The #MeToo movement, forged in light of sickening allegations of sexual misconduct by famous men, has led to an ongoing and unfiltered national discussion about power, respect and boundaries. But thousands of Twin Cities men have quietly tackled these topics for far longer.
In 2004, the Twin Cities Men’s Center (tcmc.org) added a support group called Choosing Healthy Sexual Boundaries. The initial group soon grew too big for its space, so two more groups were added. The three groups remain robust today, with more than 50 men active at any time.
The Men’s Center, which opened in 1973, offers support groups, family law clinics and anger-management classes to help men become better husbands, fathers, sons and community members.
We caught up with two of the boundaries groups’ volunteer facilitators, Tommy Jones, 71, a retired teacher, and Bobby Schauerhamer, 67, a digital press operator, to ask what brings men in, what success looks like, and why some men struggle to see themselves as victimizers.
Q: Do you see parallels between the #MeToo movement and the groups you lead?
Jones: The [Harvey] Weinstein case is extreme. The offenses of the men we see tend to be less extreme. They’re not serial offenders, and their violent behavior tends to be decades ago. They’ve had time to work on it. The immediate focus is to ask them, “What are you doing now to prevent old behaviors?”
Q: How does that relate to boundaries?
Schauerhamer: Men who first come in don’t seem to get the concept of boundaries at all. They might say, “But, I didn’t victimize that person,” and I can just see the discomfort of other men in the group who have been there.
Jones: Bobby is right. At first, they’ll basically ask, “Tell me what a boundary is.” And, also, “Aren’t you going to tell me what to do?” They don’t have any idea. These guys never really considered the effects their bad choices have on other people.
Q: What kind of bad choices?
Jones: For some, it’s getting caught by their wives watching internet porn. Maybe it’s an affair, or illegal activity such as prostitution, or risky sex, or spending too much money on lap dances.
Schauerhamer: Anything that would jeopardize a committed relationship. A lot of times, men new to the group want to tell their story over and over. They want affirmation from the group that they are OK.
Jones: They think they’ll get support for whatever they do. They’ll say, “I quit doing internet porn yesterday. Why doesn’t she trust me?” Our support group is not here to say, “We’re fine with what you’re doing.” It’s to help men move on to more healthy decisionmaking. It’s all about choices. A man will say, “It was a mistake.” No. It was a really bad choice you made. A mistake is when you forget to put the sugar in the cookies.
Q: How do men find their way to you?
Schauerhamer: Sometimes, through court orders. Sometimes, therapists suggest that their clients come here, in addition to the work the therapist is doing. Often, wives or partners suggest it, after the partner identifies anger that is inappropriate. Others find out about us online, or through word of mouth.
Q: You aren’t therapists, so how do you avoid crossing the line when talking to men about anger?
Jones: It’s a fine line, but we’re careful. We talk about when to be angry and how to be angry and who to be angry with. It’s not about never being angry. We can’t make anger go away, but we can make it safer, reformat it into less dangerous behavior. You can be angry and not harming people. Men tell us that they never thought they were angry until other people pointed it out.
Schauerhamer: Men may have a lower emotional quotient than women. Anger management can really assist them in understanding what’s causing them to be angry.
Q: What are the general demographics of your groups?
Schauerhamer: It’s a fairly diverse population racially, and also in terms of sexual orientation. Men tend to be older; 40-plus is heavily represented.
Q: Why do your groups skew older?
Jones: Sometimes, it takes a while for them to get into trouble. They have finally gotten to a point of saying, “This is not working.” Their discomfort level has gotten quite high. The common theme is rebuilding trust. If a man shows up really early in his adult life and says, “My girlfriend is really upset with me, which is why I came today,” that’s just wonderful.
Schauerhamer: That’s why one of my goals is to expand our support groups to college campuses, so we can get to younger men before they get into trouble.
Q: Do you charge for your groups?
Jones: Our support groups are donation-based. There is a nominal fee for the anger management groups.
Q: How do you measure success?
Schauerhamer: Their participation and decisionmaking get better, for example. Many men do begin to develop empathy for the victim. Over the course of a year, the change is astounding. Sometimes, relationships survive and sometimes they don’t. Regardless, the men express to us gratitude for what they have experienced.
Jones: We have been more successful than we ever thought. Early on, someone said, “Tommy, no one is ever going to go to a group like that.” Sometimes the small, community-based support groups, especially those that try to help with problem behavior that lies on the darker side, can be somewhat invisible. Bobby and I know that we have helped many men, and their families, over the years, and that we have helped, in our own small way, to create a safer, healthier community for everyone.