I do a training workshop called ‘Working with men and boys’ and this suggests of course that I think there are differences between males and females. Yet what I refuse to do is to say categorically that ‘men are like this and women are like that and so we have to do X, Y and Z with men.’ I am reluctant to feed into stereotypes and the inevitability that men are a certain way. And yet some things are undeniable. I think for instance, that the evidence is clear that men have been, and continue to be, more violent than women. And we have some good ideas about what contributes to this, and yet just exactly why this is so is still open to discussion. And the men I know are not like this, and the men and boys I work with have a capacity to be many things, including to be sensitive, peaceful and compassionate. Men are not always and incorrigibly violent. And yes, I know that it is possible for a man to simultaneously be both of these things. And generalizations are necessary when we think about any group. Cultural sensitivity can only exist if we believe that groups of people have things in common. So I do recognize that there are some generalizations that we can make about men. I simultaneously want to try and ensure that by noticing these we do not cement them into place.
If we think about men and boys in Australia, can we say that males less inclined to talk than women? I think I would have to say ‘yes’ although again there are many men I know who talk considerably, effortlessly and with feeling. And I know women who are closed and untalkative. And I also think that not all things are improved with discussion. I also think that there are many ways of communicating. Are men less inclined to express their feelings than women? Yes, I think this is probably also true of many men. And I have seen research that says that men most in need of emotional help are the ones least likely to seek it. And this sounds about right. And bearing all this in mind, I also assume that men do have feelings, and that they can communicate those feelings, if there is the right moment and choices about how they communicate, what they communicate and with whom.
Coupled with this, do men and boys in Australia 2007 feel uncertain about their roles as males? Yes, I think so. Do they feel unclear about what is expected of them and how they should behave? Many do I think. Do men feel under attack? Yes some do. And some people, men and women, would say that the role of men needed to change and so this is not such a bad thing. And I would be one of them. I think too that the modern women’s movement which emerged some decades ago has been a positive force for change. At the same time, with there being a degree of uncertainty and fear we need to think about how we proceed from here. Telling someone they are wrong and have to change has never been particularly productive, so somehow we need to juggle the realities, look for and expect the best and help it emerge. Celia Lashley in her book ‘He’ll be okay. Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men’ says that she believes boys are intuitive in their communication. That the unspoken is as powerful as the spoken and that things are just often ‘understood.’ I am often asked: ‘how do I get men to speak? How do I get them to open up?’ My response is to start with the assumption that men are able rather than deficient. That when they are offered moments and methods which welcome and respect their individual and preferred ways of communicating then they do communicate and do so about the things they feel strongly about, things they fear, love, cherish and hope for.
The following roughly done drawings I think are elegant examples of this:
I asked men, Australians all. Indigenous and non-indigenous, to think of defining important moments in their lives and to represent these in drawings. This is what they came up with.
A man in his 30’s spoke of a meeting he had with a long lost aunt (that’s her on the left in the slippers). He said he felt an immediate and deep connection with her. You can see that!
A man in his 40’spoke of the time he stopped to speak with a man who was sitting drinking in a park. He thought to himself: ‘This could be me.’ But it wasn’t and he was pleased it wasn’t. Yet he still had compassion enough to stop and chat, recognizing what might have been.
A man in his 60s’ spoke of a time just the day before when he and others ranging in years from his own age through to young children, indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, simply sat around a camp-fire yarning.
A man in his 50’s recalled a time as a child on his father’s shoulders, visiting a circus. An image of intimacy and connection that had stayed with him.
I asked an East Timorese Australian man (In his 20’s) to think of one of those memories he held close to his heart. Something he could look upon when he needed to. And he drew a picture of his village.
Without me asking him to he also drew this picture. A picture of planes dropping bombs and people dying. I asked him which picture was stronger for him and he said the first one. This seems like a choice to me and a good one. It is too difficult to live with pain continually and so while his life is changed forever because of his experiences, his choice of the first image as the stronger one, seems like an uplifting and profoundly positive choice.
These are elegant and profound communications from ordinary men about things they care about, have feelings about.