Sean Harvey was slated to be a third generation truck driver.
Born to a father of Cherokee and Italian descent, a Vietnam vet who had walked out when Harvey was just a child, he could easily have fallen victim to his circumstances.
But a mix of blind faith and steadfast determination catapulted Harvey from small town Ohio to Chicago, first for university and then to work as a bouncer at the largest gay club in town. In the fall of 2000, a friend encouraged him to move to New York and his life changed forever. He bought a one-way ticket and, in three months, secured an apartment, two job offers, and an acceptance to the New School.
Over the next decade, Harvey completed master’s degrees in both organizational development and counseling with a focus on existential therapy, as well as taught at Baruch, Cornell, and New York University, even leading a talent consulting division for Wall Street.
But still, something felt off.
The day he turned 40, he decided to follow his intuition. He quit Wall Street and began working for EILEEN FISHER, a female-dominated company that exposed him to an alternative model of collaboration and leadership. It was there that he experienced the acute power of personal transformation through a mentorship with Brazilian consultant, Marcelo Cardoso.
“There’s something that happens to men when they are transformed by the feminine,” says Harvey. His mentorship and a five month facilitation program helped him acknowledge that his greatest fear and shame had come from trying to measure up to the masculine ideal, one that encouraged outward expressions like: “’Man up,’ ‘Don’t show emotion,’ and ‘Be a warrior.’”
The perpetual suppression of emotion wherein the emotionality (feminine) is so constricted and the masculine is so exaggerated that it becomes combative and aggressive is known as “toxic masculinity.”
“The way we’re gendered and the way we’re sexualized is playing together in this conditioning that prevents men from accessing their full expression,” Harvey explains.
Pervasive and increasingly acute, many women (and men) experience toxic masculinity in personal interactions with men, culture, and media including the #MeToo movement, our current President’s persona, and even Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony in October of 2018.
According to Harvey, this is precisely where opportunity lies. “Women have been doing women’s empowerment work for years. If men do their work, they’ll create more space for women to keep doing their work. All of us have been impacted by patriarchy. The question, though, is how do we all redefine masculinity?”
Harvey believes that men must first “speak to where the pain exists.” It is only after this that men can help other men heal. He has made it his mission to facilitate this process.
“I think we’re speaking to a world that needs this work,” he says. In practice, this means hosting in-house workshops and offsite retreats with men at all stages of their personal transformation journeys. The ultimate goal? Help men surrender to a more authentic place of self compassion, and, thus compassion for others.
For men, self compassion involves embracing one’s privilege. “Part of my privilege is my access to power,” says Harvey. “At the same time I understand my boundaries. I want to build a community of men that can speak to the cultural nuances of what masculinity means to each of their respective communities: Jewish, Black, Muslim, etc. There’s some real honest conversations that need to happen with men in order to speak to these nuances.”
The change-maker is determined to help men access what’s hidden and to help them face their pain and elevate their levels of compassion, something he believes will support a better future for people of all genders or categorizations. “In order to sustain, we need a healthy balance of masculine and feminine. We’re moving beyond gender. The future is feminine.”
In June 2017, the weekend before his dad passed away, Harvey (who had been estranged from his father since he came out as gay 14 years earlier) flew to the midwest to be by his side. “I asked him what advice he’d give his only child,” and he replied: “Don’t let anyone get your powder wet.” When Harvey asked his ailing father what he meant, he answered: “Don’t let anybody extinguish your flame. Be proud of who you are.”
Learn more about Sean Harvey and his work here.
Alyssa Benjamin is a writer and brand consultant balancing life between the city and the countryside. You will most likely find her reading in a park, studying ayurvedic texts, or hosting her podcast, All’s Well. Connect with her at @alyssadara.