Why are men meeting in groups? Havenít
men gathering together caused many of the worldís problems? Shouldn't men
be working to insure the equality and unity of the sexes, not separation?
Many men are solitary creatures and don't seem to need much of anything,
what's the point of a group for men? Donít the TV ball games, golf game,
or poker game serve the same purpose? If a man has a healthy relationship
with God, why would he need a menís group?
Sadly, it is true that often throughout history when men have gathered
together it has resulted in bad news. Historically, men have always
gathered to deal with problems. The crop was blighted, the villagers were
mutinous, or a battle was coming. Men wielded "the power"; therefore they
met to use it. This societal control perspective, however, ignores the
benevolent use of rituals, i.e. the gathering, in the maturation of
normal, healthy, adult, males. Modern society has forgotten these rites of
passage. To a large extent, Western adult males are left to raise
themselves, with varying results. One only has to read the divorce rate
and crime statistics to become aware that something is missing.
I was always very suspicious of "menís groups". I thought I had evolved
beyond a need for sharing with others. About 9 years ago, while driving, I
was listening to the audio book of "Iron John" by Robert Bly, about issues
of men maturing. I suddenly found tears running down my face but at that
time had no idea why. Iron John is about menís rites of passage. Bly
outlines an idea about men gathering together to support each other.
With much apprehension, I began exploring this thing called "men's work".
ďMenís workĒ is men getting together to explore questions and share
experiences to address issues that are deeply important to them. Men's
issues may include: their relationships; developing meaningful male
friendships, being a father; dealing with anger and/or emotional pain;
spirituality and meaningful rituals.
I worked through my nervousness and suspicion by interviewing men who had
been involved with menís work. I asked these men what their partners
thought when they first became involved in a menís group. Some of the
women were suspicious at first and did not see the real benefit. However,
the greatest resistance seemed to come from other men. They made jokes
about men ďcoming out of the closetĒ, or said they had ďgone to something
like that onceĒ and did not need it now. I also interviewed men who had
been involved with men's work for over a year or more. I wanted to find
out what their partners thought of their involvement now. I was amazed how
positive the responses were. Comments ranged from, ďShe says she likes the
man I am becomingĒ to ďshe insists I goĒ. After being involved in a menís
group myself for a while, I saw the benefits first hand and was puzzled
why there is not more men involved in such groups. I would like to share a
few observations of fears, concerns, and false beliefs that may have stop
men from reaping the benefits of menís groups.
FEARS, CONCERNS, AND FALSE BELIEFS ABOUT MENíS GROUPS:
Myth #1: It is the manís role to be protector and provider
We are still highly influenced by the antiquated social role of men as
protectors and providers, who are self-sufficient creatures and have all
the answers. Our society has implied that self-sufficiency means handling
everything in isolation. A healthier attitude would be that
self-sufficiency is the wisdom to seek out and utilize support and
resources in oneís own environment. As Warren Farrell noted in his book,
Women Canít Hear What Men Donít Say, men in our culture are often viewed
as ďsuccessĒ objects. This viewpoint is as de-humanizing as viewing women
as ďsexĒ objects. Many times the success object bias does not even break
down when both partners bring in equal salaries, especially in a family
with children. Men may find it difficult to develop a rich emotional life
while focusing on being successful. In this respect men are not being
treated equally either.
Myth #2: Menís Groups Equal Oppression of Women
Men and women may both be suspicious of menís groups. Many feel that menís
work is misogynistic by its very nature. They feel it exists to support
men who hate women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Menís work
supports men and women living in harmony. It tends to create more balanced
and grounded men who can truly honor women as equals.
Myth #3: Silence Means Strength
Many men have developed the habit of emotionally isolating themselves,
especially from other men. A man may develop only superficial or
competitive relationships with other men, revolving solely around business
or sports. Menís work helps break through this two-dimensional
socializing. Conversations involving more personal topics become easier
with practice and support.
Myth #4: If you are in a relationship thereís no benefit in being in a
Some men donít notice the missing male relationship because they have
become overly dependent on the women in their lives. As a consequence,
they are not able to take the risk of being emotionally available to their
partner. For these men, this over dependency is often unconscious but may
show up as jealously, over controlling, or resentment of her having
friends. Men's work provides a support structure for these men to safely
discover and change this dependency. By developing healthy relationships
with other men there is less at stake in their relationship, so they can
become more emotionally available to their partners.
Myth #5: Menís groups are made up of mostly gay men
Homophobia may keep heterosexual men away from menís groups, while a gay
man may stay away for fear of persecution. Being gay is not an illness or
contagious, and not all heterosexual men are threatened by gay men. Men's
groups are a place to learn to distinguish between sexuality and intimacy
for both heterosexual and gay men. Hashing out sexuality issues is central
to living as a healthy adult male.
Myth #6th: Only the weak need Support
Some men think menís groups are only for men with problems or unsuccessful
men. They tend to value success only in relationship to business. A man,
who can smoothly move through his feelings, instead of suppressing them or
being driven by them, is a strong and powerful man.
Myth #7: All I Need is God
Jesus had a 12-man support team. A possible doorway to an enhanced
relationship with God may come through relationships with each other. A
man who allows other men to contribute to him gives them the opportunity
to experience one of the greatest gifts, the gift of receiving.
Myth #8: Menís group would take more time away from my family
If you are a father working 40 hours a week or more, you may not have a
lot of free time. What harried fathers do not realize is they may truly
benefit from an extra-family structure that supports them as men. They
become more emotionally available for their partners and children.
The Benefit of Menís Work
Why is it important that menís
work expand its scope? First, men who are more conscious and able to fully
experience their emotions tend to live a longer life. Second, men who have
healthy relationships and feel connected to other people tend to be life
supporting, compassionate, and less violent. Another reason for menís work
is it helps develop more stable and mature male role models. Young boys need
healthy models to learn how to be a man. What rites of passage are clearly
delineated for them? One can easily see that gangs are just a desperate
attempt by young men to initiate themselves into manhood and to connect as a
I believe men's work can reduce violence in our society. I grew up in
Washington, DC, in the sixties and seventies and attended both public and
private schools. From this vantage point I see that violence often comes
from emotional isolation. This isolation creates resentment and anger, which
can lead to violence toward self and others. Maybe men need a special type
of emotional connection or food from other men. Perhaps menís work offers
this needed food that allows us to be more whole and balanced in our lives.
Another aspect of Menís work involves inquiry, where men deeply and honestly
explore questions together. Exploring questions like, what works in keeping
a long term committed relationship passionate and alive? Or, what have you
found to be the best way to build grounded self-confidence? It is an amazing
experience when men get together and explore important questions openly and
honestly. How do we rekindle a ďbest male friendĒ and keep the friendship
going in our busy lives? How do we handle disappointment, shame, sadness,
and anger? Inquiry can enable us to reconnect to both the awareness and the
subsistence that fulfills it. Inquiry has a clear purpose, goal, and end
point, which is intrinsically often appealing to men because it is focused.
Please explore the following
questions for men.
Q: Do you have close male friends, who you can truly confide in about your
joys, passions, fears, and desires?
Q: Do you turn to men, women, or isolate yourself from more emotional pain
during a crisis?
Q: Could you see how meaningful relationships with other men would support
you to be more emotionally available to your
partner, children, and yourself?
Imagine how you could create
time for something that cost only a few hours a month in timeÖsomething that
would profoundly improve the quality and depth of your relationshipsÖand
something that would enlighten you and your loved ones. It does take some
time, commitment, and courage to get involved with a menís group to reap the
real benefits. Yet, this is true for anything worth having in life.
My personal vision is that by men nurturing and emotionally supporting each
other we will have stronger men available to stand up to the challenges of
creating a more peaceful world. Men's groups fully support men to allow us
to experience the unique gifts we are.
By Martin Brossman, a personal coach and
founder of ďThe Triangle Menís Inquiry MeetingĒ. For more information about
ďThe Triangle Menís Inquiry MeetingĒ go to our web site at:
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call
Martin at 919.847.4757 © 2004 Martin Brossman