Bringing Men Out of Isolation with Empathy and Accountability – Justin Lioi
The mass of men lead incredibly isolated lives these days. One seemingly no-brainer solution is for men to connect with other men wherever they can: MeetUp groups, local bars, softball teams, etc.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this idea, it’s not enough, and can actually end up doing more harm than good. Men need to be grounded in an analysis of patriarchy and oppression and unless this happens at the same time (or before) they come together in groups these new friendships and coalitions run the risk of reinforcing the same oppressive systems that are already in place.
The Invisibility of Patriarchy (at least, to the Patriarchy)
Men don’t talk about their feelings., so the stereotype goes. Well, they do talk about anger. They certainly complain. If they’re straight, they complain about their female partners. Saying they’re too needy. Always wanting them to do something they don’t want to do. Not having enough sex.
That’s fine. It’s fine for people to talk about what they want and what they are not getting. There’s no good reason to shut down anyone from expressing their wants and desires, their frustrations and irritations. The problem comes about when there’s no deeper exploration of all of these things. When you’re around your local bar or when you’re at softball practice it’s likely no one is analyzing relationships (I’d love to hear about exceptions, though!) Complaints are either being heard and left alone or they’re being fired up and intensified.
It’s an echo chamber and nothing gets shifted or worked on.
I often get asked if getting men together to talk is enough: “Forget therapy, forget groups, just get men together. Let them build relationships with each other and then things will go well. Society will move forward. We just all need to talk.”
The problem is that oppression and privilege is often invisible to the people who have it. If they are not continually brought back to examine it—if the fish is not constantly told they are swimming in water—they don’t realize it’s there and they think that society really is a meritocracy.
Empathy & Accountability Are Both Required
For groups of men coming together to be effective two things need to be present. They need to be able to do some of the above—express their anger, annoyance, irritation—even if those feelings could be heard by some as unacceptable (which is why we should do it in male spaces so we don’t continue to subject women to this). Only bad can come from repressing all of that. It’ll just come out in some other way: resentment or violence, to name a few. I’m not making excuses for it, but “holding it in” has never worked out well for anyone.
The second important part of this coming together is to not stay there. Men need to be open and less defensive when there is some pushback around the underlying premise of what’s being said. Not, “You shouldn’t say that. How dare you feel that way.” But more along the lines of, “Ok, I hear that, but let’s take a look at where your anger is directed. What might we all be missing here and what is the other person seeing that isn’t as apparent to you?”
Accept the feeling, but challenge the premise from where it arises. Buddies and groups of people without an analysis tend to stay in the anger/resentment without pushing forward. They practice their anger and annoyance without holding each other accountable.
And we all stay stuck.
There’s a stereotype in politics that the left is all about “bleeding hearts” and the right is only about “personal responsibility”. I’m not here to challenge political stereotypes, but I know that for growth—personal and communal growth—we need both. We need to empathize while also holding ourselves and others accountable. One or the other does nobody any good.
So, yes, men need to come together into groups. They need to come out of isolation and give up the myth of full independence, but they need to do so outside of the space that reinforces patriarchy and inside the space that moves us forward.
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