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Men's Support Group (Led by a Woman)

Since October 1995, I have been in the men's support group led by Louisa. It has changed my life so significantly that I want to encourage all men in our Community to put their re-emergence first and get themselves into a support group led by a woman! Here's why.

When I first read Harvey's thinking on why women should take up leadership in men's liberation, I had a lot of feelings and decided to take responsibility for my part of the challenge. I organised lots of sessions with my women Co-Counsellors. My clienting went along the lines of, 'Well, if they are going to lead, they had better do this, and they had better not do that, and I don't want any of them telling me this.' I think I was saying out loud what I never wanted, as a man, to have to hear again, as well as dramatising some mistrust. These women listened with great love and respect, and I think they got a much clearer picture of what it's been like for me as a man.

In those sessions I discharged very early, painful feelings of mistrust and terror (most of which were innocently installed by my dear, dear mum) around women's ability to think well about me as a human being. I have many childhood memories of my mum, in an attempt to work things out, making complaints to me about my dad, which I as a male then internalised. My Co-Counsellors gave me a huge hand. My eyes fill with tears as I think of the relief of being able to tell a woman, without fear of blame or admonishment, what it was like for me as a young male.

I think our liberation as men lies in the decision to trust women with these early and painful feelings, to no longer wait for women to prove themselves trustworthy or set up our lives in any way that excludes them. I currently define my sexism as a dramatisation of the above-mentioned terror. It has me taking over in many situations where it would be more useful to enlist a woman's thinking or follow her lead.

When I moved to Melbourne, I leapt at the chance to continue in this direction by joining a men's support group led by a woman. At the first meeting, the four men got to counsel each other on what it was like to have a woman lead the group and 'who does she remind me of.' Because of the fear of being blamed by women for any feelings I have around women, it has been easy for me to go numb. It was a huge contradiction to have a woman acknowledge that there would be feelings and to encourage me to discharge on them. Having the company of other men while doing this made it all the more safe.

It has had a profound impact on me to entertain the thought that each of us men could have as deep a relationship with each other as we have with Louisa or with any other woman. I have known this is possible, but hearing Louisa say it was a huge contradiction to the hopelessness that I (and I suspect a lot of other men and women) feel about men ever being able to show themselves. When I led men's liberation work in the Adelaide RC Community, I remember giving a similar direction at a men's gather-in. Unfortunately, I was not free enough at that time from the internalised oppression and hopelessness, and these affected my tone, facial expression, and posture. While I thought this was a profound piece of thinking, I did not have enough clarity to follow it through. My words seemed to fall with a thud about a meter and a half short of the first row. But some of what I said must have been heard, as there was always a large number of brothers who would show up at the next gather-in. I would struggle to find another way to say the same thing and puddle along trying to give men a hand to discharge. The big shift came for me when I heard a woman say it to a bunch of men-an ally thinking about a constituency from the point of view of their humanity.

This support group has had a profound effect on all parts of my life. I expect much more of men, and my relationships with women are much easier. I was fortunate enough to be organised into a men's support group led by a woman. I say fortunate because I think my internalised men's oppression would have had me acting powerless on this front for a while longer. Now, after being in the group for a year, I say to all men, 'Don't wait! Get yourself three other men and organise a woman to lead you. Any feelings you have about this are ripe to be discharged. Discharge them, and make it happen. Expect and organise your allies to think well about you.' I would say to women, 'You are the right person for the job; don't let feelings get in the way.'

Tony Smith
Flemington, Victoria,
reprinted from the newsletter of the Melbourne, Australia RC Community

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00