James Hawes is a psychotherapist and counsellor working with men and boys in Nottingham. He has worked with children and young people for the last 25 years in various settings, and has also lived in community in the inner city and with the Northumbria Community where he leads annual retreats on masculine spirituality and other themes. He is married to Sally and has two young sons, Cadnan and Afton.
Tell us about the work you’re doing at the moment.
Presently my main work is as a psychotherapist and counsellor specialising in working with boys and men within my private practice, in schools and in Men@work which is a voluntary organisation based in Nottingham. The core work of Men@work is supporting boys and men to take responsibility for their emotions and behaviour. Men@work runs several programmes including the ‘circle of men’, the ‘male development programme’, SHOUT – anger awareness programme for men and boys and CONTACT – a school based programme equipping boys with skills for life – a large part of this programme is outdoors. Men@work also facilitates workshops on several themes including, ‘father inclusive practice’, ‘Body awareness’ and ‘the father wound’ as well as offering coaching and counselling.
Why do you think emotional literacy is so important for both men and women? Some people would say that men need to ‘retreat into their cave’ and shouldn’t be expected to talk about their feelings in the same way women do. Do you agree with this?
People will often spend money looking after their physical image by being fashion conscious and buying clothes, cosmetics and gym membership. Others spend money fostering their intellectual faculties by attending further education. Some spend much time and money fostering their spiritual wellbeing. However, very few people join an emotional health club or would freely spend money exercising their emotions. Working in this area I believe that feelings are at the hub of our wellbeing and are a major driver in the way we lead our lives.
Being emotionally intelligent involves awareness of feelings, an ability to feel feelings and the vocabulary to be able to express those feelings appropriately. As an example, if you feel sad, emotionally intelligent people can be with their sadness, feel it and allow it to inform them, instead of feeling the need to disguise it by shopping, projecting the feeling onto others, entering a mood, being angry or belittling others.
In terms of men and the cave - I think the retreating to a cave or shed is about men ‘licking wounds’. Men have often heard messages like, ‘stay in control’ and ‘don’t be weak’ which translates into ‘don’t show any emotions’, especially in public. Often men have no idea what they are feeling, so they just do something physical to move it, or go to their shed to ‘mull over’, push it down or numb the pain. Feelings for men are often like a foreign language, they have no words for feelings, which is often not their fault; gender conditioning has taught them not to feel.
What are some of the challenges facing teenage boys as they become men? How can youth workers help them through these?
My view is that there are many ‘adult boys’ running around in our society desperately seeking to prove to themselves and others that they are ‘Man enough’. The big underlying question for boys is, ‘What does it mean to be a man?’ Or ‘How do I know when I am a man?’ Without positive male role models boys are struggling to come to terms with the transition and are hooked by peer pressure, pornography, competition, success, wealth, bodybuilding, games, gadgets and many other pressures.
Youth workers can help by being authentic, being empathic and by providing a safe environment where issues of belonging, sexuality and sex, male development and gender socialisation can be discussed and openly explored. Boys can be provided with different ways of being a man by questioning stereotypes and expectations, questioning the traditional masculine concept including helping them to foster their tender and nurturing side. Ultimately boys will need examples of men who exhibit inner strength, men who can make mistakes, men who can lose gracefully, men who can embrace weakness, men who can show love and intimacy, men who are at home in their bodies.
Why do you think rites of passage are so important for young people? Tell us about the work you have done in this area.
Many of the ancient rites caused humiliation and brutalisation and were often linked to the survival of the tribe; the men needed to be toughened up! In those tribes boys knew what it was to be a man. It was black and white. In our modern culture many boys and men are confused about what it means to be men. Feminism has questioned sex roles; there are fewer ‘men only’ jobs; men no longer are the sole breadwinner or provider; there is no longer one way of being a man and so many boys and men are struggling to be grounded or centred in their masculine identity.
The core of my understanding of a modern rite is about helping boys to take responsibility for themselves, helping them to grow up, and supporting them to take responsibility for their emotions and behaviour. This will involve enabling boys and men to touch their deepest fears, find their inner strength and listen to their body. Much of the work that we are developing is helping boys to identify and challenge the messages that they have been conditioned into, like ‘big boys don’t cry’, ‘stay in control’, ‘be tough’ or ‘winning is all there is’. We are seeking to develop a rite through questioning the boy code, physical challenges, strategic storytelling, facilitator emotional literacy modelling, developing self-regulation, team work and trust work. The majority of this takes place within the theatre of nature and is an important space for boys to connect with their body, spirit and soul.
We want to encourage men and women to work together in partnership, particularly in churches. Any tips for how we should be doing this? How can we bring men and women together to talk about these issues?
Wow, that is a hard one. Men are often rooted in their heads – they are rational, they think and have a great need to understand. I think the starting point is to help men to understand something about the male code, to educate them about the power imbalance and to theologically provide a robust understanding of equality. Helping men to understand the way Jesus related to women is crucial and the way he communicated to other men, children and women. Jesus didn’t operate in a hierarchal manner - he communicated with tenderness and warmth and displayed empathy. Jesus was emotionally literate he was not afraid of feeling his feelings and showing his feelings of anger, sadness, happiness and fear.
Helping men to talk about and feel these issues is difficult, men can often feel uncomfortable and threatened around feelings and intimate issues, but I believe men need to face some of these ultimate fears before they can move on. My experience is that the majority of men feel powerless inside but few can express this and therefore working in partnership can raise inner issues of self-esteem and confidence.
In my work with men, mentioning some of these core issues including the importance of exploring the ‘feminine’ have been met with defensive behaviour and subtle slights that I am not a real man and am letting the side down. Questioning male assumptions about what it means to be a man can cause great insecurity in men.
In our consultation last year, many female youth workers felt that they weren’t properly heard or taken seriously by their male colleagues. What advice would you give them for clearer communication?
This makes me feel sad and angry. It sounds like the men feel that they are more important and better at the job then women. This is sexist behaviour and has its root in patriarchy. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here but until men face that they have been given power, position and privilege in this society and often in institutional religion then it is difficult for them to change.
I would encourage these women to set firm boundaries, be alert, assertive and challenge this type of behaviour. I know this is easy to say and in reality it takes a lot of courage and energy. Some women often fear an assertive approach because they get pigeonholed as being ‘difficult’ or ‘too serious’. Men’s response to a women setting firm boundaries is often to say. “it’s only a bit of fun, can’t you take a joke?” or “lighten up”. In saying this men are ultimately saying, “it is your problem – get over it”. Men are comforting themselves and condoning their language as acceptable male behaviour. Ultimately this is men refusing to take responsibility for their language and behaviour, leaving a women feeling trapped, sad and angry.
There have been some shocking statistics recently about teenage girls being hurt or hit by their boyfriends. What can youth workers do to help young people have more respect for each other?
I believe that this behaviour is linked to the deep root of patriarchy and misogynistic values present in our society. Boys and men ultimately feel that they are more important then women, that they are right and women are wrong and this is linked to the old notions or the ‘king of the castle and the ruler of the household. Many men believe that women are their property and therefore they can treat them how they want.
It is difficult to work with this stuff as it is so deeply ingrained in culture. But youth workers can work on healthy relationship programmes, what is sexual consent?, emotional literacy, sexual equality and masculine stereotypes. Practically it needs to be modelled and of course there is the amazing model and information about how Jesus treated women, children and other men.
Young people can be supported to develop their personal boundaries and a safe place to establish inner confidence and assertive communication. Boys can be encouraged to examine their views and values of themselves and women and to learn to take responsibility for their feelings and behaviour and development of self-regulation.
In my view the most important work in this area is supporting young people to develop a healthy love, respect and trust of themselves. This will enable them develop their inner intuition giving them confidence to connect with others who will treasure them and not harm them and to maintain their personal boundaries.