WHAT MEN CAN LEARN FROM WOMEN
Research on differences in how men and women collaborate at work confirm that men do collaborate, but are more motivated to do so when the need for collaboration is evident and accompanied by some material or tangible benefit. My wife (and business partner) and I have begun a community engagement process that is turning out to be instructive in understanding more about the subtleties of how men and women in communities create support systems and networks to get things done.
We decided to organize a showing of The Mask You Live In for our community of Bend, Oregon. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and funded by the Representation Project, the film explores the stereotypes and messaging young boys are exposed to about masculinity, the impact it has on them, and on society. After the showing we plan to facilitate a panel discussion and group dialogue in hopes of elevating awareness and deepening understanding about the topic.
OUR VISION IS TO TURN THE EVENT INTO A GRASSROOTS EVENT
By inviting existing networks and groups to support the event, they ultimately own the event. We have set out to talk with representatives from these groups – schools, youth programs, service clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, area businesses, etc. – to build interest. The idea has been well received and we are optimistic we can bring together a diverse audience of 500 or so people for the event. Through this process, here is what we notice: there are several all-female organizations in our community who are mobilized and willing to make this type of grass roots effort happen, but NO explicitly male organizations to do the same.
Ironically, there are many “male” organizations in our town that successfully provide educational experiences on a variety of cultural and business topics, but they would not ever identify themselves as men’s groups. These include the Chamber, our local economic development group, and many other area businesses and associations. Obviously, these organizations are staffed by men and women, but the dominant power structure of is male – white male to be specific. There are also men’s support groups that convene around town as well (we have heard about these through the grapevine) and we will invite them to get involved. However, visible and public networks for learning about men’s issues are noticeably absent in our community.
Juxtaposed to this experience, the third annual Muse Conference took place last week in Bend. Muse’s mission is “to connect women to their own personal source of inspiration and help cultivate the necessary resources, tools, and networks to turn that inspiration into activation.” The three-day conference had a great roster of speakers and panelists comprised of local thought leaders and experts and from around the world.
In spite of Muse being a “local” event, in our 80,000-person town, some elements of the conference drew over 400 participants.
Muse was organized, marketed, hosted and impeccably produced by a network of volunteer women.
SO WHAT IS GOING ON?
U.S. history is full of examples of men coming together in networks and teams to get things done; big, amazing world-changing things. One could argue we wrote the book on “doing.” But based on our experience and the research on men and collaboration, perhaps men as a group have yet to see the specific value of “being” – exploring and understanding our own culture.
Sure, the imbalance of grassroots support networks for women over men may be systemic: men’s networking activities occur through their regular work activities while women, as a result of the work culture or other factors, may need to meet, caucus and network outside of work. The point remains, women in our town are engaged in a conscious conversation about their group and the issues it faces. With the exception of a few men’s groups, the men are not.
What conditions have to be in place for our group to both acknowledge their own “group-ness” and then be motivated to better understand it? I am not sure, but the tangible evidence of the need to form more men’s networks focused on “being,” not just “doing” is certainly mounting. Maybe a showing of The Mask You Live In will be a step in that direction for the men in our community. We hope so.