Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Men Supporting Men - This Can't Be Good!

Feminists love to claim that men bear the primary responsibility for our culture of violence and injustice, and that men have a corresponding obligation to work on themselves to make our culture better. But they are being disingenuous, because what they really mean is:

“By all means, work on yourselves - but do it in ways we approve of, and work on the things that we think are important, in their order of relative importance. But don’t you dare meddle in woman’s work!”

This post, by Pam Spaulding at Pandagon is a fine example of this. She picks up on a complaint about the New Warrior Training Adventure that was reported by Wayne Besen. New Warrior grew out of the mythopoetic men’s movement, with the belief that by using the ancient process of initiation, men can heal themselves and other men, and discover a positive purpose in their life. To date, more than 35,000 men from all over the world have done this.

Feminists talk a good game about “deconstructing narratives” about gender – however, this doesn’t apply to their own, deeply bigoted, narratives about what men are like. Particularly men in groups, because their image of men working together is limited to gang-rapes, beat-downs, KKK rallies, torch-wielding mobs and pillaging soldiers.

Pam seizes upon this lawsuit, by the family of a man that committed suicide fifteen days after attending a New Warrior weekend training. Unlike Pam, I’ll link to the original story in the Houston Chronicle so my readers can get a more complete picture from the start. I have deep sympathy for the man and his family, but all I can do is point out that New Warrior is not for everybody, and it is not advertised as such by the Mankind Project, its parent organization. Based on my experiences, many of the allegations about this man’s weekend do not ring true, and absolutely everything that Les Sinclair, the mankind project spokesman, says coincides closely with my experience. In particular:

"The initiation is a real wake-up to life. We teach men to be accountable for the choices they make or the actions they don't take. We look at the emotional wounds that have taken a man's power away...He may have low self-esteem, he may feel like he doesn't measure up to other men, he's afraid of men or he's afraid of women, or he's afraid of life in general. We look at what was that key emotional wound that took his power away and set up some form of psychodrama for him to overcome. It is a very powerful process."

Pam’s article is a pure snark job, picking up the story third-hand, from Wayne Besen's column. She sees enough on the surface to provide some meat for her bigoted commentators, and stops there. She copies some of the short ritual descriptions from Besen's piece, without checking the comments on the article, and noticing that there were denials that they occur. And once she comes across allegations of anti-gay bias in the organization she has all the story she needs! It seems some members of what Pam characterizes as “pray the gay away” organizations encourage their members to go to New Warrior. That fits her model that men in groups are obviously homophobic. So she stops there, because she has what she needs to provoke comments like:

That’s an awful lot of stuff to go through just to have a circle jerk. A couple of hours with a boy scouts pack could get them to the goalposts in a lot less time.

Alright, this one scares me. Any time emotionally fucked up pseudo-straight white men start talking about birthrights, it’s time to leave the party.

I’m confused Pam, I am not an expert in thise matters but I thought gay men were in touch with their masculinity…and someone else’s.

In fairness, not all the comments were so bigoted. And one commenter actually took the trouble to look at a follow-up posting by Wayne Besen. This follow-up, posted after the one Pam quoted, and well before her article (why look deeper when you find such juicy, satisfying stuff!) was written by Wayne to report what gays said:

Indeed, New Warriors has a large gay following and many who attended consider it helpful to their coming out experience. I received more than 25 letters from gay men who said that the program helped them accept their sexual orientation.

"The ManKind Project gave me the confidence and wherewithal to finally say, 'I am a gay man,'" said one participant from Wisconsin.

"The program helped me become a better husband,' wrote another gay man from the Washington, DC area. "As I knocked down the walls, I became more comfortable with myself and able to give 100 percent to my partner. The program literally saved my relationship."

If feminists really care about fighting bigotry then some of them ought to take a close look at themselves. Why skim the surface of the news, and select little snippets that might cast men in a bad light? Why is this so satisfying? Why can’t they make an effort to deconstruct and question their own bigoted narratives? Do they really care about gay men, or do they just use the unjust treatment of gays as a stick to beat other men with?

I’ve been on the New Warrior training weekend, and it was one of the genuinely transformative experiences of my life. It isn’t easy – either physically or emotionally. I’ve recommended this training to every man I know well. I know dozens of men that have gone through, and with two exceptions, they all reported the same sort of transformative experience that I had.

It teaches you about integrity and accountability. It teaches you that you have strengths you didn’t know of, and that other men have wisdom to offer you. It is scary, it is fun, it is joyful.

It isn’t at all the way women would do this – and that is why it works. Men have been initiating each other for thousands of years, and we have lost much because this has dwindled to the negative initiations of gangs and boot-camps. Men know how to see through each other, how to challenge each other, and how to support each other. Men have strengths they can call on to fight their inner battles. Men can, and should be held accountable for what they do. Men have the emotional sensitivity and compassion to help and nurture other men, and to do good work in the world.

This wasn’t a one-time thing for me. I joined the support groups after the weekend. I went on other trainings, and I even got to meet two of the founders of the movement. It isn’t misogynistic, and it is not at all anti-gay.

A cult, you think? There is a reason many men stay with the organization – it fills their needs and adds value to their lives. I was participant for many years, but this cafeteria Catholic is no cult member. I left it years ago, with no pressure whatsoever. I left it because I moved on in my life, but I have great respect for the men, the organization and the work they do.

Here are some links for those who are interested:

In the Company of Men ManKind’s ‘New Warriors’ Embrace Nature, Each Other, ‘Sacred Masculinity’
Band of Brothers
A Small Band of Warriors...
Mankind Project - New Warrior Training Adventure


hedera said...

OK, I have to respond to this. I'm glad New Warrior worked for you, and helped you with being gay. That's a good thing. But I read the Houston Chronicle article, and what I read was that a group of people in Houston was deliberately pushing AA members into this group, where they were subjected to stresses they couldn't handle. The guy who committed suicide was in AA, and his sponsor pushed him to the group.

My husband is a recovering alcoholic; he is not in AA, he attends a secular group called LifeRing. So I have some insight into the mental state of people recovering from substance abuse. These people are fragile; they have weaknesses and strains that someone without experience of substance abuse can't understand; but in Houston, AA sponsors were pushing their clients into this group and this experience. Seriously, this is wrong; this is evil and stupid, and it doesn't surprise me that they ended up with a suicide. I'm surprised they haven't had more suicides; or maybe they've been covered up because the entire power structure of Houston seems to belong to this group.

You need to consider that a group like this is only as good as the members of the individual meeting, and the members of your individual meeting may have been different, and better, people than the ones in Houston. Honestly, I haven't read the Pandagon post or comments but I read the article and it made me sick. The people running that Houston group are power junkies, and they're scary as hell, and if they help some people, it's by accident.

Sweating Through fog said...


What makes you think I am gay?

I know a lot of men that are alcoholics in recovery that went through the training and they felt it was very valuable for them.

All I am doing here is pointing out my own experience and the experience of the many men I know well. I agree it is not for everyone, and no one should be pushed into it. I recommend it to men I know well - when they decline that is fine with me.

As far as what happened in Houston - it doesn't sound at all right based on what I know. But I do have no experience with the Houston branch of this organization.

hedera said...

My apologies - I was sufficiently upset by the Houston Chronicle article that I didn't read your post carefully enough to realize that the references to being gay were quotes. A lesson for me not to react so quickly.

I think we both agree that there was something very wrong with what went on in Houston. I discussed this with my husband and he pointed out that many people in recovery from substance abuse have other psychological problems in addition to the addiction - which may in fact have helped drive them into the addiction - and which could cause a very negative reaction to the processes described in the newspaper article. Also, the newspaper article noted that the man who committed suicide had had problems with cocaine; my husband has observed that cocaine survivors have an extremely difficult recovery path and are very fragile.

The other thing that bothered me about the whole Houston affair was the "smell", if you will, of power junkies. There are people - I've worked for some of them - who get a high out of demonstrating to others who are weaker, or in subordinate positions, how much stronger they are. These people creep me out, and I thought the newspaper described a lot of this type of activity among the people who run that chapter of the organization.

rorybowman said...

Thanks for a decent post that increases visibility for MKP and the general concept of mytho-poetic or pro-feminist men (gay or straight) supporting other men. When asked to explain MKP to various folks I usually describe it as "a sort of existential AA for folks with penises:" a place for men to discuss the terror and wonder of trying to create mature masculinity in an imperfect world.

I have never been to Houston and have no idea what their culture is, but my understanding is that folks who are fresh in their recovery have NO BUSINESS getting anywhere near an NWTA, and I personally would never recommend it to anyone with less than five years of sobriety. Whether Michael Scinto lied to get in for some reason or just relapsed and failed to work his AA well enough, I don't know. I deeply distrust "true believers" and proselytizers of any stripe, and I hope that Houston MKP puts a leash on any such behavior which may have occurred. If such "recruitment" did indeed happen, it would also go against many AA tenets, as I understand them.

As for the hypocrisy and cheap shots by writers, such is par for the course. Pain can make people crazy and there are a lot of very good reasons that some women mistrust men of all types. Gender partisans are wounded souls, as is clear to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see. I don't think that people of good will with any insight mistake them for other than what they are.

You are not the first person to note this failure of self-identified feminists to meet their professed ideals, and I would not judge all Christians by the actions of a few. Letting pain and rage obscure reason and compassion from a desire for control and a world-view that makes sense is a very human fault, distributed across genders and ideologies of every sort.

"Oh, what a piece of work is [humanity]..."

hedera said...

rorybowman, thank you for confirming my feeling that the Houston MKP organization was just flat wrong for someone in the stage of recovery Michael Scinto was in. I'm relatively new to the whole recovery community (and am not myself an addict, I'm family), and am still learning about it. I also deeply distrust "true believers" and proselytizers. There is no one more dangerous than someone who is convinced he has The One Right Way.

I really like your remark that "gender partisans are wounded souls" - that's very true and it explains a lot.

Sweating Through fog said...


Thanks for stopping by. I agree that this isn't for someone new to recovery. The addicts I know that went through all had years under their belt, and had the trainings recommended by their sponsors or therapists.

And I do recall at the end of my weekend, one of the leaders said to everyone: "If you came here an addict, you leave here an addict - what happened here doesn't change that. You need to continue the work of your recovery . . ."

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your blog because such inequities of representation are present in our culture. But do we really need to create a polemical arguement of it, feminists and the men's movement etc. I have participated in MKP and found much good in it especially the invitation for men to grieve. However I also found much that I strongly feel is irresponsible, unethical and dangerous, namely that unqualified men are fascilating and do not know what they are doing. MKP has not adequately addressed issues like retraumatization of it's participants and how this may negatively impact the lives of the men within the organization and their families. This is largely due to a foolish concept of egalitarianism where ALL men feel entitled to fascilitate whether or not they are capable. What is at stake in the present scenario in the men's movement in general is whether the various organizations can really create an environment that is safe and fruitful for emotional growth and supports a true environment of pluralism and respect for differences. I feel MKP strives for this change but stumbles often on their own idealism and grandiosity. I also must add from my experience MKP in it's insistence on having men enter into their emotions has become rather anti-intellectual which I believe to be a real mistake. Mainly because their are multiple ways of framing trauma, growing, and recovering. I realized that many of the groups and men in MKP have changed being less forceful and more open but I have no doubts that the more forceful methodologies persist within the organization. Being MKP is now more out in the open and less shrouded in secrecy due to bad publicity and the web it would be advisable for MKP to open up a dialogue on these issues which will better inform participants and potential participants on how MKP may serve them. Grieving and recovery of this sort has been pushed to the margins of the culture. WOuld not a more open dialogue be more fruitful?