Shawn Maxam explains how power dynamics and issues of privilege can distract us from the real conversations men need to be having.
When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, the therapist I was seeing while in crisis was a woman. She said something very profound to me. The statement she said was, “you need to develop close intimate relationships with other men.” She was right for a myriad of reasons and today, nearly five years later, my therapist is a man.
When you talk to other men about life issues and masculinity there’s a built-in shorthand. Men don’t necessarily interpret things the way women do. I have no idea why women are so obsessed with how men think. I often want to process my thoughts, emotions and fears with fellow men who understand my experience.
I personally don’t think men can be feminists. We can be allies for equality, but that is a different experience. An experience I may empathize with but not one I want to understand because I am too busy trying to figure out myself. I think feminist issues and issues of masculinity are not synonymous. Is there an overlap? Of course, but being a good man is not completely framed but how men interact with women.
Power dynamics and issues of privilege can distract us from the real conversation. The theoretical distracts from the practical. I am also not a fan of pandering or soap-boxing. Men need to have safe spaces where we can have conversations for ourselves and among ourselves. Forceful exclusion is not the same as non-active inclusion which means just because I don’t invite you to the conversation doesn’t mean I am discriminating against you.
We either can be idealistic and politically correct or we can be pragmatic and realistic. Life is murky and messy. There are certain parts of me that I only want to share with my brothers. Not with my wife, my sisters, female colleagues or other women.
I like being a man. I don’t want to have to apologize for being a guy. There isn’t some original sin inherently associated with the fact that I am a man. I won’t let society define me by the worst acts committed by some people who share the same biology as me. If we want to have debates or discussions about gender identity, theory and so forth we have the classroom and other academic forums.
I don’t know of anywhere on the web where conversations that the Good Men Project is having happen. The questions being asked, the stories being shared and the vulnerability being exposed are important and exciting. I think we have to continue to foster an environment where men can have a forum and not have to defend and explain themselves in ways that are not affirming or validating.
Photo courtesy of andrijbulba