men, masculinities and gender politics

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August 4th: Reading the News

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Yesterday, August 4th, was President Barack Obama's 47th birthday. He chose to celebrate by bringing cupcakes to Helen Thomas, who shares his birthday and was 89. At the same time, my friend Byron Hurt and his wife Kenya Felice had a baby.

This morning, I wake to the news that another man shot three women in Pittsburgh. My friends Jason and Lahia live there - I have been calling and texting, hoping Lahia was not one of the three women killed.

How does it all make sense? What does it all have to do with masculinity? With feminism? Profeminism? Violence prevention?

I'm honored to have been asked to write a monthly column for XY online, and I will do my best to share thoughts that will hopefully be helpful in bringing about an end to my gender's violence against women.

A bit about me: I'm 43 years old and live in Maynard, Massachusetts in the United States. Most of my adult life, I've worked as a community educator in rape crisis centers and domestic violence programs. Almost everything I've learned about feminism and violence prevention, I've learned from powerful, articulate feminist women. I have the good fortune to be married to one - my wife Lucinda.

It's a struggle for me sometimes to name my feelings. This morning, I seem to be feeling scared for Lahia, proud of my President, happy for Byron and Kenya, and overwhelmed by the task ahead. I feel grateful for strong pioneers like Helen Thomas, and for role models like Obama and Byron. Both men have, yesterday and in their lives, demonstrated respect for women, and in particular for the women in their lives.

Back to Pittsburgh: I met Jason when we were both young men. I was wearing my favorite shirt, "Another Man Against Violence Against Women." He, a college student at the time, identified as a feminist and we "bonded" over how right that felt, and how that often made us feel different from other men.

I just met his girlfriend Lahia a month ago. She stayed up late to talk to me a bit, to get to know me. Now she might be one of the women gunned down by this man in Pittsburgh.

It's most likely that she's fine - that I'll get a text back at any minute saying she's all right. I will then feel some relief, but then a bit of guilt - why feel relief when it turns out someone else's friend was killed? someone else's daughter, wife, girlfriend, mother?

I'm not sure it's a choice for me to do this work any more. The reality of my gender's violence against girls and women feels too real - I have met too many survivors of this violence. They, over and over, have given me the gift of telling me their story of what happened to them. I use their stories to fan the flames of my desire to work harder - to raise my voice against this violence - to support women's leadership in ending it.

Byron and Kenya posted photos of their baby's birth. I got to see a very sweet video of Obama giving the cupcake to Helen Thomas and singing to her. Wouldn't it be nice if those were the only two stories I had to focus on?