February 23rd, 2022
Tony Porter, CEO of A Call To Men, shares stories from his decades-long crusade to help men invest in a healthier form of manhood, discusses the evolution and controversies of his intersectional methods, and reveals the very personal origins of his journey.
“This ‘Man Box,’ this collective socialization of manhood, of how we define what it means to be a man, is not only fostering an epidemic of violence against women and girls, it’s killing us as men too.”
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Redefined is hosted by me, Zainab Salbi, and brought to you by Find Center, a search engine for your soul. Part library, part temple Find Center presents a world of wisdom, organized. Check it out today at www.findcenter.com and please subscribe to Redefined for free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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What’s most important about life? What is the essence of life? Is it what we do, how much we earn, how many social media followers we have? Or is it, do we live our lives in kindness to ourselves and to others? Do we live our lives in love to ourselves and to others? In nearly losing my life I was confronted with these questions and it led me to the conversations that make up Redefined, about how we draw our inner maps and the pursuit of meaningful personal change.
For more than twenty years, my guest, Tony Porter, has been on a crusade to help men invest in a healthier form of manhood. His TED Talk, A Call to Men, received more than three million viewers and had a major influence on the discussion of what healthy manhood really means. As the CEO of A Call to Men, Tony works with a number of major organizations and with individuals to raise consciousness about the social origins of harmful male behavior and how to prioritize gender equality, vulnerability, listening, and nonviolence. Tony’s own journey, he explains, is ongoing. He’s worked as a correction officer and with substance abuse patients. He served in the military and consulted on issues of manhood for the NBA and the NFL. He has studied the actions and reactions of men through an intersectional lens that considers race and socioeconomic conditions. Tony’s story and his sense that something had gone wrong in the world of men starts from a very personal place. His ultimate call is for men to be authentic to their true selves. Join me as we explore what that means. And just a note, this episode does contain a conversation about suicide.
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If we are to start from the beginning, I’m curious about the concept that you grew up with and what it meant for you to be a man when you were a child? What were you told what being a man is?
I grew up in the Bronx. I was born in Harlem, grew up primarily in the Bronx. My father was, what we would call back then, a hustler. He worked, he worked hard, but he didn’t do traditional work. He didn’t have a regular nine-to-five. Primarily what he did was bootleg booze. He sold booze after twelve o’clock, at midnight, which is when you couldn’t sell it legally in New York and you couldn’t sell it on Sundays. He got out of the Army. He was in the Army, got out of the Army, worked in a liquor store right up until the riots that came as a result of the assassination of Dr. King and unfortunately, they pretty much burned sections of Harlem down. So growing up for me as a boy, my father was very well respected in the community and he was respected because he was a hard worker and he was good to people and he took care of his family and those things were just very important and looked highly upon and so I learned early on . . . At some point in my life, to a detriment, I was a workaholic. That was passed on to me. I frowned upon men who didn’t work, who didn’t work hard, or who had excuses about working. I frowned upon that in regards to what it meant to be a man. Being a provider was essential, that was something that I definitely grew up with as a boy.
I grew up in some areas that had their challenges, so being tough was very important to me as a boy. We would speak in a language of being able to hold your own. That was important to me growing up and respected by men in my community. But I’m not saying it was all bad, I am saying there’s some slippery slopes all up in there that lead us on some challenging paths, but “holding it down,” “taking care of business,” “doing what you got to do,” “no excuses,” “making it happen,” which all kind of falls right in line with being controlling. There’s a lot of slippery slopes in there, but a lot of that is what I was taught growing up that a man is supposed to do and be.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Well, you’re talking about the concept of strength, defend, protect, provide. I mean, between your father and the Army, basically, and these are all things that needs strength from us: work hard, protect yourself, protect your other family members probably, and protect your country in the Army. What was a turning point? What was a story or the first story, rather, that sort of opened your eyes and said, I need to look into that, this doesn’t feel right to me?
Yeah. I would say the first story that began to change that for me is that my brother, my younger brother, Henry followed me into the military. He’s a year and a half younger than I am. He had a mental health breakdown in the military. He actually became schizophrenic while in the military and the onset, as they say, was schizophrenia. The onset is mid- to late teens, early twenties, and in many times a traumatic incident and he had a traumatic incident. He was much more militant than I was. I had the ability to negotiate with white people. My brother, Henry, was much more militant. He had followed me, actually, to Texas, and I actually was leaving Texas when he was on his way there because he was doing a lot of things I didn’t even know that was happening, because I surely would’ve warded him off, because Texas was a rough place in the ’70s, early ’70s. But at that point in time in my life, it was completely different than any experience I ever had in New York City. I was finding my way out of there while he was coming there in hopes of being with me.
When he got there, he wind up getting in, what we could call, trouble. I use it loosely because it was what they defined as trouble, but it was racial incidents that he was not able to negotiate. He wound up being imprisoned in the military prison, Fort Leavenworth, and they kept him there for about a year. Then they discharged him from the military. While he was there, he had more traumatic experiences, and at that point was the onset of schizophrenia. So when my brother came home from the military, I was still in the military at the time. I had about a year with some change left, but he came home schizophrenic and he came home a shell of the person he was, and it began to change my life and my view of what a man was, what responsibility is, what vulnerability is, what trauma is, what happens to men.
I mean, I was still a hard worker, that hasn’t changed, that hasn’t changed now, but just the rigidity in manhood. I mean, he came back home to the Bronx and now he’s being victimized because he’s vulnerable. He’s being victimized by others. I’m powerless in some respect of taking care of him. And then my brother committed suicide. And I speak about that in the TED Talk a little bit, not a lot. I mention the TED Talk that my brother died tragically. Well, my brother committed suicide. He jumped out of . . . My mother lived in the Bronx, in the tenement building, fifth floor. He was living with her at the time. I had already moved out. I had moved out. I came, I stayed there for a minute, he had me back in his life in the way he did during our childhood, but I was only there for a minute. I was doing my thing and I moved out, and the day I moved out that night is when my brother leaped out of, jumped out of, however you want to define it, my mother’s fifth floor apartment window.
It was a troubling time for me. He lived for eight days. It was December 22nd. He lived for eight days. I think he died on New Year’s Eve. So that was a very challenging time in my life in me defining manhood and the vulnerability, my breakdown from it, what the impact it had on my entire family. It was a horrible, horrible time and it had a huge impact on my life. For a lot of years, I took some responsibility for his death because for me, it wasn’t a coincidence that he died or he attempted to completing suicide the day I moved out. I carried that for a lot of years and it took me down some harrowing paths. It was through those experiences and me coming out on the other side of it that I, at that point in time, had really had a different consciousness about a lot of things and manhood was one of them.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Wow. First of all, I’m really sorry and even though it’s a long time ago, I’m sure it still hurts. And it seems what you’re referring to is that there is no room for a “not-strong man,” quote-unquote, if you may. You either are strong and respected and if you are vulnerable or not have it together in a strong way, then there is just no space for you in the community or in society. What I’m hearing from you is like, how do you . . . And yet, you love this man, this is your brother, you love him, and you’re seeing how the society is sort of rejecting his vulnerability and that these two are not reconciling with each other, that rejection and that love and that strength and the vulnerability and all of that. Does that sound—
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Yeah. It was that for him and then after he died, well, now I’m fragile and I’m shattered and now how am I negotiating who I had always attempted to be versus who I am in this moment? At A Call to Men, we talk a lot about men are socialized not to ask for help, not to offer help, not to accept help. I was in grave need of help, just as he was. Now he’s gone and now I’m in grave need of help to go on with my life, to grieve his death, to deal with my sense and feelings of responsibility. I found myself in therapy quite a bit, but even to make the decision to get the therapy was a journey because I was really caught up in these rigid definitions of what it means to be a man and therapy is accepting that you need help.
I was challenged by that because as so much of us are taught—and how we challenge at A Call to Men—this whole notion that asking for help is a sign of weakness. So it took me a minute before I could get there and during that minute I was wreaking havoc in my life. I was wreaking havoc in the lives of people who love me and who were vulnerable to me. It was through that and fortunately, coming out on the other side of that as a healthier man, having a deeper understanding of vulnerability, having a deeper understanding of me—because another aspect of manhood is we don’t talk about feelings as men with the exception of anger. I spoke about that in the TED Talk and having really no concept of what anger actually is, that it’s actually fear of pain. We don’t know that, we’re just pissed off. But again, through that journey, I was able to also begin to know who Tony is as a man, emotionally speaking. I began to develop a sense of emotional intelligence. And it all would then be in conflict of the teachings of the Man Box; I began to be in conflict of those teachings of the Man Box.
So it led me to becoming a social worker, which I was never interested in helping people in that way or working with people. I got out of the army and I was working for US Customs. I worked in a government between US Customs, Veterans Hospital, I stayed in that government environment. I spent a good handful of years working in US Customs Services. I did work as a school safety officer, which was an interesting job, but by then I was starting to get in better and better touch with myself. But then again, it led to a career. I worked in a prison system, those kind of places, where that Man Box is in full swing. I was a CEO for a while and I was good at it, for all the wrong reasons.
Going through that experience brought me to the other side and really put me in conflict with all I had learned about what it means to be a man. And not just from your family, from the community, from the neighborhood, from society, all the messages that come from everywhere. It led to me making a decision to become a social worker, and that took me on a path that eventually led me here.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
It’s so interesting on so many levels, because what I’m hearing is that this is not an only individual journey. An individual journey is that the man doesn’t have the tools to be able to cry or to say “I need help.” And whether it’s your example, I’m thinking of my brother example when our mother died and he just could not cry, he just was afraid to cry, because he thought that it’s not strong enough. But also, you’re making me think about the societal level, which takes me to our inner connection. This is not a man’s issue, this is also a societal issue, at large, and how do we look into the intersectionality, if you may, between the personal and the political.
It makes me personally think of an example I had with a brothel owner. It’s a very, very different example, it’s in India. And this brothel owner was speaking very candidly to me about how he sells women, buys women . . . He was telling me about the economy of his business, if you may, in a very honest way. Even though I was doing a piece for CNN, I was horrified. And at one point he looked at me and he said, “You judge us, you judge us, you judge all these women, you judge me, all of you. And you, me—” not only Zainab, but you people outside of the red light district if you may, “—are judging us and you put us in prisons, and you laugh at us, and you have your jokes about us . . . you do not understand how you are part of the problem. How it is your husbands, and your fathers, and your sons and brothers who are the customers that I am supplying to. And it is even you, the women, who don’t treat other women well, and when you create their vulnerability, I take advantage of that.”
So he sort of put it on me and I was stunned, because I didn’t expect that, I obviously judged him as the bad guy. But that made me reflective, and I went back and Tony, I asked as many men in my life as possible. Now, I grew up overseas and I worked overseas, so my community is really international, from my own home country through Iraq, to different countries I worked in in Africa, and in Europe, and Asia, and all of that, and of course, I live in America. And I don’t want to put percentage of it, but the vast majority of the men I asked said that they had paid for sex at one point of their lives. Some is how they got introduced to sex, some their father took them to a prostituted woman, some continued, some are ashamed of it, some are not ashamed of it, are all kinds of reactions. But the fact of the matter is I was shocked how much the men in my life, that I knew these guys, were doing that.
Now, this is not a question about trafficking at all. This is a question about the interconnection between how society acts and the individual’s reality, andhow do we . . . Where is men’s responsibility in this case and where is the societal responsibility in this case? And what is the message for men and what is the message for the society at large, and the institutions at large? How do we question ourselves and how we look at men and ask of men differently?
Yeah, there’s a lot in there. There’s a lot. I’m not sure that I’m going to go 100 percent where you want, but the thoughts that come up for me when you share that is, we live in a male-dominating society. The examples you gave around, this man was talking to you about demand, that there’s no sex trafficking without a demand, and the demand is men. So we live in a male-dominating society. And what comes up for me there, we know as a result of a male dominating society, we have an epidemic of violence against women and girls. And what’s fostering that epidemic of violence against women and girls is how men are defining women and girls as less than us, which then lends toward us taking the permission to be dominating.
I believe with all the work that men do to distance ourselves from the experience of women and girls, in defining what it means to be a man, it stops us from being our authentic selves. We become this role self, r-o-l-e, instead of our whole self, w-h-o-l-e, because there’s no room for authenticity. We just got to be in this Man Box and do manhood based on the way the Man Box prescribes. We define manhood by distancing ourselves from the experience of women and girls.
I believe, and this is the piece that I would lend toward what you’re sharing, was two things. One is, I believe with all the oppression women experience at the hands of men, whether it’s their resiliency, their fortitude, just their strength and courage in general, I believe women are much closer representative of how we would collectively define humanity. And I believe that as men defining manhood by distancing ourselves from the experience of women and girls, we are in essence distancing ourselves from our own humanity.
So we get all the benefits and stuff that goes with a patriarchy, we get the benefits that go with being dominating, but at the same time, I really question what’s happening to our souls as men. When you look at suicide rates with men, I think it’s about three and a half times higher than women, something along those lines, when you look at this inability to ask for help, offer help, accept help, the way we operate with each other as men, we rather compete with each other than love each other as men. When I think about how we deal with trauma as men—in essence we don’t—it actually contributes to the violence women experience at our hands because we have so much unchecked trauma in our lives as men.
We talk about, one out of three women, one out of four women, will be a victim of violence at the hands of men, in many cases sexual violence, we know that one out of six men are sexually assaulted as well, largely by other men. And because of these rigid notions of manhood, how we define what it means to be a man, most of us, many of us, far too many of us, we’ll go to our deathbed and never share about what happened to us when we was eight years old. We’ll keep it to ourselves for our entire life.
You know, like I said, I was a social worker, and I worked in the alcohol and drug—substance use is what they call it now, field. I was director of addiction services at a hospital in New York for a long time. And I can’t tell you the countless number of men who would come in for treatment, forty years old or so, and it’s the first time that they’re sharing what happened to them at eight, because these rigid notions of what it means to be a man force them or reinforce them to keep it to themselves. And what’s also interesting is the havoc, or should also be noted is the havoc, that they have wreaked in the lives of everyone vulnerable to them those entire thirty years, that entire generation, in their attempt to conceal, to keep concealed, what happened to them.
So I’m saying all this to say, this Man Box, this collective socialization of manhood, of how we define what it means to be a man, is not only fostering an epidemic of violence against women and girls, it’s killing us as men too.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
That makes complete sense, and definitely resonates. You also worked on racism issues, and I’m curious about how you see the interconnection between racism and violence, and particularly domestic violence. And I put it in the frame of an experience I personally had, I was in Gaza many, many years ago, and it was right after some pretty horrific bombings of the city. And I’m meeting this woman, and her husband is yelling at her violently in front of guests who are foreigners. Usually you are polite in front of guests and you don’t show your violence in front of guests, and he was just violently yelling at her. And at one point, I looked at her and I said, “Are you okay? Do you need help?” This is not normal here. And she said, “Oh, no, this is just since our house was destroyed, and the bombing and the shelling and all of these things, he’s just been like that, so I just basically ignore him and don’t worry about it.”
And really, it was my first time to see the inner connection between this guy being emasculated in essence, I also grew up in a society where a lot of men are emasculated because other men who have power over them don’t give them the power, but then that translates into this guy’s violence yelling at his wife, or violence perhaps in their own families.
So that’s what I’m curious about your own understanding between racism and how it’s directly or indirectly impacting violence within the community, any community that is.
Yeah. And so that example you gave, we’re not making excuses for that man’s behavior, but it gives us an understanding or an opportunity to have some insight or understanding in what’s going on with him that may be contributing to that behavior. And far too often, when racism, poverty, colonization, colonialism, when these are factors that could be contributing—Western European views, United States in many respects—that we haven’t really created space to look at those experiences.
Let me just be more clear. When I started doing this work, the teachings were, not purely, but the majority of the teachings were by way of white feminist perspectives and views. When I came into the work as a man coming into this space to begin to engage men, it was white feminist perspectives and views that dominated the space. I’m not saying that Black and brown women, their sisters weren’t there countering it. They were, but the funding and the resources were predominantly going to white women. White women predominantly led the organizations. So white women dominated for the most part the spaces where information was disseminated, how information was disseminated. So their teachings became the majority.
So when I started doing this work, there was no room or space to talk about men’s pathology that may be contributing factors in their behavior. When I started doing this work, the teachings was real simple: once a batterer, always a batterer. And it was almost like, end of the story, meaning like we’re done with him. The teaching was that men’s behavior was a result of a patriarchy, that domestic violence, as you had asked, that domestic violence is rooted in a patriarchy, and that’s it. There was really no room to talk about other variables that may be contributing factors. His behavior is rooted in the patriarchy and that’s it.
There’s no room to talk about men’s pathology. So I understand a lot of, in those early days, the rigidity around looking at any other factors, but I also understand that Black and brown women, different from white women, have a relationship with black and brown men that’s rooted in this race construct where we have like experiences. White women, their experiences with white men, I guess, would be around white supremacy culture, which I don’t know how they were dealing with that themselves at the that time. But I’m saying this to say that Black and brown women had a difficult time, really, that the only result for domestic violence would be to lock his butt up. Black and brown women, in many cases, while they wanted the violence to stop, they didn’t want their husband to leave, which again, were some of the examples or answers that came from white feminist perspectives: out of the house, lock him up, put him away. Once a batterer, always a batterer. Never deal with him again.
Black and brown women question what that meant to our communities and, as they have done historically because in many respects, they’re sacrificing themselves on behalf of what that means to the destruction of our community. We want our men to behave, but we still want our men to be part of our community, just how we define community. White feminist perspectives, they don’t define community. They don’t teach the community. They run the country, so they don’t think community. And I do know Black and brown men who’ve taken advantage of that. So I understand the flip side of that also, that sisters are not going to call the police on us. I know what that looks like too when the police might have needed to be called on us, but they’re not going to call the police on us because we are also taught you don’t do that to the community. So I get that part too. But my point is, my bigger point is, there was years in this work, and for a good number of years while sisters, Black and brown women, were supporting me in trying to figure out how to negotiate this. They also knew that they didn’t have the wherewithal that if I went too far, if I lean too deep, that the power of white feminism in this space, they can actually make it very difficult for me to have remained.
So I had to walk softly. I had to kind of stay mainstream in a way for quite a while before I can really go live to the way I wanted to, and really talking about the experiences of Black men, brown men, men who are non-Christian men, men who are financially poor, what are some of our experiences in United States of America, which we know to be a race, sex, class and other forms of group oppression construct. What does all of that mean in our experiences? And how does it contribute to our pathology that then a symptom of that becomes violence against the women in our lives?
It took a while to create space. So a lot of how we did this work was not informed through an intersectional lens, as our dear sister Kimberlé Crenshaw would say. It was not informed through an intersectional lens. It was not informed by way of understanding that the society that we’re in is in a race construct. It was not informed by Black and brown women. And I’m not here trying to let folks off the hook necessarily who are doing wrong, but I am here saying that a race construct for a Black or brown man, there’s a pathology in there. Hurt people hurt people. The trauma that I experience on a day-to-day basis as a Black man going unchecked can be a contributing factor to the violence against the women in my lives. And for years, that simple statement was something that would not have been allowed or would’ve been frowned upon.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Yeah. You remind me of my work way back in Congo. And at one point, I was working with a lot of women survivors of rape and trying to patch their lives back together and rebuild it again. And at one point, it’s like, “We’ve got to talk to the men. I mean, we just got to talk to the men. We can’t just talk to the women,” because I just needed to stop this vicious cycle. So I developed this training program for men and went to militia leaders, to be honest, and the pastors and the imams and all the men who were either perpetrating the rape or tolerating it, looking the other direction at it. They’re all the leaders, right? So at least in that context and developed a training program to show them why this is wrong, why this is destructive for themselves and for women, of course.
And it worked, Tony. It worked. I sat down one time in a group of men and they were explaining how they never thought twice about raping a woman until they entered this program. And they realized that there’s another way to be a man and that there’s another life to be a man. And it’s a better life as a matter of fact than doing what they were doing. Right? Anyway, I was criticized heavily, heavily by many feminists for this work, which is, “How dare you work with them? They are criminals and they do need to go to prison and we need to arrest them,” which I do agree with. That they are criminals. Someone needs to arrest them. This is not my profession, but yes, someone needs to arrest them, and yes, they need to go and pay the price for the crimes that they have done. Absolutely.
And in the meantime, someone needs to also have a conversation to stop it, because it’s not stopping. And we can’t just wait for the police to arrest these perpetrators. We’ve got to engage in another discussion. Now it’s not necessarily correlated to what you’re saying, Tony, but it is talking about context and understanding and providing other means to address the crisis, basically, because when it’s a crisis hitting your community over and over and over again, it’s felt ten times more than other communities, right? So it’s like there are other ways, more constructive ways to address the crisis while still punishing, indeed, all the criminals.
What you’re saying, I fully agree with and, what you are sharing, is the reason we started A Call to Men. So myself and Ted Bunch, the other cofounder of A Call to Men, we were both . . . My full-time job was in the addictions program that I shared about. Ted was running the batterer’s intervention program, as they were called at that time, offenders classes, some were called, in New York City. I was volunteering for one in Upstate New York. That’s how him and I met. It was through that journey where we were learning two things. One is that the way we were dealing with domestic violence was two ways. One was to provide effective services for women, appropriate services for women. Very important. The other was to hold men accountable for their behavior of perpetrating domestic violence. Both, while needed, are reacting to the violence. Meaning that the violence has to happen in order to provide appropriate services to hold men accountable.
We began to take a position—that’s important, and as long as the violence is at epidemic proportion, that remains important. But what about getting ahead of the violence? What about getting upstream and stopping the violence before it happens? And to your point, in order to do that, we have to engage men, right? We have to engage men. If we’re not engaging that larger body of men to really think more deeply and critically about what it means to be a man, we can’t make the culture shift that will then have this majority of men really begin to hold the men who are abusive responsible, and hold them accountable, and teach boys a different identification . . . to define men who are differently so that they don’t grow up to be abusive men.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Tony, how did your own understanding and the evolution of your understanding of what manhood mean and what healthy masculinity mean impacted your own way of raising your kids? You have boys and girls, how did it impact your fatherhood?
How about how is it? Because it’s still going on! [laughs] Are you kidding me? I’m challenged every day in different ways. I have four older kids. My younger kids, they had my best years, my two younger kids. They’re twenty-two and twenty-three. They had my best years because I was deeper into this work. My older kids, not as much, right? I had to do a lot of reteaching, but my older sons, and then even with my younger son, there are times that I . . . What we say is, I mean, I haven’t arrived. I haven’t arrived. I have a deeper understanding. The way we say that at A Call to Men is the difference between us, maybe, and other men is we know when we step back in that Man Box, we try to stay out of it as much as we can, but it doesn’t mean we don’t ever step back in it, and the difference between us is we’re no longer on remote control. I know if I’m in the Box and I know when I’m out of the Box and I’m conscious in ways that other men are not.
So in essence, when I’m in the Box, I would say I’m held at a higher standard simply because I’m conscious. I know I’m in that Box while other men are just doing what tradition has taught them. But with my boys, is really about how to be loving and gentle: hugs, the same things that I just comfortably have always done with my daughters. Hugs, kisses, I love you. At the end of every conversation . . . I knew my father loved me, but he never said he loved me out loud. I knew he loved me, but he never said it. I knew he cared about me, took good care, but I knew he was proud of me. His friends would tell me about things he said to them about accomplishments I had made as a young guy, but he never talked about love, right? Never shared feelings, you know, expressed his emotions, right? For me in raising my sons and as my daughters because for my daughters, I’m also modeling healthy manhood, for my son, I’m teaching healthy manhood. So we talk about love. We talk about feelings, right?
My boys did not have permission with me, but once I got deeper into this—early on I didn’t want to talk much to my older sons about nothing. I was like most men, “Go ask your mother.” But with my younger son, he could no longer just give me one-word answers. If I asked him, “How was your day,” he couldn’t just say, “I’m good.” I’m going to ask him what was good about it, we’re going to dialogue. That’s something with men, to hold a conversation. Not just . . . Of course, we could talk about who won the football game, but to really talk about how we’re feeling, what’s going on in our lives, what are we thinking, have an opportunity talking out loud sometimes just hearing yourself think. And sometime when you hear yourself say it, it doesn’t sound the way it sounded in your head. To talk, to express feelings, to love each other, to hug each other, to kiss each other, to end every conversations with, “I love you.” Those are practices I’ve come to do with my . . .
And it’s easier with our girls because we’re taught that we can be emotionally connected to our girls. With my girls, less than that, because that was the easy part. With my girls, it was more about, “You can do whatever you want to do. You can make it happen. I can help you make it happen. We can figure it out together. There’s no limitation.”
Zainab Salbi (Host):
I like that. I like that. I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but indulge me here for a couple of things that I really wanted to get at. And one of them is, lots of men are confused, I think, these days. There is a talk of patriarchy, which I’ve heard many men saying, “What is patriarchy?” I mean, “Really, I’ve been asked so many questions, so please spell it out to us.” And then the ones that I’m in conversation with, not all, but a lot, are like tip-toeing telling about what its mean to be a man. They don’t have the tools to . . . Okay, we understand the old is bad, but we really don’t know what the new is. What are the toolbox that men can use to go about this journey of transformation.
I would ask men to really begin to make a connection with who they are emotionally. That sharing their feelings and emotions is not a sign of weakness, right, it’s a sign of health. That asking for help is a sign of well-being. I want us to understand that strength goes beyond muscles, right? Which is one of the reason why I believe women are stronger than men when we get more comprehensive in defining strengths. Men use strength, simply wrap it up in muscles. But the truth of the matter is there are many, many, many more signs of strength, be it resiliency . . . The way women have this ability to stick and stay. To just hold things down that we give up on. To love women and love the experiences of women without sexual conquest being a goal. Even when it’s not a goal, we’re worried—we want to make sure somebody at least thinks I’m on a date with her, when I’m not on a date with her. So the whole idea of women being a conquest to move past that. Women being objects to really value women, to fully value women. We talk about promoting equity and equality, to fully value women, and the experiences that they bring. To believe women.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
I like that. I like that a lot, actually. Now I know we started the conversation with you talking about how you are a workaholic, started as a workaholic, still struggle with workaholism. What do you do to relax and chill?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I need to figure out more things, but I do have certain things that I do. I love to fish so I go fishing whenever I can. My greatest exercise is Pilates and I go to Pilates three to four times a week. No, I’m not going to say I’m going today, but no—Wednesday’s the day I don’t go. But I go Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I’m the only man in my Pilates class, men don’t come at all. Actually in the class yesterday a woman told me she was going to be coming to the introductory class, which happens at the end of my class. Asked me, can I stick around for a few minutes because she’s bringing her son and she would love for him to meet me. I’m the topic of conversation, I know, at a lot of dinner tables with women trying to convince their son, husband to come to Pilates. They’re all talking about me because I’ve been going religiously for five years.
So that’s one of the things I do, probably, better than anything else. And I love a nice movie. I love going out to dinner. I love movies. I love watching movies. I love relaxing in that way but Pilates is my main thing.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Oh fantastic. Actually, talking about movies, I have some rapid questions for you. And one of them, let’s start with movies. Your favorite movie that you keep on going to every year, between now and then, you keep on going to that movie to watch it.
The Temptations. I’m a big Temptations fan, the original Temptations. I could tell you that movie inside out, left, right, inside out. And then there’s a series of comedies. I mean, it’s kind of like some little crazy stuff happened.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Go for it, go for it.
In particular, the Friday series, right. Friday, Next Friday, and Friday After Next with Ice Cube. You had different people in all of them, but Ice Cube was, it’s their series. I could tell you all about all three of those Fridays. They’re my great . . . And they’re on TV all the time and anybody come in the room, they say, “You watching Friday again?” And I laugh like it was the first time. It reminds me of so much in my childhood and I’m a big Temptations fan, music of, my mother listened to, it touches my heart.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Which is my second question. Music you keep on going to, and songs.
I love jazz. I love R & B, but I love the Motown era of music and that’s The Temptations.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
And how about books or poems or prayers that you keep on going to.
I don’t read for fun, so a lot of my reading has to do with work. Whether it’s bell hooks or someone like Angela Davis, I love Black feminism. But I’m also a Christian and one of my favorite quotes is, “Be still and know that I am in the presence of God” is Psalms 46:10. It’s quotes like that that are important to me. Be still, because I’m on the move all the time.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
And teachers who have impacted your life the most.
Not many teachers in school, but teachers in the movement. Gwen Wright, who’s retired now, she was the executive director of the Office of Prevention of Domestic Violence in Albany, New York State Office. She helped me start A Call To Men. She was our board president for the first ten years. She’s one of my teachers, that she’s taught me a lot. When I think about a Black woman, I think about Gwen Wright. I think about a white woman. I think about Eve Ensler, who goes by V now, formally Eve Ensler. She was and always has been a great inspiration to me. And most of my teachers, to be honest with you, when I think about who I am today in this work, have been women. When I think about teachers, I primarily think about women. That’s unfortunate. I have to think more about what that’s about for me. But in the work, which has really . . . My life is overwhelmed in a positive way, it’s been women, a lot of my teachers.
Zainab Salbi (Host):
Well, your work has been a major gift for not only society, but for women as well. I’m glad to hear all that you share, Tony. I am extremely grateful to you because the work you do is not some theoretical work, it’s a work that impacts all of us, all our relationships, all our contacts with men in our personal life lives as well as in our professional lives. So thanks to you for bringing it up in an eloquent, beautiful, and ever-learning way. I’m grateful and I take this, if there’s one thing I can take to my own family, as they always tease me about my feminism and I may be hard on men and all of that is, just be authentic to your feelings. Be authentic, that’s the job and that’s the job we all need more of. And we all need to do more of our own work for that. So thank you, Tony.
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to be in your presence.
[closing piano music]
Zainab Salbi (Host):
That was Tony Porter. If you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about Tony’s work, visit www.acalltomen.org. For full transcripts of this episode, please visit www.findcenter.com. Do remember to subscribe to this podcast. It is for free and you can also follow us on Instagram @find_center. Redefined is produced by me, Zainab Salbi, along with Rob Corso, Casey Kahn, and Howie Kahn at FreeTime Media. Our music is by John Palmer. Special thanks to Kimya Motley, Neal Goldman, Caroline Pincus and Sherra Johnston. See you next week when I’ll be joined by bestselling author, poet, and teacher Mark Nepo.