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Review also posted on The Rag Blog.

Review of Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart

by Paul Kivel

Ballantine Books, 1992

Paul Kivel, cofounder of the Oakland Men’s Project, has given all men (and those concerned about them) a tremendous gift in the form of this inspirational book. This Valentine’s Day, let us accept this gift so that we might heal our relationships to the ones we love and to ourselves.

Men’s Work draws on Kivel’s decades of experience in the movement to end male violence, along with his life experiences as a father, son, partner, and friend, to speak about the trauma and feelings of powerlessness men experience to in our capitalist, patriarchal society. He describes how men reproduce this system by hurting women, trans folks, children, and themselves.

He explains that this is crisis cannot be solved by locking up male offenders, because this will only cause more violence and trauma. Instead, Kivel has devoted his life to helping men understand the roots of their behavior so that they might change, to become more caring and compassionate. One helpful way he approaches these roots is through the “Act Like a Man” box, which shows how patriarchal masculinity limits and hurts men:

men…………………………. men are…
yell at people………………. aggressive
have no emotions………… responsible
get good grades………….. mean
stand up for themselves… bullies
don’t cry……………………. tough
don’t make mistakes…….. angry
know about sex………….. successful
take care of people………. strong
don’t back down…………. in control
push people around…….. active
can take it………………… dominant over women

All men have received this male training, and know that when they step outside these boundaries they will face abuse, scorn, name-calling, accusations of homosexuality or femininity, or violence. The fear of this abuse is ultimately what keeps us inside the Box.

Paul relates, “It is not an irrational fear. This fear in me was built by getting beaten up after school by some older kid in the neighborhood who didn’t like me, by being teased and called names because sometimes I cried after I got beaten up. This fear was built by all the times my dad put me down because I wasn’t good enough in sports., at school, or whatever he decided was the standard that day.” Hearing a man brave enough to tell these kinds of stories was empowering and validated my own experiences.

The book also includes a wealth of activities that the Oakland Men’s Project developed to help men think about violence, masculinity, abuse and privilege, so that they might change their behavior. Read the rest of this entry »

“Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape”

Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti

2008 Seal Press

Easily the best book I’ve read this year, if not ever. Yes Means Yes! is an anthology of essays from women and trans folks (and a few men) of all backgrounds, white, black, Latina, Asian, poor, affluent, queer, hetero, sex workers, dominatrices, bloggers, organizers, educators, artists, and survivors, all answering the question, “How can we create a world without rape?”

This book more than any other opened my eyes to the central importance of female sexual power to movement for progressive social change. Through dissecting sexual assault and “rape culture” from ALL angles, the writers articulate that the objectification and control of female bodies is literally the cornerstone of patriarchal society.  Therefore efforts to reclaim female body sovereignty and sexual power are at the forefront of revolutionary change.

This book does not just offer women tips on how to avoid sexual assault (although it does encourage self-defense classes!), it courageously directs blame at the male-dominated society that puts women in dangerous situations on a daily basis.  Similarly, as should be obvious from the title, this work is not just about teaching men to respect “No”, but showing women (all people really) how to love their bodies and embrace their sexuality, in whatever way it manifests.  Enthusiastic consent, responding to “Yes!” and cautious “Maybes”, and taking things one step at a time without assumptions or feelings of entitlement to orgasm, while respecting the ability of a sexual partner to say “Stop.” at any moment, shows a way to the best and most liberatory sex imaginable.

But the book covers so much more than consent. This is a feminist handbook for the masses: well-written, varied, practical, theoretical, yet accessible.

It’s hard to pick a favorite essay, but the one that spoke to me the most was “Killing Misogyny: A Personal Story of Love, Violence, and Strategies for Survival” by Cristina Meztli Tzintún, a personal story about overcoming abusive and controlling male partners. Cristina relates how she got involved with a “radical, feminist” man of color and bonded through activism.  Before she knew it she was years into an abusive relationship that gave her STDs and an inability to leave him, despite his cheating on her with his students, half his age. The pattern mirrored her parents’ disastrous marriage, which made it even more depressing that she could not break free of the cycle of abuse.

While it’s easy to demonize her partner, Alan, a more honest reading will recognize some of his patterns in each of us who have been male-socialized. For example, entitlement to women’s bodies and lack of consideration for the emotional damage wrought by selfish actions are things I know I have to struggle against. Cristina’s bravery in leaving Alan and demanding accountability for his assaults should encourage all of us, that misogyny can in fact be beaten and that personal transformation is an incredibly political act.

I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. Everyone needs to read this book.

Grace Lee Boggs is a prominent long-time veteran of civil rights and other movements for justice.  An Asian-American woman, now in her 80s, she is active in building urban agriculture systems for the community of Detroit.  Their efforts to create a sustainable local economy out of a postindustrial urban shell are an example for all urban American cities. [alex]

Detroit: City of Hope
Building a sustainable economy out of the ashes of industry.

By Grace Lee Boggs

Originally published by In These Times

February 17, 2009.

Photographer: Fabrizio Costantini/Bloomberg News. Hazel Williams picks green tomatoes at an Urban Farm off Linwood Avenue in Detroit, on Sept. 22, 2008. Photo by Fabrizio Costantini / Bloomberg.

Photographer: Fabrizio Costantini/Bloomberg News. Hazel Williams picks green tomatoes at an Urban Farm off Linwood Avenue in Detroit, on Sept. 22, 2008. Photo by Fabrizio Costantini / Bloomberg.

Detroit is a city of Hope rather than a city of Despair. The thousands of vacant lots and abandoned houses not only provide the space to begin anew but also the incentive to create innovative ways of making our living—ways that nurture our productive, cooperative and caring selves.

The media and pundits keep repeating that today’s economic meltdown is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But in the ’30s, the United States was an overproducing industrial giant, not today’s casino economy.

In the last few decades, once-productive Americans have been transformed into consumers, using more and more of the resources of the earth to foster ways of living that are unsustainable and unsatisfying. This way of life has created suburbs that destroy farmland, wetlands and the natural world, as well as pollute the environment.

The new economy also requires a huge military apparatus to secure global resources and to consume materials for itself, at the same time providing enormous riches for arms merchants and for our otherwise failing auto, air and ship-building sectors.

Instead of trying to resurrect or reform a system whose endless pursuit of economic growth has created a nation of material abundance and spiritual poverty—and instead of hoping for a new FDR to save capitalism with New Deal-like programs—we need to build a new kind of economy from the ground up.

That is what I have learned from 55 years of living and struggling in Detroit, the city that was once the national and international symbol of the miracle of industrialization and is now the national and international symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization.

When I arrived in Detroit in 1953, the population was 2 million, the majority white. Today, it is less than 900,000, majority black. Back then, racism was blatant and overt. Many bars, restaurants and hotels refused service to blacks. Blacks could buy homes in inner city neighborhoods but could not rent apartments in buildings right next door to these homes.

Meanwhile, freeways were enabling white flight to the suburbs, and technology was replacing human beings with robots.

In 1973, we elected our first black mayor, Coleman Young. Young was a gifted politician who was able to eliminate the most egregious examples of racism, especially in the police and fire departments and City Hall. But he was unable to imagine a post-industrial society. So, for 14 years, he tried in vain to woo industrial jobs back to Detroit.

In 1988, toward the end of his fourth term, Young decided that the factories weren’t coming back and that Detroit’s salvation depended on casino gambling, which he said would create 50,000 jobs.

To defeat his proposal, we organized Detroiters Uniting, a coalition of community groups, blue-collar, white-collar and cultural workers, clergy, political leaders and professionals.

Our concern was with how our city had been disintegrating socially, economically, politically, morally and ethically. We were convinced that we could not depend upon one industry or one large corporation to provide us with jobs. It was now up to us—the citizens of Detroit—to create meaningful jobs and income for all citizens.

We needed a new kind of city where citizens take responsibility for their decisions instead of leaving them to politicians or the marketplace.

Greening the Motor City
Read the rest of this entry »

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