Here at The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, I have a few names. The unwombed and the non-woman both quickly come to mind. Being a man in this space is interesting. Our staff brings their lived experiences into this space, and men have consistently failed them. They speak their truth, and it is triggering. I know from social media that I shouldn’t say “not all men,” but my defenses still bubble up. It stings when I choose to feel attacked when my coworkers are speaking their truth.
It’s an amazing feeling when I get to meet men who remind me of my place in the world. I only know men in the space that men can know one another, and in some ways, this knowledge of each other feels limited. In others, it’s human. Men talk and connect in our ways, and recently I connected with some beautiful, strong and committed brothers in Washington, D.C. at Men Can Stop Rape.
I visited to learn more about their work in their Men of Strength (MOST) clubs. MOST teaches young people that being a man does not mean being violent. I learned a lot watching and listening to these men in their office and in community. One of the lessons I learned was language around the concept of the dominant story. During MOST club meetings, students were asked to present the dominant story in a situation which is was naming what is. It is powerful to call a thing, simply, a thing. By naming what is, these students also said, “The expectation is this,” which gave them a deeper understanding of other options and how they have control over what they will do and think in these spaces.
When I was in this community, one of the things that jumped out at me is how unaware of subtleties I am. Hearing the program participants name what IS challenges where we are and where I am daily. Naming the behavior I am supposed to exhibit takes me off autopilot. It presents an opportunity to do something different. Consequently, I am more aware of me in the world.
Spending time in an office full of Black men working in our community was powerful. It’s clear I ain’t alone. Black men know what society does to us. We also know the ways society influences and cosigns men’s damaging behaviors, which create a special kind of hell for Black women and girls. We are working to do better individually and collectively.
Seeing one another as men was powerful. At best, the dominant story is all men are indifferent in the oppression of women. At worst, we are intentional and active participants in their oppression. For a week, I sat in a space with and surrounded by Black men who were actively working in Black and poor communities to improve the lives of women and girls by challenging the dominant story of masculinity. We spoke openly about our thoughts and feelings. We shared the ways our actions and experiences shaped us. In those conversations I felt the same love I feel from my coworkers. They were my brothers. We were building our capacity.
There is a lot of work to be done to improve the outcomes for Black women and girls. Men are teaching how masculinity doesn’t have to be violent. We are talking about the ways it changes us into lesser versions of ourselves. We are learning that the reduction in opportunity for women significantly lessens the options for humanity. We are also learning that we aren’t alone in our efforts. We are working at being better for us all. We all deserve it.