It happens pretty frequently that I hear from a caring man, as my friend, “When that man said that to you, I wanted to do something to him!”
“When that guy posted that on your Facebook feed, boy I really wanted to say something back to him!”
“When I see how he treated you at the end of that relationship, I really wanted to punch him.”
And today I want to talk about that sentiment; to bring some food for thought to the surface for all of us. I’ve been working on trying to write something about this for weeks, and today, I’m just jumping in, perhaps slightly messier in approach than I intended to be. Because I still have more questions than answers.
How do men hold one another accountable?
How do men advocate for women when they see another man out of integrity?
What is it that is both appealing and frustrating about the above questions, to me, personally?
When I make a post about the dance between men and women, or masculine and feminine, sometimes it’s personal story, and sometimes it’s not directly personal, but if I’m writing about it, it’s because I’ve either lived it or observed it. Everything that I write about at this point is based on observation and contemplation - rather than just regurgitating book smarts. As a former school employee, I regurgitated book smarts for a living, and now I write from observation.
So, in that way, because I’m living a life of observation and advocacy on the part of our human collective, it’s always a little bit personal. And, I know that it’s my responsibility to monitor my emotional response to anything that anyone says or does in response to my writing or how I live my life. I am, quite honestly, pretty used to being someone that stokes a fire, because of what I am willing to say and how honestly I live my life. I’m a little raw. A lot honest. And if you’re averse to this, there may be some defensiveness. I’ve actually learned not to directly provoke, and to be very careful to instead invite. And yet, people have various ways of reacting when the fire is stoked within them. Reactivity is real.
The reactivity of men, when they feel poked or confronted, can honestly be very scary. The tendency to want to control or tamp down what makes a man uneasy can lead to behaviors of domination or outrage. I’m not saying it’s always true, but it can be, and I’m not going to elaborate on this further because I expect that we all know this to be true. These are the behaviors that we are all here on the Good Men Project to support in shifting.
And this past year, personally, a man became incredibly dominating at what turned out to be the end of a deep love relationship. It was unexpected and I was losing not only a love relationship, but a good friend, and I feared the repression of a good man’s soul. He had become fearful of circumstances, and in response, he attempted to control every aspect of the situation. And it sounded very violent and scared the hell out of me.
After that, good friends that knew about it, and sat with him in men’s circle, didn’t say anything to him about it. Everyone knew he was going through a hard time, but no one said, “Hey, I’m not okay with the way you yelled at her, at the way you dishonored what you’d previously told us was the love of your life.” No one, to my knowledge, called him out or held him accountable. And, he even served as staff on a men’s initiation weekend shortly after, appointed by some of the same men that knew that he’d done this.
They didn’t have my back. It took me a few months to even know how to approach these friends with this question. “Hey, why didn’t you ever bring up what you knew had happened? What is the rule of thumb in the men’s group for holding brothers accountable to what you know has happened outside of the men’s circle?”
This particular men’s circle is part of an international name. Apparently it is pretty common for men inside the circle to know that a brother is living in shadow - by which I mean, they are coming into the circle presenting as one thing, and they are living a life that is not in alignment with how they are presenting in circle. And it’s also common for men to know this about one another and not say anything.
And I have a problem with this.
If you see a brother, another man, out of integrity with a woman, whether this is a man you sit in circle with or not, do something. Don’t punch him. But do something.
I don’t need men fighting over me. I do, actually, need to live in a world where men who see an injustice speak up for those that have been affected by the injustice.
Please think now: Do I know a man who is out of integrity where a woman is concerned? Am I prompted to respond in a way that might be advocating, loving, or helpful, and when and why have I decided to stay quiet about this?
I don’t need men to do my emotional work, nor do I need to displace responsibility. I’m not trying to displace any part of my personal process onto someone else. I am in deep contemplation about what would happen if men began to hold one another accountable more often.
As a woman, I actually don’t get any comfort from a man telling me, “When I saw this, boy oh boy I wanted to do something about it.” I do, however, feel a restored faith in man/woman relating when I see someone actually take a step to start a new conversation or say, “Hey, brother, I’m concerned about how I just saw you treat her. Want support?”
This week on my Facebook feed, a man was triggered by a post I’d written, and he told me directly to “F*ck off.” I told him he may not speak to me that way. Sometimes, I pause to see what happens. When a man makes such a comment, it is actually really powerful when another man comes in to explain to him why he may have gotten triggered and to start a dialogue. In those cases, it becomes a community conversation, and toward the goal of healing and understanding.
When behaviors of domination and aggression live in the dark, in the shadow, they perpetuate. We know that these behaviors are due to fear, to shame, to attempts to control unpleasant emotions. However, we also don’t want to live in a world where this is the norm any longer. This requires each of us to name what we see living in the shadow.
We all know too well that too many men have lost too damn much while existing in the shadow. And I’ll say that the women who love them have also lost. And I really believe that all of this is preventable. But not if we allow one another to hide behind unhealthy behaviors.
I know how to manage as an independent woman. And sometimes, I don’t want to have to always be the one sticking up for myself or educating why it isn’t okay to treat me a certain way. Because I’m the one willing to say the things difficult to hear, I’m also the one that takes a lot of the projection. Brothers, I can’t even tell you how nice it is when you decide to step in and advocate for the point that I’m trying to make. In solidarity. In connection.
I know that women have asked you to not speak for us for a long time. I’m not asking you to speak for me. I’m asking you to name, out loud, the injustices you see. Speak from your own observation, your own level of concern, and your own heart.
Don’t say to me, “I really wanted to do something when I saw that.” Because then I think, “Well, why didn’t you?”
If something doesn’t feel right - do something. I dream of a world where men are advocating for what’s right, for women, for the integrity of right relating.
Thank you, every time you decide to advocate for what’s right.
Also on The Good Men Project, where I write weekly.