The second Feminism in London conference held last Saturday (October 10th) at Conway Hall was a great success. As the London Pro-feminist Men's Group we felt very privileged to be able to take part, contribute and support the second LFN conference this year.
We took part in the conference in two main ways as a group. Firstly we supported the LFN conference, by providing childcare and secondly we contributed to the conference by facilitating a workshop entitled "What are the issues for pro-feminist men?".
We had two aims whilst we created the workshop, which were (1) to give a practical introduction to what we do in the London Pro-feminist Men's Group and (2) to get feedback from both men and women on issues for pro-feminist men and what we should / should not do.
By this we hoped to start answering the question posed in the workshop about the connection between men's life issues and the struggle for feminism. In the next part I will outline our aims for the workshop in more detail.
Ad 1.) In the introduction of the workshop we focused on what we do in our group, the essence of which is the traditional feminist practice of consciousness-raising, based on the idea that the personal is political. With men – since we are part of the oppressor group - this is a tricky process. We have to keep our attention on the ways that we are sexist, but making us feel bad about ourselves will not be helpful. Also, it is fairly easy to deal with the ways in which we are consciously sexist, but there are many unconscious ways in which we are sexist. These are often ways of being into which men are socialised from very early age. To change this conscious and unconscious sexism requires sustained work on oneself.
Obviously being a man comes with lots of advantages. We as men generally get what we want and can get away with pretty much everything, We have the luxury to be selfish, we earn more money, we are not expected to bother about our appearance or bother about childcare. At some point, when one looks at oneself and wider society though, it has to become clear that the way we traditionally act as men is not good for society on the whole and that in the long run it is also not good for us. In the end, one has to come to the conclusion that the ways we are treated as boys and the roles we are taught to play as men are not good and that if we continue to act, think and behave in sexist ways, they will cause us major difficulties in our lives - even as they give us dominant positions in society and power over women.
WHY IS IT USEFUL TO MEET AS MEN SEPERATELY?
With that background, we felt it should be fairly clear why it is useful for men to meet separately: (i) in order to understand how we have been socialised as men, we need to share common life experiences; (ii) meeting without women is important in order to create the safety to be able to admit sexist behaviors (iii) men need to learn to create a real relationships with and get support from each other, rather than relying on women for emotional support.
Ad 2.) In the second part of the workshop we split into two groups - one female and one male. During the preparations for the workshop we had decided that we would facilitate the discussion in the men’s group and would not prescribe what the women would discuss. We had decided to do it like that, because we – as men – did not want to prescribe women what they should or should not talk about in a feminist environment. We did however encourage the women to talk about what it is they would / would not want from pro-feminist men.
In the end, two of us from the LPMG (London Pro-feminist Men’s Group) facilitated the men’s discussion, whilst LFN volunteer Jan volunteered on the spot to lead the women’s group discussion.
MEN’S GROUP DISCUSSION
We started our discussion with a round in which we gave our names and an example of being sexist recently. Issues that came up were issues such as:
- interrupting women when they’re talking
- not challenging sexist jokes and comments in a group setting
- not listening to women when they give us feedback – perceiving it as nagging
- stereotyping women
- seeing women as objects
We then talked about how often one of us had organized childcare in the past year, if we had noticed how often man / women had talked in group settings or how often we’d felt fearful when we’d approached a stranger of the opposite sex in the street.
Not surprisingly none of us had organized childcare or felt fearful when approaching a stranger of the opposite sex in the street. We did feel however that men tend to speak more in mixed groups when compared to women. We used this exercise to underline the fact that women’s and men’s lives are very different and how different our positions in life are. Maybe in a way how harder and less safe it must feel to be a woman and how privileged we men are in our daily lives.
Due to time constraints we unfortunately did not get much chance to discuss how socialisation into boyhood / manhood had felt for us, which was what we’d originally planned to do. We did however shortly touch on the subject of pornography within our culture and the effects it has on men and our relationships to women.
WOMEN’S GROUP DISCUSSION / FEEDBACK:
At the end of the workshop the women that took part in the workshop gave us the following feedback.
the women wanted us (the men) to:
STAND UP AS FEMINISTS AMONGST MEN
CHANGE THE IMAGE OF FEMINISM
CONFRONT AND CHANGE OUR OWN BEHAVIOUR (e.g. NOT INTERRUPTING)
REJECT INDUSTRIES THAT HARM WOMEN (e.g. PORNOGRAPHY)
TAKE EQUAL DOMESTIC RESPONSIBILITY, ESPECIALLY AS DADS
BE ROLE MODELS
NOT BLAME OURSELVES PERSONALLY / INDIVIDUALLY FOR WOMEN’S OPPRESSION
SPEAK UP FOR PATERNITY LEAVE ETC., EVEN IF WE’RE NOT FATHERS
DO GIVE THE FACTS
CHALLENGE STEREOTYPES (e.g. AGGRESSIVE, VIOLENT, ANGRY, ADAPTED TO WAR)
the women did not want us (the men) to:
LEAD – WOMEN MUST TAKE THE LEAD
Luckily, we had time to go through these, as we felt it was important that we get direct feedback from the women’s group. It was helpful to see that some of the issues we had discussed as men also had been talked about in the women’s group. Unfortunately there was not enough tome to think together about how we could practically work on these issues and what men can do to become more of a part in the struggle for feminism. In a sense though, I feel that some ideas about this came up in the initial discussion at the start of the workshop. The senses of what we – as men – can do in the struggle for feminism is (1) to get more involved in feminism and expose ourselves to feminism by attending events, conferences, fundraisers, marches and protests, (2) get involved or support in all-gender groups that support equality and struggle for feminism (e.g. OBJECT - http://www.object.org.uk/ or the FAWCETT SOCIETY - http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/)(3) talk openly about our feminism with our friends and spread our thoughts and ideas in our circle of friends and acquaintances. Only if we as men do these important things, as well as keep in mind the "dos & donts" the women in our workshop presented us with, will we as men be able to make a practical contribution to the struggle for feminism.
A big thank you to everyone who came to the Feminism in London conference and a special thank you to everyone who came to our workshop. It was great working with you and we thought it was very valuable to hear all your thoughts and ideas! We were very pleased with the outcome of the workshop. Thank you also for your feedback on our workshop. If you have any further comments or questions with regards to our workshop, please send us an email.