What is a MAVRIC conversation? What do we talk about over lunch every other week?

MAVRIC has a two-pronged approach: we’re committed to working on ourselves and committed to working in the world. These two aspects of MAVRIC feed into one another: the one demands the other.

We can’t dismantle the institutional privilege that men enjoy if we’re not willing to ask hard questions of ourselves about the privilege we’ve been granted in our own lives. Likewise, we can’t rest satisfied that we’ve done good work on ourselves, knowing that unhealthy masculinity is doing damage in our communities.

Action leads to and demands reflection and internal work; the fruit of reflection is action.

In a future post we’ll write more about the action we’ve got planned for this coming semester and how we’re working as allies with other campus groups to address gender inequity at Princeton and beyond. Here we want to focus a bit on the more personal and reflective work we’re doing to free ourselves of the “man-box.”

One foundational site of this work is our bi-weekly lunch conversations. These conversations are open to any member of the Princeton community that identifies as a man. As those who have participated can attest, they are not places where we debate the “one true way” to be a man. There’s no such thing. Rather, these conversations have proven to be a place where we as men can unpack our own internalized ideas about what it is to be a man. It’s a place to begin to let go of the stereotypes that have constrained us and often led us to feel lonely and ashamed when we don’t measure up.

We usually begin with a concrete topic—something happening in the news or the broader cultural conversation. In the past, we’ve talked about Eminem calling out President Trump, Colin Kaepernick and the #takeaknee protest, the movie “Moonlight,” and some of the men we’ve looked up to in our lives. We ask critical questions of ourselves and one another: we try to see all sides of the issue. But we also look for the tender spots where some emotion comes to the surface: we try to name those feelings and support each other as we connect not just with our minds but with our hearts.

Over the past few months, we’ve had a rich and important discussion about how MAVRIC conversations fit into our larger mission as an organization, and specifically if these conversations should be open to anyone, no matter where they fall on the gender spectrum.

Without a doubt, the work of building a truly inclusive community for everyone is work that involves everyone. It would be foolish—and ironically in line with the fantasy of male autonomy we’re trying to deconstruct—to imagine that men could or should do this work alone. Those of us who identify as men need to be always listening to the voices of those who don’t.

Why, then, are many MAVRIC conversations reserved for those who identify as men? One reason is that we want these conversations to be a place for real personal reflection and for collective processing on our stories and struggles as men. We’re asking ourselves to be tremendously vulnerable—which runs against the grain of everything men are taught. We’ve found that having women in those spaces can be a temptation to perform an ideal version of ourselves, rather than grapple courageously with the more messy selves we actually are.

Secondly, we also want to model what it’s like for men to challenge and support one another in this work. Men of good will have often turned to women to learn and talk more about issues of gender injustice. That’s wonderful. We absolutely must listen to women, center their perspective, and amplify their voices. But when men turn only to women to process their feelings about their own socialization and to ask how they can be better allies to women—as many have since the rise of #MeToo—we also need to recognize that that’s an example of male privilege. We cannot make it the responsibility of women to educate us about of the toxic manifestations of masculinity. That’s work for us to do—and to support and hold one another accountable in it.

Again, these conversations are just one of the things that MAVRIC does: they represent just one of the prongs in our two-pronged approach. The fruit this vulnerable reflection is action: action that aims to reshape our community to be always more just and inclusive. In that, we work alongside so many others who share that goal.

Action, in turn, leads to and demands further reflection and internal work, and the give-and-take continues. Acknowledging that we as men need time and space to reflect, challenge ourselves, and train for that work, we’ve set up MAVRIC conversations as part of our mission to help men work as full partners with people across the gender spectrum who hunger for justice.