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The Men's Seminar

In the "Cult of Escapism": The Men's Seminar

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Men's Seminar

In February of this year, I was hanging at my site-mate Laura's house and got to commenting on the depressing number of single moms in our town (and region). I denounced the general treatment of young women around us and scolded the young men for so often abandoning their families. I boldly announced that not only had I never abandoned a pregnant woman, Laura could right then and there call any of my ex girlfriends and have a positive conversation with them about me (that's almost certainly false – I think Laura and I had been drinking). Laura suggested that I do something about it. She had done a similar seminar for women last year and it was basically a smashing success, but she mentioned that many of the women pointed out that it is hard for them to, for example, enforce condom use if the man doesn't want it. He obviously won't want to wrap a rubber on his favorite organ unless he understands the potential consequences. And few men here seem to understand the consequences.
Two participants practicing using a condom

So I decided to do a sexual health seminar for men. My sports experience in site gave me access to and trust among many of the young men the in community and I tapped that network while inviting potential participants. For various reasons that are too boring to get into, I didn't get to the seminar until September (in my last week and a half of service) and I spent many days in the first two weeks inviting young men. I wanted 40 participants, so I invited 70. Twenty five showed up. Yep, that's how that goes.

The seminar included the following topics:
  1. Sexual Health (including decision making and 'respecting the No')
  2. Family Planning (including the advantages and disadvantages of different contraceptives and how to properly use condoms)
  3. HIV and AIDS
  4. Domestic Violence

With stimulating topics like these, you wonder why more men didn't participate?
Steve teaches how the brain makes decisions

Another volunteer, Steve, and I handled most of the seminar, with Laura coming in for an excellent HIV and AIDS guest spot. I think men presenting to men was a good idea – the participants definitely seemed comfortable and (after a little bit) willing to discuss topics that are rarely discussed in households around here.

During a few of the sessions, that original anger that birthed the idea for this seminar surfaced and I did some scolding. Throughout my service, when I told people about dating in the U.S. (i.e. date someone, break up, date someone else, maybe eventually get married), they would tell me how terrible that sounded and that, “around here, a man and a woman get together and stay together for life.” Which is, for lack of a better metaphor, a giant bag of horse shit. But it's the prevailing sentiment and one that several of the participants had expressed to me. So I brought up this myth, pointed out that I couldn't think of one family that had achieved this unicorn relationship status and then taught them a vocabulary term:

Me reading an example of domestic violence
“Bull shit. In the U.S., when someone says something that you know to be untrue, you say 'bull shit.' And this myth of how people around here date, it's bull shit. We need to recognize the reality of dating here and be safe and responsible about our sexual relations.”

I'm not sure how many times I also went on to say, “A real man takes care of his family. A coward has children and then doesn't take care of them; a coward repeatedly cheats on his woman. A COWARD!” I swear I wasn't drinking during the presentations, but maybe I should have been.

One of the best sessions we did had originally been planned as a 15 minute sort of complimentary idea: respecting a woman when she says No. Laura and I did an embarrassing skit where I just about raped her and then we talked about the 'No means Yes' myth, along with signs that a woman is saying no, even if she doesn't use that word. When we finished, we innocently solicited questions and the room exploded with commentary. The core of the chaotic commentary was basically: 'in our culture, when I get a woman, part of the agreement is that she will have sex with me when I want to and in return, I will provide for her.' No one seemed to take issue with the immorality (and illegality) of raping or date raping someone, but they simply didn't agree that their women (they don't get married here, so I don't say 'wives') could turn them down whenever they pleased. There was about a 45 minute discussion between the 25 participants and the three facilitators. Laura and I did most of the bantering, citing legal and ethical and women's rights reasons to respect the No, but it was Stephen that brilliantly ended the discussion:
Laura leads an activity showing the difference between HIV and AIDS

“Look guys, there's a simple solution. If your woman says that she doesn't feel like it right then, you say, 'No problem honey, I'll just go jack off.'”

Uproarious laughter. I thought we would see dislocated knees, people were slapping their thighs so hard. They made him repeat the statement and I think the laughter continued for about 5 full minutes. Note to future Peace Corps volunteers: use masturbation jokes.

Overall, I feel good about the seminar, although I do wish more people had shown up. Beginning of September, I was pretty tempted to just abandon the seminar and chill out, but I'm glad I kept working, right till the end of my service. And hopefully a few of those dudes will plan their families and send alimony to their illegitimate kids. Or at least just masturbate more. 


At October 18, 2012 at 10:28 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I hope you put "getting Stephen to leave his site" in your VRF under success stories :) Great job on the seminar!


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