Men’s Issues Organizations
Masculinity / Men’s Studies has been a field of research for 30+ years in North America and has produced some really important and insightful work. There are people, like Terry Real, writing about and treating the problems men go through. And it’s safe to say that many men have problems; though sexism exists and has put down women for ages, that doesn’t mean men aren’t also suffering from it (eg. living in line with gender norms, having mental health issues, being sexually assaulted, poverty, painful divorce proceedings, struggling with parenthood, etc.). To quote bell hooks from The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love:
“Men in pain, in crisis, are calling out. If they were not calling out, we would not know that they were suffering. As we listen to their stories, we hear that they want to be well and that they do not know what to do.” (the Google Books preview has much of the book, I recommend it)
Like whiteness studies, masculinity studies doesn’t get a whole lot of publicity. But, with men and white people running much of the world, it could make sense to understand what has been going on with these groups.
This may sound reasonable so far. However, the way people have gotten organized around men’s issues is weird… but maybe understandable.
If you thought men would think that this sexism thing is bad and it effects us all (because we’re friends and family members of each other) and so we should do something that works for all of us, you’d be right. There are groups like the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS). They are doing work in the USA mostly focused on men but from the perspective that what non-males are going through is also really important to listen to and keep in mind. They’re also expressly anti-racist. They seem cool.
But if you thought that men would think sexism is bad and is a way for women to dominate men and men are the unfairly disadvantaged group and feminists are “the evil empire” and we need groups devoted entirely to men to the exclusion of even thinking of everyone else, you’d unfortunately also be right. A group taking this approach gathered last weekend in Detroit, MI, when A Voice for Men (AVFM) hosted their first International Conference on Men’s Issues.
The annotated links below are about that conference and more, and you can draw your own conclusions. My thought from reading about it is: there are a lot of men who want to do the right thing and some of them are. But for the men who get involved in feminist-hating organizations, it seems they haven’t had good conversations about feminism, haven’t had anyone guide them through feminism’s evolutions and back-and-forths, haven’t had someone able to relate to their suffering and help them see themselves as part of a larger struggle that other people are also having trouble with. What these organizations seem to become are insulated self-help groups that spiral down to common ground of hatred toward women/feminists and they never develop good connections to feminist discourse. That lack of connection is really troubling, and helps explain a bit of how they’ve gone so far off.
–The leader of A Voice for Men (AVFM) sent a letter to one of the leaders of the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) saying NOMAS wasn’t doing enough for men. Someone from NOMAS wrote back a reasonable letter and the guy at AVFM gets really pissed off. It’s amusing.
Afterthought: There’s something bigger here; men don’t know where to go. It’s hard to find help navigating through gender issues, to get into communities of feminist discourse. Okay, it’s not hard, it’s just not something we’re told how to do. I had a friend express his frustration that “feminists” (his label, not theirs) weren’t making their message palatable to men. Do peoples’ observations and frustrations need to be palatable to men for men to be expected to try to listen? No. Men should try to be good listeners. But this break in communication along the way consistently appears and men have trouble figuring out what’s going on and what to do. It’s a place for men in feminist circles and for men’s issues groups to play a role. Hopefully we’re getting better at it. But it’s hard to find male role models who do this stuff well in word and in life. I’ve certainly struggled to find role models in Canada / North America.