Men’s Rites of Passage & ManKind Project: FAQs

When I wrote An Open Letter to my Brothers in light of #MeToo last month, it really struck a chord. It’s been shared more than just about anything I’ve ever written – over 21,000 times as of this writing. I think the reason that it’s resonating – among men, women, and nonbinary folks alike – is because the increasing cultural truth-telling about men in power acting out from a place of unexamined shadows and compulsions is creating a strong response in society in general. But while many victims (of all genders) are feeling liberated by sharing their truths and speaking to rape, abuse and harassment culture, many people (victims, perpetrators, and those in relationships with both) are asking:

If ‘toxic’ masculinity is the problem, what’s the solution? The erasure of masculinity?

While there might be voices calling for the end of masculinity (or men!), I’ve not heard them. What I have heard is a feeling of helplessness and despair around the pervasiveness of rape, abuse, and harassment culture:  Is there anything that can be done?

In my essay I make several recommendations of what men, specifically, can do to counter unhealthy forms of masculinity and be the change. I say:

Brothers, we can help each other out. I encourage you to check out a pro-men, pro-women men’s work group, if you haven’t already – like The ManKind Project or Illuman.

And it’s this piece of advice that’s generated more feedback and questions than just about everything else. I’ve had a number of men in ManKind Project or similar men’s work give a hearty ‘shout-out,’ bearing witness to how this work has transformed their relationships with themselves first and foremost, and the profound impact this has on their relationships with women.

I’ve also received a number of questions – all sincere, some skeptical.

Here are a couple typical questions, this one from a woman:

The women [in my Facebook group] are really appreciating your authentic, thoughtful response. But there is one woman that said she has not heard very good things about Mankind and Boys to Men. She said they are cult-like and actually anti-woman. These could just be rumors; I don’t know; what has your own personal experience with these organizations been?

And this one, from a man:

Hey Mike, wondering if you can give me a bit more insight into the Mankind Project and the other things you shared in the MeToo posts. I feel drawn to such things – and I get your vibe and that of Richard Rohr – but all my red flags are up about “men’s groups” and all that. Specifically, I’m frankly concerned that such environments or orgs are going to be full of homophobia, heteronormativity, and good old fashioned binary gender roles… that it will all come back to down to a traditional “tender warrior” trope. There are lots of holes in my sense of masculinity, and I’m longing for more. Are you able to speak to any of this based on your experience? Thanks so much!

(Note: Both of these questions have been included with permission.)

These are such important questions. Because while we’re hungry for answers to shadowy forms of masculinity, the last thing any of us want to do is jump from the fire of shallow workplace, political, sports and entertainment environments into the deep-end fire of un-moored, manipulative, misogynistic cults!

I had these very same questions before I did my own men’s rites of passage weekend in May 2011. Frankly, I was gunshy because of what I took to be “rah-rah” church-based men’s groups growing up, and random Internet searches weren’t particularly flattering.

I’m so glad that I got over my projections, and random Internet opinions, and actually checked out an initiation weekend – called a New Warrior Training Adventure – for myself. I wrote about it right here, not too long after. I concluded:

During my NWTA initiation, I came face to face with how much raw fear I’ve stored up in my life – and what depths of power I have to call upon. From my weekend, I joined an Igroup – short for integration group, a circle of men with whom I can share life, and practice the newfound communication skills I learned on the NWTA. This was a healing experience, after so many experiences with other men where I was either in competition or bracing for some kind of put-down. I gather with my Igroup circle of men to this day. Deeply knowing a group of trustworthy men who have my back as I have theirs has been slowly and consistently life-altering. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if church was like that??)

Real community, with real men, helping me become a better man – all the while respecting and loving the women in our lives. Who’d have thought such a thing was possible? I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to MKP.

Still, that’s my conclusion, not yours. A number of you have written me, asking specifically about upcoming NWTAs and whether you should participate, asking me some variation of the questions above. So I thought I’d compile a brief FAQ of the questions I’ve been personally asked, and give you some personal answers alongside responses from MKP communities from around the world.

If you’re a man, I hope my responses here can give you some clarity for whether or not an NWTA is for you.

What is ManKind Project?

I’m going to open this question up by quoting the main ManKind Project – henceforth abbreviated as MKP – website for you, here:

The ManKind Project (MKP) is a global brotherhood of nonprofit charitable organizations that conducts challenging and highly rewarding programs for men at every stage of life. The ManKind Project currently has 11 regions: Australia, Belgium, Canada, French Speaking Europe, Germany, New Zealand, Nordic (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland), South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom & Ireland, and the United States. There are also a number of developing regions: Costa Rica, Mexico, Netherlands, China, India, and the Central Africa (DRC, Cameroon).

The ManKind Project supports a global network of over 1,000 peer-facilitated men’s groups serving close to 10,000 men each week. In an MKP men’s group, men mentor men through the passages of their lives.

The ManKind Project empowers men to missions of service, supporting men to make a difference in the lives of others – men, women, and children around the world. We help men through any transition, men at all levels of success, men facing almost any challenge. Our flagship training, is described by many as the most powerful men’s training available: New Warrior Training Adventure. The ManKind Project (MKP) is not affiliated with any religious practice or political party. We strive to be increasingly inclusive and affirming of cultural differences, especially with respect to color, class, sexual orientation, faith, age, ability, ethnicity, and nationality.

The easiest way to find out more is to talk to men and women whose lives have been affected by MKP. If you would like to connect to people in your local area, please see our Communities Page

How did MKP come to be?

Some back-story here:

The ManKind Project was formed in 1984 by the rather unlikely trio of therapist Bill Kauth, university professor Ron Hering, and former Marine Corps officer Rich Tosi. Influenced by the mythopoetic men’s movement — an approach to considering the psychological and social health of men in the light of mythology and social justice articulated by authors such as Robert Bly — the trio sought to reinstitute what they felt to be a lost tradition of initiation amongst men. The tradition of male initiation is in no way alien to the West, nor to modern American life; as just one example, as recently as 1950 one out of every twelve American men participated in the initiatic tradition of Freemasonry. However, as the founders of the MKP saw it, the decline of clear rites of passage in modern society resulted in adult males who were still trapped in a state of perpetual boyhood.

Is MKP a cult?

If by “cult” you mean a highly-controlling, coercive organization, no.  In my experience, MKP is committed to integrity and transparency in ways that make it an anti-cult, in my judgement – moreso than some churches and ‘spirituality’ organizations I’ve been involved with. The inter/national organization -and autonomous ongoing men’s groups – function with alot of transparency and accountability to all members, in my experience.

Now, If by “cult” you simply mean “counter cultural,” ie “weird stuff” – well, that’s in the eye of the beholder. Some people get wigged out by rites-of-passage, which can involve ritual elements like drumming, storytelling, solitude, and  sharing that goes far deeper than what many participants have previously experienced. These elements serve a vital purpose in getting us to open up and own our shadows (those aspects of our lives, personality, and habits that we deny, hide, and suppress), as well as our gold.

With that said, NWTA weekends build a strong shared ‘container’ of mutual trust, one of the key components being that any man can opt out of any activity (or even the entire weekend) at any time. This isn’t just a lip-service ideal, stated but not meant; men can and do opt-out when they discover and exercise their conscious will. Significantly, this is something that is bred out of us, not only in “cults,” but in the culture at large. In MKP, we honor participants’ boundaries – which is one way we work to create a culture where all boundaries are honored.

Is MKP homophobic or transphobic?

I think it’s best to ask gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer and transgender members of MKP this question – and there are a number of such folks. On the MKP Pride website, it summarizes thus:

“MKP is a consciously and intentionally diverse organization, with a huge number of gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender-identified men participating in and serving as leaders for the NWTA.”

It’s been my experience that as many as 30% of those who serve on staff on initiation weekends, and whom I sit with in men’s circles, are queer in one expression or another; queer men have been a vital part of this movement from the beginning. (Are you a ‘traditional’ evangelical who feels nervous about this? See my response to the question below about so-called ‘regular’ men in MKP.)

I have less direct experience with trans men in MKP. I’m told that on a global policy level, any male-identified person is welcome in MKP. I’m also aware that this is a learning curve for many regions around the world – one which is being approached in good faith, while also imperfectly at times. If you’re a trans man interested in an NWTA weekend or men’s group, I’d reach out to the local area coordinator (see below on how to do that) and ask them direct questions about how welcome you’d be in practice.

Here’s some official policy:

  • We affirm that all men are welcome on our trainings and in our communities.
  • We create trainings and circles in which all men are welcome to discover their deepest truths. We welcome men of all sexual orientations: gay, straight, and bisexual, including those who identify as having unwanted same sex attraction, to do their own work as they define it, to respect the identity and value of others, and to take responsibility for the impact their words and behaviors have on others.
  • We support each man in pursuing his path to deeper authenticity. We do not provide therapy nor endorse any particular therapy, including reparative therapy. Any group or organization that states or implies otherwise does so without our permission.
  • We do not, and will not, attempt to change a man’s sexual orientation.
  • We stand in support of gay and bisexual men. We support men who believe that homosexuality is a normal part of the spectrum of human sexuality and of mature masculinity.
  • We will not tolerate proselytizing for any religion or belief, organizing training staff into groups that exclude others, guiding men’s processes in a predetermined direction, or grooming men for the training.
  • We will not tolerate discrimination on our trainings or in our communities. We support our training and community leaders in identifying and challenging discriminatory language and behavior.

Here’s some additional reading:

Here’s actor Wentworth Miller sharing his story of involvement with the ManKind Project and the Human Rights Campaign:

Is MKP misogynistic? 

No. Said with the caveat that as men we’re always learning about entrenched systems of misogyny operating in our lives, of course! But on a level where male chauvinism is celebrated or held as some gold standard, a la John Wayne or Duck Dynasty? No way. I’ve heard MKP described as a feminist – that is, pro-women – organization, and that’s been my experience. Being for men doesn’t make us against women – far from it. We men need to be healthy, in no small part so we show up more fully for all the women in our lives, whether we’re queer or straight.

In a piece written to lovingly challenge hetero men seeking better relationships with women, the official MKP website says:

Women want better men. Women in the modern world know that they don’t have to settle.

Why should they? There are plenty of men waking up and showing up with power, masculine vulnerability, authentic presence, and magnetic integrity. We think you should be one of them. If you’re a man struggling to figure out what to do to win the love of a good woman … or what to do to become the Man You Want to Be … then listen up.

You haven’t learned some core lessons … because they aren’t taught in our culture. In fact … some of the things you will need to be the Man You Want to Be are even taboo.

You probably have the feeling that it’s going to require more of you to get … and keep … the love and fire you want in your life, and you’re right. The ManKind Project USA would like to help. We offer trainings and groups to start learning what you’ll need to know to capture and build the love you want in your life.

(See also The Mankind Project and Women from MKP Canada.)

Now: I will say that the NWTA initiation and our ongoing men’s work allows us all to be our genuine selves in any given moment: Even if that self is pissed-off, hurting, or in-process. This includes men who – surprise, surprise! – have issues with women, be they significant others, children, co-workers, bosses, mothers, etc… We’re committed to no cross-talk in many of our processes, and holding any judgements we might have about another man cleanly. In other words, because we’re dealing with real men in real life, we do process difficult situations and emotions around women – regularly. (And our fellow men, too.) I daresay that if someone (of any gender) were to come in the middle of some of our process off the street, they might well be disturbed by the anger and pain being expressed in any number of directions, including toward women. But in my personal and observed experience, repressing these feelings, impulses, and histories rarely results in transformed men from the inside-out. As Richard Rohr says, if we don’t transform our pain, we transmit it; hurt people hurt people. Our processes are not for the faint of heart, but they’re held within a container that loves, honors, and supports women.

Finally, there are organizationally independent ‘sister’ movements – Woman Within and Women In Power – who stand in solidarity with MKP men doing our work, as we do women doing theirs via these unique initiatory experiences.

Does MKP reinforce gender stereotypes?

Does The ManKind Project assert a normative model of masculinity and encourage us to emulate it? No. Rooted in the mytho-poetic men’s movement, we draw on the perennial masculine archetypes of King, Warrior, Lover and Magician, recognizing that there are healthy and unhealthy manifestations of each archetype. In the initiation weekend – as well as our ongoing work together – we seek to discern what our unique flavor and expression of masculinity is, recognizing the difference between ego and essence. Our goal is to mature into wisdom in alignment with our particular and always-evolving sense of purpose, wherever our center of gravity in these archetypes happens to be.

Are ‘regular’ men welcome in MKP?

So it could be that in my above descriptions of how queer, feminist, and ‘spiritual’ men are welcome in The ManKind Project, you’re feeling left out. If we were deep into a ‘warrior’ round of inquiry, I’d encourage you to check your assumption that queer, feminist, and spiritual men are ‘irregular’ while you’re the norm, but I’ll be gentle with you here. 🙂 If by ‘regular’ you mean you’re any of the following:

  • Blue-collar
  • Police or military
  • Ex-con background
  • Politically conservative
  • Straight, white, cis, hetero, monogamous
  • Evangelical Christian or another flavor of traditionally religious

…and you’re wondering if you’re welcome in MKP, the answer is “Yes, definitely.” I regularly stand shoulder to shoulder with men of all the above descriptions in my men’s circles.

This doesn’t mean you won’t be challenged. No one is let off the hook when it comes to challenging stereotypes and assumptions, regardless of orientation, gender presentation, political and spiritual convictions (or lack thereof), etc. But any such challenge is done in a container of relative safety, and respect.

As one of my dear friends and fellow MKP initiates – a pacifist immigrant who has a PhD in nonviolence and peacemaking – expressed to me after being initiated and staffing several initiation weekends: “I may not be any more comfortable with the military-industrial complex of your country, but I do feel some relief knowing that I have some brothers in the Pentagon.”

Similarly, I can have conversations with Evangelical Christian men in MKP that I can have with no other Evangelical Christian men in my life, simply because we share a foundation of unflinching truth-telling that transcends our differences. We can support each other as people while holding our own beliefs and life-missions in integrity.

It’s why some of my fellow progressive ministry types and I are on a mission to invite as many progressive Christian leader-types we know to an initiation weekend; BS and emotional deflection knows no party lines, and we belief our faith communities would be immeasurably strengthened by the kinds of men the MKP process forms.

Bottom-line: MKP is one of the few places I know of where men of genuinely different class, orientation, racial, political, spiritual/religious/irreligious and ideological difference can be together in a real and non-superficial way.

You’ve been in MKP for nearly seven years now. What benefits have you received?

What a great question! Reflecting for a moment, I’ve noticed:

  • I’m more aware of my shadow (the things I hide, deny, and repress), and my gold (the often-hidden gifts that I have to offer the world).
  • I use fake smiles and deflecting humor less.
  • I cleanly express anger more.
  • I’m more direct.
  • I have a space to do demanding inner healing work.
  • I feel more ‘settled,’ grounded, and in my body.
  • I’m regularly challenged and celebrated in ways that are lacking from other areas of my life.
  • My relationships with women have improved. Women who have known me across this span of time share feeling safer with me, more supported. And when I mess up, I own it, make what amends are welcomed, and move forward.
  • My relationships with men have improved. I trust more men, and let them into my life more.
  • My anxiety is reduced.
  • I’m a better, more caring dad.
  • I’m routinely encouraged to take stock of whether I’m living ‘on purpose,’ and what concrete steps I can take if not.
  • All in all, I feel more empowered as an active participant in my life.

Now, I don’t want to paint an overly-rosy picture of things. Here’s what my involvement in MKP has not done for me:

  • It has not made long-standing fears, insecurities, or unconscious tendencies vanish.
  • It has not made me an intrinsically more virtuous person.
  • It has not magically lifted all problems in intimate partnership.
  • It has not given me limitless patience with my children.
  • It has not made me any less awkward around extended family, including parents.

While I’d say the cumulative effects of my MKP involvement have been transformative, it isn’t a silver bullet. But in my experience, it’s better – it’s like a distance-marathon for my being.

How can I learn more about The ManKind Project, or get started with an NWTA initiation rite? 

I’m glad you asked! Here are some great next steps:

Get the 12 in 12 Interview Series. (It’s free.) Here you’ll hear the voices of 12 men in 12 days, sharing what drew twelve guys from various walks of life into this work, and how it’s impacted their lives.

Look Up an NWTA Initiation in Your Area. On virtually any given weekend, somewhere on Earth, men are gathering for initiation work. This Global Master Calendar will show you where, and who to contact if you want to participate – just click through the links on the calendar.

Connect to a Men’s Group Anywhere on Earth. Maybe not anywhere, but MKP is in 21 nations and growing. Maybe you’re not ready to commit to a full weekend yet, but would like to visit a men’s circle. Many Igroups are open to visitors; sending in this form with where you live will connect you with a group near you. Yes it’s a risk making contact with a living, breathing man to talk about this; no you won’t be hounded beyond your interest. Virtually everyone who could reach out to you is a volunteer; we respect “yeses” and “nos.”

Binge on Even More FAQs. I mean, if you want to. The official MKP site has a bunch more – ones I haven’t been personally asked, but maybe you’re wondering. But please don’t let endless information input feed a ‘paralysis of analysis’ that leads to inaction! Get your initial questions answered, but do connect directly with a man via one of the links above.

Don’t Leave Younger Boys Out of This! If you have sons or are willing to mentor boys, please check out Journeymen and Boys to Men – these communities help mitigate the need for such strenuous work to be done by men as we reach adulthood.

Leave a Comment Below. Finally, if you have a men’s work or MKP question that wasn’t addressed above (or in the FAQ link provided), or wish for another avenue of connection, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to respond.

No matter where you’re coming from, thank you for taking the time to dive into this. I find men’s work to be of vital importance in processing what we’re going through today as a culture.

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