The mission of the Men's Resource Center for Change is to support men, challenge men's violence, and develop men's leadership in ending oppression in our lives, our families, and our communities.
Why a Men's Center
By Steven Botkin
The Men's Resource Center's purchase of a building in 1998 renewed interest in the question, "Why a men's center?" It has been more than 20 years now since a small group of men decided to create a local organization to promote community, support, and anti-sexist activism among men. We were inspired by feminism, the early literature of the "men's movement," and our own personal experiences with challenging the dominating forms of masculinity. We wanted to create male identities and masculine culture that more authentically reflected the diverse realities of men's lives.
We knew that the oppression of women and the dehumanization of men were two sides of the same coin. We knew that homophobia was directly linked to men's fear about expressing who we really are, and that racism, classism, and ableism were demanding that we fight for one "right" way to be a man. And we knew that many truths about men, truths that we all needed to hear, were buried under the weight of the power and privilege we were offered if only we would keep silent.
We called ourselves the Men's Resource Connection, because we believed that by connecting with each other we would find the support to overcome our fears, break the silence, challenge the violence of sexism and gender rigidity, and give expression to our wonderful diversity. By 1990 we had developed the Men Overcoming Violence batterers' intervention program, the High School Education Project, the Gentle Warrior retreats, and workshops for colleges and human service organizations. Since our programs were being offered regionally, we decided to change our name to the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts.
Now, 20 years after our founding, there are still very few men's centers in the United States, in the world for that matter. Step by step we have created the MRC as a model of what is possible--a vibrant, grassroots, community-based men's center that is more than a passing fad catching the eye of the media.
If men's centers are truly going to become an ongoing part of the fabric of our society, we all need to understand and support the reasons for having a men's center in our communities. Because so few people have any experience of a men's center, and because there are many voices of suspicion and fear, we need careful, and repeated, explanations of "why a men's center." Here are some of our answers to the question, "Why a men's center?"
BECAUSE MEN ARE HURTING. Many men are in pain. This pain can be physical, mental or emotional, usually all three. Some men recognize it, many men do not. Often men try not to pay attention to their pain. We have learned to "suck it up," "hold it in," "walk it off." We believe that admitting our pain to others is an admission of weakness, proof of not being a "real man," letting others down, and an invitation to be shamed and abused. We often end up isolated and afraid in our pain. Addictive and abusive behaviors are one way we attempt to cope with this hidden pain.
At a men's center a safe place is created where men are encouraged to respect the full range of our feelings, where we do not have to deny our pain, our fear, our anger, or our joy, where men come together to witness and support each other in expressing ourselves clearly and honestly. We break through our fears and learn that our greatest strength is in our vulnerability with ourselves and others.
BECAUSE MEN ARE HURTING OTHERS. Violence in our relationships, in our families, on our streets, and in our schools continues to be one of the most significant social issues of our time. Much (although not all) of this violence seems to be done by men and teen-age boys. Although we have a growing number of legal and social services for victims of violence, our society has not yet developed an array of effective resources for addressing the perpetrators.
At a men's center men join together in learning how to recognize and take responsibility for our patterns of hurtful behavior. We examine how the social and psychological dimensions of masculinity have affected us personally and created the conditions for violence and abuse. We share and support each other's efforts to change these patterns, individually and culturally. We join as allies with women in challenging cultural and institutional systems of domination and control. We offer each other and our society models of recovery, safety, empowerment and hope.
BECAUSE MEN ARE DIVIDED AGAINST EACH OTHER. From an early age males learn to compete against each other. We are taught to think about ourselves literally as potential soldiers fighting other men to the death in combat. Other men are seen as enemies, dangerous, from whom we have to defend ourselves and our family, someone competing for limited resources. We have used differences of race, nationality, class, and sexual orientation as battlegrounds fueling our fear of other men.
At a men's center men come together with an agreement of honesty and respect for each other. We learn to put aside our fears and create a culture where we can practice understanding rather than winning, communication rather than fighting, sharing rather than defending. We become a place where men from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and communities can learn to feel safe with, listen to, and care for each other.
BECAUSE MASCULINITY IS IN TRANSITION. Our understanding of what it takes to be a successful man is going through big changes. We are being called upon to develop new ways of relating to our emotions, our partners/wives, our children, and our work. These changes can easily leave us feeling confused, disoriented, and overwhelmed.
At a men's center men find others who are facing the challenges of these changes. Together we resist the pressures to adapt to a rigid, dominating masculinity, and support each other in developing diverse ways of being a man that express our highest values and visions. We are creating a new, healthier culture of masculinity.
BECAUSE MEN WANT TO HELP. Many men care about violence, oppression, inequality, liberation, and healing. Although we may want to take a stand, speak out, make a difference, we often feel uncertain, scared, isolated, silenced and powerless.
At a men's center men join together with other men who want to make a contribution to the lives of the men, women, and children in their communities. Together we find ways to take actions that give voice to our caring and our commitment. We learn how to work collaboratively with each other and with women, developing shared power and leadership. A men's center offers training and opportunities for men's leadership and community activism.
The best answer to why a men's center, of course, may be simply to look at the Men's Resource Center. Each week we serve more than 100 men and women through our Support Groups and Men Overcoming Violence programs alone. Each year through our Youth Education programs we reach hundreds of secondary and college students. And each season we send Voice Male, our quarterly magazine, to thousands of people.
Why a men's center? Because it makes a unique and significant difference in the life of individual men, women, and children, and the health of our communities and our society.