Who’s in Your Pit Crew for Healthy Manhood?

Embracing a healthy manhood and working to end men’s violence against all women and girls requires men to understand what we’ve been taught about manhood, and how those often, rigid teachings can be repaired and expanded to include open expressions of emotion, the ability to ask for help, and investing in friendship and community.  Part of my work with A CALL TO MEN is helping men re-imagine our thoughts and ideas to match what is in our hearts – to unleash the joy, fear, sadness and love that has been caged in our “man box” shaped souls, hidden behind flashes of anger and repressed pain. 

Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who suppress their emotions are one-third more likely to die prematurely than people who regularly express what they are feeling. Issues of rage, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms can manifest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate is four times higher in men than in women. 

Data supporting the link between physical and mental health is abundant, which tell us that to be our authentic selves, we must consider the vessel which allows us to navigate this journey – our bodies. 

For many men, the last time we had a physical exam was in high school or upon entry into the military.  Rather than venture into a doctor's office for an exam to consult about an ache or pain, we revert to the programming we received as boys to "suck it up."  Or maybe we give it a deadline, like "if it still hurts in a month, then I'll get it checked out."  What if this was how we treated our cars?  Rather than get that clanking noise in the engine checked, you turn up the stereo to drowned the noise out! 

Men have been socialized not to ask for help, not to offer help and not to accept help.  Studies show that men who equate seeking assistance with weakness, or the appearance of not being able to handle their own problems, experience more soured relationships with their significant others, higher rates of debilitating illnesses and earlier death.

For men to continue the work A CALL TO MEN invites us to do, we need our heart, mind and body synced like a NASCAR pit crew; different specialized tasks aligned with the same goal to live a full and healthy life. I invite you to consider who you can add to your pit crew for healthy manhood:

·       Schedule an annual physical with a primary care physician and GO TO IT!  Make time to go see your doctor when you are sick or injured.

·       Collect stories about your male family members’ (father, brothers, grandfathers and uncles) health histories.  Some men never discuss their illnesses, such as testicular and prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, and other intimate diagnosis.  For future generations, knowing our relatives experienced these illnesses can aide in prevention efforts.  In my own family, I discovered one uncle who died from cancer that originated in his prostate.  Early medical attention could have improved his outcome.  And after a conversation with my father, he shared about his recent experience with kidney stones and an enlarged prostate.  These stories help me narrate my family history during my annual physical.

·       Ask your barber to join your pit crew.  Barbers see areas of your neck and ears that rarely catch any looks.  Ask them to keep an eye on any dark spots or moles.  If they change shape, contact your primary care physician for a follow-up. 

·       Make time for an evening with friends.  Recent studies have identified maintaining relationships as a preventative measure for mental and physical health.  These get togethers can help to reduce stress and maintain bonds that will keep you connected to community to fight off loneliness.  

·       Read.  Exercising your mind will keep it strong, sharp and stimulated.  If you discover a family history of memory loss or something more severe, let your primary care physician know and together you can develop a plan. 

Not only do our loved ones deserve our best selves, but we men deserve health, happiness and authenticity. 

- Jeff Matsushita, A CALL TO MEN Trainer

We Build

I was on site the other day and the guys were up to their usual monkey business – ripping on each other, cracking jokes, making fun. A full day on a construction site can be hard, and crews keep spirits up with humor and teasing.

I spent just over 18 years on site. For the last seven years, I’ve worked on the project management side and have traded frozen toes for sleepless nights. I don’t come home with mortar in my pockets anymore. Now I have the privilege of waking up at three o'clock in the morning worried that the budget will run out before the flooring crew rolls up. Any way you look at it, construction comes with a helping of pain.

We take pride in being able to endure that pain. From hod carriers, to plumbers, to foremen, to superintendents, to developers; construction demands endurance.  We take materials and cut, shape, join and polish them into structures that people will live and work in. The tools are sharp. The conditions are inhospitable. The pressures are constant.

Construction sites are, for the most part, men’s spaces. That guy in the truck commercial with his tools, two-day beard and work coat – that is the guy I spend my days with.  There’s a camaraderie, a language and a socialization that comes with the work.  Every carpenter I know has been sent to fetch the “board stretcher” from the truck, only to sheepishly return empty handed, greeted by a crew howling with laughter.

We share something. We share an experience of building beautiful spaces from unshaped materials in the harshest of conditions.

We are also building something much more durable. Amidst the bricks and boards and witty banter, we are building men. More specifically; we are shaping manhood. This process of socialization happens on construction sites, and occurs every time and in every place we tell men and boys what it means to be a man. It begins when we are infants and by the time we are 10 years old, each of us is expected to have a nuanced understanding of what it means to be a “man.”

On job sites and off, men are socialized to define ourselves by devaluing women and girls.  We use gender-based attributes to bully and discriminate. The message couldn’t be more clear; men are strong which means women are weak. That is the message I was given the other day.

I arrived mid-morning, stepped out of my comfortable, heated truck in a freshly pressed shirt, and a guy on site called me a p***y.  I remember my days covered in dirt and mortar, with a smashed thumb and no feeling in my toes. From that place in the trenches, the relative comfort of project management is frustrating. The boss gets the credit while the crew suffers in the snow. It’s raw classism.

He was up to his elbows in dirt and rubble preparing to pour a new slab in an old adobe house, and he was calling me weak. He was making fun of me for having lost my calluses. He was questioning my manhood and elevating his own.

I looked at him and said with a big smile, “Thank you!” The whole crew laughed. “I take it as a compliment that you see me as strong as a woman. Bringing forth human life is a challenge no man is built for.” The shovels stopped scraping. The men were thinking. I heard one of them say to another, “I never thought about it that way… he’s kinda got a point…”

“One more thing,” I continued, “I am fine with you teasing and pushing on me. But don’t use that word or any other words that bring women and girls down. That doesn’t fly with me.”

Violence against women and girls is an epidemic in our country.  We get that, but what many men don’t always get is that the way we treat each other devalues women and creates a culture where violence against women and girls thrives. Calling another man a p***y is telling him he is weak, like a woman, and that being weak is bad.

Construction is hard, but it’s not proof of my manhood or anyone else’s. Plenty of structures have been built by women, trans gendered men and women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people.

When men associate weakness with less value and categorize women as weak by nature, not only do we hurt women, we limit ourselves.  There are times when I am weak. This does not take away from the days I have endured 15-degree weather putting shingles on a roof. Embracing those weak moments allows me to be whole.  Besides, I don’t want my manhood built on the back of someone else. 

One in every six American women are victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Men don’t rape for sexual gratification; they do it to exert power. They do it to “be strong.” They take away another person’s power to try and shore up their own.

These are complicated conversations to have on a job site.  The guys sometimes hear me and sometimes shake their heads.  Some are exploring their vulnerability and realizing that they lose nothing in the process. Some are holding on to rigid notions of manhood that research links to increased violence against women and girls. But overall, I see change.  It’s slow, but it is happening.

At A CALL TO MEN, we educate all men and boys about healthy, respectful manhood and its link to preventing violence against all women and girls. Not only will all women and girls become valued and safe, but all men will have the freedom to be their whole, authentic selves.

- Scott Davis, Trainer, A CALL TO MEN

 

Advancing the Conversation

January 2017

Boys from the JPaul Boit Boys High School in Eldoret Kenya

Boys from the JPaul Boit Boys High School in Eldoret Kenya

Welcome to the A CALL TO MEN blog!  This space is designed to lift up the stories and experiences of thought leaders, activists and others working to promote healthy, respectful manhood and prevent violence and discrimination against all women and girls.  We have one primary criteria – which we not only apply here, but in all spaces where you see or hear A CALL TO MEN – how are we advancing the conversation? 

We pose that same question to you.  How are you advancing the conversation about healthy, respectful manhood, and preventing violence and discrimination against all women and girls in your work and your circles?  Can you do more in 2017?  Is there a way we can support your efforts?

In a recent conversation, Tony Porter, the CEO and co-founder of A CALL TO MEN, spoke eloquently about dedicating your life to a cause you may not see solved in your lifetime.  Similarly, Gloria Steinem, an honorary member of A CALL TO MEN’s board of directors, reminded us not to worry about what all can be done, but simply to do all you can. 

This year, A CALL TO MEN will celebrate its 15th anniversary.  We are doing all we can to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.  We have a big agenda this year. 

On May 25, A CALL TO MEN will host its 2017 Gala.  The event will celebrate the organization’s 15th anniversary and will honor individuals who promote healthy, respectful manhood and prevent violence and discrimination against all women and girls.  This year we will honor:

·       Eve Ensler, playwright, performer and activist

·       Alan Gardner, senior vice president, human resources, Verizon Communications

·       Joe and Alice Torre, chairman and president, Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation

In September, A CALL TO MEN will bring its National Conference to Minneapolis, MN.  The conference will explore the Many Faces of Manhood.  A CALL TO MEN will convene influential and passionate voices to examine healthy, respectful manhood in athletics, education, incarceration, fatherhood, faith communities and around issues of gender. 

We are excited to continue A CALL TO MEN’s Global Initiative in Kenya, where the Jump Rope Association of Kenya is implementing our LIVERESPECT Coaching Healthy, Respectful Manhood Curriculum.  A CALL TO MEN’s Davi Mozie will be spending time with leaders in Kenya, furthering the message of healthy, respectful manhood and violence prevention. 

Throughout the year, A CALL TO MEN will be working in communities across the country hosting coaching events, training institutes, and working with high schools and colleges advancing the conversation about healthy, respectful manhood and preventing violence against all women and girls.  I hope you will join us.  Sign up for our emails at www.acalltomen.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @acalltomen to see when we will be in your community. 

Here’s to 2017, and to working together to end the sexism and inequality that not only hurts women but prevents men from being their authentic selves.

 — Anna Marie Johnson Teague, Chief Communications Officer, A CALL TO MEN