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Brendan Stermer grew up in rural Minnesota. So when he studied abroad in South Korea during college, he found his world turned upside down.

All photos by Pioneer Public Television, used with permission.

A student at the University of Minnesota in Morris, Stermer spent a year learning about Confucian philosophy in South Korea. Then he came home and got a job at a local produce warehouse.


The two worlds couldn't have been more different, and neither could the people inhabiting them.

The men in Stermer's town and his coworkers drove pickup trucks. They lifted weights. They owned guns.

His male friends in South Korea had been sentimental and open about their feelings. They encouraged him to spruce up his wardrobe and buy expensive facial moisturizers.

As a 21-year-old guy just coming into his own, Stermer felt more than a little confused about what "being a man" really meant. So he decided to ask a few of the men he knew.

Armed with his iPhone, Stermer set out to interview the men who inhabited his rural stomping grounds about what being a man means to them.

"One defining characteristic of manhood in rural Minnesota is that people don't like to talk about themselves," he said. "I definitely got turned down a lot."

But slowly, Stermer was able to gather a motley crew of guys who were willing to open up on camera for the project, which would be turned into a five-episode web series for a local public television station.

Cops, cowboys, college students, you name it. The questions were simple and broad. And though many of the volunteers were a little reluctant once the camera started rolling, they eventually warmed up.

Stermer said it's hard to draw many conclusions from his survey since the sample size was so small, but he learned a few important things nonetheless:

1. There was a lot of confusion and disagreement on the "role" of men in a changing society.

The question that drew the widest range of responses from the men was: "What is the role of men in family and community life?"

Some felt strongly that men should be leaders, breadwinners, and providers. Others didn't think there was (or should be) any difference between how men and women were expected to behave.

Stermer said this debate continued during a public screening of his series of interviews.

"Some people were saying, 'Oh, that gives me so much hope that we've finally moved beyond this gender binary,'" Stermer said. "Which was contrasted by other people saying, 'That really causes me to feel grief because I feel like we're forgetting about the reality of the body.'"

He said he personally believes in moving beyond rigid and antiquated ideas about gender, but by listening to the different perspectives of those in his community, he at least has come to understand both points of view a bit more.

2. He noticed a lot of men in America are somewhat emotionally isolated.

In one of the episodes, Stermer asks the men, "Is there anything you don't talk to your male friends about?" The responses were striking.

One man said, "I don't share a whole lot of my private life or anything."

"Some of the softer side of the things that we do on the job," one of the police officers responded, "[like] breaking down in tears after you're at an accident scene involving minor children, infants."

It's no surprise that many men have trouble opening up, but Stermer says he was definitely affected by talking to so many men who didn't feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other.

"I hope that we make space for emotional vulnerability and weakness in our perception of masculinity in our country," Stermer said. "And that more men will rediscover experiences like passion and grief and interdependence not as feminine experiences, but as fundamentally human."

3. Talking about themselves and about men's issues seemed to bring the men closer together.

It wasn't all heavy debate on gender roles and repressed feelings. In one of the more lighthearted episodes, the men share something about themselves that others might find "unmanly."

One guy joked about how he can't grow a beard. Two of the older men shared a laugh over their shared distaste for beer.

"Every group that I interviewed had a really good time," Stermer said. "I think they came out of the experience feeling closer to each other."

When all was said and done, Stermer wound up even more confused about what makes someone a man.

But that's OK, he said. In fact, maybe that's the whole point.

Stermer's goal was not to come away with clear answers, but to reflect on his own views of masculinity and to encourage others to do the same. In the end, he was encouraged to find so many different, flexible ideas of what manliness is all about.

"I think I have a more nuanced understanding of my identity as a man now," he said. "But it's definitely a topic I have a lot more questions about and I want to continue to explore."

Check out the first episode of Stermer's series, "Manhood in Rural America," or check out all the interviews online at Pioneer Public Television.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


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