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A Successful Men’s Class

The following are some reflections on a men’s class led by Tony Smith, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Twenty years ago, I began Co-Counselling with a hope that I would be able to be in a men’s group. I had a vague notion that I wanted to work on competition. I have been in many a men’s group since, led them even, but the current ongoing class led by Tony Smith (and surely inspired by Louisa’s[1] leadership) has given me, us really, more of a hand[2] with “men’s issues” than any of the other work I have done.

The reason it works so well is because of Tony’s unswerving and loving focus on the crux of men’s oppression: male domination. Being on both the receiving and the giving end of this pattern has hurt, and continues to hurt, us men horribly, and because of this, addressing it is difficult. It is at the core of men’s patterns. When Tony asked, “When did you modify your behaviour in response to another man’s feelings?” my reply was, “It would be easier to enumerate the times when I did not modify my behaviour.” No wonder male domination has become so integral to me!

The depth of this hurt makes it impervious to the casual approach. The thing that brings most men into Co-Counselling—wanting to feel better—combined with a liberal attitude on the part of our counsellors mean that a man can counsel for years and remain oblivious to this pattern. A man such as myself, for example.

Working on male domination, my behaviour starts to change. I can tell[3] that it is working, because I feel so raw, so stupid, so childlike. I used to always know what to do in any situation. Now I don’t know. I’m unsure. I can see that I make so many mistakes. Big, arrogant, “I don’t care” mistakes. Now I notice this, I let my guard down, and I correct them, clumsily. Then I feel humiliated, weak, like I will be attacked. But sitting there, accepting these worst feelings, the feelings no man is ever supposed to feel, I can see that this is real power. I can also see that these horrid feelings are much better than unthinking confidence, trampling over all in my environment.

Dennis Wollersheim
Rosanna, Victoria, Australia

I am tired of carrying the effects of male domination around with me, as I have all these years, and it seems that this group of men, and Tony’s certainty that we are blameless, is all it takes for me to discharge about it. I feel like I get to tear this thing off myself for a while. It is not mine, but it has been hanging around since I was so young. Growing up in a world consisting of my father’s undischarged feelings, and in a world designed to accommodate them, was such a set-up for this young boy.

Steven Costello
Thornbury, Victoria, Australia

My life has been heavily shaped by male domination.

I walk around with relief that some male figure has not attacked me, either physically or verbally.

It is a strong contradiction[4] whenever a male figure acts with kindness and consideration toward me.

Males are conditioned to have low expectations for intimacy and closeness with each other, let alone with anyone of the other gender.

I have taken on[5] the oppressor patterns, despite all my disadvantaged and minority identities that would want me to claim permanent victim status.

I don’t like it when I don’t get my way.

I will use all my cunning and guile to get my own way.

The way forward for my male liberation is to make space for women in ways I don’t normally do, along with hanging in there[6] with my fellow males.

Thanks, Tony, for all these rich insights and for providing a safe space in which to discharge.

Bartley McGowan
Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I think for much of my time in Co-Counselling I misread male domination as young people’s oppression. In other words, the gendered nature of the hurts I faced as a young boy got lost. Instead of seeing a young boy struggling to come to grips with his father’s irrational and oppressive behaviour, I saw a young person hurt by his parents’ fighting and ultimate divorce. Instead of seeing a woman fleeing for her life, I saw a young person abandoned by his mother. In both cases, the male domination was “written out” of the picture.

This has begun to change, thanks to the latest series of men’s classes. In each class, Tony lovingly reminds us that we, too, as boys, experienced male domination. However, because as men we have the position of privilege in society, we adopt male domination and, often unknowingly, pass it on. To make matters worse, this behaviour is rewarded and upheld by the society and culture. We are the agents of oppression.

Tony has done an excellent job of maintaining the fine balance between our embracing the goodness of all men and not going victim to the material.[7] One of the things I have found particularly helpful is thinking about men in my life who made a difference to the world, and really noticing that they were men: that groovy[8] third-grade teacher who wore platform shoes, my great uncles who lived together until the day they died. It’s really great to be a man working to end male domination.

Bruce Clezy
Northcote, Victoria, Australia

A group of us men have been meeting once a fortnight to discharge, build brotherhood, and learn how to be effective for each other’s re-emergence. It’s a huge contradiction to our training.

One of my struggles has been to see that all men are good, that I am good, that as a man I am good. Each week we have been spending time noticing men in our lives, or men we know of, past or present, who have made a difference in the world. I have a long list now, and it’s growing.

Noticing men’s goodness, their humanity, has enabled me to see with a greater clarity the set-up of men’s conditioning. As a consequence I am more able to discharge on male domination as an unavoidable set-up that happens to all men rather than as a personal and isolated attack on my masculinity and me. I am more able to take responsibility for my oppressor material. I am more able to articulate how I learned to be a “man.” I notice just how hurtful those lessons were, for everyone involved, and I discharge. It is very encouraging.

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

[1] Louisa Flander, the Area Reference Person for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
[2] “More of a hand” means more help.
[3] “Tell” means see, notice.
[4] Contradiction to distress
[5] “Taken on” means adopted.
[6] “Hanging in there” means persevering.
[7] “Material” means distress.
[8] “Groovy” means wonderful.


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00