gender-neutral terminology to talk about perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly men. A New York Times article on August 12 last year reporting on Secretary Clinton’s trip provides a good case study of these phenomena. The article appeared beneath the fold on page A8, in the International section. It was headlined “Clinton Presents Plan to Fight Sexual Violence in Congo,” by Jeffery Gettleman. The passive voice began in the first paragraph: “...Secretary Clinton...met a Congolese woman who had been gangraped while she was eight months pregnant.” Passive sentence structures that hid male perpetration appeared in subsequent paragraphs: “...hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the past decade.” And “...countless women, and recently many men, have been raped.” Then, “Hundreds of villagers have been massacred” and “The aid worker told Mrs. Clinton that an 8-year-old boy who had strayed out of the camp was raped the other day.” This brief catalogue of passive sentences is not an attempt to single out the New York Times reporter for criticism. He was merely a vehicle for the transmission of the dominant ideology, which routinely obfuscates men’s culpability for rape through both conscious and unconscious omissions. Victims themselves often use passive voice. Gettleman quoted one woman, Mrs. Mapendo, who said, “Our life is very bad. We get raped when we go out and look for food.” Another woman said, “Children are killed, women are raped and the world closes its eyes.” In addition to the passive language, the photo accompanying the story showed Secretary Clinton in an outdoor meeting with a throng of Congolese women. There was not a man’s face in sight. In fact, the only mention of the word “men” in the entire 1029-word article was in reference to men as victims of rape. If it had not been for that (welcome)
acknowledgment of men’s vulnerability and victimization, a naïve reader might have inferred that there are no men in the Congo, only “women and children who are raped and killed.” The New York Times article was also suffused with gender-neutral language, particularly language that could have identified the gender of the individuals and groups responsible for sex crimes. For example: “Often the rapists are Congolese soldiers,” or “...Congo...has become a magnet for all the rogue groups in Africa.” Secretary Clinton was quoted as saying the world needed to regulate the mineral trade to make sure the profits do not end up “in the hands of those who fuel the violence.”
Discussions about sex crimes, in the Congo and elsewhere, focus on what is happening to women, and not on who is doing it to them: men.
But while the gender of the perpetrators is obscured, the gender of the victims is stated plainly. The following sentence provides a clear illustration of this: “...an intensely predatory conflict driven by a mix of ethnic, commercial, nationalist, and criminal interests, in which various armed groups often vent their rage against women.” This type of language usage is ubiquitous in contemporary journalism. When the perpetrators are men, their gender is not mentioned (“armed groups”). When the victims are women, their gender is in full view. The result is that discussions about sex crimes, in the Congo and elsewhere, focus on what is happening to women, and not on who is doing it to them. In practice, this has obvious repercussions for so-called prevention efforts, which as a result of their focus on women often amount to mere band-aid solutions. Of course rape victims and survivors need better medical and counseling services. But let’s not mistake those services for prevention—which can only be successful to the extent that men and boys are a part of them. The growing movement to engage men and boys in sexual and domestic violence
prevention in the United States, sub-Saharan Africa, and around the globe—a movement Voice Male chronicles—faces an uphill climb in societies where cultural norms about masculinity both contribute directly to the violence and prevent women and men from speaking freely about men’s responsibilities to end it. This is not merely an academic debate about linguistic practices. Linguistic choices have practical consequences, especially in terms of what sorts of issues get discussed, and by whom, on main streets, in back rooms and in the shadowy corridors of power. As long as political leaders and policy makers— in national and international contexts—focus on rape primarily as a women’s issue, strategies for addressing it will tend to emphasize services for victims and survivors, rather than accountability for perpetrators, or more critical attention to how we socialize boys. Unfortunately, the failure of journalists and others to use active language to describe who is doing what to whom, as well as their hesitation to use gender-specific language to talk about men and boys as the perpetrators of sexual violence, make it next to impossible to hold male (and female) leaders accountable for addressing these problems forthrightly. As a result, the struggle to bring a critical mass of men into the social change process necessary to achieve significant reductions in gender-based violence continues. Women—along with a small number of male allies—continue to mourn the victims, care for the survivors, and pick up the broken pieces in the lives of their traumatized children. And across the world we lurch endlessly from one preventable tragedy to the next.
Vo i c e M a l e contributing editor Jackson Katz is author of The Macho Paradox and writer-producer, with the Media Education Foundation, of Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity (www.jacksonkatz.com). A version of this article appeared in The Huffington Post.
Is It Anger or Is It Abuse?
By Joyce and Barry Vissell
“Always with the excuses. I’m tired of your excuses. You don’t mean anything you say. I’m done with this marriage!” Is Tammie’s anger healthy or unhealthy? While deﬁnitely healthier than Leonard’s, it is still not healthy. How about this example. Lana and Cade went through the same scenario and here’s how they dealt with it: “Cade, I feel hurt and angry. You said you’d be home at six, and it’s now seven. I felt scared that something might have happened to you.” “I’m really sorry, Lana. The trafﬁc was bad, but that’s no excuse. I should’ve called you.” “I’m just feeling disrespected, hurt and angry.” Lana is being healthy with her anger. Why? Because she has made no blanket accusations like Tammie’s “You don’t care shit about me. I don’t trust your word anymore. You don’t mean anything you say.” She allowed Cade to speak without cutting him off. She didn’t make threats like Tammie’s “I’m done with this marriage!” Instead, she kept to “I” statements, letting Cade know how she felt, rather than making him wrong or shaming him. Expressing anger is rarely enjoyable to your partner, but it can still be healthy and safe. I remember going through a phase in our early relationship where I felt expressing anger was deﬁnitely not healthy or safe. Joyce would express her anger and I would repress my anger, and even put her down for getting angry. Because that didn’t work for her, her anger would then escalate to the next higher level. This would feel intolerable to me, and I would leave, regardless of where we were. Deﬁnitely not healthy on my part. One day, we were outside the house, and Joyce was expressing anger at me. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I yelled at her in anger. First there was a look of shock on her face, then gradually a smile appeared and she reached out and hugged me. She was actually thanking me for my anger. I have stopped holding in my anger. Sometimes I go to the other extreme and let it out too loudly. At those times I imagine Joyce wishes I would go back to the way I was. But she assures me she would rather have me yell too loudly than not at all. Ideally, most anger can be headed off by addressing the feelings underneath, which are usually hurt or fear. When these deeper feelings are expressed and acknowledged, there often is no need for anger. For example, it is unavoidable for Joyce and me to sometimes say or do something that triggers hurt feelings in the other. Usually this is completely unintentional. Our goal is to say something like, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me by saying/doing ______, but it did hurt me.” I have to admit, Joyce is better at it than I am. When she makes that statement, it helps me in two ways. First, it acknowledges that I didn’t mean to hurt her. This is very important to me, often preventing me from going to an old tape, “I’m a bad boy,” or “I can’t ever do it right.” Second, it allows me room to hear her hurt and immediately apologize, which can bring us back to love very quickly. When the hurt or fear is not felt and expressed, anger is the next level. Just to be very clear, here are some guidelines for the healthy expression of anger:
eonard was yelling at his wife, “Damn it, Mary, when are you going to give me any respect? I work all day long and come home to a messy house and dinner isn’t even started. What do you do all day?!” Mary was clearly intimidated. She was sitting wordlessly on the couch while he stood threateningly above her, clenching his ﬁsts as if he would hit her. She was hugging herself in a desperate attempt at self-protection, while the tears gave away her fear and pain. No question here. This is obviously abusive and unhealthy anger. How about this next example: Tammie in a loud voice, “I’m so pissed off at you, Phil. You did it again. You said you’d be home at six, and it’s now seven. You don’t care shit about me.” “I’m really sorry, Tammie. The trafﬁc was bad and I wanted...” “I’m not done, Phil. It’s only been one week since the last time you were late. I don’t trust your word anymore. You say you’re going to do something, and then you don’t. Don’t I matter to you?” “Of course you matter, I tried to call but only got your voice mail.”
1. “I” statements are rarely abusive. “I am angry,” rather than “You did _____,” or “Why did you do ____.” 2. Healthy anger is not intimidating or controlling. Even “I” statements can be abusive if you are scaring the person you are addressing. If you are physically or emotionally dominating this person, you are being abusive. This includes not letting her—or him—speak or respond, and of course touching him or her in inappropriate or aggressive ways. 3. Healthy anger stays in the present, rather than bringing up unrelated things from the past to fortify your argument. “You came home an hour late without calling, yesterday you forgot to bring out the garbage, and the day before you left your dirty dishes on the table.” Not healthy. 4. Healthy anger does not generalize. “You’re always breaking your commitments.” 5. Healthy anger does not make threats of any kind. “Break one more commitment and I’m out of here!” 6. Name calling or swearing is unhealthy.
After the anger is expressed in a healthy way, then it’s time for both of you to address the hurt or fear underneath the anger. It’s time for each of you to take responsibility for your deeper feelings, and apologize for hurting the other. Cade’s apology to Lana allowed her to quickly let go of her anger. Lana’s acknowledging her hurt and fear made it easier for Cade to apologize. Address the hurt or fear beneath the anger and there will usually be no need to express anger. Prevention is always more effective. But if the hurt, or fear, remain elusive you have a conscious choice to express your anger in a healthy way. Follow the above guidelines and you can have an abuse-free exchange. When Joyce and I are angry with each other, we stay connected and work it through to the very end. We know we are done when we can sincerely hug and kiss one another and even laugh at our behavior. Because of this the ﬂame of our love and commitment to one another has been allowed to burn brightly. Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse and medical doctor couple since 1964 whose medicine is now love, are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, and Meant to Be. They offer a personal mentorship/coaching program including a January 31–February 7, 2010, retreat, Couples in Paradise, in Hawaii; and a Summer Renewal retreat July 18–23, at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon. For their free monthly e-heartletter, updated schedule, and other information, visit their website, www.sharedheart.org.
The Men’s Story Project
Men’s Lives, Men’s Truths
Interview by Charles Knight
en are notorious for having trouble sharing with others our deeper selves, our emotional lives. If we have trouble opening up to friends and loved ones, imagine what courage it might take to reveal personal stories onstage in our own communities. Men’s resistance to sharing our truths—and possibly finding cause for celebration in telling them—didn’t stop Josie Lehrer from inviting men to open up. She conceived and launched the Men’s Story Project, a powerful theater work in which a diverse group of men share dramatic pieces they have created about their lives—their sexuality, gender identity, romantic relationships, friendship, family, mentors, rites of passage, HIV/AIDS, perpetration of and healing
from violence, immigration, personal transformations, and the men they wish to be—all focused on examining masculinities and men’s roles. The first performance was staged in August 2008 in Berkeley, California, before a standing-room-only house and featured monologues from 16 presenters from 22 to 60. Performances are multimedia, including slam poetry, monologues, prose, music and dance, and are followed by facilitated audiencepresenter discussion. A public health researcher, community educator/organizer and musician, Lehrer has emerged as a strong ally to profeminist, antiviolence men’s organizations, crisscrossing the country and traveling overseas to promote her new vision
of manhood. She’s shared the Men’s Story Project at conferences in Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Rio de Janeiro. Her mission is far-reaching: to “support healthy masculinities and gender equality, and to help eliminate gender-based violence, homophobia and other oppressions intertwined with masculinities, through ongoing events of men’s public story-sharing and community dialogue.” Voice Male advisory board member Charles Knight, who recently interviewed Lehrer in Berkeley, says, “When I first got introduced to the Men’s Story Project from its YouTube site (http://www. youtube.com/ user/mensstoryproject) I immediately sensed the power of this project and sought out Dr. Lehrer to inter-
view her for Voice Male. What follows a re h i g h lights from our wideranging conversation.”
Voice Male: So many people have learned about women’s Dr. Josie Lehrer lives through The Vagina Monologues. It was intriguing to learn there is something happening in a dramatic format about men’s lives. What is the Men’s Story Project all about? Josie Lehrer: In each performance—and there have been four to date—local men, including artists, activists, and men who’ve never been on a public stage, share stories about their own lives with a public audience. The pieces focus on breaking silences, talking about things that men don’t often speak about publicly, challenging stereotypical ideas about manhood, and presenting a more expansive and peaceful vision of what contemporary masculinities can be about. It’s really about celebrating and challenging, and taking a critical observer stance—celebrating some of the diversity of ways in which men can live as genuinely expressed, peaceful human beings in the world, and highlighting the costs of traditional gender role expectations for the lives of men and the people of all genders around them. The emphasis is on men’s humanness. VM: How did you come to create the Men’s Story Project? JL: It feels like a direct outgrowth of much of my work and personal experience up to now, and it reflects many of my values—so there hasn’t been much distinction for me between the personal and the professional. I have a background in public health, community organizing, and the arts. I write music. A lot of my work has focused on prevention of and response to gender-based violence and HIV/ AIDS. For the past several years I’ve been cofacilitating a weekly support group for young people living with HIV/AIDS. It is some of the work that has taught me the most in my life. On a more personal level, pretty much
every dear friend of mine has had some experience with sexual assault or partner violence or family violence, and these issues have also affected beloved people in my family. From a public health perspective, I want to address root causes of social problems like the nonrandom distribution of HIV and gender-based violence in societies—and dominant-culture prescriptions for manhood and gender relations, including structural gender inequality. They’re a big part of that root-cause structure. In the U.S., there are few ongoing, mainstream, public forums where masculinities are critically discussed for the purpose of social change, so I created the Men’s Story Project as a replicable, locally based initiative to try to address some of that gap. And I see it as a counterpoint to the more limited and often oppressive messages of the mainstream media and other social forces. VM: Can you talk about how you see men’s experience of masculinity as it relates to violence and to issues of health? JL: It’s such a huge subject. I find it deeply compelling that a vast proportion of human suffering in the world today is preventable and unnecessary… a lot of it is related to dominant-culture training regarding masculinities and gender relations, and ways we choose to treat each other at the interpersonal and institutional levels based on these ideas. In varying cultural contexts, traditional male role ideas are often intertwined with sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, ableism and other forms of oppression. And research is increasingly showing that belief in traditional notions of masculinity is linked with significant risks for the health and well-being of men and the people of all genders around them. These include greater likelihood of HIV/STI risk behaviors such as not using condoms and having multiple partners (because men are supposed to want sex all the time, with as many women as possible); men’s violence against women; physical violence between men; substance abuse; drunk driving; men’s low rates of utilizing health care—because they’re supposed to be tough and self-sufficient, among other problems. Also, when stereotypical “masculinity” is defined in its opposition to a less-valued stereotypical “femininity,” and when being gay is equivalent to being “effeminate” or “like a girl,” it contributes to homophobia and transphobia, which in turn contribute to prob-
Scenes from the 2008 Men’s Story Project performances
VM: What are your hopes for the future of the Men’s Story Project? JL: It’s intended to be locally replicated so I hope it’ll spread far and wide—on campuses, with nonprofits, and other groups. It can be integrated with broader campus initiatives or public health programs working with men. We have a training manual available, and I do a training workshop and consult on new projects. We also have a DVD of the first live performance that can be used as an educational tool. It has 16 pieces as stand-alone chapters, so teachers can choose discussion topics. I’m excited that a new project is under way in Chile, and I’ll be collaborating with the Sonke Gender Justice Network in South Africa to develop and evaluate a project with young men who are opinion leaders in their community. For the near future, I envision an online Men’s Story Project Network, where groups around the world can post films of their productions, share experiences, and bring visibility to this initiative as a set of linked, emerging efforts. Ultimately, I think a lot of the project’s power will be in it’s being repeated in a given community over time. For example, if a nonprofit or university starts creating yearly events, such as with The Vagina Monologues or Take Back the Night. Because then it becomes a mainstream part of community life—it would be known that every “x” period of time, a group of men puts together an amazing, unusually honest presentation, and these dialogues happen. It becomes part of the norm that these dialogues happen, and there emerges an ongoing counterpoint to other mainstream forces. For more information about the Men’s Story Project and how to produce a performance in your community go to www.mensstoryproject.org. Josie Lehrer, ScD, is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of California at San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, a community education consultant with San Francisco Women Against Rape, and volunteer group facilitator at Bay Area Young Positives.
lems like higher rates of depression, suicide, substance abuse and school dropout in LGBT youth, and the perpetrating of LGBT hate crimes. And men and boys get sucked into these social pressures—feeling pressured to fight, posture, show their virility, suppress their emotions, not express their sexuality or gender identity, set aside parts of their unique humanness, and try to fit into these boxes which, ironically, almost no one “naturally” fits into. VM: How has the audience responded to the project? JL: It’s been overwhelmingly positive— standing ovations each time. We hand out feedback forms at each event, and the comments have often included words like “transformative,” “inspiring,” “This needs to keep happening,” and so on. Many men have said they found the presentations to be surprisingly “real,” and that it was affirming to see some of their own experiences reflected in other men’s stories onstage. Many women have said that the performance “humanized” men for them, that it helped them understand some of the challenges men may face in trying to live self-expressed, peaceful, whole human lives. Several people have said the project gives them hope—that they’ve been looking or hoping for something like this for a long time. VM: There’s obviously a lot going on beyond the sheer drama and force of the men’s stories. What are some of the “teachable moments” you’re hoping to see emerge from the performances?
20 Voice Male
JL: Part of my premise is the personal is often the best way to get to the universal. So we share personal, visceral experiences, because that’s what gets to the heart. Audience members have the space to come up with their own conclusions. For example some performances have highlighted the fact that homophobia isn’t just a “gay people’s problem.” It’s a straight people’s problem too. It deeply limits ways in which heterosexual men relate to others. One of the participants, a 60-year-old writer, talked about how he had never shared any of his poems with his parents for 30 years of his life because they would have assumed that if he was writing poetry, he must be gay (and that would be terrible). So he hid a beautiful part of himself from his parents for decades. With regard to modeling, we also explicitly say that the presenters aren’t purporting to be “fully enlightened human works.” In the introduction, we acknowledge the boldness and integrity in their willingness to step forward, knowing full well that we’re all works in progress. Part of the modeling here is that we’re celebrating men who are willing to engage in critical self-reflection and social examination. I think it’s a powerful modeling of solidarity for a diverse group of men to work together, be onstage together, emotionally supporting each other and literally standing side by side in the sharing of personal experience. We also believe in locally created presentations. There’s power when presenters and audience members mutually belong to a locally or culturally defined community. That invites relevance, accountability, and personal identification.
Voice Male advisory board member Charles Knight is editor of a blog called OBRM— other & beyond real men. Visit it at http:// otherbeyondrealmen.blogspot.com.
Voice Male gives us fuel and fresh ideas for the work of ending male-dominated societies and supporting new roles for men and new relations between the sexes. —Michael Kaufman,
co-founder, White Ribbon Campaign
I celebrate you for standing with women in the struggle to end violence against women and girls. Your brave magazine is bringing forward the new vision and voices of manhood which will inevitably shift this paradigm and create a world where we are all safe and free. Bless you for it. —Eve Ensler,
award-winning playwright (The Vagina Monologues)
What’s happening with men and masculinity?
That’s the question Voice Male tries to answer each issue as it chronicles manhood in transition. The changes men have undergone the past 30 years, our efforts following women in challenging men’s violence, and our ongoing exploration of our interior lives, are central to our vision. The magazine’s roots are deep in the male positive, profeminist, anti-violence men’s movement. We draw inspiration from the world-changing acts of social transformation women have long advanced and the growing legion of men agitating and advocating for a new expression of masculinity. At this key moment in the national conversation about men, Voice Male has much to contribute. Join us!
To subscribe—or to make a tax-deductible gift—please use the enclosed envelope or go to:
22 Voice Male
A Feminist Mother on Raising Sons
By Sarah Epstein
ight years ago I gave birth to my first son. Amidst the euphoria of giving birth to a perfectly beautiful little human being, I became growingly aware that his gender was a very big deal for me. As we entered the various social arenas as parent and child it became apparent that his gender was a very big deal for everyone else as well. It was his gender that others engaged with first. Thus I came face to face with preconceived ideas about the differences between male and female and the innate characteristics that each gender supposedly comprised. As a feminist, I was familiar with the dangers of this line of thinking; as a mother of a son, I suddenly became very fearful. As I witnessed constant entreaties to accept the “truth” about masculinity in our interactions with the social world, I began to understand why my son’s gender was becoming problematic for me. I did not want others to define him according to preconceived notions of what a boy is, does, thinks, or will be like. I wanted them to see my son for who he was as a little person unfolding in the world, responding to stimulus, urged on by curiosity, and holding none of those considered hegemonic masculinity traits that I felt would set him up as so very separate and different from me. I baulked at the possibility of his development into adulthood being so sharply defined by parameters that construct masculinity; a masculinity that is the antithesis of feminist ideals and that I believe is so socially destructive. I began to become increasingly concerned by concepts such as “he’s such a boy” or “it’s a boy thing,” and horrifically, “boys will be boys.” First, this distressed me because even though he may have male genitals I refuse to accept that he must fit into such a narrow and yet nondescript set of behaviors, thoughts, emotions. What does “a boy thing” and “such a boy” mean? I heard myself ask time and time again. Other people’s responses were not satisfying and I would leave the situation concerned that I had come across as aggressive, or worse, that people were left thinking that I was deluding myself, in denial, not ready to accept my son’s constructed destiny.
Second, these concepts concerned and angered me because they can be used to excuse behavior (the child’s) or inaction (the parents’) and support resignation rather than responsibility for people’s (men’s/boys’) problematic actions. Third, I felt increasingly lonely and isolated. I had been reflecting a lot about ways of engaging with my son that privileged his status as a child, a human being, rather than as a boy. I felt strongly that this was a way to open up for him choices about who he wanted to be. Yet at the same time I was finding I had to increasingly engage in overt acts of resistance to gendered and, as a consequence, behavioral impositions foisted on my son. I was struggling to find ways to name thoughts and observations. I was trying to grasp the meaning of what I was experiencing. I found I didn’t have the language or concepts to help me make sense of my experiences. In my sense of isolation and feelings of marginalization I did what I had done many times in the past, I sought out feminist thinkers, writers, and friends. I was looking for affirmation and strategies that would help me to take a stand against gendered constructs that feminists have railed against for years. Feminism has helped affirm for me that constructs around femininity, that is, ideas about how women are, what they should be, what they feel, and what they need were too often defined and described by men and the social institutions that they held control over. It was a source of comfort and inspiration to immerse myself in a movement, an ideology, a way of life that gave me words and living examples of how women were so much more than bystanders to social/historical machinations. Feminist analysis of society helped me to make sense of the world in which women lived. Feminism gave me insight into how women could be living as women in a postpatriarchal society. Feminism claimed more for women than patriarchy had allowed. As a young feminist, I relished the ideas of strength, confidence, and passion that my feminist cohort urged and celebrated. Working in the area of violence against women further allowed me to immerse
Winter 2010 23
myself in women-centered practice and theory. Working alongside women and for women gave me a sense of solidarity and political purpose that truly felt like a privilege. I experienced a feminism that utilized the concept of “woman” for political and revolutionary purposes. I was energized by the idea that there was something special about women that made us different from men. I felt lucky to know the bonds that women create through shared experiences of marginalization and through existing in this world as not a man. My feminist world, the community I was familiar with, supported these ideas too. And, I was fully immersed in a world that celebrated women, lauded women, knew how to nurture, encourage and rally for women. And then I had a son. I realized that feminists too had definite ideas about boys. Although my experience of feminism had challenged simplistic, restrictive ideas about women and their identity, boys were still boys and men were just men. Having a son challenged everything for me. It realigned me with feminism because I could not agree to viewing my child or parenting my child in any way that I felt would allow him to grow up to be one of the men in this world who doesn’t think about what it is like for women, or what their privileged position means for women. Simultaneously, having a son also exiled me from the feminism I had become comfortable with. I was not a mother of a daughter who could pass on feminist women’s wisdom and celebrate my child’s strength. There were no books for boys that were written by feminists that told them how beautiful they were, how important they were, no “You go boy!” books.
Instead, all I felt that feminism had to teach me and encourage me was how to help my boy emerge into manhood via a process of negation. I noticed myself containing him, curbing his behavior, restricting behavior, obsessively attentive to his language and his interpersonal relations with girls. I noticed that I was always the one at the playground or playgroup curbing my son’s “enthusiasm,” obsessing about sharing, providing him with rationales for why he shouldn’t be doing, saying or acting in a certain way. I was riddled with anxiety and it was killing me emotionally, creating an even greater chasm between him and me. I felt that my feminism was not giving me room to breathe. In my feminist imagination there were never any excuses or allowances made for the boys, but much support and freedom for the girls in feminist talk, writing, and socializing. I understood why feminism had focused on girls and their self-esteem, I understood why feminists placed so much stock in the younger female generation, yet I became angry, morose, and sad for my son and me. A part of me felt embarrassed that I had given birth to a son. I was embarrassed by the possibility that he would not behave or interact with the sensibility that I (wrongly) imagined a girl would or does. But a part of me was also very angry about this embarrassment. When I would meet my colleagues, they would ask me about my child, they would ask me if he was a boy or a girl. Upon hearing he was a boy there was so very often a look of resignation or disappointment or comments about how hard that will be for me. There were insinuations that I must be feeling disappointed, that I was going to miss out on something because I had a boy. I felt shunned by feminism just as I had felt shunned by the nonfeminist community. The feminist collective that had given me strength and helped me to formulate alternative ideas was suddenly something I didn’t feel a part of. I was exhausted. There had to be more out there for me and this child of mine. I had my little boy and I wanted to, in fact had to, believe that there was much more that he could be. And then, I gave birth to my second son and the world of possibility opened up for me. How could two small people of the same biological gender be so exquisitely different from each other? I found their differences liberating because there was suddenly a clarity that masculinity was much more complex than I had previously imagined. Their presence was helping me to deconstruct traditional masculinity by being little sites of difference in and of themselves. I wondered how other mothers of boys who had no girls as reference points were making sense of their sons’ developing humanity. I wondered whether other feminist mothers of sons were looking to find ways that celebrated and supported their sons’ humanity without needing to locate it within a gendered context. As I began to think about this more I felt my focus on their biological gender recede. What began to emerge more strongly was an imperative to engage with all that sits between the gendered binary. I experienced a more clarified concern as a consequence of this focus. I needed to know more about the practices of gender construction in order to understand how to challenge these practices and resist them. I wanted to help my children explore and experience themselves outside of a gendered norm that I believe as a feminist is restrictive for them. I wanted to know how I, as a parent, could help represent masculinity for my sons that is not demeaning of their potential and that doesn’t perpetuate a privileged status that
[continued on page 34]
Men & Health
Men at Greater Risk for Cancer Death?
en are almost 40 percent more likely than women to die from cancer, according to a report containing research from England’s Leeds Metropolitan University. The report, published by the National Cancer Intelligence Network and Cancer Research UK, together with the Men’s Health Forum, claims that men are 16 percent more likely to develop the disease in the first place. A principal contributor to the study is Alan White, professor of men’s health at Leeds and chair of the Men’s Health Forum. After excluding breast cancer and cancers specific to one or other sex from the analysis, the difference is even greater with men being almost 70 percent more likely to die from cancer and over 60 percent more likely to develop the disease. The researchers then looked at the figures, excluding lung cancer as well, because the disease and its main risk factor, smoking, is known to be more common in men. They expected to see that, across the broad range of remaining cancer types, men and women were just as likely as each other to die from and get the disease. But they found that for all of these cancers combined, men were still 70 percent more likely than women to die from cancer and 60 percent more likely to get cancer. Experts suggest that a possible explanation for the differences seen for some types of cancer could be stereotypical male behavior, including downplaying important early symptoms and maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle. According to Professor White, “The evidence shows that men are generally not aware that, as well as smoking, carrying excess weight around the waist, having a high alcohol
intake, a poor diet and their family history all contribute to their increased risk of developing and dying prematurely from cancer. More research needs to be done before we can be sure exactly why this gender gap exists.” The report “clearly demonstrates that a concerted effort needs to be made into getting the public, the health professionals and the policy makers aware of the risks men are facing. Many of these deaths could be avoided by changes in lifestyle and earlier diagnosis.” Professor David Forman, information lead for the National Cancer Intelligence Network, believes “Men have a reputation for having a ‘stiff upper lip’ and not being as healthconscious as women. What we see from this report could be a reflection of this attitude, meaning men are less likely to make lifestyle
changes that could reduce their risk of the disease and less likely to go to their doctor with cancer symptoms. Late diagnosis makes most forms of the disease harder to treat.” The report looked at the number of cancer deaths in the UK in 2007 and the number of new cases of cancer in 2006, broken down by cancer type. The cancers that were not sex-specific were grouped together and the researchers then looked at the ratio of men to women in each category. To download the report go to the Cancer Research UK CancerStats website (http:// info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/), the NCIN website (http://www.ncin.org.uk/) or the Men’s Health Forum website (http://www. menshealthforum.org.uk/).
Prostate Cancer Kills Every 20 Minutes
very 20 minutes a son, father, grandfather, husband—men across the spectrum—will die from prostate cancer, and Hank Oprinski wants to do something to diminish that chilling statistic. This year in the United States, approximately 190,000 men will be diagnosed with the disease, a new case every two and a half minutes. “I’m a prostate cancer survivor and live a relatively normal life,” says Oprinski, CEO at Capital Earnings & Research, explaining why he is committed to helping other men, especially in the corporate world he inhabits.
Last fall Oprinski launched a nationwide tour to inform corporations, chambers of commerce, economic clubs, universities, other interested civic organizations to be proactive in combating prostate cancer. Oprinski-inspired cancer seminars are happening across the country, he says. Presentations demonstrate how “an organization cares about its neighborhood and the people who dedicate themselves to the prosperity of that organization. It shows involvement and organizational interest because people want to do something to help someone else,” says Oprinski.
His presentation explores how he coped with prostate cancer, involved his family for support, and continues to build a successful business while addressing some of the following topics: a partner’s ability to help patients through challenging times; support groups; second opinions; getting to know your body; controlling your destiny and medical outcome; never-spoken-of side effects; and preventive ways to minimize your risk of prostate cancer. For more information, contact Oprinski or Hank Richards at (256) 417-6084, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through the Looking Glass of Violence
Imagining a Different World to Understand This One
By Stephen McArthur
Imagine an America where men have had to organize against a tide of sexual discrimination and assault, economic and political deprivation, as well as physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. Imagine a world where men have had to create a network of organizations to support and shelter men who are battered and raped. Imagine an America where women and girls are the perpetrators in the vast majority of violent crimes like murder, rape, child sexual abuse, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. Imagine a world ﬁlled with men appealing to their governments and non-governmental organizations for help in stemming the tide of female violence against them. Imagine a Darfur where roving bands of women on horseback are murdering and raping an entire people. Imagine a Congo where the majority of men have been gang-raped by women and suffer major damage to their penises. Imagine hospital emergency rooms where one out of ﬁve men who go there do so because their wives or girlfriends have beaten them up. Imagine those same ERs where sexual assault nurse examiners (all men) are dealing with men who have been raped, mostly by women they know. Imagine a video game industry that gloriﬁes violence by women against men. Imagine a video game—“Grand Theft Auto”— ﬁlled with male prostitutes who are purchased for sex by women characters and then beaten to death with a tire iron by the main female character. ome people think there’s an equivalence between men’s violence against women and women’s violence against men. There is a huge difference between women who are guilty of assault (or women who are violent in self-defense) and men who use violence and physical abuse as a repeated pattern of exercising power and control in the context of domestic violence. Yes, there are some women who are arrested for domestic assault, but very few women who are perpetrators of domestic violence. I certainly recognize the sensitivities and difﬁculties in comparing or contrasting women’s violence vs. men’s. Because the fathers’ supremacy movement, along with a large number of other Americans, wants to move the discussion away from men’s violence against women (away from the culture of male violence, in general), it makes it really hard for those of us who witness and understand the culture of male violence to have the conversation about women’s violence. How many of us cringe every time we see violent women on TV or in the movies? How about the YouTube videos of women who like beating up other women? How about some of the new video games where women kill everything in sight? What’s the message? Women are just as violent as men. Of course, all anyone has to do is look around the world and see how untrue that is. All you have to do is imagine a world where reality has been turned on its head.
Imagine a male victim of rape being told by a woman judge that he cannot even use the word “rape” in his testimony about the assault. Imagine a world where women’s economic and political power is taken for granted as the dominant and ruling force in society, and where men are struggling to achieve equality and parity. Because it’s such an inconceivable stretch to believe the “imaginings” outlined above, it is challenging to have the conversation about women’s violence. Not that it doesn’t exist, or that it isn’t reprehensible, but that it pales in comparison to men’s violence against women. And quite frankly, I see so much of women’s violence in our culture gleaned from and modeled after the wide expertise of men’s violence. Sadly, in this respect men have taught women well. Stephen McArthur is prevention education coordinator & hotline and court advocate for the Battered Women’s Services & Shelter in Washington County, Vermont. A member of Vermont Approach to Ending Sexual Violence and Vermont Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force, he can be reached at email@example.com.
Winter 2010 27
Imagine an America where women are beating, abusing and controlling their husbands and boyfriends by the millions.
Men Overcoming Violence
Moving from Bystander to Activist
Why Men Can’t Remain Silent
By Byron Hurt tolerate this kind of violence. We must speak up loudly and boldly when men physically or sexually assault women. Honk your car horn, yell and shout, call 911, or try to somehow distract the abuser from attacking his victim—even if it is for an instant. But please, do not remain silent. Help the woman out. Please understand I am not suggesting that you jump in front of a bullet to save someone’s life. You must be street smart and use wise judgment at all times. I am, however, suggesting that you do something as opposed to doing nothing at all. At the end of the day, we all have to look ourselves in the mirror knowing that we did the right thing when it mattered most to someone else. As a nation, it is vital that we ramp up efforts to educate boys and men about patriarchy, sexism, male privilege, and how men’s violence against women is ultimately about men maintaining power and control over female bodies. Men and women working in the gender violence prevention ﬁeld have long called for men and women in positions of leadership to make gender violence prevention a priority in schools, churches, corporations, and the military. Educating boys and men in prevention programs is one of the keys to drastically reducing all forms of gender violence. Men, this has to stop. Men’s violence against women is pervasive worldwide, and we can no longer deﬂect this issue onto women as if they are the cause of the problem and should ﬁx it by themselves. Each day, new stories emerge about men who abduct, rape, beat, harass, and kill women. We do not need any more statistics to prove that men’s violence against women is a real problem. It is real and it happens each and every day, all over the world. We cannot be silent anymore. Nonabusive men who respect women and who are against men who abuse women have to speak up when incidents like this occur. You do not have to be an expert or know the latest statistics. All you have to do is care, have courage, and speak up in defense of the women you love. (Read Jackson Katz’s “Ten Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence” at www.jacksonkatz.com. And, if you’re not a Voice Male subscriber, consider becoming one.) If you have a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, aunt, or female friend you love and care about, then you should become an advocate for them and tune in to the issues that affect them daily. Men’s violence against women is an issue that affects the women you love. By raising our voices, men and women can use our inﬂuence to collectively send the message to other men that the abuse of women is not cool and should never go unchecked in our communities.
Longtime antiviolence activist and ﬁlmmaker Byron Hurt, a Voice Male contributing editor, speaks frequently on college campuses about men’s physical and sexual violence against women as he shows clips from his documentary ﬁlm Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. As part of new student orientation at Montclair State University in New Jersey at the start of the fall semester, he addressed more than 2,000 incoming ﬁrst-year students. He spoke about the need for men to move from inactive bystanders to active interveners in the face of this kind of violence. As he was speaking about gender-based violence at the college in New Jersey, Lenox Ramsey, 25, taunted, chased, and then ﬁnally shot his wife, Kaidan Ramsey, 22, in broad daylight in Brooklyn, N.Y. Surveillance tapes show a terriﬁed Kaidan running for her life as people on the street watched, doing nothing. Byron wrote the column below in response to Kaidan’s murder.
s a man, I know how easy it is to look the other way and ignore male abusive behavior when it happens, especially when it happens publicly. I’ve been in situations like this and I know how paralyzed one can feel—not knowing exactly what to do. I have been in situations where I have failed to act and remember feeling horrible for lacking the courage to raise my voice. I have also been in situations when I have acted, and fellas, it’s not as difﬁcult or scary as you might imagine. I understand the fear people feel when faced with intervening when a man is abusing a woman on a busy street. We are afraid the abuser will turn his rage onto us. This fear is real and has to be acknowledged. But as a community, we cannot remain silent and
Voice Male contributing editor Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary ﬁlmmaker, and an anti-sexist activist. Learn more about his work, including his new ﬁlm project, Soul Food Junkies, at www.bhurt.com.
Winter 2010 29
Spots of a Leopard: On Being a Man
By Aernout Zevenbergen
Laughing Leopard Productions, Cape Town, 280 pages, 2009
he high incidence of rape and domestic violence in Africa suggests that African men need to have a conversation about masculinities—on what it means to be a man in contemporary Africa and how they define their relationship with women. Recently, there has been a proliferation of reports on the emerging significance of a violent form of masculinity in Africa—the high incidence of men using physical might or brute force to harm and dominate women. Though outcry has come from African women’s organizations and international NGOs, since the majority of African men do not participate in such violence, the lack of contribution of progressive African men to the discussion is of concern. Enter Aernout Zevenbergen, a journalist and a Dutch national born in Africa, who started a conversation about what it means to be a man in contemporary Africa, and set out initially to understand the reasons for men’s lack of sexual caution in the face of the high incidence of HIV/AIDS on the continent. Not satisfied with either “right wing” cultural relativism or “left wing” structural determinism, or even the “power dynamics” of gender studies, he embarks on a continental journey to find his own explanations as to “what fuels the man who feels this urge to want to plant his seeds in as many flowerpots as possible?” The book is based on research between 1996 and 2006 conducted in several countries across Africa. From Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to Niger and Liberia, the author criscrosses the continent gathering narratives from men and women on African attitudes to sex, homosexuality, rape, domestic violence, masculinity and changing gender relations. The strength of the book is the narratives of these men and women adhering to hegemonic notions of masculinity and femininity that do not seem to make sense in the contemporary world. Using an impressive array of vignettes, some extremely poignant, Zevenbergen exposes some of the insecurities affecting men in contemporary Africa, where economic collapse, unemployment, war and new constitutions have seemingly undermined what it means to be a man. These narratives of ordinary men and women put voices and circumstances to the statistics. As Zevenbergen rightly claims, he “encountered confusion,
aversion, frustration, despair and nihilism, balanced by times of ingenuity, resoluteness, laughter and lightness.” Many of the male voices argue for procreation to carry on the family line, for freedom to “plant their seed,” and for children and women to provide labor. Certainly none of these are justifications for maintaining inequalities or for sexual abuse. Zevenbergen’s narratives debunk the myths about rape in Africa: that virgin rape is a cure for illness; that it is about lust—most seem to be about the desperate need for respect, coupled with low self-esteem. However, Zevenbergen’s book reveals more than wounded male pride. The lack of sound leadership in the face of crises is exemplified by the young King Mswati of Swaziland with more than 12 wives and several concubines, and the unspoken cause of the frequent deaths of the males in the royal family. Zevenbergen provides explanations throughout the text but draws no conclusion. Despite his early rejection of explanations that focus on the vagaries and inequalities of capitalism, the narratives lead him to address the crisis of patriarchy and masculinity in Africa in the context of societies undergoing capitalist modernization. Researchers such as Ifi Amadiume have already shown that in some pre-colonial societies gender relations were more equitable, and the introduction of an aggressive Victorian-era masculinity infused with capitalism and Christianity transformed some matriarchal societies into patriarchal ones, and redefined men’s and women’s roles in society; if those changes were possible then, transforming the destructive aspects of gender relations today is not impossible. However, Zevenbergen’s narratives do not give us much hope. The Ugandan ministers who demonize homosexuality as Western are shown to be so blinkered that they cannot read critically into their own history. The Ugandan reverends’ virulent attacks against homosexuality are contrasted with their more subdued approach to the rape of adult women. These narratives throw up a confusing dynamic in contemporary Africa, where men can adopt Western practices yet criticize any that are independently adopted by women, and where the 20th-century European fashion of virginal white wedding gowns is deemed appropriate, while mini-skirts are derided as Western and un-African.
However, it is clear from the vignettes that the social basis of the form of patriarchy that emerged under colonialism had disappeared by the late 1990s. Women’s empowerment, however limited, has left men insecure and unable to fulfil their expected roles in the domestic and public spheres. Many African men, in their defense, blame women for the problems they face—“they are too materialistic,” and even Zevenbergen bewails materialism “as the new bar by which people measure each other.” The vulnerability of gender relations to economic crises is not peculiar to Africa. The feminist geographer Linda McDowell in her book Redundant Masculinities reveals how the closure of the mines in northern England in the 1980s created a crisis of masculinity among miners whose raison d’être was determined by the toughness of mine work. Miners and their wives, and their sons and daughters, had to negotiate new ways of living together and that process was not always nonviolent. Spots of a Leopard is also a personal quest for Zevenbergen and perhaps that is where it loses direction. His spiritual quest is woven throughout, so the reader is sometimes unsure whether he is discussing himself or the men he encounters. The focus of the book gets somewhat lost toward the final third of the text. Does his single, childless status, seen as problematic by the Africans he encounters, make him empathetic? The moving account of his family’s reaction to the death of his nephew serves to immortalize the boy, but what conclusion does he want us to draw from this personal revelation? Apart from structural weaknesses in the book, a key element missing is more narratives with men who perform nonviolent forms of masculinity. Given that only a small proportion of the men in Africa carry out these violent acts, understanding what it means to be a man in Africa should involve exploring the range of masculinities on the continent. Zevenbergen refers frequently to the destructive effects of materialism and individualism in contexts where community and the spiritual once bound societies together, where different generations and gender are playing by different rules, with different gods and different heroes. Is modern man doomed, because of “a misdirected arrogance and belief that reason alone defines where it is we go and how we should live our lives,” as Zevenbergen seems to argue? Though this book does not present a way forward, it does provide the basis for conversations about the destructive effects of redundant traditionalism and unbridled modernity, despite Zevenbergen’s underlying pessimism.
—Dr. Patricia Daley
Dr. Patricia Daley is a lecturer at the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. A version of this review appeared in Pambazuka News: Pan African Voices for Freedom and Justice, www.pambazuka.org.
Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World
By Ed and Deb Shapiro
$19.95, 342 pages Sterling Publishing, New York & London, 2009
on an even wider scale, they are asking, “What change could happen if something so simple were to become a global movement?” Interwoven among the Shapiros’ own thoughts on the subject are the words of more than 100 meditation practitioners from various walks of life, from Ellen Burstyn—Oscar-winning actress—to Jon Kabat-Zinn—founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society; from Marianne Williamson—bestselling author and renown inspirational speaker— to Richard Davidson—professor of psychology at the University ofWisconsin whose research is closely followed by the Dalai Lama (who wrote a foreword for the book). Be the Change might be essential reading if you’re someone who wants to make a difference in their own lives and in the world.
Sin by Silence
Director: Olivia Klaus, USA 2009
From running an orphanage to being a political advisor, from being held in a prison cell to living in a crowded city, meditation has changed people’s lives. Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World is a fascinating exploration of how meditation can not only awaken our latent potential, but also transform the world, creating the foundation for a caring and compassionate future. As a prisoner in a Chinese jail, Kirsten Westby was able to find solace by sitting quietly in contemplation. Deeply affected by walking on the moon, astronaut Edgar Mitchell went from exploring outer space to discovering the vastness of inner space. Coping with HIV, writer Mark Matousek found healing through group meditation. Seane Corn used her yoga and meditation expertise to work with child prostitutes in Los Angeles. In the last few decades, people in all walks of life have begun to realize the profound benefits of meditation. While this ancient practice is personally transformative by calming the mind and reducing stress, awakening the heart, and deepening insight, can meditation also change the world for the better? That’s the question Ed and Deb Shapiro put to a range of people with experiences exploring this issue, reflecting on how looking within has resolved issues such as anger and fear. Along the way they’ve been inspired to work toward a more caring and peaceful future. The Shapiros, who have written 15 books on meditation, personal development, and social action, are bloggers for HuffingtonPost.com and Intent.com. They say they have long sought meaning in the midst of chaos and recognized the significance of meditation early in their lives, Deb at 15, Ed at 25. Be the Change was conceived in response to a similar need to make sense of what was happening in the world at large. They wondered, “Could something as subtle and understated as meditation also have an effect on business, conflict resolution, or politics?” And
The awardwinning film Sin by Silence is now available as a tool to help educate and create awareness about the issues of domestic violence—something that the Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA), the first group initiated and led by inmates in the US prison system, has been doing since 1989. Sin by Silence profiles the extraordinary women of CWAA, who have worked from behind prison walls to shatter misconceptions and change laws for battered women. This essential tool is the most comprehensive educational resource, available through Women Make Movies, on domestic violence and features more than two hours of bonus discussion videos including: • Violence and Abuse: Interviews with experts on abusive relationships— What Is Abuse?, Warning Signs, Why She Stays, A Batterer’s Perspective, Public Safety Issue, and more. • Law Enforcement and Corrections: Interviews with law enforcement leaders on their response to domestic violence, as well as inmate, staff and experts perspectives on the prison system. • Legal Aspects: CWAA founder Brenda Clubine’s full hearing and interviews with former juror and expert witness. Alyce LaViolette, author of It Could Happen to Anyone and founder of Alternatives to Violence, describes the film as “a cry for social action,” saying it touches “the soul of any human concerned with justice and fair treatment. To view a clip, learn more, or order visit http:// www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c759. shtml or contact: Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway #500LS NY, NY 10013 firstname.lastname@example.org - 212.925.0606 x360.
RESPONSE ABILITY A Complete Guide to Bystander Intervention
By Alan Berkowitz
Beck & Co. Paperback, 2009, 99 pages
Increasingly, it is being recognized that the solution to health and social justice problems requires that we engage bystanders—those individuals who observe a problem and want to do something but don’t. Despite the importance of this issue and the fact that most people want to “do the right thing” there are almost no books that explain bystander behavior, why it occurs, and what can be done about it. Until now. Response Ability: A Complete Guide to Bystander Intervention meets this need, reviewing research and theory on bystander behavior, explaining why people don’t act even when not acting goes against their conscience, and offering practical solutions and skills for intervening in a safe, effective and respectful way. Written by Alan Berkowitz, an internationally recognized expert on bystander behavior who works with colleges and universities, communities, high schools, public health agencies and the military to help find solutions to common health and social justice problems, this slim volume is loaded with gems. If you were ever worried about someone’s behavior and wanted to do something but didn’t, this book is for you. For information on how to purchase, and to learn more about bystanders and Berkowitz’s work go to www.alanberkowitz.com.
Resources for Changing Men
International Society for Men’s Health Prevention campaigns and health initiatives promoting men’s health www.ismh.org Paul Kivel Violence prevention educator http://www.paulkivel.com Lake Champlain Men’s Resource Center Burlington, Vt., center with groups and services challenging men’s violence on both individual and societal levels www.lcmrc.org A wide-ranging (but by no means exhaustive) listing of organizations engaged in profeminist men’s work. Know of an organization that should be listed here? E-mail relevant information to us at email@example.com 100 Black Men of America, Inc. Chapters around the U.S. working on youth development and economic empowerment in the African American community www.100blackmen.org A Call to Men Trainings and conferences on ending violence against women www.acalltomen.org American Men’s Studies Association Advancing the critical study of men and masculinities www.mensstudies.org Dad Man Consulting, training, speaking about fathers and father figures as a vital family resource www.thedadman.com EMERGE Counseling and education to stop domestic violence. Comprehensive batterers’ services www.emergedv.com European Men Pro-feminist Network Promoting equal opportunities between men and women www.europrofem.org Family Violence Prevention Fund Working to end violence against women globally; programs for boys, men and fathers www.endabuse.org Healthy Dating, Sexual Assault Prevention http://www.canikissyou.com Males Advocating Change Worcester, Mass., center with groups and services supporting men and challenging men’s violence www.centralmassmrc.org MANSCENTRUM Swedish men’s centers addressing men in crisis www.manscentrum.se Masculinity Project The Masculinity Project addresses the complexities of masculinity in the African American community www.masculinityproject.com MASV—Men Against Sexual Violence Men working in the struggle to end sexual violence www.menagainstsexualviolence.org Men Against Violence UNESCO program believing education, social and natural science, culture and communication are the means toward building peace www.unesco.org/cpp/uk/projects/ wcpmenaga.htm Men Against Violence (Yahoo e-mail list) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menagainstviolence/ Men Against Violence Against Women (Trinidad) Caribbean island anti-violence campaign www.mavaw.com. Men Can Stop Rape Washington, D.C.-based national advocacy and training organization mobilizing male youth to prevent violence against women. www. mencanstoprape.org MenEngage Alliance An international alliance promoting boys’ and men’s support for gender equality www.menengage.org Men for HAWC Gloucester, Mass., volunteer advocacy group of men’s voices against domestic abuse and sexual assault www.strongmendontbully.com Men’s Health Network National organization promoting men‘s health www.menshealthnetwork.org Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe, Inc. Statewide Massachusetts effort coordinating men’s anti-violence activities www.mijd.org Men’s Nonviolence Project, Texas Council on Family Violence http://www.tcfv.org/education/mnp. html Men’s Resource Center for Change Model men’s center offering support groups for all men www.mrcforchange.org Men’s Resource Center of South Texas Based on Massachusetts MRC model, support groups and services for men firstname.lastname@example.org Men’s Resources International Trainings and consulting on positive masculinity on the African continent www.mensresourcesinternational.org Men Stopping Violence Atlanta-based organization working to end violence against women, focusing on stopping battering, and ending rape and incest www.menstoppingviolence.org Men’s Violence Prevention http://www.olywa.net/tdenny/ Mentors in Violence Prevention—MVP Trainings and workshops in raising awareness about men’s violence against women www.sportsinsociety.org/vpd/mvp./php Monadnock Men’s Resource Center Southern New Hampshire men’s center supporting men and challenging men’s violence mmrconline.org MVP Strategies Gender violence prevention education and training www.jacksonkatz.com National Association for Children of Domestic Violence Provides education and public awareness of the effects of domestic violence, especially on children. www. nafcodv.org National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Provides a coordinated community www.ncadv.org National Men’s Resource Center National clearinghouse of information and resources for men www.menstuff.org National Organization for Men Against Sexism Annual conference, newsletter, profeminist activities www.nomas.org Boston chapter: www.nomasboston. org One in Four An all-male sexual assault peer education group dedicated to preventing rape www.oneinfourusa.org Promundo NGO working in Brazil and other developing countries with youth and children to promote equality between men and women and the prevention of interpersonal violence www.promundo.org RAINN—Rape Abuse and Incest National Network A national anti-sexual assault organization www.rainn.org Renaissance Male Project A midwest, multicultural and multiissue men‘s organization www.renaissancemaleproject The Men’s Bibliography Comprehensive bibliography of writing on men, masculinities, gender, and sexualities listing 14,000 works www.mensbiblio.xyonline.net/ UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women www.unifem.org VDay Global movement to end violence against women and girls, including Vmen, male activists in the movement www.newsite.vday.org Voices of Men An Educational Comedy by Ben Atherton-Zeman http://www.voicesofmen.org Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence http:// www.walkamileinhershoes.org
Resources for Changing Men
White Ribbon Campaign International men’s campaign decrying violence against women www.whiteribbon.ca XY Magazine www.xyonline.net Profeminist men’s web links (over 500 links) www.xyonline.net/links.shtml
Profeminist men’s politics, frequently asked questions www.xyonline.net/misc/ pffaq.html Profeminist e-mail list (1997–) www.xyonline.net/misc/profem.html Homophobia and masculinities among young men www.xyonline.net/misc/ homophobia.html
The Fathers Resource Center Online resource, reference, and network for stay-at-home dads www.slowlane.com National Center for Fathering Strategies and programs for positive fathering. www.fathers.com National Fatherhood Initiative Organization to improve the well-being of children through the promotion of responsible, engaged fatherhood www.fatherhood.org
Boldly Addressing Environmental Sustainability and Justice
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Works to combat homophobia and discrimination in television, ﬁlm, music and all media outlets www.glaad.org Human Rights Campaign Largest GLBT political group in the country. www.hrc.org Interpride Clearing-house for information on pride events worldwide www.interpride.net LGBT Health Channel Provides medically accurate information to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied communities. Safer sex, STDs, insemination, transgender health, cancer, and more www.lgbthealthchannel.com. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National progressive political and advocacy group www.ngltf.org Outproud - Website for GLBT and questioning youth www.outproud.org Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays www.pﬂag.org
Fatherhood Initiative Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund Supporting fathers, their families and theprofessionals who work with them www.mctf.org Fathers and Daughters Alliance (FADA) Helping girls in targeted countries to return to and complete primary school fatheranddaughter.org Fathers with Divorce and Custody Concerns Looking for a lawyer? Call your state bar association lawyer referral agency. Useful websites include: www.dadsrights.org (not www.dadsrights.com) www.directlex.com/main/law/divorce/ www.divorce.com www.divorcecentral.com www.divorcehq.com www.divorcenet.com www.divorce-resource-center.com www.divorcesupport.com Collaborative Divorce www.collaborativealternatives.com www.collaborativedivorce.com www.collaborativepractice.com www.nocourtdivorce.com
“VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN is found in every culture around the world. It is one of our most pervasive global problems, yet it is preventable. When gang rape is a weapon of war, when women are beaten behind closed doors, or when young girls are trafﬁcked in brothels and ﬁelds—we all suffer. This violence robs women and girls of their full potential, causes untold human suffering, and has great social and economic costs. On this 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I urge all Americans to join with the international community in calling for an end to these abuses.”
—Vice President Joe Biden on the Tenth Anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25, 2009
21st Century Feminist Mothering As a heterosexual woman from a privileged class, I had understood the criticism leveled at feminism from women of color, lesbian women, working-class women and women with different abilities. However, I had not experienced this sense of “other” or difference outside the solidarity of the white middle-class feminist community. It was the experience of wanting so much more for my sons than a doomed vision of their fate as “men” and the experience of being with them as boys, from the very beginning of their lives, that alerted me to how traditional feminist ideology made it hard to imagine the possibilities for difference and to be inclusive of this difference. And so I turned to a more contemporary feminist perspective, one that appreciates multiplicity, difference, and the notion of masculinities. These notions have created space to consider new ideas about mother-son relationships. I decided that I wanted to speak with other feminist mothers of sons about their imaginings for their sons’ masculinities. To date I have interviewed 20 self-identified feminist mothers of sons, all of whom are in heterosexual relationships with the fathers of their sons. In other words, on the surface they mirror my own situation. I conducted semi-structured conversations with these women about their thoughts on gender, masculinity, the mother-son relationship, their hopes and fears for their sons and the role that feminism plays in their mothering. I asked them, too, about the role their partners play in their sons developing masculinity. To date, I have not yet begun to review the vital role of the father. But as the relationship with my own sons matures, I am beginning to see the possibilities for alliances between men and women. I am determined to ensure that mothers of sons stake a very big claim in teaching about who and what they can be as grown men. My sons have helped me to re-evaluate my position regarding men and in so doing I have further developed my feminist analysis. This continues to inspire my research and my role as a mother.
. —Sarah Epstein
[continued from page 24]
disconnects them from diversity. I felt I had to refuse masculinity in its dominant form so as to allow my sons’ masculinity to be constructed in response to their humanity and ideas of difference.My day-to-day lived experience demonstrates how difficult this is. Feminism for me is experienced as a politics of solidarity, although this sense of solidarity had previously been challenged when I became pregnant. I think this was due to diverse views within my feminist community toward mothering and motherhood. I experienced this as a disconnection from some, as well as valueladen comments that insinuated my impending motherhood was not something I had wholeheartedly welcomed of my own accord. What I had not prepared for was the sense of alienation that bearing a son had brought me. I believe that feminism, its ideology and commitment to solidarity among women did not make possible the multiplicity of women’s and men’s lives. The commitment to using the concept of women as a unitary identity for the purpose of political change and representation precludes the possibilities for multiple masculinities as well. As a consequence of giving birth to my sons, I was alerted to how much this was a part of my own thinking. Ideas about masculinity are so pervasive and persuasive that they have become truth and norm. But, just because hegemonic masculinity is perceived as truth and norm does not mean it is so. As a feminist mother of sons I feel compelled to critique and challenge this perceived truth and the practices employed within hegemonic masculinity on a daily basis. I feel bound to do so for the sake of equity for women and our quality of life. But, even more profoundly for me, my feminism must somehow help me to resist and challenge the gendered construction of masculinity for the sake of my sons. Sarah Epstein has trained as a social worker and for many years worked in the area of violence against women in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. Sarah now works as a clinical consultant providing group supervision. She is currently undertaking a PhD dissertation at Deakin University titled Feminist Mothers: Discourses and Practices in Raising Sons. Sarah lives in Melbourne and spends most of her time raising two beautiful young boys who have both started school and thus entered the “real world.”
General Support Groups: Open to any man who wants to experience a men’s group. Topics of discussion reﬂect the needs and interests of the participants. Groups are held in these Western Massachusetts communities: Hadley, at North Star, 135 Russell Street, 2nd Floor: Tuesday evenings (7:00 – 9:00 PM). Entrance on Route 47 opposite the Hadley Town Hall. Greenﬁeld, at Network Chiropractic, 21 Mohawk Trail: Wednesday evenings (7:00 – 9:00 PM). Group for Men Who Have Experienced Childhood Neglect, Abuse, or Trauma: Open to men who were subjected to neglect and/or abuse growing up, this group is designed speciﬁcally to ensure a sense of safety for participants. It is a facilitated peer support group and is not a therapy group. Group meetings are held on Fridays (7:00 – 9:00 PM) at the Synthesis Center in Amherst, 274 N. Pleasant Street (just a few doors north of the former MRC building). Group for Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Men: Speciﬁcally for men who identify as gay or bisexual, or who are questioning their sexual orientation, this group is designed to provide a safe and supportive setting to share experiences and concerns. Gay or bi-identiﬁed transgendered men are welcome! In addition to providing personal support, the group offers an opportunity for creating and strengthening local networks. Group meetings are held on Mondays (7:00 – 9:00 PM) at the Synthesis Center in Amherst, 274 N. Pleasant Street (just a few doors north of the former MRC building).
V-Men is the “men’s auxiliary” of V-Day.org, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Since 1998, thousands of grassroots activists have staged benefit productions of Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues, and other creative vehicles, to raise awareness and funds to end violence against women and girls. Now, men are joining in.
• Educate the public about key roles men play in stopping violence against women and girls • Inspire and support grassroots anti-violence activism by boys and men • Connect men with opportunities and resources to support women and girls • Promote a positive culture for boys and men, one where women and girls are nurtured and protected
Ten Ways to Be a Man
A new Dramatic Production Is Being Developed
In 2010 workshops are being held around the country and abroad to bring men’s voices into a new production, Ten Ways to Be a Man.
QUESTIONS TO BE EXPLORED:
What did we learn from our fathers about manhood and masculinity? What is expected of us as men? What does it mean to be strong? How do we define femininity? How does aggression play a part in sexuality? What are our feelings of guilt or shame about being a man? What are our experiences witnessing physical violence? What are we going to do as men, to help end violence against women?
To become involved, please write: www.vday.org/vmen.
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