“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