Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How I Came to Work at Men Can Stop Rape, Part 4

by Patrick McGann

Director of Strategy and Planning

My journey leading to Men Can Stop Rape in Parts 1, 2, and 3 had involved engaging with feminism, either in the context of my academic learning and scholarship or in my relationship with Abby. It might seem obvious that part of any man's investment in feminism should automatically include an investigation of traditional masculinity that includes its critique and the construction of alternative, healthier masculinities. This wasn't an obvious part of my political map, though. I was stuck on the back roads and didn't know main roads even existed that traveled through the landscape of masculinity, until in the late eighties and early nineties when I came across masculinity studies scholars like the Michaels – Michael Kimmel, Michael Kaufman, and Michael Messner.

They put masculinity on the map in a way nothing else had for me up to that point, as did Changing Men, a magazine published by the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS). I found Changing Men in Barbara's, a bookstore where I bought other alternative news magazines like Z, The Progressive, and Mother Jones. Through it I learned that NOMAS would hold its 1992 conference at the Chicago Convention Center. Normally, I wouldn't have been able to afford registration and travel, but since it was in the city where I attended graduate school and since I could attend as a volunteer, I signed up. The conference was attended by both academics devoted to masculinity studies and male activists committed to realizing the goals of feminism, so it merged these parts of me. And I got to hang out with Fred Small.

Fred has been hailed by Pete Seeger as “one of America's best songwriters.” He sings songs of conscience in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs. The conference organizers needed someone to pick him up at the airport. I had Abby's and my car at the Convention Center, so I volunteered. I heard him sing that night. And it was an emotional experience – especially when he sang “Every Man,” a song from his I Will Stand Fast album. Here are some of the lyrics to "Every Man":

I have killed but I am not a killer
I have cried out at the devil in the dark
I have reached out through the bars of my confinement
I have watched the tower I built fall apart.

Gonna listen for the breathing of the baby
Gonna hold him in my arms when he cries
Gonna meet my lover's gaze without turning
Gonna see myself and be satisfied.

He captured for me something I’d never heard so clearly in a song before: being caught between the pressure to be the “real man” – to be aggressive, to be in control, to show no fear – and the desire to have caring and connected relationships with others. His music seems a little preachy to me now (ironic, given that he became a Unitarian minister), but at the conference I felt like I did when I was a teenager and heard the Beatles' Abby Road for the first time. When he needed to get back to the airport, I made sure that I was the person who took him.

I returned to the conference just as it was winding down. The organizers, as a final ceremony, asked everyone to form a line in the ballroom and to curve around and move like a snake so that we had the opportunity to look directly into the eyes of those ahead of or behind us in the line. It felt awkward to stare at people I didn’t know, but a month after the conference, I took the memory of that roomful of mostly men with me when we moved to Washington, DC, the home of Men Can Stop Rape.

To be continued…

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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