A Letter to Gloria Steinem
by Martin Brossman
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A letter send to Gloria Steinem on July 10, 2000

Dear Ms. Gloria Steinem,

I am the man who spoke up at your presentation at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium on April 6th. I am very committed to respecting people as the unique gifts they are, and also to being clear in my communication. I am writing to you because I think my question was not fully understood and answered.

As I stated, I grew up in Washington, D.C. during the 60ís and 70ís, and was a young activist for African-American and womenís rights. This gave me a unique perspective. I learned that prejudice and hatred know no color or gender. Whites, African-Americans, men and women can all be perpetrators, as well as victims, of discrimination.

At your presentation I mentioned that, as I become more in touch with my emotions, I noticed that female friends were quite supportive of the process. However to my surprise, women that I was in a romantically relationship with were less supportive. In romantic relationships with women, they seemed to resent the sharing my emotions, as though they were responding instinctively to my moving through emotions as a sign of weakness. I therefore asked you, "If we want more emotionally available men, shouldnít we look more carefully at how women respond to such men, especially while they are going through the transition of getting in-touch with their emotions?" I further pointed out that, while we have made great progress in educating people about the dehumanization of women inherent in viewing them as sex objects, we have made little progress in addressing the dehumanization of men inherent in viewing them as success objects.

You responded that my views might result in my living longer, and that it is important to support men who wish to remain at home to raise children. While I agree, I still believe that the core of my question went unanswered.

You emphasized the value of role reversal in seeing the larger perspective. I think we need to evaluate the importance of womenís responses to real changes in men. For example, what is involved in a womanís support of a manís becoming more emotionally available? Many men suppress their feelings to become more successful in their jobs, believing that their ultimate role is as a provider. Men who have a long history of suppressing feelings have typically covered up a great deal of pain, loss and shame. When they start to open up, therefore, it is often these feelings that are first expressed. Our culture teaches that this is weakness, especially in a man, and women often reject such men.

Mothers in this culture are more excited when their daughters marry doctors and lawyers than when they wed poets. Just as we need to see women as more than sex objects, we need to see men as more than success or power objects. I believe that men also have a responsibility to work toward such changes in perspective. One powerful way to do this is through menís groups.

I became involved in menís groups out of necessity when my marriage ended. At first I was suspicious, as reportedly were the female partners of many of the other men. Their women typically wondered why the men would need such groups, and often made fun of the gatherings ("Oh, youíre going to beat drums in the woods. Thatís nice."). Even other men were highly resistant to the idea, and made homophobic jokes.

After the men had been involved in such groups for awhile, however, the womenís perspectives often changed to deep support, simply because they liked the men who came home to them. In my own experience in menís groups I have seen hatred dissolve before my eyes, an experience not replicated elsewhere. I have discovered that the "men in power" were often lacking in freedom and self-expression, and that the groups were a place to develop those things. I met men deprived of contact with their children and wanting desperately to be fathers. One elderly man spoke of his appreciation for being seen as a human being in the group, because the culture at large "just look(ed) through me."
I began to realize that my youthful war against the "male dominated establishment" harmed women and children by leaving no space for healing to begin. Life was much less complicated as a white-and-black, right-and-wrong activist, but my real commitment to make a positive difference moved to a new perspective.

I support feminism as the right of women to full self-expression, without invalidating any one else, including men. When a joke about men was related at the beginning of your presentation, the woman beside me poked me in the ribs for not laughing. To me, that is not feminism, nor was it characteristic of most of the women there. That was a woman acting out one of the worst aspects of stereotypical masculinity. I will always support feminism, as I have defined it here. I will not, however, support the blaming of others without taking responsibility for oneís own part in a situation.

Martin Brossman

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