“Rethink Masculinity did not cure me. Because I’m not broken.”

The following is a first-hand account of one Rethink Masculinity student’s experience recognizing and unlearning toxic masculinity. The author has chosen to remain anonymous. Sign up for the next Rethink Masculinity class here.

I don’t have the highest opinion of myself, which has developed into an almost chronic sense of insecurity.  I find myself constantly wondering what others are thinking about me.

Whether denial or ignorance, for years I wrote off my insecurity as simply overthinking things. Regardless, my inability or unwillingness to address my low self-esteem and corresponding insecurity often had negative effect on many of my relationships, usually with those that I was closest with.

Because I questioned the degree to which people liked me, I would often take unreasonable offense to remarks or actions that were meant in jest or were otherwise harmless. I would go out of my way to take offense with the subconscious intent of saddling someone else with my emotions. I was charging my friends and family with responsibility of my emotions.  

It was toxic. It was manipulative. It often forced people to distance themselves from me, having quite the opposite effect that I obliviously expected.  

My toxicity hit a boiling point at the end of a romantic relationship that lasted far too long.  

We were in a long distance relationship and I began developing trust issues. One time she visited me and I couldn’t shake a baseless suspicion of infidelity and proceeded to go through her phone and discovered that she’d cheated on me. In the past my manipulative behavior usually emerged in response to imagined slights. But infidelity seemed to be an unforgivable transgression for which my ire was justified. Warranted even!

And I now had a tangible weapon with which to manipulate her.

Over the next few months of our relationship, I compulsively used her guilt against her, reminding her of how badly she’d hurt me, refusing to accept her heartfelt apologies and threatening to break up with her.

She was my emotional hostage.  

Eventually the abuse became too much for her to handle and she ended the relationship, which sent me down a yearlong bout with depression. I became a shell of myself, losing all forms of confidence and living in a perpetual state of self-pity.  

I moved back home to Michigan, where I was able to gradually regain confidence in myself. I (not so deliberately) remained single, which, in an environment conducive for recovery, allowed for much needed introspection and personal freedom.

Being responsible for nobody’s emotions but my own was almost a relief. In retrospect, my catharsis was not due to the lack of responsibility for someone else’s emotions. Rather, it was relief from my abuse of others. I was still oblivious about this though.

When I moved to DC in 2017, I became fast friends with someone with whom I developed a strong emotional connection. We became very close, but she was often put off by my toxicity. Luckily for me, she was able to recognize my abusive tendencies were likely borne of my own toxic masculinity.  

She mentioned that a friend of hers had been a part of Rethink Masculinity, a supportive safe space coordinated by men for men to learn about, discuss, and confront toxic masculinity professionally, socially, and personally.  

I was pretty apprehensive about it all when she told me that women weren’t involved in the facilitation. I pictured a group of 20-something white guys man/white/straightsplaining feminism, which was not something I was interested in. The whole thing reeked of out-of-touch pretension, not to mention an added time commitment to an already loaded schedule. I was wrong.  

I attended a stand-alone reading group associated with the group and was blown away. I found the reading compelling and personally illuminating.  

Not only was I excited to discuss the reading with group, I was excited to meet the people who I’d imagined were more than familiar with the intricacies of masculinity – far more so than I, anyway.

And then insecurity started to set in and I started doubting my place in the group.  Surely the men involved were far more enlightened than I, and surely I’d come across as an ignorant, crass jerk who had been put up to this.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The racially diverse and sexually ambiguous group of men were not only inviting toward me as a newcomer, but were inquisitive. They were genuinely interested in my experiences and viewpoints.  

Together, we weren’t learning about masculinity as much as we were learning about ourselves. Masculinity may have been the topic, but our experiences were the driving force behind what was meant to be learned, and, ultimately, from which to grow. 

This was an environment consisting of smart and inclusive individuals with a genuine thirst for knowledge as a means for improvement.

One of the men in the group suggested applying to the full Rethink Masculinity class and I did just that. The class itself was similar to the reading group in terms of subject matter, but far more structured.  

We’d dissect the readings through a variety of exercises, usually discussing the “macro” as a large group, then discussing our more subjective, “micro” thoughts in smaller groups. We’d then regroup and discuss the different “micro” thoughts together.  

It was a veritable think-tank of progressive thought, anchored by specific topics, but approached from wildly different perspectives. It was not uncommon to see people frantically take notes during someone’s reflection, eager to record someone else’s profoundly unique analysis.  

And though it was safe to say we were like-minded individuals, people regularly voiced dissent, challenging concepts in the readings that they did not feel were consistent with their own line of thinking.  

Regardless of how I felt going into a class – whether I was exhausted from work, upset about something in my family, or excited for a football game – I always left feeling better. And that’s not to say that I was happier or filled with some sense of relief from existential dread; it was more a feeling of revitalization. It was like my brain went to the gym and exercised for three hours.  

I can safely say that I learned something from each person in my cohort.  

I didn’t tell you about my struggle with insecurity or my proclivity toward toxic behavior as a frame of reference for a journey from the darkness to the light.  

I’m still insecure. I still fall into my toxic tendencies. I’m still me.  

Rethink Masculinity did not cure me. Because I’m not broken.  

I’m flawed. We all are.  

Rethink Masculinity provided me with a safe space to recognize, conceptualize, and address the inherent toxicity of masculinity that pervades our culture — and cultures around the world. And, in doing so, I am better equipped to recognize, conceptualize, and address accordingly toxic masculinity within myself and within others.  

And along with those provisions, it has created a rapidly expanding community of respect, trust and, above all else, love. I hope you’ll join me.

For Every #MeToo, There’s an #IDidIt

Are you a man or masculine-identifying person who wants to build a world where no one ever has to say #MeToo?

Then we want you.

Starting January 14th, we are accepting applications for our Spring 2018 Rethink Masculinity cohort.

Rethink Masculinity offers you the opportunity to join a supportive space where you can process and express emotions around the impact of masculinity, identify harmful behaviors and their alternatives, and build strategies and skills to address gendered violence. Participants meet for three hours a week for two months.

Don’t take our word for it! Here’s what one participant from our last cohort had to say about the program:

“Rethink Masculinity was a rare space to dive into our relationship to masculinity, violence, accountability, vulnerability, and so much more. It was healing to learn and grow with men who brought different histories, communities, and emotions into the room. I am deeply grateful for all that I learned!” – Josh Eisenstat

Are you ready to join the movement to end gendered violence? Apply by February 14th!

Please contact stephen@collectiveactiondc.org  or daniel@collectiveactiondc.org with any questions!

rethink masculinity: taking on emotional labor

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series from our Rethink Masculinity program with ReThink and DC Rape Crisis Center. The author, Stephen Hicks, is co-director of Rethink Masculinity and stylistically decided to not use capitalization.

i didn’t know about emotional labor until i joined the rethink masculinity course from CASS. the second class of rethink was about this foreign concept. i believe i heard the term emotional labor once and didn’t inquire further. 

go ahead, take a moment. it took me three decades, a handful of heartbreaks, and plenty of damage done to get a introductory tutorial in doing work that involved recognizing i had human emotions and needed to recognize human emotions in others. so, when i read the three articles we were assigned before class, i had a clay davis-like reaction.

the three articles:

for this venue, i’ll use this working definition of emotional labor I learned from the rethink masculinity class: 

defining emotional labor: the process of managing feelings and expressions in order to fulfill emotional requirements as part of a relationship, friendship or job. workers are expected to regulate their emotions with customers, co-workers and bosses. women are gender non-conforming people are expected to regulate their emotions for the comfort of men. emotional labor is required for any relationship to work.

emotional labor isn’t limited to cries and smiles. emotional labor can include planning dates, communicating one’s needs/desires/wants, calling grandma to cheer her up, and holding space for others to express themselves. hey, there’s even a checklist. it’s the action-oriented detail that keeps all kinds of relationships intact from romantic, platonic, familial, and professional. 

i immediately thought of how my former partner told me she was not my “container.” she was definitely present, but needed boundaries to my rampant unloading. and trust me, i unloaded. my job, my family, my friends, my roommates, and everything and everyone. me me me me and lots of grievances. i mistook my unloading as me practicing vulnerability and called it intimacy. and what made it worse, i wasn’t intentional about holding the space for her to share what she was thinking and feeling. way too lopsided. when i reflect on her words, she wanted me to do my own emotional labor and not simply unload onto her for her to be saddled with my unresolved woes.

also, i think of my mother, for she held (and continues to hold) the weight of sustaining the family throughout the good, bad, and mundane. her daily commute consisted of hour-long traffic jams to a workplace culture which didn’t value her vast expertise. and upon her return home, she shouldered the enormity of her sons’ classroom performance, extracurricular activities, in-school suspensions, and absent-father dramas. she’s now retired and her sons are out of the house, but she still invests in emotional labor — often going unreciprocated. 

to my former partner and my mother, thank you and i apologize for not doing more of my own emotional labor AND being there for you two. i want to make this right. 

on the macro-societal level, many of us cishet men are excused from this skill-building of doing emotional labor. we often don’t process emotions or hold space. as a consequence, women and queer folks are tasked with saving the day. they listen to us, schedule this and that, stroke our egos, and create comfort. they sustain us. in turn, we reap the benefits and return very little. i think there’s a multifaceted reason why we do this: part-immaturity, part-misogyny, part-you-are-so-much-better-at-this-adulting-and-caretaking-thing-i-will-freely-rest-on-my-laurels-yes-please-and-thank-you. 

fellas, it’s not too late for us to unlearn the old and practice anew. we should check ourselves. emotional labor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. we have to take responsibility for ourselves. emotional labor is a skill, which we should begin to hone. we have plenty of emotional labor to reciprocate. let’s start now.

Men: You can do better. We want to help.

Last Monday, a 16-year-old Black girl from Ward 8 confronted her harassers — men who serve food in her community — and told them clearly, calmly, and repeatedly: “No matter what I’m wearing, I deserve to walk down the street without being harassed.” Their response? They contorted their faces in disbelief of the radical idea that women and girls deserve to feel safe in public spaces.

Blaming women for the harassment they experience while navigating public spaces is unacceptable. Yet, men continue to blame women — or their attitudes or their profession or their clothes — for their actions. We need to rethink this common refrain. We need to rethink masculinity.

Are you or someone you know ready to commit to working to construct a new understanding of masculinity? If so, apply by August 23rd to join the second cohort of Rethink Masculinity, which runs from mid-September to early November!

ReThink Masculinity, a partnership between Collective Action for SafeSpaces, ReThink, and DC Rape Crisis Center, is a consciousness building group, for and by men, to construct healthier masculinities.

The program is a two-month long consciousness building group focused on equipping men with the skills and community to rethink how they express their identity. Rethink Masculinity is committed to being intersectional, to centering queer and trans people, and to building a culture of accountability and trust. Applications are open to all men, regardless of assigned gender. People of color, queer and/or trans men, and DC natives are encouraged to apply.

Questions? Want to learn more? Join us for an informational happy hour next Monday at Nellies or email daniel@collectiveactiondc.org or stephen@collectiveactiondc.org.

Want to take action in solidarity with the girls harassed in Ward 8? Come out on August 23rd from 5-9pm for “Reclaiming My Body,” a speakout and food table where people can still get the food they need and feel safe.

to my mans:

Editor’s note: This is part of a series from our Rethink Masculinity program with ReThink and DC Rape Crisis Center. The author, Stephen Hicks, is co-director of the Rethink Masculinity program and stylistically decided to not use capitalization.

“young black males, like all boys in patriarchal culture, learn early that manhood is synonymous with the domination and control over others, that simply by being male they are in a position of authority that gives them the right to assert their will over others, to use coercion and/or violence to gain and maintain power” (c) bell hooks, we real cool

true indeed.

i guess this is a fine time to declare #NotAllMen or a similar tone at the outset, for painting with broad strokes may be inaccurate. for the moment, i choose not to. many of us — specifically cisgender, heterosexual black men — are in need of healing; however, the resources aren’t widely promoted or readily available or not started yet. in this void of healing, our toxic masculinity thrives, threatens, and tortures us. and without fail, this toxicity directly affects our partners, families, friends, and communities. our thirst for power has afflicted more than comforted.

black cishet (in twitter speak):

race, gender identity, and sexual orientation are important to name because each facet provides context to our dilemma. slavery was not an isolated incident and its legacy birthed many ills which we are grappling with today. i hope we continue to grapple with them and move to a space of reconciliation and healing. i, myself, am in need of healing and want to support others in their journeys. in the rethink masculinity course, i was compelled to re-examine and revisit what i’ve deemed as normal, default masculinity. it was mostly healthy (i guess, sorta. nah). yet, i also recognized and still recognize much of what is considered normal is still us settling for our own mediocrity. maybe the normal and default is still steeped in toxicity.

then i thought about normal, default masculinity within the black american experience. there are levels to this.

a possible conundrum: toxic masculinity won’t allow us to be labeled victims — violated by white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. and toxic masculinity won’t allow us to see how these systems have hurt us and how we’ve internalized this oppression and used it to hurt other black people: other cishet black men, black women, black queer folks, black trans* folks, and black children. our eagerness for some semblance of power has caused much damage and it’s high time we acknowledge this and make amends.

unhealthy and toxic masculinity within my black american experience has looked like:

  • my former colleague, a black queer man, not feeling comfortable in the barbershop because of the homophobic comments he’s heard when the shop is packed on saturday mornings.
  • my friend who was molested as a child not afforded the trust of his adult caretakers to believe him and to confront his abuser. instead, those adults dismissed my friend’s accusations and continue to heap praise on the abuser for being a model citizen
  • thinking and acting as if it’s okay for men to comment on people’s bodies and what sexual desires they have for them. Them, being perfect strangers on the street, in the office, or on the metro platform
  • my former partner being silenced by my need to hog up the space and my sense of entitlement that called for her to do my emotional labor
  • going to a church where the women do everything but can’t hold the title of key figurehead due to biblical interpretation
  • when my most urgent concern of the weekend is where the hoes at?
  • not speaking up when my friend uses the t-word in a group email

i don’t believe in a magical fix. this work of undoing toxic behavior will take time and may be a lifelong practice. we can start now. i think we are worth it. i believe we will move closer to healing by looking at our toxic masculinity.

i no longer assert myself as the know-it-all, but i want to offer some suggestions:

  • hold other black men accountable. as i often say, “he ain’t ya mans if he doesn’t say anything while you bask in mediocrity.”
  • be critical of rape culture and how you’ve operated in this paradigm.
  • read black women writers. black women have sustained the black american family and community and so often get relegated to second tier. i started with audre lorde and bell hooks and found myself reading all of the archived blogs on crunk feminist collective. some of the most hard-hitting thought leaders are on twitter and tumblr too.
  • read black queer writers. black queer writers and black women writers are not mutually exclusive identities. black queer folks live at so many intersections of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. there’s richness in delving into those many, many perspectives. check out janet mock, alice walker, and james baldwin.
  • contact Collective Action for Safe Spaces about their next cycle of rethink masculinity 8-week course. applications are now open for the fall 2017 session and close on august 23rd. if you’re out of the DMV area, look into similar programs in your area.
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