Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Feminism in London 2009

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:

CAMPAIGN
BE ENCOURAGING
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
LOOK OUTWARD
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:

PATRONISE
TAKE OVER
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.

10 comments:

  1. I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to the conference, sounds like it all went well.

    I wanted to pick up on one aspect of this post. Early on you describe us as being part of the 'oppressor group' and comment on us needing to not feel bad about this. Later on you mention that the women's discussion raised the issue of feminist men needing to not blame themselves personally.

    I have a problem with the idea of labelling men as a whole as the oppressor group. I think that the male approach to femininsm needs to take two distinct positions. Supporting female-lead campaigns for equality is one aspect, but in terms of male-lead activities, I fell that it is much more useful for us to focus on the ways that patriarchy oppresses us as men.

    I don't want to get into the position of wondering if my oppression as a queer person with disabilities outweighs my role as an oppressive man. We all have ways in which we are oppressed and ways in which we oppress. Guilt is going to help no-one and is just likely to put off other men from identifying as feminist.

    There are very many ways that feminism can benefit both men and women. We do not have to constantly try to measure up to a socially constructed model of masculinity, giving us a greater freedom to express our identities. This is truly something to be celebrated and to thank feminist women for. We now have the choice to engage in 'feminine' activities, to be house-husbands (if we wish), to express our emotions. It seems like the creche was a great way for some men to experience this. Not interrupting women (or men for that matter) should be seen as something that we can gain from - we have the opportunity to learn from someone else's experience and knowledge. For straight/bi men who are (or wish to be) in relationships with women, this surely has the potential to increase the quality of those relationships.

    I'm worried that I'm going to start sounding like Richard Dawkins, but altruism really can arise out of seemingly selfish instincts. Patriarchy is generally crap for most men and we should be happy to declare this and show the benefits that accrue to us as men if we move beyond its limitations.

    Also, patriarchy is not just constructed by men. Many women are also involved, either conciously or otherwise and this can create real issues for us as feminist men. For example, among a group of anarchists I used to hang out with, the straight guys that acted like macho alpha males often got off with more anarchist women than the feminist straight men. How do we react to this kind of behaviour? It's such a potentially fraught area, but we as men may have a usefully different perspective to women on such issues.


    Richard Lewis

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  2. I just realised that I didn't explain the last paragraph very well. I meant to question if the anarchist women were promoting patriarchy by 'rewarding' alpha-male activity and 'penalising' feminist activity by their choices of sexual partners.

    RL

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  3. Dear Richard

    Thanks for commenting on our blog. I think that this is overall a very thoughtful comment.

    On the whole, I agree with many things that you say. Maybe "privileged group" is better than "oppressor group", however this privilege does exist (e.g. pay gap, being listened to) and it does benefit men. In addition, we do often engage in sexist behaviour, consciously or unconsciously. That's why it makes sense to me to speak of men as an oppressor group. This doesn't mean that we should start flogging ourselves. It means that we should make an effort to act in a way more conscious of our privilege.

    On the topic of whether "patriarchy hurts men too" or "feminism helps men", I think that in some ways patriarchy is good for men (because we get the privilege), in other ways it is not (because it confines us to certain roles and behaviours). In any case, I do believe that feminism is liberating for both women and men.

    I think however that what you write in your last paragraph is very problematic.

    It is wrong to treat sex as a commodity that women use to "pay" or "reward" men in exchange for something else. Few women probably think: "Ah, there is a feminist man and a macho alpha-male, whom should I reward by having sex with them?" Sexual attraction is a complex phenomenon and certainly differs across individuals. Women are also influenced by expectations and socializations coming from patriarchy or "internalized sexism".

    What is important is not to have a sense of entitlement ("I'm a nice guy, therefore I'm entitled to romantic and/or sexual relationships with women"). I'm not saying that you have this sense of entitlement, but it can be useful to examine ourselves about this.

    In any case, addressing our sexist behaviour is our own responsibility, and the fact that some women have sex with sexist men doesn't take this responsibility away from us.

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  4. Crispin Robinson3 November 2009 13:54

    I think Richard made a very good point actually. Further, I am stunned and dismayed to see that this group as a whole seems to buy into female definitions of what masculinity should be. You are all blinded by a gynocentric worldview that is profoundly misandric.

    It is a very powerful point, Richard. Women, historically, have ALWAYS rewarded men's violence and aggression with love and approval. Ask any conscientious objector of the last 200 years if women supported their pacifism.

    There are a number of deeply damaging myths about men that have become conventional wisdom - so unchallenged and assumed that to query them requires the burden of proof to be met by dissenters.

    MYTH: men are inherently more violent than women.
    FACT: in every two gender study of domestic violence it's been shown that women INITIATE partner violence at least as much or more often than men on every level: verbal abuse, hitting, kicking, punching, using knives and other lethal weapons. Therefore violence is something human, not the pathology of men...
    FACT: women have historically ALWAYS supported wars and men going to war and treated pacifist men with scorn and contempt. Therefore men have historically had little choice in whether they fight or not if they want to keep the love, sexual access and approval of women (which, by and large, overwhelmingly we do)
    FACT: women were much greater supporters of Hitler and the Nazis than men in Germany. Therefore it is a lie to suggest that men are inherently more given to cruel and oppressive behaviours.
    FACT: black men in the industrialised west are more likely to commit or be victims of violent crime. Do we then interpret this to mean that black people are inherently more violent than whites and prone to aggression by dint of their biology? No, we explain this pattern with social phenomena and the relative powerlessness of black men in the west. Therefore maybe we should start to think about the relative POWERLESSNESS of men in our society.

    I am certain that most people will read my comments in open-mouthed astonishment and will ascribe my comments to some 'Daily Mail-type' thinking. Clearly I could only hold these views if I was a card-carrying member of 'the patriarchy'....

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  5. Crispin Robinson3 November 2009 13:55

    (continued...)

    I suggest that I am speaking from a different place. A place of integration and inclusion that seeks to honour and acknowledge the light and shadow sides of BOTH men AND women.

    The idea that 'female = good, male = bad' is toxic rubbish that further alienates the sexes, discourages dialogue, promotes hatred and fear and does little to champion the cause of equality.

    If you think I'm nuts please do some research. Read:

    'Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture' by Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young.

    'The Myth of Male Power' by Warren Farrell

    There are many more, these two books will get you thinking, at least. The first book in particular is a flawlessly-argued, rigorously-researched, well-notated academic text that argues merely for the recognition that a cultural phenomena is taking place. Namely, the near-total dominance of misandry as the sine qua non of public discourse.

    As 'pro-feminist men' does it not concern you that young boys are exponentially more likely to commit suicide than young girls as they move into adulthood and begin to feel the pressures of the male role? From even (to age 9), to twice as many (10-14) to four times as many (15-20) to six times as many (20-25). This doesn't horrify you? Our young sons killing themselves 4-6 times as often as our daughters? Do you not have anything to say?

    If anything is going to change then men need to reject a view of themselves as defined by women. Did you really only think your group meeting was valid after the women came and gave you a pat on the head like a good boy? Please, fellas, grow up. Take some control of your own identity. There are many aspects of masculinity that should be celebrated: our love of integrity, our desire to protect, our willingness to self-sacrifice for not only those we love but for total strangers also (firefighters etc - many of whom are volunteers), our love of women, our vulnerability in front of the female gaze (women know this, that is why shame has been the most potent weapon they have used against men historically), our physical strength (what, we are not allowed to celebrate our own bodies' uniqueness?).

    I am looking for men to join with women in co-creating an INTEGRATED VIEW of BOTH sexes so that we can genuinely build a fairer world FOR ALL. I categorically reject the dominant gynocentric paradigm of our age that ascribes all evil to men and all good to women. Life is way more nuanced and complicated than that, both for groups and for individuals.

    Any takers? Love to everyone.

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  6. Gosh!, where do I join?

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  7. Thierry Schaffauser9 December 2009 23:11

    Hi Crispin Robinson,

    It is true that some women are violent and that some women including feminist campaigners supported war efforts and encouraged men to enrol in wars. However I dont think we can claim as a fact that they did it more than men at times when everyone had to show its patriotism.

    We are not saying that men are inherently violent. Feminism is about deconstructing the idea that things are natural and inherent to a sex. We believe that if men are violent it is as a result of a patriarchal education and therefore that we can change it.

    Men can also be victims of violence especially in public spaces when women are more likely to suffer from it in private spheres. Some women are violent but we can say that in general they are more encouraged to remain passive and not express themselves physically in the same way that men can do in sports or fights.

    On the issue of suicide, it is true that young men die more often than women but is also because their suicide is more often "successful" than women's ones. In terms of attempts however, there are more women trying to commit a suicide. In addition, if we consider that half of men who commit a suicide are gay we can still analyse that as a mechanism resulting from patriarchy.

    Now, we are not here to say that men are bad and women good. Feminism is not about blaming men but about trying to understand and analyse how the system in which we live oppress all of us and women in particular.

    As pro-feminist men we believe that feminism is good for men and improves our lives in many ways. Because we think that only a gender equal society can allow us to have pleasant relationships between all human beings and because we all live on the same planet, together.

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  8. Yeah, extend your networks, promote inclusion and enjoy looking about. I'm a man working as a nurse in a specialist setting. I am the only male, I listen everyday to women who are my superiors and who are my mentors. I do not subscribe to simple generalisations about 'patriachy' or for that matter any specific gender identity 'labels'. I think that some of these tired old-fashioned definitions belong to mid-20th century academic formulations. Pro-equality in essence and purity should be about removing labels not churning out more unhelpful stereotypes and inpenetrable dogma

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  9. An interesting blog. I was just wondering how many of the suggestions from the women's group have been taken up by the LPFM's group, in particular: campaigning (do you get more involved with protests, marches, organising campaigns, etc?); and rejecting industries that harm women (do the members of the group use p*rnography? Hope you don't mind me asking!).
    Thanks.

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  10. Sorry for the delayed response to your question. I think it is good that these things get followed up and we are being held accountable for how we use the feedback we have been given by the women who took part in our workshop last year.

    I think since the last FiL conference we have been - as a group - more involved in feminism generally, but not started any stand-alone campaigns, actions or events. Since the last FiL conference we have organised a demonstration in support of the "Reclaim the Night" march in London, made a public response to the "Wake up to Rape" report and collected and donated money to a women's homeless shelter in Brighton called 'Latitude Safe Space'. We are currently also working on a Zine which will include some of our thoughts on feminism.

    With regards to your last question - regarding the use of industries that harm women - I cannot really make a group statement as I think it will differ indicidually. Personally I have used quite a lot of pornography from early adolescence. In the last couple of years, after discussion with my partner and discovering feminism, I have given up pornography. So for me the answer is no. Other members of the group still use pornography and there is a diverse range of attitudes towards the use of pornography. Some members are fine with the use of pornography, whilst others wish that they would never do it - but sometimes doing it nonetheless.

    I hope this answers your question.

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