Kathleen Rea is a registered psychotherapist and the creator of Men’s Circle, a new dance-theatre work that follows the story of a men’s therapy group. She speaks out about the current “Me Too” movement and rape culture in general.
In Canada, 80% of suicides are men. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Canada for men aged 19 to 35. It’s clear that men’s mental health issues are in a state of crisis. And this is in context with what I call a “rape culture” a social concept used to describe settings in which sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to attitudes about gender and sexuality. I believe the epidemic of men’s mental health concerns cannot be separated from the predominance of rape culture in our society — they are two sides of the same issue. The rape culture cannot sustain unless there is an ever ready group of men who lack emotional awareness and compassion. This process starts at a very young age when we tell boys to be strong and stop crying because “boys don’t cry”. Many boys and men are themselves abused, but have no cultural context within which to even start talking about what happened. They often feel great shame at the thought of showing weakness. When we teach people not to feel, to supress their natural emotions, they become unable to have conversations that can be healing. They become emotionally empty human shells that feed our mental health hospitals and our morgues. They also may become people capable of supporting and propagating a rape culture in both overt and subtle ways. This emotional suppression has become so ingrained in society, we don’t see it. Men are expected to not show weakness, and that means they remain silent. The Movember Foundation is currently running a men’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign, and one of their main tag lines is telling men to “Unmute”… to start talking. For me, the movement happening right now is just as much about saving men as it is about saving women.
Acclaimed intellectual, feminist and cultural critic, Bell Hooks wrote:
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
Fellow colleague Mathew Remski, wrote in his article Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex:
With this patriarch indoctrination comes a subconscious reflex to equate a woman’s (insert “gay man’s” or ‘transperson’s”) voice or ideas with irrationality, anxiousness, or lack of understanding the real issues of life. This is the baseline emotional reality of heteronormative men that the #metoo movement is charging at on the open field. It’s a vicious feedback loop. Dehumanization escalates to outright rape, and minimization – the most socially-acceptable dehumanization tool – neutralizes the call-out of injustice….
The Me Too movement flows against the attempt to neutralize the call for justice. Waves of stories of sexual harassment and abuse are sweeping social media. They are a call-out to listen and begin the process of unmuting for all. I posted my Me Too story yesterday. It took five days of building up courage to step past the wall of silence and finally post it. The response has been touching and supportive. Even just one day later men in my life have started conversations with me about how they may have supported the rape culture in which I had these experiences. Others, both men and women, have told me their heart-breaking stories. For me, it feels like a movement towards ending the silence for all of us wherever we are on the spectrum from female to male.
I am currently working on my new production, Men’s Circle (premiering Nov 2-5, 2017 in Toronto). It is a dance theatre work that tells the story of a men’s therapy group. I was inspired to create Men’s Circle by the many men I have seen in my private practice who have come to see me seeking to connect with their emotional world and heal from trauma. Through it, I hope to support a culture in which men can be free to feel vulnerable. One of the characters, Joe, starts off completely disengaged from his vulnerability and ends the piece by weeping. Other themes, such as sexual abuse, self-medication through drugs and suicide are explored. This brave cast of men (Allen Kaeja, Bill Coleman, Mateo Galindo Torres, Kousha Nakhaei, Deltin Sejour, Rudi Natterer and Harold Tausch) break down barriers to men’s mental health by showing up and telling the stories of men. I am gathering together 100 male volunteer performers to take part in the production. I want to reach as many men as possible.
My other job is as a mom, raising two boys aged three and seven. In this job I don’t have to undo old habits, but rather have a chance to teach emotional health and respect for others from the start. There is something I always do when my kids cry. No matter how silly their reason for crying (like for instance if a carrot has fallen on the floor), I put my hand on their heart and say, “Cry. Let the tears flow”. One of the most important things in life is to learn to grieve well. I allow my child to take a moment and grieve for that fallen carrot. From what I see, they have a good cry, the wave of crying comes to an end, and they get on with their day. From my experience, it seems they actually get through their emotional wave quicker than if I were to try to stop them from crying. I think this is because they are only grieving the fallen carrot rather then having to grieve both the fallen carrot and the grief of having ones emotional world minimised. In this way I hope to bring up boys who are not frightened of their emotions, who are well practiced in their flow. I hope to raise men who do not shy away from vulnerability.
By telling my own Me Too story, by helping men feel their emotions and by how I bring up my two boys I hope to be part of the humanistic movement that is shaking the foundations on which rape culture exists.
a new dance theatre work by Kathleen Rea that tells the story of men in a therapy group.
DATES AND LOCATION
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto
Thursday, November 2, 2017 @ 8pm – Pay-what-you-can preview
Friday November 3, 2017 @ 8pm – Opening night
Saturday, November 4, 2017 @ 8pm
Sunday November 5 , 2017 @ 3pm
To volunteer to perform or to attend the performance see info at
I am halfway through reading “The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father” by Maxine Harris.
In the book, Harris describes the custom of having professional mourners at funerals. She explains how many cultures believe that crying and weeping and feeling one’s pain is a fundamental step in the grieving process. So much so that at funerals, the grieving family and friends are joined by a group of professional mourners whose sole responsibility is to make sure that family members feel their feelings. When a professional mourner sees a family member trying to supress their emotions, they move closer to them and start wailing and saying phrases they think the family member is thinking, such as “I am angry that you left me”. This inevitably draws the family member back to the experience of their emotions and helps them avoid the devastating numbness that can occur if they fail to grieve in an embodied manner.
In Expressive Arts Therapy, the beat of a drum, the sweep of a paint brush or the ecstatic dance are the “wail” of a professional mourner calling someone home to themselves.
As a parents, we can also be professional mourners by giving our children space to experience their emotions.
On the weekend, my son and I were at a play centre in which the kids put on construction outfits and were building a house with foam bricks and shingles. My three year old tripped over another mother’s foot and starting wailing for me, “Mama….Mama”, with big tears in his eyes. He was grieving his own vulnerability and grieving the fact that I was not within arm’s reach. The mother who had accidently tripped him picked my son up and said, “Stop crying. Construction workers don’t cry”.
I was sad that someone would so quickly dismiss my son’s need to cry. The experience made me think about how important it is for me to be a professional mourner for my son—to give him space and encouragement to feel his feelings in the face of a world that so often will tell him that men do not cry.
Harris, M. (1996). The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. Plume/Penguin Group, NY, NY.