Saturday, August 14, 2010

Boys to Men

The world is broken. Yes, I knew that before coming to Nicaragua. In fact, I think I’ve had an acute awareness of this fact from a young age. But there are weeks here where I feel like I get hit over the head with evidence of it over and over and over again, and it wears me down, makes me tired, and makes it hard to keep going. On the one hand, when people confide in me, I feel humbled and so privileged to be able to learn from them and accompany them in their pain. On the other hand, I feel so helpless. If all this stuff is just a product of a broken world, what can I really do about it?

And why does it seem like men are so much more broken inside than women? I think women suffer so much hardship and violence at the hands of men, but at the same time, I see that they are stronger because of it; they survive and learn to thrive from it. Men just remain…broken, lost, and unable to identify and articulate how they feel. This is why gender issues are important to everyone, not just women. We are all negatively affected by inequalities based on societal definitions of our anatomy.

According to the book Elementos Sociopsicológicos de Victimología (Sociopsychological Elements of Victimology) from Mexico:

“The traditional model of masculinity is supported by two essential elements that make up a true psychological profile:
•Emotional restriction: not speaking about feelings, especially with other men.
•Obsession with achievement and success.

These two basic characteristics translate into a kind of relationship with the world characterized by:
•Limited affective and sexual conduct,
•Attitudes based on models of control, power, and competition,
•Health problems.”

I see endless examples of this analysis in both my work and community life here in Batahola. Men seeking advice about family and relationships who can’t talk to their best friends about their struggles because they feel a sense of competition with them and a lack of openness. Men who think that their self-worth comes from pleasing all those around them and always succeeding with women. Men who, when asked how they feel, can’t come up with an answer. According to Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, this is not only a Latin American phenomenon. Through his experience leading men’s retreats he has concluded that Western men “[are] trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal [them] or guide [them].”

That’s not to say I haven’t met many deeply reflective men in Nicaragua. I have. It’s just that much of the human pain I see here (the pain we all experience as a result of living in a broken world) seems to stem from that explosive word “gender.” And as a young North American woman, I often don’t know how to respond to this pain in a culturally appropriate and knowledgeable way. So I find hope in the sharing of struggle and tend to do a lot of listening, a lot of hugging, and a lot of my own reflecting on how being a woman has shaped my identity for better and for worse.

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