SPOILER ALERT: It’s Thanksgiving week. In case you haven’t had the opportunity to look at a calendar yet this week, I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for you. Yes it is the week of turkey and yams and stuffing (both the food and of yourself). If you are like me, it is also the week of the Muppets triumphant return to the silver screen. I thought that this would probably be the appropriate opportunity to give thanks here on the blog.
First let me say that I’m thankful for you reading this right now and visiting the blog over the past few months. I’m also thankful for getting to collaborate with one of my favorite people in the world, Sacchi Patel. If you’ve read any of his blogs, you know how awesome he is and this experience has allowed us to really grow in our advocacy together. However, a love letter to you (or to Sacchi for that matter) probably wouldn’t do too much to enrich your day. So I had to think of something else I’m thankful for to write about. I was struggling until someone said something particularly ignorant to me and I caught myself thinking: Thank God I’m not like that. This lead me to look up one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, West Wing:
He said he once saw a guy at the concentration camp kneeling and praying. He said, “What are you doing?” The guy said he was thanking God. And my dad’s friend said, “What could you possibly be thanking God for?” He said, “I’m thanking God for not making me like them.”
I’ve been advocating on gender violence issues for close to seven years now and as a result I’ve been exposed to some pretty heinous stories of what it is possible for humans to do to one another. I’ve seen what the aftermath of sexual assault looks like for the survivor. I’ve seen what years of emotional abuse will do to the strongest person. I’ve seen people driven to extremes as the result of being bullied and cast aside. I’ve seen things that I wish I could unsee. For as much pain as I’ve seen inflicted, for as much pain as I have had inflicted upon me and for as much pain I’ve experienced by my inability to do much of anything about it, I’m so thankful that God didn’t make me like them.
I didn’t have the easiest childhood. I grew up with a father who was emotionally abusive to my mother and used his control of the bank account to control her life. I saw him tear her down until there was almost nothing left. He definitely didn’t doll out praise or love very often so I went looking for it elsewhere. I have amazing friends now who have become my family, but I had a pretty awful group around me growing up. I was relentlessly bullied and made to feel less than. I’ve seen those who have been victims of bullying develop a hard heart and become bullies themselves as a defense mechanism. That never happened to me. Thank God. I found a group of people who accepted me for who I was and made me feel comfortable in my own skin. Those special people got me through the tail-end of middle school and much of high school, but it is not as though I didn’t have a lot of growing left to do when I got to college.
My freshman year, I had the good fortune of falling into A Men’s Issue which was a group on Syracuse’s campus that tried to do at Syracuse what MasculinityU tries to do nationally. The men in that group became my brothers and together we explored masculinity and what it really meant to be a man. How being a man didn’t mean equating gay with shame and being a man didn’t mean equating femininity with weakness. Being a man meant challenging others on cultural norms. Being a man meant having the responsibility to be an empowered bystander. Being a man meant never staying quiet in the face of injustice. It is so easy to fall into friend groups that have a negative group think mentality about women and really the world in general. I didn’t have that happen.
I don’t want to make this sound like I’m some sort of special breed…I’m not. If people have positive influences in their lives, they can evolve past the typical, problematic world view. That’s why I’ve spent the succeeding years trying to be a positive influence for as many men as possible. I encourage you to do the same for the people in your life. The only way to counter act the prevailing ‘wisdom’ in our culture is to be as strong a countervailing force as possible for social change.
Thanks for reading and happy Thanksgiving from our MasculinityU family to your family!