In 2010 we celebrated our 20th Annual Men’s Conference. In honor of that occasion, Hari Meyers, the Redwood Men’s Center Master Storyteller put together a retrospective of the first twenty years.
A History of the Redwood Men’s Center’s Conference-Gatherings
by Hari Meyers
Our 14th conference had the intriguing title Desires and Differences, Healing the Breach between Men and Women. Despite the cliché notion that what men do when they gather with one another is talk, disparagingly, it is feared, about the women in their lives, our conferences, and all the men’s work I have experienced, have been peculiarly absent of such talk. I suspect it is a subject we generally avoid, one that might be too rife with conflicted feelings, too charged a minefield to negotiate.
We encounter women, this other half of the human race, every day in ways that complement and violate each other. While embracing our love, respect, and gratitude for women, we men, whatever our sexual orientation, also need to address the challenging and disturbing aspects of our relationships with women. After all, they are intimately and intricately involved in both our deepest pain and our highest inspirations. We seek their approval and fear their rejection. We admire their wisdom, yet too often seek to control their expression of it.
Traditionally, perhaps even biologically, considering the driving force and genetic agenda of the “alpha male,” men are conditioned towards power. Alas, in the external world of social interactions this is predominantly power over others rather than inherent personal power. Men know all too well how to defeat other men, how to organize resources and energy to get things done, how generally to impose themselves. It is with women that men experience their hidden insecurities, experiencing feelings often forbidden in the company of other men. Perhaps Freud had it wrong and “womb” rather than “penis envy” is a primary cause of the mistrust between the sexes. Every man since infancy has experienced various dependencies upon women. Such a perceived weakness flies in the face of his essential masculine posture of independence and self-sufficiency.
Woman has become the mysterious “other” to men. He fears her censure and resents deeply his disavowed but desperate need for her approval. It is no secret that historically men have brutally dominated women. Such a relentless need for control can only be based in its turn upon fear, such fear upon a lack of understanding… of women.
Being out of balance with the women in our lives, as well as with the Feminine in ourselves, might just be the root disturbance which throws all else out of balance.
From the late eighties and on into much of the nineties when the “men’s movement” was at its notorious height much of the focus was on the “father-wound.” Issues relating to the mother were conspicuously absent. Perhaps we were waiting until we were collectively strong enough to deal with the inchoate complexity it would bring up. Robert Johnson spent a great deal of time educating us about the Mother, her archetypal and historical aspects, the “mother complex” itself, speaking to us of the multifarious emanations from our anima within, with which we were generally so “out of touch.” But his talk remained in the archetypal realm. It was quite another matter to deal with the real flesh and blood women in our lives.
This three day conference will focus on our relationships with women — whether mother, sister, daughter, friend, mate, lover, or muse. Let us risk gathering in a community of men to find strength, inspiration, and direction as we explore this issue through honest talk, open hearts, grief, celebration, story, ritual, art, music and movement.
To our credit we made a start, a beginning. We touched tender places in ourselves, melted sometimes in gratitude, sometimes in remorse, forgave and asked to be forgiven. It was powerful, but once again, as with our foray into our relations with brothers of color, many of us felt it did not go far enough, that an enormous amount of work remains to be done. The women’s movement has had tremendous impact in the lives of women and over western society in general. Women have effectively gathered together to liberate themselves from a vast array of oppression and subjugation. The men’s movement lagged by decades and has not yet had a parallel effect in society at large.
Many, including a great number of women, denigrate the men’s movement, wondering from what exactly men, who seem to have all the power, need to be liberated. Others, including an even greater number of women, support men working on themselves, understanding that there can be no lasting change in the world until those who wield the apparent power come out of their ignorance, become more authentic with their feelings, shortcomings, and their gifts. I often feel that women are waiting, mostly supportive and patiently, for us men to get on with our self-realization, hoping as mothers, sisters, friends and daughters that we might get “there” soon.