On a good day, David Hatfield gets to facilitate “spontaneous stomping, singing and raucous validation” among forty-five exuberant teenaged boys. On a bad day, he worries about trying to make a living in a field, he says, “doesn’t even really exist.” Yet continue to work he does—in schools, prisons, health care and social service agencies—with men and boys on issues of perceived and genuine masculinity. The latest incarnation of this work is a course called “Manology: Exploring 21st Century Masculinity” that Hatfield is leading with a number of other instructors this fall at the Roundhouse Community Centre.
Why a course on masculinity? Why now?
“Because,” says Hatfield, “father figures in the media are largely incompetent idiots. Because Don Cherry still calls grown men ‘sissies’ on Hockey Night in Canada. Because boys and young men need good mentors. Because gang violence is rising. And because men commit suicide four times more often than women.”
One thing he wants to make clear from the outset: his work with men is in no way an attempt to re-establish hegemony over women or to discount gains made by the women’s movement. “In fact,” he says, “my work is very informed by various aspects of how women gathered to question their roles, build community, and ask for change.”
A couple of things acted as catalysts for Hatfield’s interest in men’s work. Researchers and writers in the 1990s pointed to the negativity boys and men were experiencing in schools, the work place and at home. Then there was his job in a sexual assault program, in which he asked hard questions about gender biases and power imbalances. He was met with such fierce resistance, that he resigned and headed to New Zealand, where he encountered “the leadership of the men’s work, which far surpasses what I know of here in Canada.
“They had gone beyond crafting stand-alone workshops and were busy building infrastructure to support men. For example at least four times a year, they create community based contemporary rites of passage courses for male youth and their fathers/father figures. They do father-daughter work. They have crises phone lines for men, staffed by men they've trained who get paid for their work. NZ has men's health clinics and organizations.”
Not just offices, he points out. They have their own buildings: Man Alive in Auckland, and the Men and Family Centre in South Kaipara, for example.
Hatfield was certainly aware of things like the ManKind Project and Sterling’s men’s work, here in BC, as well as various small self-organized men’s groups that had been going for a while, but he didn’t see anyone building the kind of accessible infrastructure he discovered in New Zealand. He also noticed significant differences in the leadership, which in BC, he says, was “dedicated and well-intentioned, yet limited for various reasons. And to be honest, not as skilled as I believe it needs to be to do the work well.”
When he came home to Vancouver in May of 2004, he was “deeply in debt, unemployed, homeless, unschooled in business, and utterly inspired to start building intelligent and sustainable infrastructure to support and celebrate an examined and positive masculinity.”
In a very real sense, he had nothing to lose.
“I had no business card, no website, just an 8.5 x 11" piece of paper [on which] I'd written out a new program for boys in schools I'd envisioned. I borrowed a car and made unscheduled visits to about 16 of the 18 or so high schools in Vancouver. I talked with staff or counselors I knew, and just knocked on doors in schools [where] I didn't know anyone.”
He asked an important question: "What do you see that your boys need and that you know this school culture cannot provide?"
He got several contracts, and his work in local schools began.
One thing led to another, and he started offering weekend events for men, which had great response in Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast. Then last fall, he organized three events back-to-back, and registration numbers were the worst he’d ever had.
He realized he needed to stop working alone.
“A very big part of this work for me is improvisation and experimentation, trying new things in a nascent field. I simply asked myself: what would I be doing if I was serving the absolute highest and most effective means of making space for males to come together to explore male identity and build positive male community? What immediately came to me was ‘Build the Vancouver Men’s Centre.’
“Manology is the first expression of building that vision, without waiting for the physical ‘building’ to come along.”
In the meantime, the Roundhouse Community Centre will do just fine.
For more information about Manology, visit: http://masculinity21st.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/manology-is-a-new-course...
And to learn more about David Hatfield and his work: http://www.davidhatfield.ca/index.php