Saturday, 29 December 2007
Present: Adrian, Daniel, David, Jon, Nathan and Seb
We went round and introduced ourselves, said how we heard about the group and how we got interested in gender issues in the first place.
What shall we discuss?
We planned to talk about our fathers again and to talk about whether to be a men only or mixed group.
Someone wanted to talk about fathers first as this would make us focus emotionally, not just debating intellectual stuff.
But then we realised that before we discuss that, we ought to decide what sort of group we are going to be. Will it be more of a support group (that allows us to be emotionally deep and vulnerable etc.) or more of a campaigning/activist group? If it’s mainly about action then there’s less of a case for excluding women.
We discussed how important a supportive environment was to build trust and deal with certain issues before we could all work together on particular actions.
One person told us how there have already been lots of feminist groups showing an interest, through email and in person, in working with us in some capacity (protests, working on events together etc.) and lots of women showing solidarity and support more generally.
Decision: We want to be both a support group for men and also a group that would have input from women at certain times and would do campaigning/activism stuff working closely with women.
Someone mentioned wanting to be able to have a pro-feminist perspective on some f-word blog stuff (for example), maybe we could do this on our blog.
Another person mentioned that we need to make it clear we’re not a men only cult that beats ourselves with sage bushes!
Having decided to be men only at our regular meetings we realised we’d need to think about just how overt we’re going to be about that. It’s probably clear from the name, blog etc, but we probably wouldn’t choose to exclude a woman who was very keen to come, but ask her why she wanted to come along and also ask her to read the revised copy of the piece we’re writing to explain our reasons for being a men only group.
Action point: We’ll edit the document together so we come up with our generally agreed position on why we want to be men only at our regular meetings.
Another idea for the future was to alternate weekly between having a men only environment and a mixed meeting for planning and debating stuff.
Carried on from last week by going round and each talking for 5-10 minutes about our fathers, what they were like and how they’ve influenced us.
Every man had a very different relationship to his father(s). Between us we have people who never knew their biological father, people brought up mainly or exclusively by women and people who’s biological dad and mum are still together. We have dads who were very affectionate and dads who were very distant, dads who we enjoyed being around, dads who we struggle to be around and dads who we can’t be around any longer, dads who were clearly the head of the family and dads who gave the final say over most things to their partner, dads of very different political leanings and dads from all walks of life.
We also found some similar ideas popping up.
Some people mentioned how their fathers would go into their shell in an emotional situation (particularly when another person was angry/upset) and either shut down completely, go silent and not respond or put on a very logical and in control front that masks any emotional response. We agreed that this made the other (often female) person seem irrational and stupid and this tactic would result in the man “winning” the argument, even if they were in the wrong the whole time. Both the men who mentioned this about their fathers said they did this too and didn’t like it.
Several mentioned again how their fathers don’t have many friends, or even have no friends other than those they have through their partner. Some men felt like they were getting to know their fathers better now and possibly becoming a friend to them. Another described his relationship with his dad as more like a friend/mate than a father. Some others found the relationship with their father to be much colder and harder work than that.
We also mentioned the lack of an emotional language inherited from our fathers although we talked less about this than we did last time. We linked this to our fathers’ lack of friends with whom they could talk deeply.
We also talked a bit about vulnerability, and our difficulty with it. It’s a natural human thing not to want to put yourself at risk of being harmed but seems to be harder for men – we’re taught not to show weakness and not to be vulnerable, especially in front of other men. We also discussed whether being vulnerable was an attractive quality in a man. We agreed that it was a matter of opinion and that there are people who that see vulnerable men as unattractive and others that see them as attractive.
Jon felt that everyone who’s involved in meetings should have access to the email account so they could see which groups and individuals have been contacting us and so other people could respond to incoming emails if they wanted to. We shared the password with the men who were left at that stage.
We also agreed that one member would reply to the Spanish journalist who asked if she could interview someone from the group about the increasing trend of women taking lessons in pole dancing as a form of exercise.
Next meeting: Sunday 6th January at 3pm at Dave’s house again.
Dan will introduce the new topic of seduction and relationships with his own personal experience.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Third meeting of the London Pro-feminist Men’s Group
29/11/07 @ LARC
Present: Adrian, Daniel, David and Jon
More men seem to be interested in gender issues recently – more men than last year at Reclaim the Night, possible new men’s groups in Brighton, Northern Ireland and Melbourne, new men’s Coalition set up in UK, lots happening from government too – all very exciting.
We all agreed that Vandana Shiva = cool and that we should probably read some of her stuff on the environment and feminism at some point.
- How we got interested in gender politics?
We all mentioned the strong influence of feminist women in our lives (mothers, sisters, friends and partners) who had made these political ideas personal and real. Some mentioned reading theory too, but emphasis was on those important women.
- Why did we come to the group?
Reasons for coming to the men’s group included wanting to have other people influence our personal gender politics again, challenging ourselves to mix more with other men, wanting a safe space where we could be more relaxed and feel like certain masks could fall off and develop deep relationships and start to address some of the ways masculinity has messed with our heads. This discussion led into the following question:
- Should we be a mixed or men only group?
Without answering this question we had some discussion and agreed to think about it more next time.
- Our Fathers
This was to be the main area of discussion for the meeting. We took it in turns to speak for around 10 minutes about our fathers and then asked each other questions for another 20 minutes or so.
Everyone had had very different relationships with their fathers and our stories focussed on our father’s characters, their treatment of us as sons, their role within the family and their ability to communicate emotionally.
We noticed a common theme of fathers lacking an emotional language to speak to us in. Those who’s fathers were present were not emotionally available because of this. All fathers found it hard to reach out and to ask for help, and this is was passed on through the generations. This reinforced the idea that men are supposed to be self-reliant and dependable, not emotionally “weak”.
The culture we live in expects boys and men not to need emotional support. We’re left with lots of unexpressed feelings and desperately want someone to ask us what’s wrong and to ask us exactly the right question. We end up desperately wanting that one person to ask us and to support us. We are also crap at noticing when someone else needs reaching out to as the whole thing is based on the idea that men are fine, they are sorted, they don’t need help. This is one reason why it’s so embarrassing and awkward for men to see another man crying and why depression is so taboo.
We also mentioned our fathers’ inability to engage with feminist ideas for various reasons.
We also discussed our feelings about being or becoming fathers ourselves. Some men talked about being terrified of being a father or just never wanting to be a father. We all agreed that the desire not to repeat our own fathers’ mistakes is very powerful. We might either end up reproducing stuff anyway (maybe subconsciously) or we may work so hard to avoid the obvious mistakes we over compensate!
We also mentioned ways in which our fathers’ attitudes and actions had influenced us and how even when we weren’t behaving like them, those behaviours were often just beneath the surface.
We ran out of time at this point and agreed to continue the same 2 discussions next time – whether to be a mixed group and our fathers.
Next meeting to be at 4:00 (to fit more discussion in) at Dave’s house on Sunday 16th December.
Friday, 30 November 2007
The group has no set objectives as such yet but will hopefully be a supportive environment in which men can learn to challenge patriarchy and sexism within themselves, the group and society in general.
To find out more about the group or about our next meeting then please get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Have a lovely day!
London Pro-feminist Men’s group
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Last Saturday we had a stall in the University of London Union for the "Reclaim the Night" rally to cheer on our sisters who had marched triumphantly through London to take a stand against violence against women.
Our stall was run by the motley crew of John and Jon (pictured above) and was very well received - we got plenty of high-fives and an overflowing email list. Maybe part of that reception was due to Jon's forward thinking in bringing along a bag of chocolate, some biscuits, amusing gender-bending cartoons and colouring-in equipment. Certainly we aren't making ourselves unpopular anyhow!
We also sold over 20 white ribbons for men to make a statement against misogynistic violence, and that money is now safely in the hands of an anti-rape charity.
I certainly learnt a lot about feminism from the Fawcett Society women, met more interesting people of all genders than I normally would have in a month, and on top of all that got to hone my colouring skills, which have been dormant since Year 10 Geography lessons...
Just to update you on events:
Tomorrow (Tuesday 27th November) people are meeting at 9pm at Oxford Circus tube to protest the LSE heat of the Miss London university competition.
And Thursday (29th November) at 7pm at the London Activists' Resource Centre (LARC) in Whitechapel we have our scheduled fortnightly meeting.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
15/11/07 @ LARC
Present: Daniel, David and Jon
Why use the term pro-feminist?
We discussed the idea of feminism as a movement of women to emancipate women from patriarchy and that men who support this should call themselves pro-feminist not feminist as they cannot know what it is to be an embodied socialised woman fighting against sexism. The alternative viewpoint argues that anyone who is against patriarchy (which includes people of all genders) should call themselves feminist. One person suggested that regardless of which you thought was the correct approach, calling ourselves pro-feminists has the advantage that it is less likely to antagonise existing feminists against us. None of us had a problem with the term pro-feminist and there was broad agreement with the first of these two basic ideas about using the term pro-feminist rather than feminist man or male feminist.
We agreed that the group is undoubtedly going to be in tricky territory when it comes to discussing men and gender and there’s a strong temptation to pick our way carefully through this terrain in an intellectual way. We agreed that it’s important to develop a level of trust between group members so we can talk about how we feel about these issues and say things that might be controversial or sound silly and feel safe doing so.
We talked about the idea that perhaps the group was trying to do too much too soon. We agreed that having a stall at the rally after the Reclaim the Night march was a good idea and that it might be a chance to meet other pro-feminist men. We also all agreed that the idea of men stewarding a women only march (especially RtN march) was highly dubious and perhaps went directly against the whole point of the march. In the light of this discussion at least one person is reconsidering their involvement in stewarding the march, particularly if it involves some kind of “protecting women from dangerous men”!
We mentioned the fact that a small group isn’t such a bad thing but that 3 people was probably too few. We discussed the possibility of trying to attract more men through some kind of social event, possibly a film and discussion or something. We decided to wait and see and to publicise a few basic discussion based meetings and see how many people we get coming along.
We agreed that we need to meet regularly and at the same time and place. For the time being that will be at LARC at 7pm probably every two weeks on a Thursday. So the next meeting will be at LARC on Thursday 29th November at 7pm.
We discussed the idea of coming up with a list of different interesting topics to cover that men would be keen to discuss. We also thought it might be a good idea to have one man talk about a significant moment in their life that relates to gender issues and then have everyone discuss this together. It could be text they read, a conversation, a relationship an argument anything really. We felt this would allow for an emotional as well as intellectual interaction within the group, which we all feel is important.
The next meeting will be a general discussion on the topic of fathers. Some of the questions we might talk about include: did you have a father? - if not, what was that like? What was your relationship with your father, what did they teach you about how to be, as a man? How did patriarchy and sexism operate in your family? What is your relationship with your father now? What did you learn from him, what would you like to teach/give him? If you are a father, in your own parenting what are the mistakes he made that you're avoiding, which ones are you repeating? What are the challenges for fathers now, and the obstacles to sharing parenting and housework equally? How can non-fathers support fathers, and mothers? We hope to have a discussion in which it will be possible to be open about feelings and personal issues but also to link them to the wider social and political context.
A rough plan was that we’d start by going round and each person would say how they got interested in gender ideas and why they came along to the group. We thought that we’d have a break after the discussion about fathers and then talk a bit about what we should do for a next meeting and what people’s ideas are for what the group should be and what it should do. We agreed that this was a discussion that we’d probably have to have over and over again, especially in the first few meetings we have together. We thought we should leave 45 minutes for this section.
3/11/07 @ Café in The Crypt
Present: Jim, Jon, Kat, Matt, Richard, Robin, Tony
We discussed how we can’t just focus on our own guilt and responsibility for sexism and that we’ve got to do stuff to challenge and ultimately change the bigger structures in society that shape gender inequality. This means changing things like the economic system, child care provision and responsibilities, advertising and media, schooling and other processes of socialisation etc.
In some ways it’s like environmentalism. There are individual changes that we can make (like reducing waste and saving energy) and these can be multiplied across many individuals to make big changes. However, there are other things that individuals can’t really affect on their own like the conduct of governments and large corporations. We therefore need to do things that focus on the big picture as well as our own lives.
The group should ultimately try to facilitate both these things – individual changes and political activities focused on the rest of society.
One practical thing we could do is go along to the Reclaim the Night rally (this is held at the end of the women’s only march against rape and male violence) and have a visible presence, maybe a banner or some placards, that would identify us to other men.
We also discussed the way in which individual changes in our lifestyles, attitudes, actions and relationships might make a small change (but are still very important) but that through inter connections with other people those ideas can potentially spread very rapidly across a large number of people. This idea is based on a book called “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell and explains how certain trend setters have the ability to make an idea catch on very quickly amongst a large number of people.
These are just a few brief notes and don’t do our conversation justice at all – really it’s just a taste for those of you who sadly missed out!
2) Information Points
Reclaim the Night march, is a women’s only march against rape and male violence and is happening on Saturday 24th November. Men are welcome at the rally at University of London Union afterwards for a rally and after party! We are also welcome to volunteer as stewards and some of us have already committed to doing this. It would be an obvious practical thing the group could do to support the women’s march and show solidarity with what they’re doing.
The White Ribbon Campaign is starting on 25th November which is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. The White Ribbon Campaign UK is the UK branch of the global campaign to ensure men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women. There will be events in London and throughout the whole country for the 16 days following the 25th and Jon will be meeting with the UK campaign’s organiser this week to discuss how we can be involved.
3) Action Points
It was decided that we’d look into making placards and/or a banner for the rally after the Reclaim The Night March. Richard will speak to people at his art college about helping us with this.
We need to decide what to call the group – or at least what to write on the banner/placards – any suggestions? We could just be “London pro-feminist Group” or “London Men’s pro-feminist group” or London Men Against Sexism”.
Jon will also find out if there is a meeting space available at the London Action Resource Centre for a second meeting and send out the details to everyone.