Last night I went to the newly re-formed Men Against Patriarchy discussion and support group in Bristol. I came away feeling very positive about how it went and feel like sharing some of the points that came out of it. Of course, everything said in the meeting is held in confidence within the group so hear I’m just going over the general themes and ideas that came out of that discussion.
There were about ten of us at the meeting, which seemed to be an ideal number for that kind of thing, not so few that we were left with long pauses while nobody spoke, but not so many that people did not get the opportunity to speak freely. Some people were concerned that anti-feminist types would rock up to undermine the discussion. I was more worried about “more anarchist than thou” point scoring types with their over the top “anarcho-correctness” who like aggressively calling people out over minutiae, not to help combat patriarchy but to make themselves feel good. As I said in my invite for people to come along: “This is not an “I’m a better feminist ally than you” point scoring workshop, but a discussion group where men can work out their shit together. If you are just going to come along and tell everyone how patriarchal they are and how you are so right on because you read a zine once then please don’t go because people like you really bloody annoy me.”
Both of these could have scuppered the meeting being as open, friendly and safe as it was, and luckily none of this occurred.
I had previously been to one meeting on the subject a couple of years back but it was quite awkward as nobody wanted to talk on what is understandably a difficult topic for men to discuss. It wasn’t the same this time, our facilitator made us all tea and got things going well and after introductions everyone was eager to talk and the conversation flowed well for the most part.The conversation settled on talking about how men and women interact on an emotional level. We talked about who we go to when we have problems or emotional issues. I don’t think anyone really felt that they always rely on women for emotional support, but people highlighted how whether they go to men or women about something can be guided by their frame of mind. When angry people felt they would speak to men, when upset they would go to women. Some, including myself were able to identify women that we see as a “go to” person for unloading our problems on to.
We thought about why we are more likely to go to women for emotional support and it was felt that we live in a system where women are socialised to be caring, where being open and caring about emotions is acceptable for women and not for men. As a result of this we, as men, know that a woman may be a better person to speak to when requiring emotional support. We are essentially, by necessity, exploiting a societal and social construct where women are the carers.
So, what can we do to combat this? Is subverting this construct and relieving mens reliance on women (for the benefit of all) as simple as just going to other men when we require emotional support? I get the feeling that though this is doable, we need to break down this dynamic on a longer term basis. The group seemed to be at consensus that when they are approached for support they will look to deal with the issue in a practical way i.e. “What can I physically do to help?” In the same way women are socialised to be caring, men are socialised to use physicality.
We can not become great shoulders to cry on over night, some (not all but some) men are not capable, or more precisely feel they are not capable, of offering the type of emotional support required. Suggestions of where to start were to first of all understand that this does not mean you do not care about that person, but instead you may struggle to engage with them in a way that offers them what they require emotionally. From here we can look at assessing what the person wants. Rather than trying to solve the problem in a practical way, if they have not specifically asked you for such help instead just listen. Put effort in to actively listening to what they are saying, as often someone to simply be there to listen is all someone needs to clear things up in their head. On top of this we can offer sympathy and empathy. See, even though it can clearly be hard work at times, maybe this caring thing isn’t as complex as we think!
From the meeting I took away a number of points for me to work on. First to stop taking advantage of the couple of women friends whom I often go to when I want to get things off my chest. This is different to bottling things up (another male trait we touched on), part of healthy friendships should be being able to go to them when you need support, but opening this up to be a two way street and making sure that “counseling service” is not the cornerstone of a friendship is key to maintaining a friendship you clearly value greatly.
Next, to actively listen and sympathise with people, something I know I am going to struggle with massively. Regardless of me finding it hard, as a friend I should be offering at the very least a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on rather than ignoring people or attempting to deal with issues in practical ways unless specifically asked to.
Unfortunately I wont be able to attend the next meeting, but I will try to write a little about each one I attend. At the next meeting the plan is to start with the open question of “What is Patriarchy?” before looking at what constitutes patriarchal behaviour i.e. “What’s ok and What’s not ok?”
We felt it would be good to know we all mean the same thing when talking about patriarchy, also for us to not be inhibited with concern over whether our actions are patriarchal, us just being a dick, or normal human actions, feelings and behaviours.