In the hometown of Jordan Peterson, the evangelist of white male resentment, a different and thoughtful mens movement vies to be heard
On a warm Tuesday evening, a dozen men gathered on couches at a Lululemon location in Toronto called The Local. Since last year, as an experiment to reach more male customers, the store has been home to The Huddle, a male bonding group which meets Tuesday nights after closing to work out, run, or meditate.
But once a month, the men circle up to talk about, well, their feelings.
Downtempo jazz and cartons of maple sap water greeted me as I plunked myself down next to a young man who recently quit his job to become a freelance cinematographer. The evenings facilitator, Alex Cameron, a man with hulking, tattoo-plastered arms and slicked-back salt-and-pepper hair, told us the theme for this session: emotional literacy. Cameron, who is 40, runs a psychotherapy practice nearby.
To start off, Joe, a slight man in a hoodie, volunteered a story about how he came to realize that vulnerability was a strength rather than weakness.
Ive never shared this in front of a group before, said Joe, 34, who told us the story of his mother passing away when he was three; how his dad became hardened and distant; and how, at the age of 27, he found himself in deep depression.
I was single, in a job I hated, with very few friends I could count on. I felt like we are all going to die anyways, so whats the purpose of trying?
Uncovering blocked emotions, Joe told us, saved his life.
I realized if I wasnt going to take my life, I had to go back in time and work through my feelings. I was a 27-year-old living in a little boys trauma. I needed to prove to myself that it was safe to feel again.
We went around the circle sharing whatever came to mind about manhood, emotions, relationships, Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, Jordan Peterson, the fact that most mass shootings are committed by socially isolated white men.
Conversations with other men are usually very superficial, said Marvin, a transplant from Germany who works at an ad agency.
Its always about sex and money, the man next to him added. (Some of the participants declined to be named for this story.) Like, Oh, I got laid last night. It gets boring.
Its not only fucking boring, its unhealthy, said Marvin. Most men suffer alone.
The discussion shifted to the meaning of anger.
I played football growing up and I learned that, as a man, you kept things inside so you could use them as a weapon. But emotions are energy and they have to move, they have to be released, said Chris, who recently returned from a chakra retreat in Belize. Many men never learn how to release that energy without using force.
Anger is like an iceberg, Alex Cameron, the therapist leading the session, told us. Anger is what you see, but it comes from everything else below the surface shame, fear, guilt. For most men, it feels safer to get angry than express sadness or vulnerability.
He wrapped up on a more personal note. When I feel vulnerable, I cry. It looks like sadness on the outside, but it feels powerful.
Liberation from boys being boys
Ive dropped in on The Huddle several times over the past six months. One meeting focused on mental health and substance abuse; a former drug addict shared the story of his attempted suicide and recent recovery. Another served as a #MeToo confessional. I bet every man in here has a story about how theyve mistreated a woman, the facilitator prodded. After a deafening silence, one man threw up his hands. I know Ive done some foul shit.
I met a Reiki healer, a construction worker, a former professional soccer player, a gym owner, a bartender, and several social workers. The group appeared to attract mainly straight, unmarried men in their thirties who share interest in fashion, athletics, and wellness trends; the tattoo quotient of the participants was high. In a nation, and a neighborhood, that is predominantly white, The Huddle crowd skews about 50% black.
Lululemons dive into the murk of modern masculinity is a hipster-approved strand in a longer lineage of male reckoning.
Alongside the din of womens lib in the late 1960s was the lesser known mens liberation movement. Male liberation calls for men to free themselves from the sex role stereotypes that limit their ability to be human, wrote psychologist Jack Sawyer, an early proponent, in a 1970 issue of Liberation magazine. The battle of women to be free need not be a battle against men as oppressors. The choice about whether men are the enemy is up to men themselves.
Today the pro-feminist mens movement champions causes ranging from reducing violence against women to raising awareness about male suicide and prostate cancer. Adherents dwell in gender studies programs, social justice groups, and mental health organizationsand in small groups of men who gather in coffee shops and living rooms for heartfelt talk.
Pro-feminist masculinity has remained relatively obscure, though #MeToo may be changing that.
Its allowed male feminists like myself to come out of the shadows, Michael Kehler, a University of Calgary masculinities studies professor, told me by phone. His career, after two decades of quiet, diligent work to move this agenda forward, has flowered with media requests and speaking engagements. In January, Kehler became North Americas first masculinities studies research chair.
Until recently, there was an allowance, or even an expectation, for men to behave badly, like it was a natural way of being, Kehler said. [I]t was written off as boys being boys or thats just locker room talk. If you didnt talk about sports or engage in sexualizing banter, other men might question the adequacy of your masculinity.
Kehler believes this older breed of masculinity is dying. Some evidence, however, suggests otherwise.
Pro-feminist men feel that by modulating hypermasculinity, and ceding a wider wedge of societal power to women, they can clear a path to male enlightenment something good for men and women.
But a countermovement has gained steam.
Known as the mens rights movement, these ad-hoc, mainly internet-based activists are resistant to policies promoting womens equality and to the men-as-oppressors narrative generally. Oddly enough, the movements ideological godfather, Warren Farrell, was a well-known male feminist in the seventies who marched alongside Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. By the time Farrells 1993 book The Myth of Male Power arrived on shelves, his metamorphosis was complete: What we, as feminists, did is put men into the oppressor class and called it patriarchy, he once said of his previous self.
While some strands of the mens rights movement tout their efforts to provide mens shelters, male-centric mental health services, and legal support in paternity cases, others are openly misogynist.
Pussy is the only real empowerment women will ever know, wrote Paul Elam, the founder of AVoiceForMen.com, to promote the websites slap-a-violent-bitch month in 2017. Put all the hopelessly wishful thinking of feminist ideology aside and what remains is the fact that it is men and pretty much men only who draw power from accomplishment, who invent technology, build nations, cure disease, create empires and generally advance civilization.
Elams online community has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
ReturnOfKings.com, a blog for pickup artists (men focused on manipulating women into sex), has also earned this distinction. The websites founder, Daryush Valizadeh, even suggested rape should be legal if done on private property.
Also in the constellation of mens rights groups are incels men who blame women for their inability to attract a mate. (The word is a contraction of involuntary celibate.) The online subculture reached notoriety in April when 25-year-old Alek Minassian drove into two dozen pedestrians in Toronto. Eight of the 10 killed were women. The Incel Rebellion has already begun, Minassian posted on Facebook moments before he rammed his rental van into a Yonge Street sidewalk.
Black kids cant afford therapy – we have to fix ourselves
Jahmal Padmore, one of the organizers of The Huddle, believes that blaming women, or anyone, does not dissolve ones woes so much as harden them.
The bespectacled, well-muscled 34-year-old gently badgers his male friends to show up for The Huddle because he knows firsthand how difficult it is to reach out for support.
Black kids cant afford therapy if were going to get fixed, we have to do it ourselves, Padmore, the son of Antiguan immigrants, told me. So I just went on YouTube and watched a lot of personal development videos.
Padmores craving for self-discovery accelerated as he approached his 30th birthday. He was drinking heavily and had some brushes with mental illness. One day he came across a series of videos by the University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, focused on mens pain. Padmore was hooked briefly.
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