Making Men's Liberation Top Priority

A HOUSE FULL OF YOUNG PEOPLE

Several years ago I sat in my family room, surrounded by teenage males. Three of them were my sons; the rest were their friends. (Our house was a "hang-out"(*) for teenagers.) The boys were black, white, and Latino. They were all from families whose incomes were well below the national "poverty line." They had sewn decorative patches on their clothes that advertised musical styles and bands that they liked and had written statements with black markers, like "punk is alive," "anarchy," or "f -- you." More than one had sewn an upside-down U.S. flag on his jacket. In short, they were angry. As a woman who loved every one of those guys, I was worried. I understood what could happen when one "acted out" in this culture.

These young males could be called a group targeted for destruction. I call them my family, my children. That night my heart was breaking over the dangers they faced as they moved out into the world to make a place for themselves. I asked them about the upside-down flags, in part hoping they would remove them from their clothing. I imagined a police officer or someone else taking offense.

They let it be known, loud and clear, that they would not remove the flags, that the flags were symbols not of disrespect but of distress. They were like angry sea lions -- lunging off their seats, neck muscles tightening, as they shouted their responses, then flopping back onto their chairs and falling into silence as another would flail himself forward. I sat calmly and listened to stories of their daily lives. Television programs portray poverty as "romantic," but these boys knew it wasn't. They talked about the disrespect directed at them and how they were being used by our country -- the country whose flag they wore upside-down on their chests.

Sometime later I overheard my son and one of his friends talking about their old friends from middle school. After some discussion they realized that all of their middle-school friends were either in jail or dead.

DECIDING AND LEARNING TO COUNSEL MEN

After years of working in the women's movement and working to end classism, I decided to focus on men's liberation.

For several years I have worked with a wide-world organization in which I counsel women. When I joined our local RC Community, I started counseling with men. At first I thought, "How different can this be from counseling women?" I came to the realization, however, that I didn't have a clue about how to counsel men. I was a mother of sons, I had a dad and two grandfathers, and I had worked on a farm with lots of guys. I knew men and how to work side by side with them. I understood sexism and thought I knew how it played out for both men and women. I understood the class system and that it kept us all apart from each other. You might say I was textbook-smart. Imagine my surprise when I couldn't counsel a man.

I set out to find more information and continued to counsel with men. I decided that until I could improve my counseling skills with men, I would just listen to them. That turned out to be an important step -- simply listening to them.

I read everything I could find about men's liberation. I studied the class system from the angle of men, looking at how men are put in impossible situations in our economic structure. I learned more about "mental health" oppression and men. I supported a man in our Community in teaching an RC class. Through my relationship with him I learned more about creating counseling relationships with men. I learned that "slow" is the word and that trust must be developed.

Being from a raised-poor background, I felt I could think best about raised-poor and working-class men, and I noticed that RC was not overcrowded with this group of people. I became particularly interested in this group, though I enjoyed counseling with men from all class backgrounds.

TEACHING A FUNDAMENTALS CLASS

In January 1998 I learned there was a list of raised-poor and working-class people who were interested in a fundamentals class in our Area. The majority of them were men. I decided to teach the class.

I asked working-class and raised-poor men in RC what they thought was important in a fundamentals class for their group. I took this information into sessions and planned the class.

I read in the men's liberation literature that men often need to know that a counselor is there physically, but I knew I shouldn't try a lot of physical pushing unless I could really be there and hold my own. This was especially true as a woman counseling men, particularly working-class men. I also knew that rough-housing(**) with my four sons had been effective.

I used physical contact in the class in three ways: (1) I play-wrestled with people during their sessions. The men's attention seemed much better after one of these wrestling sessions. (2) We played physical games during the class. If I noticed people were distracted, or if the subject was restimulating, I would call a halt and we would play mosquito tag or leg wrestling -- games that involved physical movement and silliness. (3) My assistant teacher and I constantly encouraged the men to sit close to people during class and hold hands during mini-sessions. Men holding hands -- now there's something that will quickly bring up feelings for most men (and some women). Once when two men were sitting on opposite ends of a couch ready to start a mini-session, my assistant teacher suggested that they move a little closer, each make a fist, and then hold their hands out and touch the other person's knuckles. They both discharged. Throughout the class we continued to use this, or some other form of minimal contact, like touching index fingers. All I had to do was remind them to touch knuckles, and they would discharge.

People were nervous, but my assistant teacher did a good job of making things light and keeping us all laughing. I told them, "Yes, this Co-Counseling seems like strange stuff, but we are doing a very natural thing." I kept repeating that our bodies and minds were built to respond to counseling and discharge and that society had conditioned us to be cut off from these natural things.

WHAT I LEARNED

Working-class men tend to be a quiet group. What happened when they were given attention and the space to talk without interruption was a true learning experience for me. They were like sea anemones opening up their strange and beautiful fronds to a ray of sun that had filtered down through a murky ocean. They opened up and sang the tales of their lives. Could they see it as a miracle? No, but to me it was amazing. Some of them still don't know if it is making any difference in their lives, but they continue to show up for sessions. They shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, D -- , I am just going to trust you." I'm not worried about this because I've learned that some guys Co-Counsel for three to four years before they recognize changes in their lives.

I learned something else at a topic group at a workshop. After listening to some men, I realized that they felt there was something innately wrong with themselves. I had never noticed before how bad men feel about themselves. The layers of hurt were deeper than I had thought. After seeing this, I began reminding the men in my class that they were good, that there was nothing innately evil about them or wrong with them, that difficult (sometimes impossible) situations had happened to them along the way.

I told them they belonged everywhere and that other people wanted them -- not to take advantage of or use them, but to be with them. My goal was not to achieve a lot of discharge but to help them notice someone was there with them. I figured discharge would come on its own. I could see that simply talking was a contradiction for them.

Many feelings came up for me as they started to talk. I had to discharge about a system that silences men so much that they march off to war, overwork themselves, become separated from fifty percent of the human race, distrust one another, and face so much violence that they feel constantly afraid.

WOMEN THINKING ABOUT MEN

I encouraged each woman in the class to choose a man as a primary Co-Counselor and to discharge whatever was necessary to build that relationship.

Women are socialized to care for others. Some of the funniest-looking behavior comes out of women taking care of men. What is the alternative? Supporting them. Women have confused care-taking and supporting. As men feel and discharge their hurts, they are going to look hurt. For some women this is hard to watch. It can also be hard to watch men struggle to figure out their counseling relationships with each other. Women need to figure out how to support and counsel men on these relationships. We can take what we have learned and lead men.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CLASS

Once we decided to order a pizza at the end of a class and eat our dinner together. When the pizza arrived, it was just the guys and me. Tim Jackins has explained that children don't sit down and say, "Let's get to know each other" -- they do things with each other. We did what working-class people do -- we ate together.

As the slices of pizza disappeared, the men started to relax. Someone said something about crying, and they began pouring out tales of crying -- what would happen when they cried, how long it had been since they cried. They were gesturing with their hands. Pizza and words were flying around the room. I couldn't help but laugh as the action built. Suddenly they looked at me and said, "We aren't going to cry, you know."

I was delighted to watch the men and women in the class develop caring relationships and to see the group become closer, including physically. On the evening of our last fundamentals class I walked into the room and saw everyone in a small circle, lying back in their seats. Many of them had a leg or two thrown across someone else and were holding hands or had an arm around a neighbor's shoulder. It was a rare and beautiful weaving of human bodies, of people who cared about each other.

ON THE HOME FRONT

My sons hung out(***) with class members before and after class. Sometimes I would yell down to their bedroom, "We're going to get noisy. Don't worry!" My "targeted-for-destruction" sons got to see a different view of the world: men in a counseling class.

Their response has been, "All right, whatever." But they are more relaxed about counseling. When asked by my niece why we yawn, my youngest son, sixteen years old, explained about discharge. He did a far better job of explaining than I had.

I watch my sons and see the violence they face. Young men have a hard road to walk. According to global statistics, men have a higher suicide rate than women. In Ireland one out of four suicides is a male between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. In the United States males between eighteen and twenty-two have the highest rates of "schizophrenia."

One of my sons became so afraid that he hallucinated. A "mental health" institution suggested that I put him on psycho-pharmaceuticals. I decided instead to counsel him on his fear. It has not been a simple thing. I have read all the RC literature I could find about counseling young people and have done lots of experimenting. One time he and I were driving home from visiting relatives. The day was sunny, we had a good radio station on, and we began to sing with the music. As we traveled we lost the station and started singing our own tunes. Suddenly I looked at him and had an idea. I began to sing and thrash my head, like any good mother of a punk-rocker, and I yelled out at the top of my lungs, "Sometimes a boy makes it! Come on, let's write a new song!" We began to sing together, "Sometimes a boy makes it!" and then I would ask, "What's the next line?" During that long ride home we laughed and laughed, and in my heart, where my upside-down flag is signaling distress, I knew that a boy would make it -- and know himself as a good, intelligent, courageous, powerful, loving man.

D--
USA


(*) A "hang-out" is a favorite or usual place to spend time.

(**) Rough-housing is playfully wrestling.

(***) To "hang out" is to spend time in a relaxed manner.

 


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07