Dan Griffin thinks there’s a place for single-gender spaces, so long as the people involved are genuinely of good will.
Question: Do men deserve to have a place where the whole conversation is about how we as men are trying how to figure out how the hell to live our lives as men that we – and those who love us – can be proud of?
Answer: Absolutely yes! And that means it is a conversation that should not be allowed to be co-opted by women (or men) who have other agendas. Yes, I said it. You are welcome to participate but if your focus is not on advancing the conversation then perhaps you should find another place to hang out. Cyber-space is really really big!
Before I say what I am about to say, let me state unequivocally and unabashedly that I am a feminist. What that means to me may not be what it means to you. For me it means something very radical and quite simple – that men and women are inherently equal. Different but equal. It also means that I believe we live in a society that has not been built upon that equality and the impact of that permeates our relationships, our communities, and many other aspects of our lives. That does NOT mean, however, that men are not also deeply affected by the way this society has been set up. Women do not have the market-cornered on existential suffering – that is something that transcends race, gender, socioeconomic status, and any of the other labels and characteristics we have decided to ascribe to human beings’ value. I am so tired of the response that we, men, get sometimes when we have the audacity to imply that women can also be part of the problem. Sorry but it is true. Unequivocally. Irrefutably. If you cannot admit that then you are not ready to be a part of the solution.
There are, however, only two types of feminists in my mind – the ones who haven’t done their own personal work and the ones who have (and continue to do so) – the actual type of theory is less important. What does that mean? I mean the emotional, psychological, and spiritual work that gives us a completely different insight into the human condition. That is the process Tom is referring to with all of those people gathering in church basements and schools and other alcoves all over the country. There are amazing men and women gathering in those places that I feel honored to call friends and family. I, too, am part of those men’s meetings where men are transformed from little boys to men. There is work that we do in those meetings that we could never do in mixed-meetings. These meetings help prepare us to then be able to do the hard work with the women in our lives. We need that private space. Maybe that is another website, then – with different guidelines and policies. Or maybe GMP wants to step back and re-evaluate how it is meeting its mission. You can’t be everything to everyone. Maybe the Huffington Post approach doesn’t work. I don’t know. I do know that we NEED that space and right now GMP does not seem to be it.
You would be hard-pressed to find a woman or man who has done/is doing their own personal emotional and spiritual work who does not get how much men are hurting and being hurt by the same gendered logic that permeates our society with all of its contradictions. I know many women like this and they understand that men need to do their work and have a safe and supportive place to do it. They also get – and this is important – that they DON’T KNOW what men need or what that work has to look like. Finally, they also understand that a lot of that work has to be for men only. These are the women I would lay down in front of a truck for. I love these women. They are powerful and grounded. Sometimes, they really kick my ass. I listen to them.
What I see all over GMP from men and women, feminists and the men’s rights guys, and many others is an inability – or lack of willingness – to own the feelings driving their reactions and their assertions. Some of them have no idea how much feeling is defining their perception. Of course that is most of the polemics in our society as a whole. I do not tend to trust that kind of perception. That is not the world I live in today nor the kind of world I want to live in. Have you ever read some of these posts and comments and seen how much fear is driving what people are writing and saying? A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I see a lot of scared and hurt feminists reacting often in self-righteousness and arrogance. The same goes for the men’s rights guys. And a lot of other people, too. I try hard not to do that – and if I do (as I have done) I try to then own it. That is what is most important to me – are you willing to create a space for vulnerability and authenticity in the conversation? I know that is what Tom and many others seek to do and they are the ones I pay attention to.
I am pretty clear about my focus and my mission and how I am impacting this conversation about what it means to be a good man. I do trainings and speak all over the country about rethinking and redesigning the way we provide mental health and addiction services for men. Women were not going to lead this battle – and should not be expected to. They are not also going to direct it but they are more than welcome to participate. When I do those trainings with my partner, Rick, we are pretty blunt about some of the issues that men face and the role that women can play in those problems – and the solution. We focus on depathologizing men and masculinity – we put it in a social context – most of men’s ignorant and harmful behavior is a result from how they have been raised and their attempts to live by the “rules for being a man.” That does not make certain behaviors acceptable but it does create a space for understanding and compassion. It allows us to talk about homophobia, abuse and violence (both experienced and perpetrated,) privilege and entitlement, detached fathering, sexism, and pornography. But it also allows us to talk about the sexual abuse of boys and men, body image, creating healthy relationships and challenging the bullshit myth out there that men don’t know how to do relationships or don’t care about them, creating a space for men’s grief, and helping men to realize that there is nothing wrong with wanting power and control rather it is how we go about it. Our whole mission is to help men feel good about being men and help them realize they have a choice in who they can be. When we help men heal it automatically helps women and children.
Tom says this in his post:
In the end I think we all want the same thing: a new kind of macho in which men are allowed to express themselves as fully formed human beings who change diapers, are capable of intimacy, do meaningful work, and aspire to goodness in whatever way they define it.
What I think is missing from Tom’s statement – though I believe it to be part of his and GMP’s mission – is that part of the new macho is men co-creating a space of equality for women with women. One where we are willing to honestly and openly look at homophobia, sexism, privilege and entitlement, and some of the little gremlins that hide in the darkest corners of masculinity. But what so many women and men, particularly some feminists, often miss is that men do not just create suffering for others – they are suffering. We are suffering as a result of trying to live up to these rules that are so limiting and dehumanizing. That suffering cannot be ignored, minimized, or devalued. I don’t like when we miss the human aspect to all of this. Is suffering a phenomenon relegated to one gender or race? Absolutely not. It is when we tell the stories of our joy and our pain that we all realize that we are one. That is the beauty of the Twelve Step communities – at our best because we are able to touch that place in amazing ways.
Here is the deal, as I see it. There are men and women out there who want us to be able to transcend the limitations of the boxes that society tries to put us in. Tom Matlack would be one of those men and the Good Men Project, at its best, is a vehicle for being able to do that. Or at least that has always been what I understood it to be about. There are also men and women out there who would rather pretend that it is women against men – that it is a zero-sum game. And, of course, there are the women and men out there who don’t care. They are happy in their worlds, following the rules of being a man or a woman, not realizing they even have a choice.
In the end, I do not think the issue is really about men having private conversations. It seems more that women – and some men – don’t trust us men to have the really tough conversations. That somehow if men have private conversations we are simply going to protect our power and our privilege and avoid responsibility for looking at the darker side of masculinity. Not the darker side of men but masculinity. As in – how men are raised to be men but not who we are inherently. That is such a great disservice to us, men, who understand at an atomic level that who we are in this world is severely limited if we do not have the tough conversations. I have ALWAYS seen GMP as a place that wants to have the really tough conversations and honor all of the different points of view. Our freedom and peace of mind as men are inextricably bound to that of women, there is no doubt. We have to have our sacred spaces just for men just as there need to be sacred spaces just for women just as there need to be sacred spaces for men and women. I believe it is in our suffering, our efforts to transcend that suffering, and telling the truth about who we are that we all come together. Or at least we can. Our liberation as human beings is bound together. That is the conversation I want to be part of – and in that conversation all are welcome.
Photo—Group of men from Shutterstock