Our mission is to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men's violence against women.
by Pat McGann, MCSR
I was a fan of the sitcom Cheers in the mid-1980s. It was part of the “Must See TV” lineup on NBC Thursdays, along with The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Hill Street Blues. A few of the grad students in English Studies at Texas Tech would gather Thursdays in my efficiency apartment to spend a couple hours in front of my battered thirteen-inch black-and-white TV. While Hill Street Blues was my favorite in the lineup, Cosby and Cheers ran a close second. Looking back, I would critique Cheers for being so white, and I’m not going to claim that it was a stellar example of healthy masculinity either. But if I were to watch it now, I’m certain there still would be things I would like about it.
One of those things would be the theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” voted in a 2011 Rolling Stone readers’ poll the best television theme song of all time. The lyrics capture the desire to have a meeting place where you’re known and accepted, where even though there are differences, there are also important and lasting ways everyone is connected. I see the Healthy Masculinity Summit as a meeting place like that.
The summit kicks off the Healthy Masculinity Action Project (HMAP), a two-year initiative designed to raise the visibility and value of healthy masculinity and support emerging male leaders taking action in communities across the country. Instead of the summit being a place “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” I would change it to “Where We All Can Meet and Connect.” I know, it won’t ever be the title of the best television theme song of all time, but it captures the purpose of the summit.
Since May, I’ve spent many hours talking to people from various national organizations about supporting healthy masculinity and the project by becoming a HMAP Ally. An ally agrees to support the initiative by sharing information about HMAP with its national network. In the course of these discussions, it has become clear to me that people and organizations often come to healthy masculinity from different places. What does it mean for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to be a HMAP Ally? The “mtvU Against Our Will” campaign? The Relationship Training Institute? The American School Counselor Association? Hollaback!?
A “Case Commentary” by David Wexler, Executive Director for the Relationship Training Institute, a HMAP Ally, appears in the May/June 2012 issue of Psychotherapy Networker. He is responding to a case study by Robert Garfield on “Men Helping Men: Using Men’s Groups to Enhance Couples Therapy.” In the commentary, Wexler claims that part “of what sabotages a man’s ability to relate more deeply with his intimate partner is the ‘relationship dread’ phenomenon – a man switching to fight or flight because he’s fearful he’s going to fail somehow in the relationship.
It might not be immediately apparent whether “relationship dread’ would connect with the work of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which helps to build character and teach life critical life lessons to disadvantaged young people through baseball and softball themed programs. Or with the work of Hollaback!, which is committed to ending street harassment. At the Healthy Masculinity Summit, though, we will want to embrace the idea that “relationship dread” – or aspects of it – might potentially relate to the work of these different organizations. If males are socialized to deal with fear of failure through fight-or-flight, does that affect a young man’s actions on and off the field when a big game is lost? Does it affect how a man approaches bystander intervention when a woman is being sexually harassed?
We may not be able to immediately mesh all the perspectives and issues tied to healthy masculinity, but our first goal at the summit should be to understand and strive to relate multiple perspectives to one another. After we are confident that we have done all we can to make connections, we should take a look at differences.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Paul Hawken, an environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author: “All is connected. No one thing can change by itself.” We all need each other for change. The Healthy Masculinity Summit will be a place where we all can meet, connect, and where together we can work for change that benefits us all.