International Men's Day in 2018
Today is International Men’s Day! I originally posted the quote below to Facebook, but decided to archive it here with a little extra commentary as well.
...a long time ago in a women's studies class in Boone, some of my classmates were upset by news of an all-male women's health panel advising mostly male policy-makers about regulations that would impact women.
As a class, we decided to turn the tables. The next class period, we elected to hold our own panel discussion featuring all the men in the class being asked questions about gender and sexuality by the women in the room. Some of the initial questions hit at the sexist power dynamics we see in the world: have you ever raped someone? How do you define 'consent' or 'sexual assault'?
Over the course of the discussion though, we began to learn other things about men. We learned that 3/4 of the panel were sexual assault survivors, and that none of us knew any organization or campus resource we could go to if we were assaulted again. We talked about shame around feeling masculine or sexual enough, anxiety about dick size and being intact (uncircumcised), homo/biphobia as a learned reaction to surviving sexual assault, and how we define or relate to 'manhood.' It was a really radical class, and I wish more men were challenged to be introspective and honest in community spaces.
Personally, I'm still not certain how to define manhood, maleness, or masculinity. I feel like these are qualities which have been assigned to me at a very young age--that have always felt like an obligation other people are really into, but which never really 'spark joy' or seem important to me. They aren't just 'biological' labels either, but social expectations I frequently feel like I fail to meet. Sometimes I reject them as descriptors of me. Other times I don't. A lot of the time I enjoy living an ambiguously queer life that isn't concerned with being captured by theory or language.
For all the men on my page--however you relate to the word--Happy International Men's Day!! You are enough. And your thoughts & words are powerful.
I was thinking about this class a while ago during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing but decided to save talking about it until today because I think it’s a really great example not just of how important women’s and gender studies are to our advancement as a society, but of how people of all genders can make space to hear each other and move forward together.
And there’s so much more from that day that I can’t recall in clear enough detail to do justice, but for a class in 2007-ish, we made a lot of great space for an intersectional discussion of men which included talking about different racial and sexuality dynamics as well. For comparison and context: in another women’s studies class the same year, our professor led us in voting over what gender trans people ‘really’ are.
Sometimes I think our impulse is to generalize, especially when it allows us to make a point about a community we set up as being opposite us. And these generalizations can sometimes just be means to justify talking about who we really want to talk about. For instance, to talk about women, we often talk about men, and the ‘men’ we talk about are often abstract or a homogeneous idea we’ve constructed about men based on past experiences with specific men. Our root desire is to have our own feelings heard and our own sense of safety and value restored, but the way we talk about these issues can sideline that.
One thing I really appreciated from that panel discussion is the way we were able to break past that. After the first few questions, it became apparent that I was queer and had a shaky relationship to being a ‘man,’ and that the experience of myself and two of the other speakers was different than that of the darker skinned Muslim immigrant on the panel with us. When we talked about surviving sexual assault too, it just completely melted the walls we’d built around gender going into that day.
I hope we can collectively reach that melting point again. I hope we can put down our defenses long enough to hear each other and value one another long enough to heal one another. May this International Men’s Day be a seed in that magic!
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org