Why I Wrote the Book: Max a. Greenberg

Max Greenberg

When I left the suburbs of Boston for the School of Management at the University of Massachusetts in 2002, I didn’t think much of the movements of the 1960s and 70s beyond the vague sense that they had done their job. Two years later—and a full two decades after Jackson Katz had been the first man to receive a women's studies minor at UMass—I was signing the tri-color carbon slip to minor in women’s studies. What happened in between, my “moment of engagement,” aligns with the at once more intimate debates around violence and with the more structured world of feminism which run throughout our stories in this book of the “Professional Generation.”

As a sophomore management major looking for blow-off credits, I stumbled into one of the pockets of institutionalized feminism in the academy; sociology of sport, taught by Todd Crosset, a sociologist marooned in a sport management program. What I remember most of this introduction to social justice and feminist thinking was that it felt sturdy and vast, but distant from my daily life. While my friends fetched coffee as summer interns or burnt out as activists, I dug into books.

At the same time, a feminist, my first college girlfriend, urged me to a Take Back The Night speak-out. At dusk, crumpled at the back of the crowd, I remember waves of anger, fear, guilt, and loneliness, but what has most endured is a sensation, primed in classrooms, that the wires in my brain were being stripped and clipped and twisted. This was not a feeling of epiphany, but the sense that a seed deep in my brain had sprung to life. When the time came to yell and chant, I felt awkward, not sure where to stand or how to carry myself. The march felt like a relic of an old battle.

Shaken from my path and searching for something to hold on to, I became increasingly involved with Take Back The Night in the years that followed. As a senior, I coasted on privilege into a leadership position, eager to put on a massive eventto fix everything. Those months were the most spirited of my young life as I debated, consulted and argued about what it meant to be a man doing anti-sexist work. I remember hearing the feminist mantra “the personal is political” and wondering why they had ever needed to say that out loud. Eventually I stopped believing that it would be a surrender of my personal integrity to step down. I focused on a men’s engagement initiative and supported the women who stepped up to take on the major organizing.

My experience, like many men in the professional cohort, is that anti-violence work is in large part mundane, as much about arguments on long car rides over Maxim magazine, navigating politics at family holidays, and job openings with good benefits, as it is about protest and patriarchy. The wider structures that framed my triumphs and struggles were course credits and meetings and dinner dates; my turmoil was at turns beautiful and crushing, but just as often plodding.

After college, I was drawn to the world of nonprofits, which tend to be the landing pad for activist types when loans come due, and I enjoyed the work; organizing conferences, launching national campaigns, providing services. After a stint working with a marketing watchdog, in part challenging the sexualization of children’s toys, I returned to my mentors, Naomi Gerstel and Todd Crosset to ask for advice on graduate school. They steered me to Mike Messner and I have been a strand in the network of feminist professionalism since. During my second year of graduate school, I searched for a fieldsite that could help me understand what was happening with anti-violence activism and found Peace Over Violence. Struggling for a foot in the door, I asked Mike for help and he put me in touch with Jackson Katz, who made a call to Abby Simms at POV, who welcomed me with open arms and thick stacks of paperwork.

I came into POV at a moment of transition, a suite stacked with moving boxes on their way to a new office. The changes have kept coming for the last four years, with increasing funding for programs aimed at men. In my volunteer work and eventually in my role as a board member at POV, I have gotten to know the world of institutionalized anti-violence--at turns hopeful, invigorating, bureaucratic and alienating. In seemingly endless trainings and small moments, the driven women and men have taught me so much about what it means to do anti-violence as a job, propelled by the strange twin engines of feminism and funding.

Time and again, during hundreds of conversations, both casual and tape recorded, I heard a similar sentiment, one that I often recognize in myself: longing for the “old days of the movement.” In this moment of institutionalized feminism, we miss the streets, the protests, the emotion, and the connection. I hope this book gives context to that nostalgia. The days “in the streets” are gone, a particular set of strategies from a particular moment in time. But there is a new moment just over the horizon, the outlines of which I hope we can bring into view.

In a culture where men’s friendships are portrayed often through their sexism, feminist men can have trouble finding male friends. I know I have pushed away my fair share. To sit across from these men over the course of weeks and months as they told their stories, their lives in feminism and anti-violence, I was in awe, but I also wondered why it took a research project to get us to sit down and talk. And in one way or another most of the men we spoke with seemed to echo this disconnection between their work and the work of others, a sentiment that rings emotionally true and empirically false to me. There are today more conferences, organizations, websites, and resources than ever before dedicated to men engaged in anti-violence work. And still, even as the movement is more vibrant than ever, many of us feel tired and distant.

Like so many of the men I spoke with, I have learned the lessons of professional anti-violence: how to perform for a crowd, run a meeting, fill out paperwork, but feel myself hedge when it comes to the hard work of talking. And this is trouble for the long haul, because the emotional weight of professional anti-violence work requires a different kind of balancing than was called for during the Movement or Bridge years, yet we remain tethered to a paradigm of inner versus outer work. Professionalization, for all its concrete benefits still feels thin. When confronted with this we too often check the rear view for answers, wishing for a return to an idealized movement past instead of working to build a more just future.