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  • Jonathan Isserow

Moving Encounter with Steven Botkin, Men's Resource Center, Amherst, MA

A short blog post cannot do justice to my moving meeting with a humble giant. in the men's gender equity field. Steven Botkin founded the Men’s Resource Center of Western Massachusetts in 1982 and received his doctoral degree in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts several years later. He guided the MRC from a grass-roots group of volunteers into a successful non-profit community-based organization, whose programs became a model for men’s organizing in communities around the world. For an exemplar of this, see RWAMREC in Rwanda. Steven's thoughts and insights into men's mental health and gender equity are far ranging and do not need to be rehearsed here. However, a good introduction to his work can be found in his recent talk on Best Practices for Training Men to Engage in Gender Equality. I am still trying to digest all that we discussed but three salient ideas present themselves as I write:

  • There is a need to return to his foundation 'Beliefs About Men', that being:

    1. Boys are born naturally loving, caring and sensitive.

    2. Boys are trained to be masculine in a way that leads to domination and violence as well as disconnection and confusion

    3. Boys have been traumatised by violence and abuse as victims, and as witnesses. This may be in our families, on the street, through the media, racism, classism, homophobia etc

    4. Men are both privileged and damaged by masculinity and violence

    5. Violence and domination are used by to control and vulnerability, to protect privileges.

    6. Men are eager to reclaim our natural caring and hungry for re-connection with ourselves, our loved ones and our community.

    7. Men can become role models for positive masculinity and agents of change in their families and communities

    8. As partners with people of all genders, men can play an important rle in ending the cycles of violence, supporting gender equality and creating healthy families and strong communities

  • In thinking about men's mental health and where to place energy to bring potential change, do you focus on the social or the personal? Steven reminded me that there is a need to move away from the dichotomy of the 'or' but rather to replace this with the 'and'. In terms of gender and men's work, there is a need to focus on stopping violence against woman AND there is a need to focus on supporting men. The 'or' sets up a tension and if we are to be successful we need to see it as an 'and' of both psychological and social focus.

  • That the training and socialisation of masculinity of boys leads to disconnection, and how we return to connection, is at the heart of the work, and in turn, central to this Fellowship.

Check out Steven's Merge for Equality site with its wonderful range of tools and resources. It is really a treasure trove, along with the Men Engage Alliance YouTube channel. There is a cornucopia of learning opportunities.More than anything, the encounter with Steven was deeply personal, honest and moving. His humanity and modesty engender an I — Thou relationship. It is this connection that I carry with me from our meeting, beyond all the rich insights and understanding. Thank you Steven for the moving connection!

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