Interview: Oct. 1, 1996j: I usually start with some demographic information... I was talking to Peter yesterday about the breakdown of the group along the lines of race and sexual orientation, etc. If you feel comfortable, could you tell me how you fit into those categories ?
Also, do you consider yourself middle-class?
s: Yeah, fairly - stereotypical, I guess, of a lot of the participants you find i n this type of thing... Middle-class background, heterosexual, white, young age - w ell, middle-aged but young-aged! - Late thirties.
j: That seems to be standard. Can you tell me how you got involved and why you started getting involved?
s: I guess I became more active in this kind of exploration when I moved here, which was six years ago. A colleague of mine mentioned that he was involved in this group called "Men for Change", and mentioned a little bit of what they were seeking to do. It just felt like an appropriate thing for me to look into. I guess I've had a long... sort of, questioning of the typical point-of-view - the male perspective, if you like. Also through personal history - I spent five years in the military, so I go t a sense of what that aggressive learning can be like... and then left that because it wasn't really my cup of tea.
So in a broader scope, some interest in exploring is from the personal level - re ally feeling that there were some issues that I needed to explore and look at and, since I'd been looking for some place, this seemed like the place to start. It's kind o f a mix - not a real definitive purpose in my trying to explore, but a lot of ideas I wanted to look at.
j: It's interesting - there's quite a bit of writing on military training and how that affects masculinity.
s: Oh yeah - it's really horrendous; pretty scary stuff! I went to military college for four years. So, as an officer being trained, I got a very old school view of a man's role in the world. In fact, I was at the last college to accommodate female students, so there was all this kind of macho response to the fact that we were going to change by having female students. It's hard to describe...
j: And how long were you there?
s: At military school - that would be four years.
j: What do you do now?
s: Now I'm in a totally different field - I'm a Shiatsu therapist, which is hands -on body work - mental body work.
j: How long have you been with this particular group?
s: "Men for Change"? - I joined in... it was either the Fall of 1990 or the Spring of '91. So about five years, I guess.
j: Ok. That seems to be almost the beginning - when the group started.
s: Pretty well. It started around the time of the Montreal Massacre and I wasn't living in Canada at the time, until a year later when I moved to Nova Scotia.
j: Have you been involved in the different aspects of it? - I know some of it is discussion groups and some is more activist-based...
s: Yeah, most of what the group explores is... there's a number of reflection groups that have been meeting regularly in these five years, for personal exploration and discussion. And then sometimes we're invited to go out to different venues, as a guest speaker at Junior High or Senior High schools. I wasn't involved directly but the group has developed a curriculum project. Sometimes we've hosted a film series or public lecture series, a variety of pro-active events. We also try to network with other men's groups across Canada, so we try to send a delegate to the National Men's Conference.
j: When is the next meeting of that?
s: There was one in August...
j: Ok... I know there's one in Kingston.
s: Yeah, that's a different one... So yeah, I've dabbled in a variety of things. We try also, on a regular basis, to have an open evening for any men who might be interested in some level of exploring. So once a month there's an open invitation for men to come out and meet with us and... see what our goals might be. The other thing we do on a regular basis is, every three months or so -one of the members has a farm, and we go there in more of a celebratory gathering. It's around the equinox and the solstice. We go and work on the farm and share meals. It's kind of a looser, personal time.
j: what do you think is more important - the personal transformation or the political activism?
s: Well, I would say that they go closely hand-in-hand and it would be really hard for me to separate the two. And how I choose to be on a personal level would certainly be reflected in my community and within my family situation. But I would hesitate to focus on just one to the expense of the other. I guess in my experience there' s a natural flow between one and the other: there are times when it really feels like I need to get out there and try to be heard on a larger scale than just in my circle of intimate friends, and there are times when I really feel I need to just focus on myself - my own experience and making sense of where I fit in all of this.
j: I guess that's probably the way it is for most people.
s: Yeah, they're both really important, and I think if I don't do my homework wit h myself that the work I do outside - externally, let's say - is valuable to a certain extent, but it may not have the roots it would require to really go far. I mean, there are some men's groups that are formed around certain key issues that do not explore themselves thoroughly - it's more of a 'men's rights', or masculinists, or other types - for instance, men who are dissatisfied with the legal system and how there seems to be a certain bias in terms of child support and so on. Those are really contentious issues and very dramatic, but my experience of most men in this area is they really haven't done a lot of homework around the roots of what that is about. So it's a long-winded answer - I think the two are related.
j: Yeah... How do you think men need to change?
s: Oh boy! (laughs)
j: I know that's a weird question!
s: Ten words or less!... Ah, how men need to change...
j: If you're thinking about what you've experienced in the military, male ideals, or what you'd like to see happening... what it means to be male...
s: Oh, a lot of things come to mind. It's hard to know where to begin. I think there's a variety of key steps to be taken. One is to slow down and listen to what is being said out there, in men's groups but even more so, more stridently, among women who are dedicated to looking at the social construct of things, and naming things for what they are and really supportive... to be sensitive to what is out there and what is being said. In my mind that means slowing down and having the courage to just receive and feel what's going on out there. And looking at the facts - you know, so many women being abused, every minute of the day, so much violence going on. If I slow down and do a reality check it's just - shocking! So that would be one suggestion, one small step.
j: Just as an aside, a lot of people I've talked to say that they don't feel that happens until you are well into your thirties - has that been your experience?
s: Well yeah - my personal experience, yes. If you were to approach me on the subject in my twenties or even younger, then...
j: No luck?
s: (laughs) No - I wouldn't be very receptive. I guess, in that context, it ties in a little bit with what, say, Bly would suggest - that you have to have time to roll in your own ashes, to experience pain, experience life, and to have the mythology , the social mythology that we're inheriting - the old mythology - to taste the emptiness of it. If one has that awareness and the curiosity to go beyond that, then you ca n look at what else you can do.
j: How do you begin to develop a political consciousness?
s: I would think that they have a common root - and there are different branches. So, looking at the soil of where that root is being placed and where it's being nurtured, trying to foster an environment that is healthy. I tend to shy away from being a feminist or a masculinist or whatever. I see myself more as a humanist. I feel like more... A healthy world is a place that is open and agreeable to all, no matter what the gender of whoever is speaking, and there's important things being said on both sides - both genders, both sexes, and it's important to hear both sides.
j: Do you think men need to do this work on their own, as men, without women present?
s: I think there's value in being exclusive, to a certain extent, but not entirely, because that has to be taken.... from that special safe place - one has to move from there back into the broader environment. And there are women there! (laughs) So, if I can't relate to you outside my reflection group or whatever, it's a waste. It's really important to take what I know and to start living it - to get away from the theories and the talk and speculation and "Women are from Mars; Men are from..." oops, sorry! (both laugh)... I hate that kind of way of constructing things or looking at things - it's seems like an excuse - 'Oh, men are this way; women are this way, so who cares? You know, that's just the way it is...'
j: What do you think about women-only spaces?
s: Oh yes - It's really important. I mean, culturally, in Native cultures, there were those spaces that were exclusive for both genders - men and women - and it was an important part of that social lifestyle... Oh yeah, that's of great value, for su re.
j: What do you think about the future - would you like to see men and women working more together, or do you think those spaces won't be needed?
s: Well, I like to think they are... there's value in that, I mean, because historically they've been created and used and I would doubt if they'd ever be discarded. Those councils or healing circles or whatever are important. And on a broader level the re needs to be that inter-communication, taking what we learn from both camps, if you like, and sharing that. Because we all see the world differently and - I can't learn about myself entirely by myself. I really need other mirrors, other reflections, other people, to let me know where I am.
j: Right. And in terms of difference - do you find there are differences or conflicts within the men's group?
s: Oh yes. Yes. Not only within our own group, but there are different directions or threads that are being explored - there's the fundamentalist/church men's movement in the States, which is... they're packing football stadiums, you know!... Extraordinary. There's the men's rights - backlash, some people call it; there's the mythopoetic... and so on; the gay movement as well - also in terms of gender rights.
j: What about within your group? Do you find there are differences among you?
s: I would say in our reflection group we've been playing it pretty safe, to be honest. We haven't really been airing our differences as courageously as we might have. S o I think that's a direction most of us are willing to acknowledge and prepare... it has somewhere to go. There are some points of view... like mythopoetic, some against violence, etc.
j: How do you feel about that?
s: I guess I have trouble understanding. I try to be more inclusive and try to accommodate different perspectives. I try to look for the value in different things. So, again, I tend not to exclude things, because, you know 'a woman said this' or 'a man said this'... I would really rather hear what they said, and how does that resonate for me? So, I guess I feel like we have been playing it safe to a certain extent. I think there are things we could be called on to do more. Maybe this is part of not knowing what we're doing, sort of... just trying to figure out where to go and what to do .
j: In terms of the mythopoetic movement - what do you think is valuable about it?
s: Well, I think there's a lot of power and potential in stories. I think that's where empowerment comes from - being able to express our story and describe our story and our life, however you want to call it... and being heard. And also the lessons that are to be discovered in those tales, those explorations of music; I think there's a lot of age-old wisdom to be found there. I find a lot of value in it myself. I guess I do subscribe to the point of view in the mythopoetic approach that those elements of power in the stories - or what I resonate with - can be found within as much a s without. But I wouldn't connect with a story if there wasn't something in myself to connect with. And so to hear a story and be moved by it, or challenged by it, again, I think is a really powerful tool not to be dismissed as lightly as it has been.
j: What do you think of the common criticism of that movement - that it's not very political and it doesn't acknowledge your own power. Would you agree?
s: No, I disagree. I think part of that dismissal is not really understanding or not really experiencing what that movement is about. I think part of it is kind of that angry young male energy that can be quick to cut away at these older leaders who have been leading the men's movement, or just these older ideas - they're old, you know, they're not modern. They're kind of that young, angry...
j: What kind of reactions have you had to being politically active, and being a 'pro-feminist man', or whatever you want to call it? How do people respond when they hear that?
s: I have yet to get a really negative reaction. Most people are really positive when they hear about it. It's really been affirmative.
j: Are there differences between male and female reactions?
s: I'd say women are more demonstrative in how they feel about it, in that some m en are more cautious about it. Some are interested, but don't really let you know about it immediately - they sort of don't know what to make of it. But in my experience , No, I haven't really met anyone who's really pooh-poohed the idea.
s: Yeah, it is.
j: Have you ever experienced your voice as a man being more valid than women speaking of the same issues?
s: Probably... I'm trying to think if there are any specific examples...
j: With the Violence Against Women work is that an issue - around a man suddenly speaking out against violence against women?
s: I think that may have an effect - just, again, we tend to fixate on the gender of who's speaking - and it may carry over from the old construct that, you know, the male voice is powerful and there's a male voice speaking, so...there's something here of value. I think it is, in terms of... I'm thinking of when we go into the schools to talk... there is impact in the fact that as a male voice, and as someone who has experienced abuse and has been an abuser, that there's... people listen to a certain extent. Not to discredit when women speak about it, but unfortunately the role that they're cast in is sort of the victim's role - not that they aren't the target of that - but it's kind of... I don't know; it sounds like they're not given as much credit as they could be for their experience of that abuse. So I guess on a certain level, I've experienced that... I can't think of any dramatic examples.
j: Do you find that, since you've gone through this re-thinking process, and becoming more active - that it's changed your personal relationships?
s: Oh yes! Very much so. Yeah.
j: How so?
s: We relaxed, I'd say, than my parents were, and my grandparents... with different roles, etc.
j: Do you have a different concept of what 'family' is?
s: Oh yeah. I would think so. I mean, on a basic level the family I grew up in was fairly healthy, but just the expectations of - the gender expectations... I would be, kind of more relaxed, I'd say, than my parents were, and my grandparents... with different roles, etc.
j: Do you have children?
s: No, not currently.
j: Are you married?
s: No, but I'm in a steady relationship.
j: Do you
s: Yeah! There's no fine print. I think part of that struggle
with most men is 'w
do I do? - here I am with this position of privilege and power; I'm paid
educated more, I have more social status, so on and so on...' and things
- I mean, that's no longer going to be the case, so what do I do with
this?: Do I
this position? Do I facilitate this change? Do I stay in place? Do I do
I do that? And depending on where each man is in this evolution of things,
resist the process, and that's where the 'fear' bit is - they have more to
y parents. My generation though is following... it's not as established,
which is good and also quite frightening - you know, how do I live with
And where do I place my faith and my trust, you know, how do I make sense
social construct or about - either at other men, or at women and
children... it's horrific when
you think about it, or look at the stats. No easy answer to that one!