Men and Feminism Workshop @ Ladyfest, 10/5/08
Notes from discussions
This workshop was run by Dan and Jon from the London profeminist men’s group. It was held on Saturday afternoon and lasted 1.5 hours. It took place in a fairly small room with between 18 and 25 people present throughout (as people came and left).
We went round and introduced ourselves saying a little something about why we were at the workshop.
FIRST DISCUSSION – in three small groups
How are boys and men socialized to become dominant?
- The fear of the consequences of being different.
- Families, especially parents, treating children differently. Giving them different toys to play with, dressing them differently, etc.
- Stereotypes portrayed in the media of a certain type of dominant masculinity
- The potential threat of violence gives men power/dominance
- Men are expected to “stand up for themselves” which means carrying yourself in a certain way in the street. Putting up a front of bravado.
- Men are taught to be more goal oriented which leads to them being more straightforward in their demands. This in turn leads to them getting more when they do demand stuff, such as higher wages, and this increases their dominance further.
- Social expectations in general and peer pressure at school in specific – also from looking up to and copying older boys’ ways of interacting and ways of acting out a dominant masculinity.
- The question is kind of about nature vs nurture.
- In school boys tend to be noisy and get more attention because of this. This reinforces their self-importance
- Girls and boys are praised for different things and this reinforces certain dominant behaviours in boys.
- Boys and girls are encouraged to do different subjects at school.
- Competitive sport might be another way in which boys are taught to be dominant.
- Boys and girls bully in different ways
The links between competitive masculinity and capitalism were noted and it was suggested that men become more dominant because they’re taught to be behave in a way that increases their power in a capitalist society – being goal oriented, competitive, aggressive etc.
Are men really dominant? Obviously females can also fit within the dominant role.
SECOND DISCUSSION – in three small groups
It’s possible to see there being two moments profeminist groups are going through,
1) a moment where men identify and give up their privileges.
2) a consciousness raising moment, where men think about how we got to be this way, work on ourselves and talk about our negative life experiences
How should a profeminist group deal with these two issues:
Should they give up on the second one? Men’s negative experiences of gender should not be discussed in profeminist groups because they are very limited when compared to how other groups suffer under patriarchy.
Is the second issue even a "profeminist" issue? How is it supporting the feminist struggle to discuss men's problems?
Should these two issues be treated separately, making it clear that they are two different moments, or should we talk about them together?
Could the second issue be used as a "marketing strategy" to attract men to the group? Wouldn't that be politically dangerous?
- Everyone is gendered: all forms and degrees of oppression can be fought
- Have an open group focussing on male experiences of (pro)feminism and patriarchy. Maybe call it a “gender discussion group” rather than a feminist group.
- Would men feel more comfortable in a men only space? Is most of the world already a men only space?
- The second moment is valid as a starting point for men arriving at feminism … but not as a marketing strategy?
- Challenge the understanding of the word “feminism/profeminism” and make people understand what it really is, not the cultural clichés that have grown from it.
- Moment 1) is very individualistic and assumes very altruistic men. But it’s in men’s self-interest to fight patriarchy too.
- While some men do come to feminism through altruism or a sense of injustice this might be unsustainable.
- Men “giving up power” is far too simplistic. Profeminism is not an act of charity or pity.
- Consciousness raising is very important, but we must remember the political dimension.
- Foucault said something about how the oppressions of society are inside us and we all know the personal is political so… maybe sharing feelings/being unmasculine together is political.
- Is this really feminist though? Is there a difference between challenging patriarchy (through developing a new form of (un)masculinity) and feminism? Maybe it’s not feminist but is profeminist?
- Remember, just talking about it might not lead to real changes in our lives.
- Men overthrowing their gender roles is a very important step towards ending patriarchy.
THIRD DISCUSSION – all together
What do we think profeminist groups should look like, do, talk about etc?
· should there be men only profeminist groups / Are men only profeminist groups useful for feminist struggles? Couldn't we compare this to bosses gathering together to think about freeing the workers... or white only groups working on black liberation.
· what do you think are the main dangers a profeminist group should avoid?
· what topics do you think the group should discuss?
· what actions should the group be doing other than meeting and talking with each other?
· what kind of support are feminist groups expecting from a Men's profeminist group? theoretical, practical, financial?
· what should be the goals of a profeminist men’s group?
· should a men's only group be "monitored" by women’s feminist groups?
· should a men's only group always be "attached" to a women’s feminist group?
On the first question, “should there be men only profeminist groups?”
- They are a good was to focus on men becoming feminist
- But men already have their own spaces in society and isn’t this just reproducing that?
- Depends on why the group exists, what role that group takes
- Important for the group not to take over women’s struggles and for men to take a back seat in mixed feminist organisations
- We need mixed spaces so maybe the group could link with a women’s group
- A non-judgmental space where men can express masculinity
- The group should protest outside strip clubs. A men only protest would cause a greater media stir than a mixed or women’s group doing the same. This would (rightly) piss off a lot of women who have been already doing this for years!
On the second question, “what are the main dangers a profeminist group should avoid?”
- Reconstructing (reproducing?) the fixed identity of “man”
- Getting too hung up on “men’s rights” issues
- Mainstream approach
- Condemning men who are violent/macho when they have no choice – e.g. men on a working class estate who believe they might sometimes need to fight to survive. [question: does being violent = being macho?]
- Being inactive for fear of a (real) feminist backlash from women! In other words fearing to undertake certain types of activity for fear of being told we’re doing the wrong thing by certain groups of feminists. But remember there’s plenty we can do which doesn’t involve stepping on any feminist toes.
Apparently at least one small group came to a rough consensus that a men’s only group was ok but that a mixed group would probably be better in lots of ways.
The group intends to take these comments on board, discuss them at the next meeting and decide how to change the group based on those discussions.