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Dudes in a house

May 2, 2013

BY TOBY V. POTTER, mxgm.org

Living with other dudes hasn’t always filled me with a sense of joy and community.  For a lot of my “not living with my parents” life, living with other guys has been a means to cheaper rent, a bigger music selection, and some surface level friendship (i.e. “drinking buddy”).  It’s only been for the past several years that male housemates have turned into people I can turn to for support and care, for real friendship (even when we’re sober!), someone I can get help dealing with my shit from, and who can turn to me for the same.  Needless to say, it’s much more fulfilling living with these dudes than it ever was before.

Men’s groups have come and gone in my life- some great, some poor, and some the word “group” is too big of a compliment.  Part of the big problem early on with my experimenting was that I didn’t really get it, didn’t know what the point of a men’s group was. I just knew that female socialized friends had mentioned at least a few times that it would be great if “all you guys would get together and talk”.  So why not, we talk all the time (aaaalllllll the time).  We’d get together every so often, pat ourselves on the back a few times about getting together, talk about figuring out what to talk about, then pick the next meeting time….  Not the most transformative to say the least.

All of this was happening at the same time as house meetings where the same few things were always talked about- who keeps leaving those dishes, at the last party I barely said a word because dudes were talking the whole time, my favorite bowl is still dirty, I’m sick of getting interrupted, who is hoarding all the mugs, only the guys are able to do the fun construction projects, maybe we should slow down on drinking, the sink is literally too full of dishes to get drinking water, don’t put soap in the cast irons!  Sure, it wasn’t just the guys leaving behind dirty dishes, but a lot of the problems were ours.  The dudes at the house decided that we should get together to get our shit together.

In thinking about what it was we should do during our meetings, and how we should go about “fixing” things, we made a couple profound (for us) realizations.  First, we couldn’t “fix” everything.  What would it matter if all the dudes in the house agreed to split up the days of the week and make sure to do all the dishes on our days.  Sure, no more dish discussion at the house meetings (think of how short they would be!). Patriachy gone?  Sadly no. The same was true for any issue that we might try to deal with in our house.  This isn’t to say that it’s a waste of time to make sure we live in safe and healthy environments; but that if our work ends there we’ve missed the point (and haven’t done much work probably).

There are zillions of reasons why it’s important to start some kind of men’s group- and house issues was our first one.  We also wanted to recognize that it shouldn’t always be female socialized friends pointing out problems; but to take some responsibility for ourselves, and deal with it together. While none of us had been called out for sexual assault, it’s mostly dudes who are – so we wanted to be prepared to help deal with that situation if it arose. It also isn’t just in times of extreme violence like sexual assault that patriarchy rears its ugly head.  The day to day passive violence of patriarchy is what makes those incidents of active violence possible. The willingness to interrupt female socialized people more often than male socialized; instantly believing another guy, while endlessly questioning the fact/judgment/ideas of women friends; dudes being generally incapable of showing love and care; talking longer and louder all the time thereby taking up all the available space; having that attitude that guys are “just cooler”; sexualizing women’s bodies through anything from surreptitious stares to crude jokes and comments; the list could be pages long. The point is, we live in a society biased towards men (and white people, and wealthier people, and hetero people, and able-bodied people…), and the result of being a man is having a lot of privilege. And it’s usually invisible.  All the things we don’t have to notice, don’t ever see or hear about, and certainly never have to think about if we don’t want to… those are the things that are destroying our lives, and the lives of everyone that we care about.

Unfortunately no men’s group is going to get rid of patriarchy and create a more just and equitable society where everyone can be who they are without fear and pain. But I know that in my life it’s been the times I’ve been with other guys that have been the best – easiest and hardest – times to work through my lifetime of socialization as a male. To some extent we know what the other person is going through, I am able to empathize with how hard it is to challenge those privileges and get to the bottom of why I treat people the way I do.  It’s other guys who are able to support me when I make a mistake and need help figuring out what I did, and how not to do it again. Without some intentional space to make that possible it usually just doesn’t get talked about.

That first house group met for a couple years.  Not only did we talk about how to make sure our house was safer- both from our behavior, and when we had parties/potlucks- but we did manage to get down to some of that insidious stuff.  The stuff that’s hard to see, and really hard to hear when someone else sees it in you. Having that supportive environment made it possible for me to take some of the first concrete steps towards challenging my own privilege. We had time each week to talk about what we were working on in ourselves, and to tell each other what we thought the others could be doing (way harder to say).  Each meeting ended with a description of a scenario one of us had seen and needed help knowing how to respond to it – cat-calling on the street, a messed up comment at a party, seeing a guy put-down his partner. Then the following meeting would start with what each of us would have done in that situation to call it out or deal with it.  It was one of the ways that helped to broaden our perspective from our little house bubble out into the real world.

The house dudes group fell apart when we all moved away.  But other houses I’ve lived in have had similar groups – thankfully none of them had led to doing everyone else’s dishes.  

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