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Men’s group forms to foster healthy masculinity but getting new members is a challenge

Renee Gross, KBBI News

There’s a new group in town just for men. The Homer Men's Leadership Forum began late last year in part to address concerns brought up by the #MeToo movement. The leader of the group hopes the discussions will attract men from all different parts of the community to talk about issues such as toxic masculinity.  He hasn’t achieved that goal yet, but he’s going to keep trying.

On a Saturday morning at the Kachemak Gun Club and Range, about 10 guys are taking turns aiming at clay pigeons. The Homer Men’s Leadership Forum is putting on the event partly to encourage more men to get involved in the group. But some, like Doug Koester, have been a part of it since the beginning.

“Well so far, it's been really great for me just to get together with people and maybe talk about things that are a little bit outside of the 'man box' that often society or social norms put us in,” he said.

He adds the group doesn’t have an agenda, and mostly he enjoys having a place to talk with other guys without judgement. Still he’s passionate about discussing certain topics. Koester works for the domestic violence shelter in town.

“For me, that's what I love to talk about is like what is our role as men in our society and why is sometimes men perpetuating that violence,” he said.

Addressing that is one of the reasons that Erik Schreier began the group. He said he wanted to address issues raised by the #MeToo movement:
“Some people in my sphere had been asking me for advice—men and women—on relating to each other, and how men are relating to themselves and men and boys in the community and at large in society,” he said.

He said his goal was to get different men together to start a dialogue about change. At the first meeting, about 15 guys showed up. Schreier showed a Ted Talk about consent and locker room talk.

“It was great,” he said. “It was a huge outpouring of guys coming together—talking about it. Some guys were confused, some guys were like ‘I don't want to feel bad for being a guy. I don't think I've ever done this and here I'm being kind of vilified for being a man.’ So that's fine. Let's talk about it.”   

Now about a handful of men attend the monthly discussions and topics range from artificial intelligence to self-care. But most of the attendees are like Koester and are already committed to addressing issues of toxic masculinity.  

“It’s like the guys who really need to talk about this stuff aren’t in here,” Schreier said.

That’s partly why he’s expanding the group beyond just discussions into monthly activities like volunteering and the shooting event at the gun range. Schreier said that event was successful at getting a variety of folks involved.

“[I came to] meet up with other guys and shoot a little bit,” John Carrico said at the range. “Haven’t been out to the range in about three and a half years, and it sounded like a good time.”

Carrico has volunteered with the men’s leadership group but has never gone to a discussion. He said he’s not sure he’ll attend one and doesn’t know if it’s important to have a space for men to be vulnerable.

“I think that friendships do a lot of that," he said. "To go outside of that circle takes a little bit of trust.”

Schreier said the shooting event didn’t inspire any new members to join the last discussion group but he partly blames the low attendance on lack of advertising. He adds that words like vulnerability and feelings usually turn guys off. But he said he’s happy with the regulars in the group and believes they are affecting positive change.

Still, he’s trying to figure out the magical words to get more men to come.  

“Free coffee,” he said, laughing. “I try to get the guys to just want to come together and hang out. I want to let them know that there's no obligation. You don't have to come and hold hands and cry. We're not trying to do that. Not a requirement.”

He said if his group just inspires one guy to make a change, it’s a success. 

News Homer Men Leadership Forum
Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.