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Men's Work

 


 
A happy father & son
Father & son
 

Women and men have distinctly different experiences of life (as does each individual person). Each gender as a group draws on a separate cultural and genetic heritage. In particular, boys and men historically benefit (and suffer -- see Health below) from societal privileges that have been denied to girls and women. And varying hormone levels throughout life influence the development of different emotional and proprioceptive realities for men and women

Men individually and as a group confront a set of opportunities and challenges in their lives distinct from those facing women. Men have their own work to do.

One of the unsolved challenges for many men is how to step away from positions of power and dominance and adopt relationships of equality. Unfortunately for men struggling with this problem, modern societies only understand injustice, violence, poverty, racism and sexism as individual aberrations correctable by better individual education and communication; we don't address the social forces and cultural assumptions that contribute to these problems. (1) Traditional societies often do not even consider such inequalities to be a problem.

 
 
   

"Cultural imperatives" (commonly accepted beliefs) about men (such as myths of male entitlement or superiority), as well as individual attachments that arise in such contexts, can encumber men who are trying to build new lives. An important goal of therapy is to reveal these constraints and help clients free themselves from them.

"...(S)cience need not be ruled by the style and sensibility of the patriarchal ego, because men themselves need not be. All about us we see men and women throwing off their stereotypic roles, refusing to be slaves of assigned identities...As we dignify the feminine in those we live among and in ourselves, we see the reality of the self-in-relation...And in turn we recognize our depth of relationship in nature." (2)

Men's work includes developing greater personal health and satisfaction; moving towards greater equity in their relationships with others; and recognizing the personal and collective benefits which accrue from such work, especially for the men of tomorrow. Psychotherapy, as well as alternative healing practices and ritual rites of passage such as vision quests, can contribute to greater self-awareness and a deepening of understanding and empathy for the plight of those who have suffered at the hands of men. Support groups can provide collective ways of working that broaden men's understanding of other men as well as themselves. And cross-gender education and communication, while alone insufficient to overcome social forces conspiring to maintain the status quo, go a long way towards healing wounds and developing new ways of relating.

 
 
 
back to top Men & Respect
 
 

An important task in life for all men and women is achieving and maintaining a sense of self-respect. This requires a clear set of realistic values and goals and a healthy ability to recognize failures as well as acknowledge accomplishments. Upbringing and the example of their elders plays a critical role in our growth towards adulthood and the security and self-esteem that make us brave enough to be ourselves.

Unfortunately, men are all too often taught to look for sources of self-respect outside themselves. Achieving a particular lifestyle or status viewed as successful by society at large is a hollow victory for many men. Since these views become internalized in childhood, boys grow up to believe that these are their own views. One of the dead-ends this can lead to is the notion that respect is granted by others -- peers, spouses and children. Culturally determined signs of respect ~ subservient forms of addressing someone, privileges based on power inequities, etc. ~ become all important to some men and serve as poor substitutes for genuine self-respect.

When holding socially dictated views does not give men the sense of self-respect and satisfaction that they seek, they can feel helpless to develop alternatives. The violent expression of anger ~ abuse, crime, war, and self-destructiveness ~ can result. Similarly, challenging men to surrender positions of privilege can anger men who fear the helplessness that privilege has helped mask.

When men recognize that self-respect is built from achievements that are meaningful and satisfying to them rather than to others, they naturally put more energy into doing meaningful and satisfying activities and befriending those who support such a lifestyle.

But helping men to behave respectfully requires treating them respectfully, not as criminals. Programs that help men address their transgressions and take responsibility for behaving more respectfully towards others need to be themselves grounded in a deep sense of the importance of respect.

"This movement towards respect can only take place in a context which is respectful to both the man himself and to those he has hurt. It is the responsibility of a therapist to establish such an environment through respectful therapeutic practices which confront, by inviting the man to accept responsibility for his actions. They should never excuse the man of his responsibilities or attempt to coerce or bully him to face them."(3)

(For more information about our "Standing Up to Violence" programs, click here.)

   
 
 
Back to top Husbandry & Fathering
 
 

Men, as all people potentially do, have a natural empathy for life. This is expressed in the word "husbandry", the activity of "husbanding". When we say that a man "husbands" a person, an animal or a plant, we are saying that he cares for it, nurtures it, and helps it to grow. Men have nurturing abilities and instincts which are often overlooked by society at large as well as by the people we interact with and ourselves.

This quality of men may be most evident in successful fathering. Although women can provide successful parenting alone or in a partnership with another woman, men can bring particular qualities as well as their reinforcement and modeling to the tasks of raising boys and girls to adulthood. Early experiences with a caring, supportive male (whether the biological father or not) can lay the groundwork for satisfying relationships in later life. Conversely, fear-based or stressful relationships with men when we are young can predispose us to problems in relationships, lower self-image, and struggles in school and work, for both boys and girls.

Fathering is also a means of learning more about ourselves and even "reparenting" ourselves, making up for and healing wounds we may have suffered in our relationship with our own father.

"Fathering is the most profound spiritual work I've ever done...Being an involved father provides me with daily, intimate and accessible spiritual lessons and teachings. Spiritual work is about being love. I often forget about my breath, I can forget to be mindful, but I can't forget that whatever I'm doing and how I'm doing it affects [my child]. This is sacred territory...

"Through being a dad I get to reparent myself!...We go to places -- physical places, emotional places that I never accessed with my dad. Together we learn, play and grow our love while: fishing, city rock climbing, bicycling, watching movies, reading books and comics, watching movies, roughhousing, making the bed and learning our limits."(4)

Husbandry and fathering are not restricted to marriage and family life ~ as men we are given opportunities every day to explore our nurturing qualities and contrast them with aggressive or controlling thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters provide structured interactions with kids who need support and companionship. Interactions with coworkers, merchants, social service and government officials, even passersby, all provide men with the chance to be more of a husband or father to the people in our lives -- and thereby contribute to our own growth and healing.

On a national and global scale, the today's struggles for a sustainable environment may provide "a unique forum in which men can express their renewed sense of the wild and their traditional roles as creators, defenders of the family, and careful stewards of the earth." (5)

 
 
 
 
 
Back to top Men's Health
 
 

For all the privileges which men have been (and are still) accorded by most societies, as a group men are unfortunately not reaping the benefits when it comes to their health. In the most recent data, the average life expectancy for males was 5.4 years less than females in the United States.(6) Consider the following statistics:

"Historically, men have been the main victims of violence, accidents and addictions. In each year between 1950 and 1990, men accounted for 70 - 80% of all deaths due to suicide, homicide and accidents. Suicide takes the lives of over 25,000 men each year. In virtually all age categories, men commit suicide at many times the rate of women. Moreover, destructive addictions also remain a major health and psychological problem for men.

"Recent studies have shown that men are chronically under-diagnosed for depression and other mental diseases. In part, this is due to the fact that men are far less likely to seek psychological counseling than are women. Many men have been taught to believe that therapy is unmanly. Additionally, the private psychotherapeutic community, in many cases, steers away from men who are perceived as unstable or threatening. Men are far more likely than women to be referred away from private care and to public mental health clinics, which are generally understaffed and underfunded." (7)

As indicated above, men's attitudes towards asking for and receiving help is a big part of the problem. Men are all too often schooled in a kind of "independence" or "self-sufficiency" that in fact leaves out an important element in continued health and satisfaction ~ namely, no person exists completely alone. People are social animals and have survived this long only because they have worked together for mutual benefit. Being independent is all well and good until the leg breaks or the stomach bleeds.

Men are also subject to many problems often thought of as "women's issues", such as battery and abuse. Although research historically indicates that the majority of domestic violence victims are women (and perpetrators men), there are still significant numbers of men who suffer violence at the hands of men or women with whom they are in a relationship.

"Every year, 1,510,455 women and 834,732 men are victims of physical violence by an intimate. This is according to a Nov. 1998 Department of Justice/Centers for Disease Prevention and Control report on the National Violence Against Women Survey. What does that mean? Every 37.8 seconds, somewhere in America a man is battered."(8)

Unfortunately, for many reasons, men are less likely than women to report their abuse or do anything about it. Partly this is the result of prejudices that are shared by the law enforcement and social services personnel who are tasked with protecting men as well as women ~ men are often assumed to be the aggressor in domestic violence incidents and this prospect alone can discourage many men from calling for help. The assumptions of superiority, entitlement or independence which are held by many men are also obstacles to reporting abuse as well. Fears of being seen as "weak" or "unmanly" underlie many decisions by men to tolerate abuse or try to resolve their problems on their own.

The resulting isolation is an important factor in the health challenges that men face every day. Therapy with men must address this problem before any work can be done on depression, anger or even career or family concerns. It has been said that it "takes a village" to raise a child. It also takes the help and support of everyone in their lives to help men recognize, confront and overcome the limitations they've been shackled with since birth, as well as to make the most of the opportunities which life affords them.

Men have their own work to do -- but, ultimately, not on their own.

 
   
 
   
Sources:
1. McLean, Carey & White, eds. 1996. "Men's Ways of Being". Westview Press, Inc., Boulder, CO. p. 4.
2. Roszak, Theodore. "The Gendered Atom". 1999. Conari Press, Berkeley, CA. p.117.
3. Jenkins, Alan. "Moving Towards Respect: A Quest for Balance". In McLean, Carey & White, eds., op cit., p.120-121.
4. Weiss, Craig Scott. "Fathering as a Spiritual Practice". 1999. MenWeb: http://www.menweb.org/fathspcw.htm
5. Kimbrell, Andrew. "A manifesto for men". May/June, 1991, Utne Reader No. 45. http://www.utne.com
6. "Preliminary U.S. Mortality Data for 2000 released by the Centers for Disease Control". Hospital Management.Net. 2002. http://www.hospitalmanagement.net/informer/management/manage16/

7. "The Men's Therapy Project". The Men's Health Network. 2002. http://www.menshealthnetwork.org/ProgramAreas/Therapy.html

8. "Latest Research Findings on Battered Men and Women". 2001. MenWeb: http://www.batteredmen.com/batresrh.htm

 

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