Innovative Response to #MeToo
A Proposal for Strategic Collaboration between GERI and MKP Projects
William Keepin and Cynthia Brix – Gender Equity and Reconciliation International
Paul Samuelson, Boysen Hodgson and Julien Devereux – ManKind Project USA
February 18, 2019
The Urgent Need for a Substantive Response to #MeToo
The future of humanity will be decided not by relations between nations, but by relations between women and men. — D.H. Lawrence
The recent #MeToo campaign precipitated a dramatic cultural awakening, starting in the U.S. but soon spreading around the globe, to the pervasive sexual harassment and exploitation that afflict all of our cultural institutions. First sparked in 2006 by U.S. activist Tarana Burke, the movement went viral when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, on October 15, 2017, that anyone who had been “sexually harassed or assaulted” should reply #MeToo and post about their experiences on social media. Half a million people responded within 24 hours, and by early November, #MeToo had been retweeted 23 million times from 85 countries.
The #MeToo movement brought focused attention to the largely hidden or obscured harassment and exploitation of women and girls in virtually every society across the globe. Although symptoms vary somewhat by culture, gender-based injustice constitutes a global pandemic that functions as a central fault-line in all societies across the globe. Data on the myriad symptoms are now widely available, and the overall pattern of gender-based violence and oppression is as clear as it is systemic. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter opined in a 2015 Ted talk that the Number One human rights issue across the globe today is the abuse of women and girls. Sadly, the United States and other developed nations are no exception to this tragic state of affairs. Remarkable statistical research compiled by Valerie Hudson et al. shows that nations with higher rates of domestic violence are more likely to engage in warfare, and that the most reliable indicator for the peacefulness of a nation is not its GDP, or degree of economic affluence, or its religion, but its level of violence against women.
Irrespective of race, class, religion, culture, or sexual orientation, both women and men around the world grapple daily with the profound impacts of cultural conditioning around male and female socialization, gender relations, and sexuality. In every society, therefore, the transformation of gender relations between women and men is crucial for achieving sustainable peace.
GERI and MKP Are Poised to Offer an Innovative Response to #MeToo
ManKind Project USA
The ManKind Project USA (MKP USA) is a 501(c)(3) national men’s organization that supports and encourages men to awaken from negative dynamics and conditioning of male socialization, and practice a fully mature, responsible, compassionate manhood (https://mkpusa.org). An important part of this transformation entails cultivating relationships of integrity with other men, and with women. Some 40,000 men in the United States have participated in the flagship MKP weekend intensive program known as the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA). The ManKind Project has training centers in 11 regions around the world and a presence in over 22 nations. Men of all ages and from all walks of life report that the MKP experience has strongly supported their personal growth and development. The ManKind Project additionally supports a network of over 700 men’s peer-facilitated support groups in the USA — spaces where men connect, support, and challenge one another to become the best versions of themselves. The MKP project was recently featured in the Sunday section of the New York Times (see online version at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/style/men-emotions-mankind-project.html).
In its 30+ year history, the MKP USA has accumulated an evidence base that includes multiple peer-reviewed studies as well as published and unpublished theses. In one summary from a longitudinal study conducted from 2009-2011, one of the research partners, Ryan Stanga had this to say about the outcomes:
In short, one year after attending the NWTA, attendees consistently reported improved scores on measures of Depression, Conflict between Work and Family, Life Satisfaction, MKP Beliefs/Ideology/Growth, Restrictive Affectionate Behavior Between Men, and Restrictive Emotionality as compared to their reported scores before the NWTA. These same improvements were maintained when the same scales were measured two-years after attending the NWTA. Each of those scales are described in the paper.
What it means is that we can say with some increased confidence that what we do on the [NWTA] weekend is meaningful and has impact. This is not just anecdotal or our impression, but is confirmed by data.
MKP USA is currently working with the Social Research Lab at the University of Northern Colorado to build on the evidence base looking at measures of depression, gender-conflict, rigid norms of masculinity, and male isolation.
Gender Equity and Reconciliation International
Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (a project of the Satyana Institute) has convened intensive three- to five- day workshops and facilitator trainings in nine countries over the past 27 years. Thousands of women and men have jointly confronted gender oppression and sexual violation in GERI programs, and moved through the ensuing challenges together—to reach a place of mutual healing, shared liberation, and often forgiveness. Guided by the twin powers of truth and compassion, the GERI methodology supports a process of collective healing and reconciliation, supported by skillful facilitation and post-workshop follow-up groups. Open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the GERI program was explicitly endorsed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in 2013 (see video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc1O-Q8_s0M0 ).
The GERI methodology is summarized in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s declaration that “Injustice and corruption will never be transformed by keeping them hidden, but only by bringing them out into the light, and confronting them with the power of love.” Working through the ravages of gender injustice with integrity, courage, and compassion, ordinary men and women come to discover a mutual liberation that entails not just equal rights and mutual respect, but reaches to reclaim mutual reverence between the sexes. The shackles of patriarchal conditioning begin to crumble, and profound possibilities of Beloved Community are revealed. (A new video documenting GERI’s work is available at www.GRworld.org).
A three-year academic research study was recently completed at Stellenbosch University to assess the efficacy of the GERI methodology for male and female university students. The study will be published in peer-reviewed journals this year, and concludes:
In essence this work has the potential to change realities and to promote a safer life for all genders. The students “excavated” their experiences, peeling away various layers of socialisation and silencing, and thereby began to free themselves—collectively and individually—from the lifelong shackles of patriarchal conditioning.
This work signifies a powerful move towards (re)discovering the humanness of gender work, in that it creates spaces whereby people can engage on levels beyond fear, anger, projection and denial, and face head on the realities of gender oppression—in all of its forms and facets. The hope for true transformation lies in such processes that facilitate a breaking down of patriarchal meanings, and a realization of our full, uninhibited, and shared humanity.
Fueled in large part by widespread calls for substantive, collaborative responses to the #MeToo movement, demand for the work of Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) is growing rapidly in the United States and abroad. Demand for the work of the MKP project has also grown substantially recently, due in part to recent coverage of MKP in the New York Times.
Relationship between GERI and MKP
Several similarities between the MKP and GERI projects make for a natural collaborative partnership between the two organizations. Both projects have focused primarily on the development and implementation of practical programs for people, from all walks of life, who sincerely yearn to transform and free themselves from negative social norms and dysfunctional behaviors relating to gender conditioning, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. Both projects have developed a refined and reliable intensive 3-day (or full weekend) experiential process, coupled with follow-up groups afterward, which have been implemented widely to support participants in integrating new insights and breakthroughs into their daily lives. Both projects have decades-long track records of successful implementation for widely diverse populations in multiple countries; the MKP was founded in 1984, and the precursor of the GERI project was founded in 1992. Over that time, both projects have built vibrant national and international communities of deeply committed people who are strongly bonded in their shared mission, and who are ‘living the future now’ in their daily relationships and interactions, both in their personal and professional lives.
GERI and MKP have had a long, if largely informal, relationship going back to the mid 1990s. Many MKP men have attended GERI programs over the years, and vice versa—not only in the United States but also in South Africa, where MKP and GERI have both made strong impacts. Several of GERI’s senior male facilitators and trainers have been closely associated with MKP, and a few have served as local or national leaders in both organizations (Julien Devereux of Dallas, TX, Phil Vivirito of St. Louis, MO, and Jabu Mashinini of Johannesburg, South Africa). In November, 2017, after carefully vetting the GERI program and methodology, the ManKind Project USA approved GERI as one of its official collaborating partners. In the meantime, several pilot GERI/MKP workshops have been held — and well-received — in Dallas and St. Louis. The success of these pilot workshops have helped lay the foundation for the new initiative proposed here.
Informal GERI/MKP working group
A recent series of meetings between leaders from GERI and MKP began in November, 2018, and led to this proposal. An informal working group has been created, consisting of co-directors Will Keepin and Cynthia Brix from GERI, and from MKP the current Chair Paul Samuelson, Communications Director Boysen Hodgson, and senior GERI trainer and former MKP Chair Julien Devereux. In February 2018, Samuelson and Hodgson attended a special invitational GERI workshop, co-facilitated by Keepin, Brix, and Devereux, convened for leaders of the national women’s and men’s movements. We all came away enthused and eager to explore ways to collaborate more closely between GERI and MKP, and the plans outlined below constitute a significant step forward.
We recognize that MKP and GERI each bring specific sets of organizational skills and experience to the table. Our missions differ yet are related; MKP focuses on the development of mature, compassionate men, whereas GERI focuses on bringing women and men together for joint healing and reconciliation. Our domains of respective expertise differ in certain ways and overlap in others, making for a complementary and robust strength in our collaboration.
Proposal: Toward a Substantive Co-Gender Response to #MeToo
Based on the foregoing background, we propose a joint exploratory collaboration between GERI and MKP to create an innovative ‘first responders’ series of co-gender workshops that will address the urgent challenge presented by #MeToo movement. This pilot project will provide a substantive co-gender immersion experience to key men and women leaders from across a broad range of professional backgrounds. This experience is intended to serve as a practical pathway toward fostering joint healing across the gender divide and embarking upon innovative renewal of gender relations between the sexes.
This pilot project has strong potential to strengthen the work of both organizations and enhance their respective constituencies, while also opening a striking possibility for making a unique contribution in our society in response to this cultural moment of #MeToo. We begin with an obvious fact, yet one that currently presents a serious obstacle or impasse for the #MeToo movement:
Women Cannot Heal #MeToo on their Own
Women by the millions, across the nation and the globe, have brought the #MeToo crisis forward bravely, in many cases at significant personal risk to their physical or psychological safety. As Mark Greene of the Good Men Project observes, “#MeToo will go down in history as one of the most powerful/political flashpoints in American history.” Nevertheless, although women have finally unmasked this monstrous, unmitigated disaster, they cannot heal it on their own. This can be done only by women and men working together. But for this to happen, women need to find those all-too-rare specimens of men who can truly rise to the empathic challenge, and work with women as genuine equals—neither slinking away in complicit guilt and shame, nor shirking responsibility for the violations and traumas, large and small, that women and girls have long suffered at the hands of men. Women require men who can participate skillfully in the shared vulnerability and fragile intimacy of mutual healing spaces, without a trace of appropriation or exploitation. Women need men who can not only hold them sensitively and embrace their dignity in their pain and vulnerability, but who can also reveal their own vulnerability and injury from the ravages of masculine patriarchal conditioning. Sincere, compassionate, honest, emotionally intelligent men are urgently needed—with whom women can jointly heal the collective gender wound, and from whom women can discover the dark flip side of our culture’s gender catastrophe: the devastating impacts of patriarchal conditioning on men, which is something few women truly understand, and few men are prepared to reveal.
In short, women need men for whom #MeToo is not primarily a source of paralyzing alarm, but a long-awaited golden opportunity for profound mutual healing and shared liberation on unprecedented levels. So where exactly are such men to be found – not just the isolated specimen here and there, but by the thousands?
Where better than within the MKP network of conscious men? Here may be found courageous men who have done their personal emotional and social de-conditioning work—often for years or even decades—despite the rigid mainstream masculine culture that mitigates strongly against this form of self-development. Here are men who have self-selected out of the ‘man-box,’ and stepped fully into their authentic manhood; embraced their vulnerability as essential to their true strength; cultivated their empathic hearts of compassion; and shifted well beyond the culture’s narrow and unforgiving blueprint for masculinity—to become wise, mature, empathic, ‘response-able’ men. Here are literally thousands of men who have spent years healing with one another and are now prepared, more than they even realize, to take the next step forward toward profound social, psychological, cultural, sexual, relational, and even spiritual healing with women.
Strategic Collaboration between GERI and ManKind Project: Invitational workshops for male and female leaders across diverse sectors
The specific project proposed here is to begin by organizing a series of at least three or more invitational GERI/MKP workshops across the United States in 2019. These workshops will be convened specifically for male and female leaders of all ages and from diverse walks of life who wish to enter into a meaningful, substantive co-gender response to #MeToo. Invitees will be drawn from within the networks of MKP, GERI, Women Within (sister organization of MKP), and outside organizations and networks including non-profit, service, professional, and philanthropic organizations. Men and women of all sexual orientations will be included in the invitation list. The experiential content of these workshops will be the GERI methodology, which has a proven track record working with thousands of men and women on six continents for achieving practical healing between the sexes.
These will be ‘strategic’ invitational workshops, in the sense that we will specifically invite men and women who serve in significant leadership positions within diverse organizations and professional sectors, as a means to introduce the GERI co-gender experiential process within these networks. We will strive for an approximate balance of women and men in these workshops, and participants of all sexual orientations and cultural background are welcome. Intersectionalities of gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, and ethnicity have long been an important aspect of the GERI work, and we have worked extensively in mixed-race groups, especially in South Africa and India. The presence of significant numbers of MKP men in these workshops will serve multiple purposes: to model for non-MKP men skillful interaction and sensitive participation in this kind of transformative group work, to introduce the GERI process more widely within MKP, and to introduce the MKP community to new outside audiences.
The first of these invitational MKP/GERI workshops will be held in the spring of 2019, the second workshop in late spring, and the third in summer. A fourth workshop is likely in November (see draft timeline at the end of this proposal). The workshops will be held in Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis, and outside Boston in western Massachusetts. The informal steering committee has begun compiling invitation lists which will be finalized by March of 2019. Each workshop will be facilitated by a team of four senior GERI trainers—two men and two women—with support from seasoned GERI and MKP volunteers and GERI training interns. Male lead facilitators will be drawn from GERI’s pool of senior trainers, including Will Keepin and senior GERI trainers who are also MKP leaders: Julien Devereux, Phil Vivirito, and Jabu Mashinini (of South Africa). Female lead facilitators will include Cynthia Brix and either Alka Aurora or Shirsten Lundblad (United States), or when available, Judy Bekker or Desiree English (from South Africa).
MKP Leaders to be Invited to other GERI Collaborative Workshops
GERI has been invited into several collaborative partnerships as part of its initiative called “From #MeToo to #WeToo.” In addition to the three or four targeted workshops proposed in this document, GERI is also leading other invitational workshops this year, co-sponsored by some of these partner organizations. Whenever possible, local MKP leaders will be invited to join these other GERI collaborative workshops, as a way of continuing to build GERI’s co-gender collaboration with MKP and to further strengthen the GERI/MKP partnership.
A GERI workshop convened specifically for key NGO leaders within the United Nations ‘civil society’ sector as well as prominent New York area philanthropists will be conducted in New York City, May 7-9, 2019. This workshop is co-sponsored by the United Nations Committee for Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns; the Forum 21 Institute; and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Another GERI workshop will be held August 17 – 21, 2019 at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and is sponsored by Illuman, the men’s rites of passage organization founded by Fr. Richard Rohr. A third workshop series is planned for the larger Boston area, sponsored by the Imago Dei Fund and its collegial network in New England. All these workshops will provide opportunities for local MKP leaders to participate in GERI’s work in the region, and to make connections with these collaborating organizations.
Finally, GERI was recently approached by the leadership of the Charter for Compassion, a global umbrella network of initiatives for cultivating compassion. The Charter for Compassion, founded in 2009 by Karen Armstrong, has been endorsed by over 400 “compassionate cities” around the world. The organization includes two sub-projects entitled “Women and Girls” and “Men and Boys.” GERI was approached to begin exploratory conversations for pilot GERI programs that will bridge these two sub-projects by offering a practical means for cultivating compassion between women and men. Initial workshops are under consideration in Austin and Sacramento, to be followed by Las Vegas and Oakland down the road, and whichever of these come to pass, local MKP men in these areas will be invited to join them.
Follow up and Beyond: Vision for a Gender-Healed Society
If this pilot series of GERI/MKP invitational workshops is successful, it could potentially lead to further expanded collaboration between MKP and GERI. Given the size and scope of the national (and international) communities and networks that have been built to date by MKP and GERI, our proposed collaboration could grow into an initiative of considerable impact.
Beyond our respective ‘in-house’ networks, this collaboration also has the potential to grow into a substantive, co-gender response to #MeToo in the wider society. There is today an active #MeToo movement in virtually every sector of society—be it Hollywood, the media, politics and government, academia and education, religious communities and institutions, the corporate and capital sectors; the list goes on and on. This translates into a vast need for substantive responses to #MeToo in all these domains, yet most leaders in these sectors—including most gender activists—are currently at a loss for how to proceed. These leaders are rightly calling for systemic co-gender healing and transformation, but do not know how to implement it in practice.
As a case in point, we recently met Emma Watson briefly, the prominent young Hollywood actress who founded the HeforShe campaign (at UN Women) which strives to gather men as allies in the struggle to end violence against women. In our brief conversation, Emma was very intrigued to learn about the work of GERI and said she had never seen anything like it. Toward the end of the conversation, she lowered her voice to confide, in a whisper, something we had already discerned from their on-line presentations. In the U.N. HeforShe campaign, she said “we are groping in the dark” for what to do next. She explained that they don’t know how to move their mission forward in practical terms – how to engage the “He’s” with the “She’s” for the much-needed co-gender transformation and collaboration. Other well-intentioned co-gender aspirations are facing a similar impasse.
This is precisely the arena where the GERI/MKP collaboration could potentially make a pioneering contribution that might serve as a practical inspiration and model for others. Given the burning need today, well-meaning leaders in diverse sectors of society are beginning to experiment with practical responses to meet the #MeToo challenges within their own constituencies. Many of these efforts will likely replicate similar efforts that GERI and MKP made in our early days—and they will probably stumble into many of the same pitfalls and mistakes that we made in our formative years. Rather than having these multiple parallel initiatives, all seeking to reinvent the wheel in each sector (in the course of which they will likely re-create much of what GERI and MKP have already learned and developed), it seems that the larger cultural transformative process could be well-served by introducing the GERI/MKP innovation more widely, in a “universal” or generalizable form. A modest investment in implementing these collaborative programs now could lead to a significant near-term impact within multiple diverse networks, which in turn could possibly precipitate a much larger social impact in the mid- to long-term. Perhaps this all sounds simplistic or naïvely optimistic, but in fact we have learned that the core of the GERI process is surprisingly robust and transferable across remarkably diverse cultural and institutional settings—because, at root, this is the deep alchemical work of the universal human heart.
Such a grand vision is of course still premature at this stage, so it’s important to proceed gradually step by step, and not rush to count our proverbial chickens before they hatch. Nevertheless, the fact remains that MKP and GERI have both been quietly yet actively engaged—for decades—in precisely the kind of transformative gender and relational healing modalities that the wider society is now beginning to call for in earnest. To our knowledge, the initiative proposed here is unprecedented, and profoundly needed in our time.
If not us, then whom? Taken together, the expertise and skills honed by GERI and MKP in our combined 60+ years of operations have the potential to build a vibrant network and movement of men and women of all ages and races, from diverse walks of life, who are deeply committed to taking this new and necessary step—beyond the women’s and men’s movements—to join together in transmuting long-standing disastrous structures of gender oppression. These pioneering souls will thereby be propelled through the ensuing collective alchemy, and come out the other side giving birth to a mutually-empowering, joyous, and compassionate new paradigm of gender relations between men and women.