Changing Men?

Eco-feminists have traced a Western hyper-separation from Nature back to Plato -whose gendered conception of reason underpinned a master identity defined in terms of domination and exclusion of the feminine, the slave (race, class, and gender oppression), the animal, and the natural- and Descartes, whose cogito -“I think therefore I am”- establishes its claim to authority through separation from the body and nature.(1)  What follows is a brief autobiographical commentary on a meeting of an anti-sexist men’s group, c1983. 

Thomas Taylor, born in the1850's.

Thomas Taylor, born in the 1850’s.

When my turn came to suggest a theme for a meeting of our anti-sexist men’s group, I chose a colour healing exercise. This entailed getting into pairs, centring ourselves, and taking turns to visualise a colour and ‘pass’ it through the palms of our hands to the hands of another man, who would then say which colour he’d received.(2) We were quite surprised, perhaps a bit spooked, by the accuracy with which we all seemed to be picking up these delicate invisible transmissions. Some will, of course, dismiss this episode an outbreak of unreason, a collective delusion, but my understanding of what happened is that our success reflected the high level of trust we had painstakingly established, by doing a lot of careful talking. In other words, it was not a trick, or a technical skill, that could be taken off the shelf and made to work in any circumstances.

But were such activities nothing more than cosy, or effete, self-indulgence? Some critics insisted that what we were doing was irrelevant to the lives of ordinary-decent-hardworking ‘blokes’. In retrospect I certainly find the juxtaposition of that almost magically peaceful gathering of men, and my father’s wartime exposure to such convincing approximations of hell, at about the same age, poignant. I now have a much clearer sense of how our bodies were both imprinted by, and enmeshed in the writing of, incommensurable yet intimately interwoven histories. At dad’s funeral, a distant uncle was visibly shocked when I walked into the room, and said it was ‘just like having Eddie coming in, -you’re just like him’. Although I found this timely observation both unexpectedly and profoundly pleasing, my life continued to be very different from my father’s. During his married life, for instance, he had no close friendships with other men, -in fact, no friends outside the family at all. I remember him becoming so embarrassed once, when two footballers hugged on the television, that he hurried out of the room. It was as though masculinity happened through him, its code of ingrained habits and assumptions remarked upon only in the breach. Relations between us mellowed considerably in his later years, but I was never able to talk to him in the way I would have liked, about the strange new world that had my men’s group in it.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of relaxed openness in that group appeared to deter potential ‘recruits’. One man, who came once and didn’t return, said he’d assumed we were all gay. (this was a ‘mixed’ group). Some initially rather awkward and obligatory hugging had paved the way for a much more relaxed and open way of relating, and because most of us were co-counselling, we were used to sharing quite intense emotional support with other men. But my recollection is that we also had enough experience to keep a fairly clear perspective on the political implications of meeting as members of a privileged group. We were hoping to change the world as well as our own lives, and most of us had been, were, or soon would be, engaged in the wider community. Coming together consciously as men, and learning to work together in new ways, informed the rest of our lives.

(1) Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Routledge, 1993.

(2) This came from a then recently published book, by a professor of nursing. ( The Therapuetic Touch, Kreiger, 1979 ).

This account was first published in  Brian Taylor, Responding to Men in Crisis, Routledge, 2005.

The theme relates to the upcoming Animist Ethics ‘issue’ of Animist Blog Carnival.

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