Connection to Men's Work
Because of the work I do on male responsibility issues, I have sometimes been asked either by members of the media or the general public if I have ever participated in a drumming ceremony. I always dread this question or anything like it, because it makes me confront the issue of how I am connected to the "men's movement."
The truth be told, I don't feel I am connected to the men's movement. I am among those who laughed at the sight of grown white men using Native American rituals, paying $500 or more to participate in "Wild Man" weekends, and speaking only when grasping the "speaking staff."
I did, however, relate to the experiences of men crying together. I sensed that their tears emanated from a discovery of their grief. Grief from the way our society socializes us (i.e., males) to isolate our emotions from our problem-solving capacities, to be aggressive and competitive, and to have difficulty in giving or accepting nurturance. I recognized the comfort the adult males took in rediscovering the camaraderie experienced in male-only activities which many of us haven't felt since our grade school sandlot days.
Yet I did not feel a part of the men's movement. I saw the men's movement as a white man's search for culture and identity. This initial perception was completely supported at the first men's movement event I finally convinced myself to attend.
Once the program started, with Robert Bly reading and expounding from some of his work, I busied myself with counting how many nonwhite faces there were in the crowd. There were three, counting myself. Granted, I was in Minnesota, but even when I saw documentaries on the men's movement in New Mexico or Texas, I saw mostly white males. Obviously, I wasn't the only person taking a demographic census of the men in attendance.
After Bly's discourse on the need for men to rejoice in our common male energy, a discussion was initiated by the event's leadership on how this particular chapter of the men's movement could attract a more culturally diverse male participation. The response was that nonwhite males must not feel comfortable in this men's movement environment since "they" were not joining the ranks on their own. Furthermore, several males shared that they felt they should have a space to explore their own white male culture first without complicating things with racial issues.
I wish I could say these sentiments were held by a small minority of that evening's participants. But the discussion was so charged that the leadership must have felt discretion was the better part of valor. The issue was tabled without resolution. Bly concluded the evening's festivities with a chant he learned from some Third World, nonwhite culture as the males locked arms amidst the sounds of drums.
No, I do not feel connected to the men's movement.
I was in search of other men who were not content to just philosophize and revel in our maleness. I needed to find other men who questioned what it was to be a "good man" or a "bad man," without denial or blame. I needed to find men who were willing to change not just themselves, but who were willing to confront and change an entire male culture. My acceptance of the fact that our male culture must change evolved from the recognition of the power and control factors fueling the realities of "white privilege" and "male privilege."
Being a Mexican, it is easy for me to recognize how white people in our American society are afforded more options without the benefit necessarily of legal mandate. I find it much harder to deal with the issue of male privilege, because now I must admit to the options I have just by virtue of being male. I needed to find other men who are willing to admit to these privileges and do the work necessary to bring about equity in our society.
Eventually, I did find other men who also shared the belief that this is more about what the men's movement should be. These men I encountered even felt a need to coin our efforts by a different terminology to distinguish our efforts from the men's movement. This was the first time I ever heard the term "Men's Work" used.
In the company of these men involved in Men's Work, I was far removed from chants and rituals. I was suddenly engrossed in dialogue on sexual harassment issues, glass ceiling issues, the parenting of sons and daughters, or the growing prevalence of violence in our society. More importantly, I was hearing of the various activities these newfound friends were currently involved in or wanting to develop to confront these issues and evolve positive change. There were men mentoring males of all ages-in prisons, in schools, in community centers, day-care centers or maybe just within their own family systems. This is Men's Work.
I was pleased to discover that these men are not afraid to critically dissect our male culture. They are willing to accept individual responsibility for their contributions to the gender and racial inequities of our society. There is very little blaming or shaming in these dialogues because the focus is on positive male cultural evolution. We are not striving to separate ourselves from or compete with women doing Women's Work because we feel their history is a benefit to Men's Work.
Additionally, from the very first few encounters with these men doing Men's Work, I observed that this was an atmosphere where males of many cultures were drawn to and felt at ease. No recruitment was necessary. We only had to find each other.
Yes, I do feel connected to Men's Work.
It is a community of males who recognize that the best way to gain true self-knowledge and positive self-esteem is by doing for others.
José L. Gonzáles, M.S.W., is married and has two daughters. He is bilingual (Spanish) and bicultural (Mexican). José works as a social worker in family planning, maternity, and school-based clinics. He has served on the board of directors for a battered women's shelter, co-facilitates a teen dads group, and presents on issues of biculturalism, male health, and male responsibility issues.
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