Practices for men – and others – for doing it right
It seems like everywhere, the #metoo movement is leaving men wondering what to do – which is no surprise considering they like to DO things. Sometimes, of course, the incessant doing of men can get in the way and camouflage a feeling of inadequacy or a need to get attention. However, there are those out there who are truly seeing how much work there is to do and are simply ready, willing, and able to take action, who just need a sense of direction. While this article may be preaching to a choir of conscious, healthy fellas, there’s a multitude of men who are just waking up and looking to make a responsible and healthy difference. It begins with paying attention, looking deeper, and asking questions…
As a man who has been listening since his first partnership with a survivor 29 years ago and as an expression of my purpose, I hope this article will serve as one such sense of direction.
This is an evolving collaborative guide. Links and resources will be added to the original article (found here), so please comment and share this so that other men get to make use of it in the way that works best for them and the women they seek to serve.
And by all means, if you feel something is missing, please mention it in the comments!
- Stop hurtful behavior
The internet is full of articles that tell men what (not) to do. But many of them seem to have been written by women for men to serve women rather than to support men to serve women. These articles not only speak in the language of social justice many men will not “grok” yet; they focus mainly on behavior rather than the source of these behaviors and practices to increase the skills and qualities to make these bad behaviors outdated. But they have their use and (some) men will most definitely relate to them. These hurtful behaviors may be remedied a number of ways: here’s a more spiritual and holistic approach by my friend Karl Baba.
2. Actively listen and get curious
Good listening is a cross between witnessing (where the listener adds nothing and takes nothing from the experience), and listening/feeling so that the other person knows they are being heard. When listening, let them know you believe them (use the simple words such as “I believe you”). When hearing a story of assault or abuse, it’s not time to verify, challenge, check, or understand their story. What matters is that they are believed while they stand on shaky ground as a survivor. What matters is they feel that they have someone who is there for them without questions or doubt. Once the story has been told, you may also ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” as a gesture to show them you can do more if it’s something they wish.
3. Take stock of your life: how you’ve impacted others – and how you’ve been impacted sexually and emotionally
The weeks of #metoo were intense for many, possibly you. Taking stock of your life can look like writing your own #metoo and #itwasme story. It doesn’t mean you have to post it, but if you do, it should be as a gesture of solidarity towards women, not as a way to explain, condone, minimize or inflate what happened to you or another. Mainly, as an introspection that helps you situate yourself as a perpetrator and a survivor/victim. This is a way to connect with the immensity of pain and suffering that is present in our collective consciousness. As someone who has impacted another or has been impacted, this is an opportunity to reach out for reconciliation and repair. As someone who has been impacted, this is an opportunity for forgiveness.
The point of this exercise is not shame or guilt, unless it naturally arises in you in the form of “not ok.” Healthy inner shame supports us in staying in line with our values. External shame is often used by others to meet their values. If their values are different than yours, cognitive dissonance can occur and it is difficult to maintain a sense of integrity. Rather, it’s important to develop strong healthy inner values that support us in engaging well with others rather than adopt another person’s values and shame they direct at us.
4. Examine your internalized misogyny and misandry, and what you are doing to free yourself from these limiting beliefs
What are your views on men and women and non-binary folks? In what way do you perceive any of these classes negatively or as “less than?” In what way to do believe members of these classes are too crazy, dumb, victims, or perpetrators? Or something else negative? If you believe that “men are often <negative quality>” or “women are often <negative quality>” (just to name two examples) then you have internalized misandry or misogyny. It’s not about statistics, it’s about negative beliefs that you hold regardless of statistics.
There is a lot more to say, but for now looks at these two statements:
- Internalized misogyny eminently impacts women and your relationship with women by how you as a man perceive them in any way that isn’t true or real about them (and also in the ways they perceive themselves), especially if these ways are negative, objectifying, and demeaning.
- Internalized misandry eminently and directly impacts you and men and your relationship with yourself and with other men by the way you perceive men to be something that isn’t true or real about them, especially if these ways are negative, objectifying, and demeaning.
- Learn self-care and create a support structure with therapists and allies
Don’t do this alone. Toxic masculine scripts tell men that they need to be independent and handle things on their own. This is not the best way to engage in the kind of steep learning curve that becoming a better more emotionally sensitive man requires. To do this well, you will need to develop a better relationship to needs, to care for your body, your heart, and your mind so that you can engage well and with all your resources when things get difficult. The process of growth will be demanding emotionally and physically. This is why you need to learn to feel into yourself to know when is time to recharge, when you need to self-soothe, when you need to be a bit more caring or ask for help. This is where a good therapist or coach and allies come in. These people are not meant to save you from your emotions and your experiences, but to support you in becoming a more aware person. This will mean both spending money and offering gratitude to whoever desires to see you succeed. And of all the ways you can do this, joining a men’s circle (like ManKind Project) is one of the most effective ways.
5. Learn the ins and outs of (responsible) consent and safer sexual engagements
Responsible consent is when someone is ready, willing, able, and informed about the nature of the engagement they are about to take part of. This means being fully understanding and aware of what they are getting themselves into and how (reasonably) well things are going to turn out. This also means that they can take responsibility for their part in the engagement because they have everything they need to do so. Responsible consent also means making sure everyone (including ourselves) is responsibly consenting. A “yes” is a great start, but you have to make sure it means more than just permission for the other person.
Yes is just a word. Permission alone is not responsible consent – this is where a lot of people get it wrong. Being intoxicated is not responsible consent. When you engage with someone, you want to make sure you are both consenting responsibly and communicating well. If you don’t check and fully trust that your partner is responsibly consenting, you are creating a risky and irresponsible engagement.
**We won’t turn this into a sex-ed class, but we do encourage everyone to refresh themselves on the basics of safer sexual engagements (safe sex, communication, boundaries, etc.)
6. Apologize and own it. Making amends is the path to forgiveness.
You may never know the full extent of the hurt, suffering, damage, or impact you caused, but you are responsible for it regardless. In fact, you are accountable for all the negative impact you caused during the time you’ve been alive, intentional or accidental. If your presence, words, or actions were a part of someone’s hurt, you are at least partially responsible. And while it may be possible for someone to recover and heal on their own, your participation can make all the difference.
It’s time to reach out to those you’ve hurt and let them know you’d like to apologize. Then you wait for them to let you know if they are interested, how they feel about it, their pace, their desires, and their boundaries around it. It’s about doing it without offering excuses. This is a gift for them more than it is for you to feel better about yourself. It can, of course, be about both, but if you can make it about them first and foremost, you’ll find that the rest will happen naturally. Apologize and own it.
Once you’ve fully owned the impact and apologized and if the apology has been accepted, you may offer to make amends and repair the trust that has been lost. Ask the other person what you can do, and do your best to accede to their request(s). The other person may not know how to repair the trust and this may never change. It is not for you to decide what they need. It is for them to take the time and space to explore this at their convenience, not for you to push or pressure them in following your needs. To a certain extent, forgiveness is for the person who was hurt, not the one apologizing. Here’s an article on how NOT to apologize.
7. Learn to engage well in social justice conversations
Conversations about social justice are about how to support everyone having an equal opportunity in life. And because some people/classes/groups are given better opportunities because of deeply ingrained cultural beliefs and systems, the solutions generally look like taking power away from members of one group and giving them to another. This of course causes upset within the privileged groups as they have not learned to make do without this power (which they often don’t realize they have). This combines with members of the privileged group having little clue around how hard things are for the oppressed group, to make it difficult for groups to see eye to eye. As a result, there’s plenty of foot-in-mouth type of comments happening in both directions.
To engage well in social justice conversations, you’ll need to learn a LOT about privilege (earned and unearned) and how to speak and act responsibly with it. You’ll need to learn that one person or group speaking about “men” does not necessarily mean “all men” and only applies to you “if the shoe fits” (and your fear of it fitting does not mean it fits). You’ll need to learn to understand your situation in terms of privilege and in terms of how you are perceived around privilege and trauma/insecurities/abuse. For example, you may show up like a white cis-male but you may have come from a poor family, or you may be queer and closeted, or you may have a history of abuse. This is where you can begin to authentically connect with others along these different experiences. Not as a defensive mechanism, but rather as a gesture of solidarity. This is a territory that requires practice because emotions tend to run high.
8. Engage other men and (freely consenting) women around the transgressions you owned, your growth process, and your commitment to do better
This can look like writing and posting your #itwasme stories or just sharing. Note that the story should be about the impact you caused from the standpoint of the person impacted, not about you. This is your journey of understanding what you did not understand or did not want to understand when the transgression happened. This is you learning to feel into what happened, not a process of absolution or a way to get kudos or gratitude (though some may come your way). In this engagement, the only goal is to feel the hurt you caused, not just imagine it. For some men, this can take a long time to experience. Initially, you might just feel like it’s old news and you’re over it. But it’s very much possible that the person impacted is not over it and are still feeling the impact.
9. Engage perpetrators immediately and effectively without becoming a rescuer
When people behave in a way that hurts or will hurt another human being, your responsibility is to stop this from happening as soon as you realize it. It takes practice to do this well. It takes practice to do this safely and effectively for yourself and others. It may look as simple as “Hey, what are you doing?!?” or “Hey, stop this!” or “Hey, that’s not cool.” as soon as it happens. But you can only do this well and solidly when you have a deep sense of integrity around it. It’s much more than keeping your eyes and ears open for bad behavior and it’s much more than being a “protector.” It’s about engaging everyone in what you see and adding a spotlight where things were dark and hidden. Speak of what you see and what you hear. Call “in” when you can, asking a potential or active perpetrator about their behavior to see if they can realize what they are doing and the harm they are causing, and working with them through this article. If calling in doesn’t work, calling out will be your best option, letting the greater community know about the transgressions and the danger this individual represents. Don’t do this alone.
10. Learn to support victims and survivors of sexual violence effectively. Learn how to be a good partner, friend, helper, and ally
There are as many ways of supporting people as there are people. You may have ideas around how survivors of sexual violence should be supported – or how you would LIKE to support them, but all of this is irrelevant unless you find someone who wants to receive what you have to offer. A much better approach is to ASK the women in your life how you can best support them. Some will just want a solid presence, some will want good active listening, some will want you to call another man out, and so on. The best way to support someone is by being available, responsive, engaged, and committed. This is not about receiving gratitude. This is about giving freely to someone who lost some of their freedom and aliveness to sexual violence. This is about giving away a bit of your privilege to make someone else’s life a better one. So approach women in your life who trusted you enough to share their stories with you and ask them the simple question: “How can I support you in a that works best for you?” and do your best to do that EXACT thing. Simple. Being in service can often be very rewarding for its own sake.
Oh, and one more bit: “Ally” is like an honorary title: it is a given to you, not something you normally claim. For some people, “ally” means something very specific and highly committed, and you using this title without having done the work will occur as out of line.
11. Develop your empathy and emotional intelligence/literacy
Emotional intelligence/literacy is a human’s capacity to engage well with other humans through emotions and feelings. If emotions were steps in a dance, then two emotionally intelligent humans would dance a graceful dance without tripping each other or falling. In order to engage with emotions, you need to be able to feel those emotions in yourself and other people. Then you need to be able to discern what these emotions are and why they are present, and formulate an intelligent, compassionate, timely, loving, supportive, etc response.
12. Get Familiar with your attachment style and its shortcomings and develop a more secure style
There’s a theory called “Attachment Theory” which states that every human develops – within the first 12 months of life – a strategy for survival based on the way their primary caregiver(s) – usually their parent(s) – took care of them. There are three main attachment styles: secure, anxious (tends to need more attention and fears abandonment) and avoidant (tends to need more freedom and fears being engulfed). Each handles intimate relationships differently. Anxious and avoidant attachers tend to attract each other very easily because of the emotional/sexual tension that arises and the insecurities both exhibit, and then begin what I call the anxious/avoidant tango. Comparatively, secure attachers will occur as unexciting (even boring) to insecure attachers while anxious and avoidant attachers will occur as full of drama to secure attachers. This may seem overly simple, but in practice it appears to explain a LOT of how people engage with friends, lovers, and partners.
Knowing your attachment style will very likely shed a fair bit of light around patterns that are present in you or your partners. This mini-test will help you find out what your style might be.
13. Learn about platonic touch and learn to receive it from more than only female partners and female friends
It is said that much of men’s desires are channeled into sex because above all else they miss PLATONIC TOUCH.
This is a huge problem in today’s society: by the time boys reach adolescence, their hormones are raging, while at the same time they are getting less touch from their parents as they learn that homophobia means they have to forego all touch with other men, resulting in a severe dip in the amount of touch they receive and a craving for it that women quickly become the target of.
In order to compensate for this, as a man you might consider finding others ways to fulfill your basic human need for you, from cuddle parties to massage classes, to contact improv or other dance classes, to sexuality or tantra classes where touch is permitted within a container that is safe for everyone. Fathers are especially lucky in this area in that they get to rediscover platonic touch by engaging with their children.
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Originally Published on Lucidity Festival