In Your Neighborhood

Breaking free of the man box

Ten Men asks: how do real men talk about violence, guns, misogyny, racism, and domestic violence?

Photo by Richard Asinof

Storyteller Len Cabral, a member of Ten Men, at the fifth annual conference.

Photo by Richard Asinof

Nearly 100 men attended the fifth annual conference of Ten Men on Nov. 8 at Johnson & Wales.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/12/18
Ten Men, an outreach organizing effort by the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, held its fifth annual summit, as external events seemed to overwhelm the discussion around how men can stand up to misogyny.
What would happen if all the news media at the next White House press conference held up pocket mirrors when President Trump began to speak? How has the balance of power shifted at the State House, if at all? How can Ten Men grow its organizing model to become more expansive? What are the consequences of elected officials and corporations refusing to answer legitimate questions from the news media?
One of the principles of non-violence training and of the restorative justice movement is the concept of being heard, and the importance of the “I” voice – I believe, I say, rather than “They say.” It is, as Dr. Doug Eby eloquently stated, as an instruction to all his providers on staff: learn to listen in 10 different ways.
The power to speak out and to be heard, to speak in an authentic voice, one that does not pander to people or ideology, appears to be a common thread in the incredible victory by so many women running for Congress and winning.

PROVIDENCE – On Thursday evening, Nov. 8, it proved to be a busy night in Rhode Island and the nation, standing up and saying, “No more,” confronting misogyny.

Nearly 100 men gathered at Johnson and Wales University as part of the fifth annual Ten Men conference in Rhode Island, an outreach effort by the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to talk about how to break out of what was called “the man box” and change the culture of violence.

The participants included a diverse range of men – by profession, by age, by experience, by color – from college students to retirees, from storytellers to physicians, from musicians to construction workers and truck drivers.

Those conversations, however, appeared to be overwhelmed by what economists often call “externalities” – events outside the traditional calculation of value.

Stay in your lane?
In the aftermath of yet another deadly mass shooting, this time in Thousand Oaks, California, where an angry white man shot his way past an armed guard, turned his gun on a crowd in a country music bar and then killed himself, the NRA warned doctors in a tweet: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in the their lane.” Really?

Emergency room docs, many of them women, responded in force to attempts by the NRA to control what they had to say:

“We are not self-important: we are important to the care of others. We are non anti-gun: we are anti-bullet holes in our patients,” Dr. Esther Choo tweeted in response.

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician at Rhode Island Hospital, joined the fray, speaking up in a tweet. “12 more parents have lost their children. Another community is traumatized. I have had enough. I am done with the NRA telling me I can’t talk about this. DONE accepting federal limits on research.”

It captured, in a nutshell, the all-too-predictable efforts by men to control the conversation, to control women, what they can talk about, what they can’t talk about – except that this time, women doctors are talking back.

A refusal to be complicit in silencing women
Also, on Thursday evening, the members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the R.I. General Assembly held party caucuses to take a straw vote on who would be chosen as their titular leaders.

The caucus by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, held at Chapel Grille in Cranston, was reported to be particularly acrimonious, with some 21 members of the Democratic caucus, including many women representatives, challenging Mattiello – despite the promise of being banished to a legislative Siberia in retribution.

The turning point for many was the way that Mattiello had handled – or mishandled – alleged charges of sexual harassment in the workplace at the State House, involving a male member of his own leadership team and a female member of the House. It was exacerbated by Mattiello’s Trump-like rant on election night about which news media he was going to talk with.

“Every member returning to this chamber knows about the vindictive culture that exists there, and the practice of retribution against those who dissent,” Rep. Kathleen Fogarty, D-South Kingstown, who spoke after the caucus in which Mattiello was voted in as Speaker, as reported by Steph Machado at WPRI. “By supporting the speaker despite this knowledge, makes you complicit in the silencing of your fellow legislators for choosing to be our constituents’ voices.”

“I will refer you to [reporter] Kim Kalunian’s WPRI video,” Fogarty said, according to Machado’s reporting. “He only wants fair and objective comments that go his way, as long as they meet his definition of ‘fair and objective.’ We’re not OK with that.”

Fogarty’s sentiments were echoed by a number of elected women representatives, once again, as reported by Machado. “Whenever you disagree with the Speaker, he takes it very, very, deeply personally and he will come after you,” said Rep. Moira Walsh, D-Providence, who frequently sparred with Mattiello during her first term in the House. “There’s no place in the rules where it says in between committee meetings and floor meetings that you have to go and kiss the Speaker’s ring to get your bill from here to there.”

“We can’t be ruled by the people of Cranston,” said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-Narragansett. “We all represent a diverse group throughout the state and we have to have a say in all of this.”

The disrespect included the rewriting of bills without consent, according to one legislator, as reported by Machado. Rep. Susan Donovan, D-Bristol, said she didn't even get to see a rewrite of her own equal pay bill last year before it was brought to the floor for a vote. [The bill passed the House that day, but the Senate declined to take up the altered version.]

Breaking out of the man box
In Congress, following the “blue wave” election on Nov. 6, a surge of newly elected Democratic members of the House of Representatives arrived, none of whom are willing to be told to shut up and sit down anymore. Many political cartoonists liked the more than 100 women newly elected to Congress as the true caravan – invading not the U.S. but the male-dominated bastion of Congress.

One of the newly elected women was Lucy McBath from Georgia, whose son was killed in an episode of gun violence and who was featured in the 2015 award-winning documentary, “The Armor of Light.” [See link below to ConvergenceRI story.]

Another was Susan Wild, a member of what has been termed “the Fab Four,” four women who are newly elected to Congress, the first women to represent Pennsylvania in Congress. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story.]

[Note to Congress: There appears to be an urgent need to increase the number of women’s bathrooms at the U.S. Capitol – as well as breast pumping rooms.]

There were also hundreds of demonstrations across the U.S., protesting the decision by Trump to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appoint Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, as a way to control the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, seen as a “break the glass” moment.

The courage to call out misogyny
When it comes to invectives grounded in misogyny and racism, it is hard to top the commander in chief, President Donald Trump, who, in the days following the blue wave election on Nov. 6, targeted three black female reporters with his anger: calling them out for allegedly asking “dumb questions,” calling them losers, calling them racists.

Perhaps it was a true sign of his apparent mental instability, lashing out and accusing others, particularly black women, of his own defects – what psychiatrists and psychologists call “projective identification” – blaming others for their own shortcomings. The best response, some mental health professionals say: hold up a mirror.

There was also the bizarre incident at a White House news conference, where an intern attempted to take away the microphone of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, in which video clearly showed that the intern was the one “assaulting” Acosta, as Trump called him “a rude, terrible person.” [Mirror, please.]

However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later tweeted out a doctored video of the event, produced by InfoWars, the far-right conspiracy website that has described the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 as a hoax.

Being a man
But, for nearly 100 men attending the fifth annual Ten Men summit, the issue was part of a larger question: how not to get sucked into what some folks call “the man box.” Or, as it was framed in a discussion topic at the summit: “How do men use masculinity norms to police each other and keep the man box intact?”

Antonio Rocha, a member of the most recent cohort of Ten Men, said in closing remarks: “My call to all of you is: Let’s not police ourselves. We are being short-changed as men.”

The evening’s discussion began with some numbers for Rhode Island as a way to frame the conversation: 75.9 percent of those who are victims of domestic violence are female; 76.6 percent of the perpetrators of domestic violence are men.

The organizers then showed a video where men in an apparent man cave debate what to do, as a bear in the house that threatens them as they are drinking beer and watching football on TV.

The response by most of the men is that only one in five will be killed, and the rest will survive, statistically. Just ignore it. The underlying current to the video was that one in five women would be sexually assaulted by the time they finish college. [See link to video below, “What if bears killed one in five people?”]

The individual conversations wrestled not just with the “what if” bear in the room – an imperfect analogy, but with attempting to share each other’s personal experiences. For better or for worse, the politics about what was happening outside the room did not seem to find a way into the conversation. Why not?

It may be, as Martin Luther King once observed, that all change begins on the inside. But, sometimes, the political externalities are difficult to ignore.


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