BEIRUT: A real man is strong – he can recognize and express his emotions, and, yes, he may even cry. By establishing a men’s center to examine masculinity in Lebanese society and provide men with a place to talk about their stresses and needs, the Abaad Resource Center for Gender Equality hopes to help men become partners in addressing issues such as domestic violence and achieving a more equal society.
Too often, discussions about domestic abuse or women’s empowerment sideline or even demonize men, says Anthony Keedi, manager of the center, established with International Medical Corps.
“One reason there has been such resistance from men toward women’s human rights initiatives is because of a lack of targeting men as a demographic and understanding the gender roles that have also been dictated upon men as well as women,” he adds.
Keedi explains that commonly in the field of gender rights activists “seem to not address men at all or address men as the aggressors, or as having a negative or evil intent.”
A central goal of the men’s center, he says, is to “allow men to begin to see their own gender roles and how it has worked against them.”
“One very crucial part of the masculine gender role is about emotional expression or lack thereof. Men are not expected to seek help. In fact, they are a population where help-seeking behavior is seen as a weakness ... A man should have the solutions, a man should fight, a man should be strong and not let these things affect him. Speaking from a psychological point of view, that’s not characteristic of human nature – it’s human to be able to mourn or be able to cry or communicate,” Keedi insists.
In addition to workshops on stress and anger management, the center, located in Furn al-Shubbak, offers individual psychological counseling to help men reconsider the way they address problems in the home or daily stresses. The service is free, completely private and confidential.
One common stress cited by those who have already come to the center is financial pressure, says Keedi. While financial and work problems will be ever-present, the center’s work is to show ways to cope, rather than taking their frustrations home with them and further compounding their problems by creating discordance in their family.
“One problem can lead to problems at home, which will lead to feeling even more isolated, even more stressed, even more anxious,” Keedi says, which can, in some cases, “lead to violence or a psychological state where the man is unhappy and others around him are unhappy.”
Unfortunately, the reactions to stress that are considered “understandable masculine responses” are not very healthy, Keedi highlights.
“It might not be looked upon well, but it’s understood if they act violently or if they act out in anger in response to stress ... as opposed to saying we should sit down and talk about it.”
Through individual counseling, the center helps beneficiaries look at the ways they process stress and how it affects them and those around them.
“When you hurt someone you’re living with, you’re hurting the one who is supposed to help you through difficulties and is supposed to listen and be your partner in everything – whether the spouse or the children. So it’s not just affecting others around him, it’s affecting the man’s own life,” says Dr. Ghassan Assaf, the center’s psychologist.
Assaf says that many of the men who have sought counseling at the center begin to realize that their angry or explosive behavior is actually a weakness rather than a sign of strength or masculinity. They come to see that “to be strong is to handle all the family stress, all the life stress or economical stress ... not to explode all the time. This means they were weaker before.”
Despite the breakthroughs of some of the center’s clients, reaching out to men in Lebanon and encouraging them to seek help is not the easiest task, both Assaf and Keedi acknowledge. While Abaad has offered the counseling service to men since September of last year, the men’s center only launched fully in June with a nationwide publicity campaign.
Through billboards and TV spots showing men experiencing stress in their professions – whether as a doctor, electrician, taxi driver or vegetable seller – the campaign allows men to see that stress is common and men from all different backgrounds can experience problems that they can’t solve alone.
The response to the campaign has been overwhelming, says Keedi, with over 150 calls to the men’s center in the last few weeks alone. Other organizations are also becoming aware of the service and referring people to counseling at the center. As a result, Abaad is already looking to expand counseling hours and add another psychologist.
While not every inquiry to the center ends with that person scheduling or showing up for their appointment, Keedi believes the response is encouraging and an important first step.
“Men have been raised in a certain way their entire lives. Their entire lives they’ve been told, ‘don’t talk, don’t cry,’ and then all of a sudden they’re getting another message, which inherently feels true, because it’s a natural, human need to speak and relieve stress. But it’s not going to be easy ... because their whole lives they’ve heard the opposite.”
Abaad is also in the process of conducting a nationwide study on perceptions of masculinity in Lebanon and will use the results to design more programming in the coming months.
Ultimately, Keedi hopes men will realize that they have nothing to lose, but everything to gain by calling the center and taking the time to invest in their own well-being, for themselves and the sake of their families.
“What they can pick up in the center is a greater understanding of themselves and perhaps ways they can keep stresses in one aspect of their life from negatively affecting other aspects or their life. Hopefully they will actually be able to enjoy those other aspects of their life a little more – such as their interactions at home with their loved ones and their family and friends.”
For more information contact the Abaad center 24-hour phone line at 71-283-820.