Wednesday, June 01, 2011

How I Came to Work at Men Can Stop Rape, Part 1

by Patrick McGann
Director of Strategy and Planning

At Men Can Stop Rape’s recent staff retreat, we were talking about how we came to be involved in mobilizing men to prevent violence against women. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and just how different my path might have been than that of a young man in our Men of Strength Club. Sharing these lived process stories might help to demystify and normalize why we do this work – both men and women.

It’s hard to know exactly where to start my story. I could relate, for instance, how as the oldest sibling I stepped outside 1950s and early ‘60s’ gender norms when helping to take care of my baby sisters – changing their diapers, for example, and feeding them banana and corn baby food (finishing whatever they wouldn’t eat).

But the 1980s might be a better place to begin – 1983 to be more exact, the year when, as a Texas Tech University graduate student, I became involved with Abby, another graduate student. A year later we would marry, and shortly thereafter, she would declare herself a feminist. Had I been better able to read the signs, I might have known she was headed in that direction before I stood in the Lubbock Rose Garden dressed in a new suit, listening to Bill Welter, another graduate student, play guitar and sing “When I’m Sixty-Four” as I waited to say my vows.

Okay, I can’t remember whether it was an actual declaration. Maybe she didn’t stand in our living room and announce while I was watching TV, “I am now a feminist.” I suppose it became clear by the books she read, the classes she took, the topics she brought up – and the arguments we had. My body of feminist knowledge was based on Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, which I tried to read as a high school junior because I’d heard about the “zipless !@$%,” but I managed only about 40 pages before giving up; and Nancy Friday’s My Mother /My Self, which I read in my twenties because I thought it might illuminate the mysteries of females. These two books apparently rendered me knowledgeable enough to claim that feminism was limited by tunnel vision.

That didn’t sit well with Abby. In fact, maybe it was that perspective that led to a pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road argument when we were driving to Plainview to visit my parents. We stood outside the car in the middle of nowhere yelling about gender, the flat plains surrounding us, the yellow stripes of the road disappearing over the horizon. I thought feminism was restrictive, that it only cared about half the population, and that the well being of people was at issue, not just women. Abby said I didn’t understand, that the implications of feminism were much broader than I thought, and that I wouldn’t understand until I learned more about it.

After more arguments and disagreements over the next year, it became clear to me that feminism wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to have to find a way to live with it – if I wanted Abby’s and my relationship to continue. And so starting about 1986, I began to get friendly with feminism.

To be continued…
Please, share your story.

Patrick McGann, Ph.D. has been involved with Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) since the organization’s inception in 1997. As Director of Strategy and Planning, Patrick co-authored a sexual assault prevention strategy for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2008 and oversaw the development of the HURTS ONE. AFFECTS ALL. public education campaign for DoD in 2010. He regularly gives presentations across the country on engaging men in the prevention of gender-based violence. Share

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