This year I’ve had the opportunity to do men’s work in different contexts. How we come together matters. Context defines what is possible. I have been with men in ceremony. And I have been with men in more politicized or “woke” contexts.
The ceremony work is arduous. It is the sort of work that pushes your body and your senses to an extreme. And from that extreme, thoroughly challenged, facing deep fear, humbled and awestruck. Something deep becomes possible. Change. Growth. Learning. Spiritual connection.
I have been welcomed as a helpful guest among a group of men doing this spiritual work. They are a coherent group. They come together regularly. And they have a weekly call. I am impressed by the depth of love and mutuality that is manifest here. I can see the way in which the work facilitates a new depth of relationship.
I also did some men’s work in México. We were part of a solidarity laboratory. It wasn’t just for men. It included people along the gender spectrum. And a powerful trans man called us in. He invited men to consider the way we talk to each other when women are not around. He talked about the violence inherent in the way men are with each other. And in the way we speak of women when women are not around. He invited us to consider ways to disrupt these culturally conditioned patterns of male bonding.
This is how the idea of Machos Anónimos was born. It is a play on Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step recovery programs. It’s not the first time I write about adapting the twelve step model to the work of undoing patriarchy. And it is interesting to see the idea spark in other places. There is a close relationship between conditioned behavior and addictive behavior. They both become etched in our subconscious. And we often enact these behaviors even when we say we don’t want to.
I am interested in this adaptation of the twelve step model. I am convinced that this is work we have to do systematically and together.
I have noticed how more politicized contexts actually limit the conversation. Even when we are approaching it with passion and with the best of intentions.
It is too easy for the work of dismantling patriarchy to become an arena of “competitive wokeness.” A well developed analysis can actually shut down curiosity. We tend to hold it as a fundamental truth. And the work becomes about grandstanding. Everyone wants to get it right. To let others know they have it right. And to enforce what is right. I call it movement fundamentalism.
I have nothing against what is right. But I do have a problem with spaces that make us afraid to get anything wrong. The fundamentalism that underlies “competitive wokeness” can paralyze us with fear. No one wants to get it wrong. No one wants to be exiled from the tribe. A primal fear hijacks our thinking. And fear is how possibility erodes.
Structural analysis is essential. But it is not enough. The possibility of a systemic twelve step style approach is rich with potential. It is important to remember the deeply spiritual nature of the approach. It is an approach that demands humility. It places surrender over will. It invites us to serve. And to ask for help.
We now know lots about call outs. And about shutting down what is wrong. But we have not figured out how to spread the work of deep change.
This is where ceremony comes in. And it is where the twelve step approach comes in. Because it is important to stay humble. And curious. It is important to keep learning. To come close. And to support one another as we become better men and help men to become better.