Manology: Getting men to talk about 21st century masculinity

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      When David Hatfield was 24 years old, his girlfriend sensed something was wrong.

      He was experiencing symptoms of depression, and she encouraged him to consider getting some counselling.

      Hatfield, however, felt slighted by the suggestion.

      "It really stung," he said in an interview at the Georgia Straight office.

      It wasn't until almost a decade later—after his father died, some conflicts, and a betrayal in a relationship—that he finally sought counselling.

      That decision proved to be what he calls a major turning point in his life.

      His attitude towards seeking assistance transformed, and he recognized how resistance to opening up about problems is entrenched in traditional definitions of masculinity.

      "Independence or competitiveness, especially handling situations on your own without professional support or guidance—it's really old school and it's still out there to a large degree," he said. "It really saddens me."

      What he thinks makes an influential and substantial difference is being able to witness other men opening up.

      "If you're in a group situation where you're hearing men getting support from people, whether that's professional or friends or whatever, that's great role modelling. That's very much easier to digest than hearing it in a magazine or on a TV show or from your well-meaning partner or friend who's said it a thousand time and you still haven't taken them up on it."

      Unfortunately, seeing other men display their vulnerable selves is not something that many men have the opportunity to experience.

      Hatfield now leads a course which does provide that potential to do so.

      Manology, an interactive and experiential course held at the Roundhouse Community Centre, is designed for men to address and discuss issues about being male in the 21st century. The course launches into sixth season today (September 8) and covers an expansive range of topics ranging from male definitions of money to figuring out relationship boundaries.

      It's not group therapy and it is open to drop-ins, but it is that rarity of rarities: an accessible space where men—of all ethnicities, cultures, lifestyles, and orientations—are able to share their inner lives and talk about issues of manhood with other men in a supportive environment.

      The structure and facilitation by Hatfield helps participants delve deeper than everyday, superficial chatter. 

      "We still socialize boys and men to do maybe less risk-taking in conversation with each other about things that are linked to a sense of vulnerability."

      He pointed out that when men are able to share emotions and experiences with other men—something that is either discouraged or never happens—it relieves the pressure on their partners.

      "When they're putting all their emotional eggs in one basket, if that relationship ends or there's trouble or if they feel awkward about sharing a certain situation with their partner, if they've been in that pattern for a long time, suddenly they're in this really confronting, disorienting place, like 'Who the hell do I talk to now?' "

      Hatfield also differentiates his approach from engaging in criticism of or antagonism towards women, feminism, or related issues.

      "For me, what it's not about is going back to a further entrenchment of traditional masculinity," he said. "It's not about making excuses for men's bad behaviour. It's not fanning the flames of the war of the sexes….'Power over' is the old paradigm and 'power with' is the new paradigm."

      The course offers the chance for men to not only talk about changing masculinity but actually practise doing so.

      "For me, one of the requirements of doing masculinity work is to invite boys and men to speak in different forms, to engage other ways of knowing and learning, and to also engage other ways of hearing," he said.

      For more information about the course, which continues into the spring of 2015, visit the Manology website.

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