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Men's Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart

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In his ground-breaking work, author Paul Kivel helps men confront the political, social, and personal forces that generate and reward misogyny, hatred, anger, and violent behavior.

Sexual harassment, child abuse, incest, rape, murder, war--it's impossible today to hear a news report and not be informed of violent acts perpetrated by men. Acknowledging that there are no easy answers to the problem of male violence--particularly in a world that seems to thrive on aggression and physical force--Men's Work reaches straight to its root causes. In his ground-breaking work, author Paul Kivel helps men confront the political, social, and personal forces that generate and reward misogyny, hatred, anger, and violent behavior. Combining years of personal study and reflection with his work with men in the Oakland Men's Project, Men's Work presents an innovative and workable approach to stopping male violence. Kivel shows men how to reclaim the power and responsibility needed to unlearn the lessons of control and aggression.Paul Kivel is a nationally known expert on men's issues. Through his work at the Oakland Men's Project, he helps men confront and change violent behaviors and teaches alternatives to violence in their relationships. He also trains teachers, therapists, probation officers, and agency staff who work with men, exploring such topics as male/female relationships, alternatives to violence, family violence, and sexual assault. Kivel resides in Oakland, California.

328 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1992

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About the author

Paul Kivel

23 books19 followers
Paul Kivel is a social justice educator, activist, and writer, has been a leader in violence prevention for more than 45 years. He is a trainer and speaker on men's issues, racism and diversity, challenges of youth, teen dating and family violence, raising boys to manhood, and the impact of class and power on daily life. Paul has developed highly effective participatory and interactive methodologies for training youth and adults in a variety of settings. His work gives people the understanding to become involved in social justice work and the tools to become more effective allies in community struggles to end oppression and injustice and to transform organizations and institutions.

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Sunil.
919 reviews116 followers
November 2, 2020
I came to Men's Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart hoping to learn, as a man, how to Do the Work and stop the violence that tears our lives apart. Paul Kivel sure sounded like he had all the answers in this "groundbreaking work"! Which was much more groundbreaking in the nineties and, honestly, I wish had taken the world by storm and all of us men had read it then because the world would be a better place right now. For me, though, an Indian man in 2020 who's read bell hooks' The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love and been discussing this shit in therapy for years? It didn't have as much to offer, largely because Kivel makes a lot of generalizations about All Men's Experience I honestly found kind of alienating a lot of the time.

Kivel writes in a very simplistic manner, likely in the same casual, direct language he uses when speaking to middle schoolers and/or inmates of varying educational backgrounds, and while that does make sense in that environment, it made it hard for me to connect with the writing itself. He covers important subjects like the way men are socialized to view both men and women and the way men are taught to suppress all emotions but anger, and he incorporates both his own life experience as well as his experiences working with the Oakland Men's Project. Many of the memoir-y aspects of the book annoyed me because I didn't come here to read about your life, Paul Kivel, and, as I said, he's not writing about it in a particularly compelling or evocative way, and the Oakland Men's Project scenes feature a lot of role-play dialogues that struck me as unrealistic and absurd, although they did apparently elicit genuine reactions. So what's left is Kivel's discussion of the actual subjects, and he seems to work under the assumption that all men have been bullied or abused or beaten or whatnot, especially by their fathers, and that's...not my life. While I certainly picked up some patriarchal thinking from my dad, given that I come from a patriarchal culture, Kivel's impression of male indoctrination just didn't ring true for my particular experience, and so I found myself rolling my eyes or shrugging my shoulders a lot of the time instead of having those wonderful lightbulb moments I was hoping to have when something really resonated (as it so often did when I was reading the bell hooks book). In addition, the book frequently seemed directly targeted toward actual rapists and domestic abusers (he works with inmates, after all), which, again, did not fit my particular experience. Also, even though Kivel does acknowledge differing experiences in different cultures (there's a whole chapter about it, as well as a whole chapter on the violence of racism), I couldn't help but feel that he was mooooooostly addressing white men in this book. The sections on anger and violence were interesting although they did still tend to talk more about physical violence than emotional violence (Kivel does acknowledge emotional violence, but, again, he works with inmates, his whole focus seems to be much more on physical violence). There are exercises scattered throughout, and I did ponder some of the questions that weren't ones I'd already thought about.

The sections on how to stop the violence that tears our lives apart were...bizarre in their complete unhelpfulness? Like, look, Part III: Breaking the Patterns includes the following chapters: "Men, Spirituality, and Religion," "Becoming Fathers," "Becoming Partners," "Becoming Workers and Teachers," "Getting Help for Ourselves," and "Helping Others Get Help." Kivel explores how the values of traditional masculinity can become issues in various roles as we grow older, but it's all very superficial, though I did appreciate the discussion of different power dynamics. And then he talks about stopping male violence via his work with the Oakland Men's Project, going to prison, and also by the way racism exists, don't you know. Plus we should educate the next generation to be better than this. All good points!

I think there's certainly a lot of good material in here, but it's so very 101 I couldn't really engage with it. And to be fair, I didn't realize this was actually a self-help book, and thus the real benefit of the book likely comes from doing all the exercises, even the ones that sound stupid, I guess. While it didn't speak to me like I'd hoped, I'm glad I have it around as a resource to easily refer to as I continue my journey.
Profile Image for Alex.
55 reviews3 followers
August 16, 2016
This is one of the best books on masculinity that I have read so far. Although Kivel is specifically addressing the impact of men’s violence, he encompasses so many aspects of what it means to be a man. He directly challenges popular notions of violent masculinity by speaking to categories like fatherhood, spirituality, being a partner, power, substance use and race. Kivel carefully cultivates the conversation by using a combination of memoir, personal reflections and exercises and sociological and philosophical inquiry. The book is set up in a way to use as a personal workbook or as a template for running a group on men’s violence. I would highly recommend to anyone looking to challenge patriarchal norms in their homes and in society at large.
Profile Image for Alex.
294 reviews5 followers
February 15, 2010
Paul Kivel, cofounder of the Oakland Men's Project, gives all men (and those concerned about them) a tremendous gift in the form of this inspirational book.

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. For those who are organizing men's groups or accountability processes, these activities are fantastically useful examples.

"Men's Attitudes and the Cost to Women:

Stand up silently if you have ever...
- interrupted a woman by talking louder than she
- not valued a woman's opinion about something because she was a woman
- made a comment in public about a woman's body
- discussed a woman's body with another man
- been told by a woman that you are sexist
- been told by a woman that she wanted more affection and less sex from you
- lied to a woman with whom you were intimate about a sexual relationship with another woman
- left care for birth control up to the woman with whom you had a sexual relationship
- used your voice or body to scare or intimidate a woman
- hit, slapped, shoved, or pushed a woman
- had sex with a woman when you knew she didn't want to

There are many more example activities and scenarios that are helpfully fleshed out by real-life experiences of Paul and other men from the Oakland Men's Project facilitating them in schools, groups of child sex offenders, and elsewhere. This way we get a realistic picture of how difficult, but also inspiring, it is when individual men learn and grow from their experiences.

On the other hand, I think what makes this book best is that it puts the actions of individual men within a systemic context. We understand that changing individuals' behaviors, while important, is not enough to end patriarchy as a whole. We also must tackle the violence carried out by institutions such as the military, prisons, and capitalism. Paul states, "When we advocate local and national politics that encourage war, prevent people from meeting basic needs, or destroy the environment, we are supporting violent behavior."

As feminist men and those working towards gender equality, we need to develop strategies to tackle our own individual patriarchal behaviors and attitudes, while also working against the patriarchal system as a whole. This kind of strategy is not really laid out in Men's Work, but at least the book provides us a political context in which this work could be possible.

The one major criticism I have of the book is that it's not inclusive of trans or gender non-conforming issues, really at all. The language is limited pretty much to "men" and "women" all throughout. There is also a lot of language that basically assumes heterosexuality, which of course is not inclusive of those of us who are queer or pansexual. This book was written in 1991, and in some ways it seems to still be a part of the "Second Wave" of feminism which viewed "men" as the perpetrators and "women" as the victims of patriarchy. Obviously it is not that simple, because anyone can abuse anyone. As a male survivor of various forms of abuse, I know this firsthand. Nevertheless, I don't think this unfortunate limitation prevents Men's Work or its analysis from remaining useful. The reality is that MOST abuse IS perpetrated by male-socialized people, and therefore men need to step up and take responsibility for ending this abuse.

"Perhaps the greatest tragedy in our training is that we literally lost our souls. We became so cut off from our feelings that we no longer connected with other people, with life, or with the natural world. We became protective and controlling, unable to participate in the giving and receiving of love, intimacy, and relationship."

For me what ultimately makes this book necessary is that it talks about how men need to heal. We all suffer tremendously from patriarchy, including men (not more than women or trans folks, just differently), and therefore we all stand to gain from its overthrow. Paul Kivel writes in plain, everyday language that giving up male privilege will benefit men by opening up infinite possibilities, to understand and express emotions, to love, to live without fear and abuse, and to tap into a spiritual wholeness that we yearn for and need.

Thank you, Paul! Check it out, men everywhere!
Profile Image for Tinea.
561 reviews252 followers
September 18, 2009
Challenging book that pushes self-examination and taking that education and teaching it.

"Men's work:" undoing male violence. Topics include male and female socialization; expressing emotions; violence, sexual, physical, and addiction; sexuality and creating equitable, shared relationships; interacting with kids (parenting and teaching); and race and class intersections.

It challenged my internalized sexisms. At times it was hard to read the forgiveness and understanding that Kivel holds out to abusers who are willing to do the work to hold themselves accountable. But Kivel does not simply forgive male privilege or sexual entitlement. He uses a nuanced exploration of socialization to break down scripted, unconscious behavior, like acting violent out of frustration, to show the choices that are possible to avoid and move past violence.

This book isn't easy to go through, but it is clear, concise, and accessible. Men's work is good work.
Profile Image for Reynaldo Valldejuli.
4 reviews3 followers
September 15, 2014
If you are on a personal journey to remove violence from your life and to deal with violence from your past then this is the book for you. It will force you to face your fears and learn from them. It has had the single greatest positive impact on my life dealing with DV from my parents and the steps I need to take to rid myself of the anger I hold on to and removing any violence I may have within.
Profile Image for Sammy.
51 reviews4 followers
November 12, 2007
I actually have a little cache of quotes from the book in my PDA.

I can really, really identify with this book.

It is always hard to talk about being a man and what it means. The many sided craziness that is everything and the end to everything. Many male feminists don't seem to get it. This book does. It then offer suggestions around some or just concilliation for others.
21 reviews
April 7, 2008
This book is crucial to the max and I recomend it to all of my guy friends
3 reviews5 followers
January 12, 2011
Should be required reading for all men, or at the very least all men who care about ending violence and oppression.
37 reviews31 followers
July 20, 2016
I guess it's a start but it falls into the same traps that justify the abuse it's trying to address
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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