Men’s group confronts stigmas



Brookline Young Men’s Group’s goal is to create an open environment where young men are able to be vulnerable.

A circle of teenage boys, sitting together around a fire, talk about their emotions, relationships and role in a patriarchal society. The infrequency of affinity spaces like this for men is the reason why this one was created.

The Brookline Young Men’s Group was founded by two senior boys, Evan Guttell and Rowan Roudebush, in the spring of 2021. The group focuses on creating a safe space for vulnerable conversations to occur between men, with the hope of dismantling systems of gender-based oppression.

While the group has the potential for positive impact, it has been subject to criticism from peers. The criticism centers around misunderstandings about the ’s goals and accomplishments, as well as their lack of diversity.

Social worker Paul Epstein helped facilitate the organization of the and said it is important that the group is just for men. He said because it’s only for boys, conversation topics that aren’t normally talked about between men are encouraged. Some of these topics include toxic masculinity, misogyny and rape culture. He said the types of conversations are not nearly as common as they should be.

“The goal was to get this group of boys talking in a way that, frankly, just doesn’t happen enough or, really, at all. Very infrequently are there conversations about manhood and the role of men in society as well as their interaction with women,” Epstein said.

Senior Ezra Korn-Meyer, a member of the group, said the idea was to foster conversation between boys and for the boys to bring what they learn in the group into their lives and their relationships.

“Last spring Evan and Rowan reached out to me about trying to create a space where boys would be able to have conversations about the patriarchy, misogyny and sexual violence. They wanted to create trust and vulnerability so that boys could have those conversations with other boys and could then take that into their lives and into their relationships,” Korn-Meyer said.

The group aims to destigmatize emotional conversations between men and open up conversations about systemic issues that men contribute to. Epstein said that the stigma surrounding these conversations is a part of the bigger problem of toxic masculinity.

“It’s crazy that we can attach a word as potent as toxic to our entire gender and to have it be so accurate,” Epstein said. “Just the state of being male is, in some way, toxic.”

Senior Sasha Kalvert has devoted much of her time to educating herself and others on the harmful effects of the patriarchy and how to dismantle it. As the leader of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Warriors, a group where people of all genders work together to dismantle gender-based oppression, she has first-hand experience with leading groups similar to this one. Kalvert said she understands the importance of creating a space for conversations among men and is pleased the group is learning to do emotional work that she said women are too often forced to do.

“I’m glad that they have a place to have vulnerable conversations among men. That really needs to happen because men depend on women way too much for emotional labor. It’s awesome that they’re practicing the skill of doing emotional labor for each other and being vulnerable around other men,” Kalvert said.

According to Kalvert, there is danger in the lack of perspectives in the group, as the privileged identities of those in the group make it difficult for them to truly understand the system they are trying to fight against.

“The majority of the group are white, cisgendered, straight men who lack any sort of perspective on oppression. That’s a big drawback,” Kalvert said.

The group has set out to accomplish many goals. Their current mission statement reads, “We are a youth-led, male-identifying organization aimed at dismantling patriarchy, misogyny and white supremacy at a local level through honest and vulnerable conversations in smaller groups.”

Kalvert said that their mission statement does not accurately describe the work they do.

“They are all coming into the space saying they’re trying to combat patriarchal oppression. They’re acting as if talking about their personal lives and being vulnerable with one another is the same as actually educating themselves and other men about systemic inequality,” Kalvert said.

Guttell said this mission statement is in its preliminary stages, and the group has plans to revise it. He said they have acknowledged the recent shortcomings of their work, given that their mission statement currently claims a focus on fighting larger systemic issues. As Kalvert said, the work has been more interpersonal, while their mission statement describes institutional work.

Guttell said he agrees with Kalvert’s description of the benefits and drawbacks to having the be just for men. He also understands that the people in the group have power, and therefore they must use their societal privilege to take a stance on oppression.

“I think it would be unfair to just look within ourselves and try to dismantle our own misogyny without calling it out in the world around us. Using the societal power we’ve been given as men, and many of us are white men on top of that, we must speak out and use that power,” Guttell said.

“We must challenge a lot of the internalized misogyny we all have,” Guttell said. “I think the majority of the work we’re really doing right now is interpersonal. But I think interpersonal work needs to happen. You need to dismantle your own misogyny in order to combat institutions.”

Guttell said he learned about the challenges of social justice work through the formation of this group. Understanding that they cannot create a perfect space has been a learning experience for the members of the group.

Korn-Meyer and Guttell both said the group is trying to refocus on their original goals of creating cultural change. They said conversations in the early stages of the group were powerful and they are eager to return to these in order to accomplish those original goals. Korn-Meyer said that part of the group’s goal is to leave a legacy on Brookline by starting to recruit new members.

“We’ve been really discussing what our legacy will be when we leave Brookline. We want to start a second group with other seniors; we want to bring in juniors and sophomores who we feel are ready for this level of conversation and seriousness. We’ve also been talking about going to middle schools and holding an afternoon session and we’ll have boys come and help facilitate these types of conversations. We have to start with people who are young,” Korn-Meyer said.

Despite the questioning of the effectiveness of their work, The Brookline Young Men’s Group is working hard to improve itself and the community it is a part of. Guttell acknowledged that the group lacks a strong focus on institutional progress and said in the spring of 2021 there was more momentum towards educational and institutional change. But, he also said that the group’s main goal, especially this fall, has been interpersonal work, which is also necessary.

“What we are really attempting to do is to dismantle the effects of patriarchy on ourselves and on the general culture of this school,” Guttell said. “That looks like challenging a lot of the internalized misogyny we all have. I think the majority of the work we’re really doing right now is interpersonal. But I think interpersonal work needs to happen. You need to dismantle your own misogyny in order to combat institutions.”