Tag Archives: White Ribbon Campaign

Terry Crews: What Makes A Man 2014

27 Nov

I was lucky enough to attend the What Makes A Man (#wmam2014) conference in Toronto this week. Thewhat makes a man 2014 two-day conference was stuffed with speakers and presentations discussing the state of masculinity, road maps to manhood, and ending violence against women. There were some excellent discussions and ideas presented by writers such as Rachel Giese and Junior Burchell, a panel on mental health and masculinity, and fantastic closing session with TV actor (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Everybody Hates Chris, Who Wants To Be A Millionare?) , former NFL player, and the Old Spice guy, Terry Crews.

Journalist and TV personality, Nam Kiwanuka, discussed manhood with Crews who spoke very freely about his childhood when he witnessed his father’s violence toward his mother, his anger, his terrible behaviour to his wife and family, and his porn addiction. Now Terry Crews is a man redeemed; he has seen the toxic  masculine code turn him and many other men into a stoic, angry, and aggressive men,and he recognizes how destructive this attitude was to his family. Mr. Crews made no move to hide his tears when he described the pain and the shame of mentally and emotionally abusing his daughter, and the relief that never came the day he beat his father out of revenge for the abuse given to his mother.

As I sat in the third row with tears in my eyes, what I saw before me was not a big, powerful football player or an American TV star. I saw a human being. Terry Crews is a real and grounded man who expresses himself naturally and believes that when men show their true feelings, they display strength, not weakness.

I want you to watch a few minutes of Terry Crews speaking to the Huffington Post. Here, he gives his views on anger, the NFL, Ray Rice, and domestic violence; the toxic mindset of hypermasculinity that teaches men that they are of more worth than women, and his strong belief in gender equality. I’d like to thank Terry for his courage and his inspiration, and bringing gender and masculine violence into the light.

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PTSD and gendered mental health

30 Oct

Throughout this post-traumatic stress disorder series, we have seen massive misunderstandings about the illness and mental health in general, lack of funding yin yangfor proper support and care for those suffering, and alternative methods of treatment. But no matter what angle I look at PTSD and the way it affects men, it seems to boil down to a concept that is, as far as I’m concerned, the root of many social problems: disregard of the feminine and the reluctance of men to ask for help when they need it.

When I interviewed Kent Laidlaw, 25-year police force veteran, we had a fascinating discussion about PTSD, and he came out with a bomb. He said that while he was on the force during the 1990s, the popular and accepted view of PTSD was understood to be a “man’s” disorder, while women suffered from depression.

This is of course as ridiculous as it is untrue. Anyone can have PTSD and anyone can suffer from depression. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a gender-related mental illness, but there are certainly gender-related beliefs around mental health.

“We assign a gender to human traits like emotional intelligence, and then “feminize” the act of asking for help, stigmatizing men who express they are hurting and need support,” says Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager for White Ribbon Campaign.

With associations like this, is it any wonder that men are terrified to show anything remotely suggesting that they are anything less than what is expected?

Socialized masculine stereotypes dictate that men are expected to know, to be in control of any situation, and to be self-reliant. With all of that real or imagined expectation, there is little room for their true selves. Constructed gender beliefs rob men of their authenticity and their naturalness, and this is alarming to me. I think it’s clear that men aren’t women, so it seems very strange to me that men insist on fighting tooth and nail to prove to the world that they aren’t women, even if it means sacrificing their quality of life and their health.

Bullsh*t gender expectations

Logic says that when we experience physical trouble, we seek medical help. Researchers now see PTSD as brain damage and this should warrant medical attention. Between the heart and the brain, the human body cannot function, so why wouldn’t someone seek medical help for a damaged brain, and how is it different from say, a broken leg or a malignant tumour?

In Why Men Won’t Ask For Help, Peter Griffiths says that “men can fall too easily into the “willpower” trap, and ignore available help at their peril. The wards and hospitals are full of men who refuse to go to the doctor when they have physical symptoms and who seem to prefer to pay the price rather than go for help.” How many of you can come up with an example of a man putting himself at risk because of this masculine code? I know a man who waited until he peed blood before going to a doctor after an excruciatingly painful sports injury.

As a society, we’re not going to get very far if we frown upon men going for help when they need it. It’s ridiculous and I believe, abusive towards men.

Masculine emotion and why men have trouble asking for help

Socially, we look through masculine eyes and make masculine judgements about the world around us. This distorted view not only disregards the feminine but promotes anxiety and violence in men who constantly try to prove themselves as men, and not women. Humans have dual nature and the feminine, like the masculine, exists within us all, but many men insist on fighting the impossible fight against this part of themselves.

While girls are socialized to be emotional and nurturing, it’s fine when they ask for help when it’s needed. However, boys are taught that emotions aren’t becoming to their gender to the degree that they may not even be able to recognize their feelings and thus, they cannot identify or understand them, let alone express them in a healthy manner. But whether or not the emotions are understood, they still exist, and attempting to deny them and take on the world can be devastating to a man and other people in his life.

“In many men’s minds,” Griffiths says, “if a man can’t handle everything, then he must be a failure. And if that’s the case, he feels embarrassed and afraid about others, especially other men, finding out he is “not a man”.”

The “grave” admittance of vulnerability and of relinquishing control is, for some men, an uncomfortable, if not, terrifying idea. Take the innocuous act of  asking for directions, for example. In Nick Collins’ Telegraph article, Men refuse to ask for directions out of “blind panic”,  he says that “while women are more happy to use all available resources to help them reach a goal, men will rigidly stick to their original “system”… even though it has clearly led them astray.”

He says that when confronting the idea that their system doesn’t work, it makes men flustered and causes them to do sometimes reckless things to avoid the reality of the situation/failure. Griffiths agrees, and says that men don’t like to admit or even recognize when they feel helpless, and can feel lessened at the thought of going to someone else who is better equipped to help solve their problem.

The social negativity around PTSD and mental illness in general keeps men away from getting help, an this is can be painful, devastating, and extremely damaging. Emma Watson, during her United Nations address this fall, drew attention to this idea as she summarized social problems that stem from society’s treatment of men: “We don’t often talk about men and gender stereotypes… but I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 49… I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success.”

Permission to be vulnerable

Why has the gender that gave us the Sistine Chapel brought us to the edge of cosmocide? Why have the best and the brightest exercised their intelligence, imagination, and energy and managed only to create a world where starvation and warfare are more common than they were in Neolithic times? Why has the history of what we dare to call “progress” been marked by an increase in human suffering?

-Sam Keene, Fire In the Belly

Emma Watson says “When [men are] are free, things will change for women out of natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive…[and] strong.

“It is time when we all perceive gender as a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining ourselves by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer… Men should have permission to be vulnerable and human, to reclaim those parts of themselves they’ve abandoned, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

We must do a collective about-face around our beliefs of men and allow them to ask for help when they need it, receive it, and heal. Women are not outside of social conditioning and are just as much a part of this equation as men are. Women have to give men the space and the respect to reach out for help, support men as they strive to be better people, and allow them to be vulnerable. I for one, feel a great privilege when a man cries in front of me because this is the man at his most honest.

When we stop propagating a violent and angry culture and let go of  masculine expectations, when we stop expecting men to be something they are naturally not, when we get over the idea of believing that anything feminine is weak, then change will occur. If we change our perspective about asking for help and consider it a strength and a strategy to utilize everything at our disposal to reach our goal, change will occur. We do this every day in business, so why not for ourselves?

To be concerned with what other people think is one thing, but to sacrifice our health for someone else’s sake is quite another. The traditional masculine stereotype exists simply because we let it, but the stereotype doesn’t serve anyone; it is an idea that we allow to exist in our minds, perhaps because we are afraid of change, or that we don’t have the imagination to think outside of the traditional box.

To make things different around mental illness and general life, all we have to do is simply change our minds.

The crime of emotional silencing

29 Dec

Sad news this week. While on holiday in Jamaica, Cathy-Lee Martin’s throat was slashed by her husband. The couple were experiencing marital problems and reports reveal that Ms Martin told her husband that she wanted to separate. The 43 year old Ontario school teacher decided that slitting his wife’s throat was a solution to their failing marriage and he intended to kill her.

That horrendous act of violence was the vocabulary that Mr. Martin communicated his hurt. He’s one of so many men who have not had the opportunity to explore and express their emotions in a healthy way, turning instead to violence.

I have looked up some extremely disturbing statistics for this week’s post to illustrate the catastrophic numbers of violence against women by men who cannot see another way to cope with their problems. From the Amnesty International website:

  • At least one in every three women, or up to one billion women, have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes  (L Heise, M Ellsberg, M Gottemoeller, 1999)
  • Up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners (WHO 2002)
  • In Bangladesh 50% of all murders are of women by their partners (Joni Seager, 2003)
  • In Pakistan 42% of women accept violence as part of their fate; 33% feel too helpless to stand up to it; 19% protested and 4% took action against it (Government study in Punjab 2001)
  • In Zambia five women a week were murdered by a male partner or family member (Joni Seager 2003)
  • In the USA a woman is battered, usually by her husband/partner, every 15 seconds (UN Study on the World’s Women, 2000)

Here in Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation cites half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

These numbers are frighteningly high. Why is this happening?

Marc Lepine, the gunman who murdered 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique before killing himself wrote in his suicide note that “feminists have ruined my life… The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women… while trying to grab those of men.”

Anthropologist David Gilmore finds that there has always been a tendency for men to fear and hate women: “Most men need women desperately and most men reject this driving need as both unworthy and dangerous.”  This love/hate dynamic, says Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome, “is rooted in men’s unique dependency on women: boy relies on mother, and later relies on his wife for food preparation, domestic care, emotional support, and nurturing.”

Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that while “psychologists and feminists and the entire [US] legal system see male sexual aggression as the initiation of violence, guys describe it in a different way – not as an initiation but as retaliation… against the power that women have over them.”

In other words, some men are threatened by women encroaching on “their” territory, and there is a perceived inadequacy for a patriarchal / macho man to need and rely on a “weaker” woman in a society that demands male self-reliance and stoicism.

The Montreal massacre sparked concerns in Canadian men and in 1991, The White Ribbon Campaign was born, addressing violence against women (website here). To support the group and to wear a white ribbon is a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. The White Ribbon Campaign sees the future having no violence against women. As it should be.

However, it is one thing for a man to say that he will never be violent against a woman but it is completely another thing to nurture boys from birth, encourage them to communicate their feelings, and simply allow them to love. And so I turn to a brilliant feminist thinker, bell hooks, author of The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.  I was overjoyed to read her book because I found a kindred spirit in her way of thinking about men.

“Feminist thinkers, like myself,” hooks writes, “who wanted to include men in the discussion were usually male-identified and dismissed. We were “sleeping with the enemy”. We were the feminists who could not be trusted because we cared about the fate of men. We were the feminists who did not believe in female superiority any more than we believed in male superiority.”

Male superiority, or patriarchy, is the exclusive social system that puts men in the dominant position above all else, and what hooks goes on to describe as a convention that “endowed [men] with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

She says that the patriarchy keeps men from knowing themselves and experiencing their emotions, from loving. “To know love, ” she says, “men must be able to let go the will to dominate.”

She also says, “Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples.”

If any of you have read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s easy to create a deeply hurt and seethingly angry, violent, self-loathing man by mistreating him as a child. On top of this, add a heavy-handed expectation to conceal his feelings and swallow his natural emotions. And if he slips, let him have it.

“For many men, anger is the only emotion they have to express themselves,” says Jed Diamond, author of the Irritable Male Syndrome, “men are taught to “do” and as a result, men keep their emotions under wrap – they cannot show hurt, fear, worry, or panic.”

Hooks speaks at length about her experiences growing up with a brother just one year older, and how their gender roles were literally beaten into them by a patriarchal father who refused to accept his gentle and passive son and also refused to have an aggressive and competitive daughter.

“Something missing within” was a self-description I heard from many men as I went around our nation talking about love,” hooks explains, “Again and again a man would tell me about early childhood feelings of emotional exuberance, of unrepressed joy, of feeling connected to life and to other people, and then a rupture happened, a disconnect, that a feeling of being loved, of being embraced, was gone.

“Somehow the test of manhood, men told me, was the willingness to accept this loss, to not speak it even in private grief. Sadly, tragically, these men in great numbers were remembering a primal moment of heartbreak and heartache: the moment that they were compelled to give up their right to feel, to love, in order to take their place as patriarchal men.”

This idea is so sad to me. Manhood sounds like a sentence this way. I cannot imagine not being able to feel – it seems to me that I would explode. Young men can explode into violence and grown men explode in heart attacks and high blood pressure, both under serious stress, coping with a deafening and imposed silence, and no outlet to express themselves.

I see a lot of men walk around beaten, confused, abused, and bullied into patriarchal submission, and it breaks my heart. I think of this a crime against humanity.

We need to examine this social practice and start to heal from our patriarchal wounds, and to heal says hooks, we as a society need to stand by men and love them and support them, “offering a love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change.”