Saturday, May 14, 2022

Men need male support anecdotally, daily to shape our transformation....not just new programs

The Globe and Mail is running a series about the need to design and deliver ‘programs’ to and for men, to cope with the violent behaviour of men primarily in relationships with women.

Two things stood out from that reading:

1) The preponderance of public funds that are being poured into addressing domestic violence is supporting both facilities and programs for women victims. The argument from those quarters is that any new funding for facilities and programs for men will drain off the funds they are already receiving.

2)    2) The current situation, in this as in most public policy decisions, is tilted firmly in the direction of “crisis management” and not prevention.

Of course, both of these points are directly related, in that “prevention” of violence perpetrated by men against women requires not only to address the needs of those victims, but also to seek to prevent further abuse,

So, what is it about “crisis” management that is far more appealing and even seductive to decision-makers in the political arena, as well as in the policy arena, than prevention?

How do we measure the impact of any dollars spent on “preventing” men from imposing violent acts and emotions on women? How many men “have not” committed domestic violence as a result of this program? Who knows?

On the other hand, a woman in distress, as a victim of violence, absolutely needs support, counsel and a continuing circle of advocacy to attempt to re-build her life, whether or not she brings young children into the shelter. And those ‘outcomes’ are and will continue to be measured, in terms of number of women served, number of women who re-built their lives and numbers of children who successfully survived the family trauma. Politically, then, the sheer force of e empirical reality in terms of measurable results favours the “crisis management”.

The cliché’s that come from the men who have perpetrated family violence, and then sought help, abound, and are highly predictable:

We’re told from a very young age, that we must not show our emotions.

We’re told to ‘suck it up’ if and when we are injured or bullied.

We’re told to ‘answer back’ in order to stop the bullying.

We’ re told that “emotions are for girls” and not for boys,

We’re told that emotions will get in the way of a successful career.

And then, when we are in relationship with a woman, we bring all of that baggage into the home and we are completely without preparation for what kind of communications are necessary in order to grow and to sustain the relationship. Not only that, our women partners have been engaging in the expression of their emotions from their early years. So not only are they more in touch with their emotions, they also are much more comfortable in naming, acknowledging and expressing them. So, then, we are in a double bind and we are scared silly (read shitless!)

This stereotypical and reductionistic concept of masculinity is playing out on the battlefield in Ukraine, as well as in other ‘hot spots’ around the globe. Men who absolutely believe they need power over others, in order to satisfy their fundamental needs as men, are perverting both masculinity and their people, including, in Ukraine, the slaughter of thousands, and the displacement of millions.

And while the war cannot be attributed exclusively to the perversion of healthy masculinity, that is certainly one of the root impulses, whether it will ever be uttered in any peace negotiation room.

So, how does an enlightened culture, a wealthy and relatively educated culture address the question of educating boys and young men in the attributes and the benefits of androgyny, of honouring their true feelings, and of discerning the difference between ‘self-pity’ and authentic injury or emotional wounding. Our mothers were quite good at ‘fixing’ our “owie’s” when we fell off our bikes and skinned our knees, when we were seven. And yet our hockey coach was not so considerate if we were pummeled to the ice by an opponent as we attempted to pass or to score. Our fathers, too, in many cases, were determined to have a “successful” trophy as a son (not unlike many who ‘had’ a trophy wife), whose career, in many cases would never devolve into something as frivolous as music, dance, or the arts. Those sons were indoctrinated in the gospel of heroes like doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, dentists and surveyors or business tycoons.  Masculinity, too, never was to include being gay, because, in other days, that too was abominable, especially for fathers. Indeed, boys who were proficient in the arts were often considered effeminate again by their embarrassed fathers, while they mothers were more likely secretly proud of their sensitivity and their accomplishments.

So…..what to do in a world in which several generations of men and women have grown and bee/.\n nurtured in such poppy-cock while emerging generations will have no ‘truck’ with that crap?

I cannot speak or write about other ecclesial organizations; however, I have some deep and painful experiences in the Anglican/Episcopal church in both Canada and the U.S. And the culmination of a collision of masculinities occurred one spring day in 2000, when I uttered these words, to a bishop in the U.S. and his sycophant, in his office. His response continues to ring loudly in my ears and in my body.
“It is time for men to learn what their emotions are, to own them and to become comfortable with and in them!” were the words I uttered, almost defiantly, and certainly impolitically and perhaps even impertinently.

He lept from his desk chair and screamed, “That’s far too dangerous! That is not allowed!” At which point his sycophant muttered, “And there are far too many emotions in this room now; I have to leave!”

While I have documented this scene in other places in this space, I recount it here to begin to take note of the responsibility of the Anglican/Episcopal church for having repressed human emotions, especially those of men for decades if not centuries. Analogous to improper sexuality, in the church’s eyes, mind and canons, emotions are relegated to the private lives of those engaged in the business of the church. And there are several implications of that impulse.

Emotions then become a sign of something ‘evil’ when in reality they are an integral and inescapable aspect of human nature.

And, that is not to say that emotions cannot become a serious issue in the dynamic of human interactions. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on CNN, in a program to air tomorrow night, “On the Mind of Vladimir Putin”…when asked about his impression of the Russian leader whom he has met several times, “He has a fervour!” A modest interpretation of that phrase would be “he is intensely emotional almost demonic in his pursuit of his agenda”. Contrast that with the George W. Bush exclamation shortly after the 9/11 attack, “I don’t do nuance!” as if, from his Texan perspective, anything modest, moderate or subtle is, by his own definition of his perspective, out of bounds. What is the emotional “content” of the Bush epithet? Another free transliteration might read, “In this moment, anything less than a full-out war will not be even contemplated by me!”

While men do not “do” emotions, too often their emotions “do” them, without their being conscious of that dynamic, and certainly without their having to take responsibility for their emotions.

And while we are agree that men do not, generally, manage, or even have a deep awareness of how they are experiencing, their feelings at any moment, and will withdraw in “embarrassment” and a feeling of inadequacy if they/we are asked to tell someone ‘how they are feeling’…..we all know that many social and political situations, if not all, are rooted in the feelings of the participants. Sometimes those feelings are honourable, trustworthy, legitimate and sometimes they are not.

It is also the discernment of which situation is active and relevant at a given moment that also seems to escape the purview of many men. However, if ignorance and insensibility have pervaded the male relationship with his/our emotions, irrespective of the cultural, historic, psychological or even ethical justification for that detachment, for centuries, that situation is, inevitably and predictably, changing, perhaps, in the view of many observers, at a pace analogous to the pace at which grass grows. Aroused emotion of anger, frustration, disempowerment and embarrassment, especially for men, is a red flag. And it ought not be only our female partners and co-workers’ job to caution us against a flare-up that could sabotage not only ourselves, but a far larger situation as well.

Nevertheless, programmed into the cultural development of many North American women is the concept of, first, managing through identification and sharing of their own emotions, and second, helping their male colleagues and partners to “hold them under wraps” if and when there is a real danger of eruption. And it is eruption of emotions, mostly by men, that frequently lies at the heart of so many domestic disputes and abuse. There is also a high co-relation between those men who drive themselves very hard, and who have an extremely high set of expectations and standards for themselves and their families, especially their sons, and the eruption of negative, highly critical emotional outbursts if and when the child appears in any way inadequate. It is almost as if the reputation of the ‘father’ is transferred to the performance of the son, and, disappointing the father, resulting in deep and unforgettable emotional wounding of the son.

Clearly, it is not only our sons or our life partners who suffer the imposition of unleashed and clearly not understood or even tolerated and acknowledged emotions from the men in their lives. Workplaces, too, and organizations and corporations, experience considerable impact of conflict that, in many cases, can be traced back to some male “power-figure” being upset at the exposure of negative information, especially of the kind that demonstrates what he believes to indicate the ‘nature of the character of the offender’ in his mind.

And there is another more subtle and almost imperceptible implication of “power” over that pervades small and large organizations, especially among those who have been there, and perhaps previously held leadership positions. And this is especially evident among men, who themselves, have almost imperceptibly been supported and even cheer-led by the women in the organization, (in order to keep the peace) and have a blind eye and a deaf ear to their own abuse of power over, for example, new comers to the organization, the church, or the town. Leadership positions, while requiring and expecting ‘performance’ from those in office, also carry the burden of living examples of how human interactions occur within the group.

For example, just because a male group member is hosting a guest speaker from another organization does not give him the right to usurp the female executive of the hosting organization from the head table, in order to take that place himself and then justify such a move on the basis of having to introduce his guest to the group. I have personally watched that little scene play out and everyone, including the displaced executive member, remained silent thereby permitting the ensuing impunity to shield the offending male.

It is not because Canadians are especially polite and deferential that such situations play out frequently. It is also because women have deferred for centuries to the bad behaviour of men, without the men uttering a word either of self-criticism or of transformation of their expectations of themselves or their female colleagues. And, for their part, the women “know” that keeping the peace is preferable to raising an issue of ‘offense’, because they know that if they were to take every situation of disrespect seriously, they could be in conflict at least weekly.

Male assumption of power over others is not and cannot be justified by superior competence, nor superior muscle strength, and certainly not by a higher emotional intelligence. Indeed, the evidence of a higher emotional intelligence among women far outstrips that of most men. And that, in itself, is another nail in the coffin of male ego’s, already enduring a verbal lashing from the predominance of domestic violence cases by men against women.

And while training programs, and counselling and coaching and codes of conduct in organizations, including signs in retail outlets (I shockingly read on the door of a retail outlet this week “We will not tolerate abusive behaviour, anger or threats in our store”), will spread red flags ubiquitously, they will not transform the deep-seated fear and insecurity in many males. They/we too often believe that these changes toward equality, equity, respect and dignity for all is just another attempt to denigrate the way things were, when, many men believed they were just fine before.

Men, ourselves, in quite moments, among friends and family, having noted and embraced changes in attitude and deportment, have the obligation of leading our fellow males in a direction that can only bode well for our partners, our children and our grandchildren.

It is not only the environment’s suffocation from toxic gases that we have to address. Toxic words and attitudes from men are also polluting our shared environments.




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