Saturday, 29 December 2007

Minutes 16/12/07

@ Dave’s house

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.

Our Fathers
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.

The group
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

Minutes from 29/11/07

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.