A Call to Men

This pretty much speaks for itself. One observation: the audience is almost entirely women because this talk was at the TEDWomen conference. I think this is a vitally, vitally important message, but I do wonder how it's going to get to actual men when gender is so consistently considered only a women's issue.

I don't have a solution for this. I don't know how to get men to pay attention to this stuff because their privilege does allow them to ignore it. It just seems so important to involve them, not just to end violence against women but to free men, as he says, from their own versions of the Man Box.

Tony Porter's website, A Call to Men is very much worth checking out.


My mother calls me to tell me about the three-inch-wide, deep-to-the-bone gash she got falling down the stairs yesterday and the five staples now holding her arm together.

As the conversations ends she says on the phone “Well, your father…” and then trails off.

She pauses, then says “Well, he’s home, so I have to stop talking now” in the tone of voice that means she needs to go do something so she should get off the phone but what she really means is that she wants to say something about him that’s negative, that might hurt his feelings, that might let him know we all talk about it and it’s actually a problem, that it actually has consequences for the rest of us. She couldn’t do that, though, because he could hear her and he’d be upset. Which is a code word, because everyone gets upset and what he does is more than that.

“Has he been grumpy?” I ask, which is another code word. It’s also a yes or no question. That way she can give me information without tipping him off, clue me in so I know what’s happening, so I’m warned when I come home this week after months away, so I can call my little sister and hear if she’s okay. So I’ll know whether or not to tiptoe when I enter the house.

“Well, he’s got this surgery coming up on Monday, and that’s a nervous thing. And he’s been worrying about that, and then I had to go and have something,” by which she means the gash and the staples, “and it’s a lot of pressure. We have the Christmas tree, and that’s done—thankfully that got done beforehand.”

By all of which she means, “Yes.”

I hear this and I remember being young, maybe seven years old and my sister was four, and we were sitting in the living room of the house in Massachusetts and my parents were putting up a very big Christmas tree. We couldn’t go out of the room because we shouldn’t be unsupervised and more because we didn’t want to miss anything, we wanted to know what was going on, we didn’t want to overhear it from upstairs.

My mother said we could stay there as long as we were quiet as church mice. Every time I had to help Daddy with a Project, I remembered that phrase, and I knew that I should be a church mouse and that Sis was better at it, which was why he always chose her to hand him the screwdriver or hold the flashlight.

And we were very young and we were sitting in little chairs I think, although we could have been on the floor, but we were wedged right next to each other on the right side of the wide doorframe, and I remember being afraid, and I remember Daddy yelling at us if we made any noise at all or if we asked any questions.

He was using a wire to attach the tree to the wall near the ceiling because it was a crooked tree and it wouldn’t stand up otherwise, and this was difficult and it was a Project, and if we interrupted he wouldn’t be able to concentrate and we weren’t going to help only make things worse, so we had to be quiet.

I remember being quiet, that day. And I remember the fear of what would happen if I made a noise and the equal fear of what would happen if I left and couldn’t keep track of what was going on in that room. And I didn’t like the quiet because I wanted to help, to make the Project over, to make it all okay, to contribute what I had to offer, to make it better. But I was quiet, I did it, I stayed quiet.

“So he’s just been worried about this surgery, but he’s being better now. He is doing better now.”

“Okay,” I say, because better is better. I’m thinking about how this all feeds into it, how we don’t name what it is. How instead we say why it is. How we talk about it only in terms of the causes, of him being stressed or angry or anxious, never in terms of what he’s doing, never in details or actions, never in terms of what it all means to us. We never talk about the fear or the sadness or the anger, not directly. We only all know it’s there because we share it. It’s always implied.

“He scared the dog the other day, scared her all the way down into my office,” she says. The office that is four floors down from the dog bowl in their San Francisco hillside town house. “Supposedly he was just trying to give her dinner.”
On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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