Tag Archive for boys

Heroes Of The Blue Sky Rebellion By Jack Kammer : A Review

As men we are not particularly good at political activism for our own wellbeing.  Too many of us have grown up believing the ‘feminist fallacy’ … that it is men that have all the power, and that we need to give it back.  As a consequence, it is women who now have the emotional, social, legal and cultural freedom to wander into traditional male domains, whereas men do not have the same freedom to wander so freely in women’s domains.

What this book attempts is nothing short of revolutionary.  Starting from the above premise, Kammer addresses the next generation directly: boys and young men between the ages of 13 to 23.  His message is one of hope and political engagement.

This book isn’t about turning the clock back.  That girls and young women have more choice then ever is a good thing.  What Kammer advocates is extending that choice and freedom to boys and young men.

In presenting his case, this is a refreshingly brief and easy to read book.  Yet its roots are deep.  Drawing on an understanding of all human rights campaigns, and a sensible critique of the way power is distributed in society, Kammer invites boys and young men to join “The Blue Sky Rebellion” … his term for the political reconnection of boys and young men.  In so doing he empowers boys and young men to address their very real alienation.

Kammers message is a tough one though.  In order to generate and embody choice for ourselves, we must feel empowered to go into traditional ‘female’ emotional, social, legal and cultural domains, and feel comfortable there.

I have long held the belief that women benefit politically from homophobia.  By setting men upon each other, they serve to ‘divide and conquer’.  Kammer suggests that this political ruse is finally transparent.

If boys and young men want to free of the hypocrisy of contemporary gender politics, then all boys and young men need to be free.  In this way ‘you’re gay’ and ‘you faggot’ should no longer serve both as terms of abuse for gay boys and young men, and as a way of controlling straight boys and young men.

Having laid out his store, Kammer then equips boys and young men with some of the tools they will need in their new political struggle.  He offers skills for addressing the main ‘feminist’ arguments against male freedom.  He shows how boys and young men need allies not enemies, and explains how to make friends with the world.  Finally, he emphases the need for political engagement and networking between like minded boys and young men.

In short Kammer not only defines his own take on win-win gender politics – ‘the Blue Sky Rebellion’, but shows boys and young men how to be truly heroic in their challenge of creating it.

This book deserves the widest possible audience.  Every boy or young man should have the opportunity to read it.

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Men And Menstruation

Menstruation is a difficult topic for blokes.  I remember travelling in India and meeting a young couple on a gap year after ‘A’ levels.  They had been travelling through some of the more isolated and impoverished parts of the sub continent.  Both were traumatised by the experience and took several days to settle down and start talking to people.  When I chatted to the bloke on his own, it was clear that he was not just traumatised by the poverty, but travelling in intimate proximity with a women menstruating in hot insanitary conditions.  It wasn’t just the hygiene he found difficult, but the pain she went through, and the emotional vulnerability she felt, which was exacerbated by being in an alien and unforgiving environment.

Like most blokes, this guy had been spared the harsh realities of menstruation until he was an adult.  Women, of course, don’t have this luxury.  They are catapulted into the reality of menstruation in their early teens, and for many, find it deeply traumatic.  The founder of The Samaritans, Chad Varah, had the idea for the telephone helpline because, as a priest, he had to conduct a funeral service of a young girl who had committed suicide at the onset of her first period.

The 28 day cycle, and women’s emotional reactions to it, then informs their psychology for the rest of their lives.  To truly know and connect with the women in our lives we need to make their menstrual cycle our business.

Given the ‘trauma’ of menstruation, it is little surprise that cultural and religious taboos have emerged to ‘manage’ the trauma, and shield it from public gaze.  It’s a little like ‘war trauma’ for men, something that is ‘managed’ and ‘contained’ … but not expressed.

Just because menstruation is a difficult topic for men, doesn’t mean to say it’s OK to ignore it.  The women in our lives need our understanding and compassion so they feel supported, validated and accepted.  Here are a few tips.

First, make it your business to get informed.  There are plenty of great web sites offering advice about menstruation and the problems women experience during their cycle.  Try NHS Direct or netdoctor.co.uk.  Possibly as many as a third of women could relieve some of their menstrual distress and pain with appropriate treatment.  You will only know if your loved one is suffering unnecessarily if you take the trouble to show an interest and offer her support.

If you want to understand, from a man’s perspective, what menstruation might feel like, try this great post.  It just might make you think twice about dismissing her moods and her cramps next time!

Second, get engaged.  Starting the conversation about her period is a difficult one for many guys.  A great way to start is to show an interest in the brand of tampons she uses.  Why does she use that brand? Why does she find it the most comfortable?  If you don’t live together, why not try buying her some, and just having them in the bathroom cabinet ‘just in case’.  It will show you care and are thinking about her.

Women, of course, are intimately connected to their monthly cycles.  It’s easy for men to forget this.  There is a great resource aimed at both men and women at PMSbuddy.com.  Here you can enter details of your partners, daughter or mother cycles, and it automatically sends you emails reminding you of when she is due, and offers tips about how to cope as well.  If you’re a women reading this and can’t wait for your fella to take the initiative, you can register too, and send the emails to up to five guys in your life.

Third, know what she needs.  Every woman is different and menstrual problems change throughout the life span.  Take time to know what she needs from you emotionally and physically.  Women often feel vulnerable, in pain, and unattractive during her period.  She needs you to support her through this.  Give her lots of love and understanding.

There are some things, though, best avoided.  One is asking ‘are you on’ or something even less sensitive.  Women often experience this as an accusation and become defensive.  It’s not hard to see why.  You are reducing their unique experiences in the moment to a ‘thing’ which is hardly respectful.  The second is avoiding humour as the only strategy to help you navigate her needs.  Humour is great from time to time, but if it’s your only strategy, you’ll be sending the message that what she is going through is not important to you.

I do understand this is a difficult topic for blokes to get to grips with.  But doing so will reap rewards in your relationship.  She will feel closer and more loved by you.  Do be sensitive to her needs for privacy and her own embarrassment talking about the subject.  This isn’t an easy conversation for both men and women, but if you love her, it’s a conversation worth engaging in.  Over time you will both become comfortable with it.

For me, the biggest benefit of blokes getting to grips with this is the help you can then extend to your daughters.  If you can engage with your partner, you will be more able to ‘be there’ for your daughter when the time comes.  Daughters need their fathers to be comfortable about menstruation, to normalise it for her, make her feel accepted, and to give her a good role model of how to manage this aspect of her life with other men.


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Boys Don’t Cry?

One thing has struck me over the years in my practice with men, they don’t cry very often.  For sure I always have a box of (man sized) tissues strategically placed so that, should my client wish to cry, he can.

When I was training I was told that crying is a good thing.  It releases tension, helps you to connect with your feeling, and the crying process itself serves to rid the body of unhelpful toxins.  In fact we were trained in how to spot when someone was about to cry, and how to help them do so.

So if crying is so good for us, why don’t the men I see cry more often?  For a while I thought that maybe I was to blame.  Perhaps, so I thought, I was not creating the right atmosphere where the client felt safe enough with me to cry.  Then, I thought, it was because I was a man, if my client was seeing a female therapist, then perhaps he might feel more able to cry.

Of course sometimes men do cry.  My experience is that when the men I see do cry it is usually for deep existential pain: death, abandonment, loss.  For sure women cry for these reasons too, but women also cry to express other feelings, like frustration or disappointment.  Women, it seems to me, also cry as a means or aid to communication, rather than simply an expression of inner pain.

The ‘standard’ explanation for the differences between men’s and women’s crying is that men have crying ‘socialised’ out of us.  We learn as boys, so the ‘standard’ theory goes, that our crying is not acceptable to others.  According to this view men are both capable of crying more, and if it wasn’t for our dysfunctional emotional upbringing, we would cry as much, and as often as women.

I have come to reject this idea.  I don’t believe the socialisation hypothesis anymore.  Not least because it forces men to apologise for the emotionality they do express (“I know I should cry more” etc).  It seems to me now that men not crying as much as women is not so much a problem for men, but a problem for the women in our lives.  They would feel better if our emotionality were the same as theirs.  The fact of the matter is they are not.  My experience of working with men is that our emotional worlds are different to women’s.  Not better, not worse, but different.  I now hold the view that if a man cries in therapy that’s fine, but if he doesn’t cry, then this is not a problem with him, or indeed, with me.


 

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Iron Man Family Outing Book Review

Book Review: Iron Man Family Outing – Poems about a transition into a more conscious manhood by Rick Belden.

Fathers are important, especially to little boys. The author of this anthology of poems, Rick Belden, describes his father as “angry, abusive” and “unavailable”. To cope with the hurt, Rick escaped into imaginative fantasy. His favourite was the comic book hero, Iron Man. When the Iron Man started to appear in his dreams as an adult, it precipitated a forensic examination of his childhood and the man he had become.

This book of poetry documents, often with brutal honesty, Rick’s penetrating and uncompromising search for himself. As a therapist I am used to accompanying clients on such journeys to the core of their being. Rick’s journey is often heartbreaking as he reveals his angst, anger and despair.

Like all books of poetry, I let the words wash over me. Some spoke to me more than others. Those that did speak to me addressed the damaged child within. That child I had to learn to befriend, and even take out to play.

Indeed, Rick’s book speaks to the damaged child in all of us. But Rick goes further and shows how that damaged child, with low self worth, becomes an adult that acts out in unhelpful ways. For example by using sex to give and receive pain.

Rick’s work, if it anything, is transformative. It holds out in optimism that by courageously facing the child we were, we can create a more rewarding future for the adult we want to become.

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