Jon Waters set up the London Profeminist Men’s Group 2 years ago and they’ve been meeting every 2 weeks ever since.
“Well, we discuss it now and again... Not everyone agrees with the name. Some think that we should be called an ‘anti-sexist men’s group’. There’s the idea that we don’t want to colonize a term for a movement set up by women for the liberation of women, and that calling ourselves male feminists or something similar would suggest we don’t understand and aren’t sensitive to the issues. However, plenty of feminists argue that feminism is for all people who want equality, and that men ought to call themselves feminists as they are fighting the same fight as female feminists. I think we’re happy calling ourselves pro-feminists and helping to define what exactly that term means by simply existing under that title!
How do you think Feminism has affected the lives of men?
Feminism definitely has affected the lives of men... in loads of ways. It has forced men in some circumstances to treat women better, or as equals. In certain areas the level of sexism has been reduced a lot...It’s changed attitudes. It was a bit different for my mum and her generation...It was fine for her not to wear dresses and skirts, and ride a motorbike [laughs]. For me growing up, I got to see a much wider range of gender roles. And in some ways, it’s [Feminism] made it more acceptable for men to talk about their emotions more; which has a bit of a backlash because the ‘macho’ thing still weighs heavily on men and boys. But it’s easier than it was for men to be “in touch with their feminine side”, because Feminism’s changed gender roles. Men also benefit from reduced violence to women. Women are their sisters, mums, lovers. Men aren’t purely selfish individuals [laughs]...and obviously they don’t want the women they love to be the victims of violence.
Why do you think it has taken Feminism to promote certain improvements in men’s lives, such as better attitudes towards fatherhood?
I think it’s fantastic that we are starting to see a lot more men pushing buggies down the road, and there’s more talk about equal paternity leave.
I don’t think there’s an a priori reason why it needed to be a women’s movement. It’s conceivable that it could have been groups of men fighting for their rights to care for their own kids more. However, I think that men are not generally socialised to be particularly caring, to be blunt! [laughs]. It’s often not high on a man’s list of priorities to be a loving father, but rather a breadwinner and procreator. Being a good dad is in the list of “what a perfect man ought to do”, but particularly in the world of work, which is often male-dominated, there’s a lot of resistance to men taking time off work to look after kids. The more macho the work place, the harder it is.
Generally I think it’s a great example of an area where feminists have led the way, and men’s groups can take on the challenge of fighting for men to do more childcare in the home and outside it. As a men’s group we have run several crèches at feminist conferences, and I’m a part of another mixed gender group that focuses on the issue of improving access to activism for parents and carers as well as their kids.
What advice would you give to men who want to take more proactive steps in or for Feminism?
In certain circumstances it might be easier for men to get involved in feminism [than women], because it’s unusual. In some groups men might be welcomed almost as a hero! Similarly, in terms of talking about feminism, people have a lot of preconceptions about feminist women. They switch off, because they think “here we go...” as if they already know what she thinks. With a guy, people are often more intrigued. *Pauses* sorry, what was the question again?!! Oh yeah…
I suppose in a university context there are usually gender courses, and there are loads of academic books and “Brief Introductions to Feminism” out there. I would recommend a website called www.xyonline.net, which has tons of stuff written by pro-feminist men about their lives and their activism. It’s also good to know you’re not the only man in the world who cares! Obviously, if you’re in London, come to the Pro-Feminist Men’s Group [laughs] or check out our blog at londonprofeministmensgroup.
If you’re in York, go to Women’s Committee, or any groups that open doors to men. You also need to be receptive to the issues, and be sensitive about why some groups don’t want men, or at least not all the time. It’s important for men to come to terms with the importance of women only spaces. If you don’t get that, it’s easy to think it’s sexist to exclude men, which is what you’re fighting against! You can end up getting a bit stuck. If you find a group that says it doesn’t allow men at meetings, for example, ask them why and listen carefully guys! It’s really not that hard to understand, honest!
If possible, find other men who are interested in feminism. Best by far is to meet face-to-face with other men, but online communities can be a decent substitute if you can’t find anyone. A common theme in the men’s group is that we’ve all had a friend, lover or ex-lover who’s a strong feminist woman and has influenced us, our lives and behaviour. Ideally there’d be enough pro-feminist men out there that it didn’t always have to fall on women to “convert men” but learning lots from feminist friends is generally a great way to start out if you’re interested in gender issues.
What sort of feedback do you get from men and women? Does it vary from men to women?
Personally, I am not a very good advocate for the group. I don’t tend to put the group out there. It’s quite a cowardly approach I suppose. I tend to only tell people I think will be positive about it!
When I’m brave enough to tell men about the group it often feels like I’ve just said I’m part of a Jewish Pro-Nazi group. They get a “does not compute” face. ‘Consternation’ would be a good word for it! It’s a difficult job explaining what we do. We don’t have a narrow focus you can sum up in a few words, which makes it hard to talk about sometimes. Generally speaking, women are more interested and sometimes almost congratulatory. Some say they want their boyfriends to go along!
Why is it important for men to think about feminist issues today?
I think a lot of men want to live in a more equal and fair society, and don’t want to see women getting paid less on average, having to deal with loads more domestic violence than men, and generally having less power and privilege than men in most situations. Feminism also gives men the tools to radically alter the gender roles that cause them so much damage, even whilst they confer privilege on them. Boys are taught to become “real men” and face all sorts of bullying if they don’t conform. Changing masculinity and the expectations we have of what “being a real man” means would give men more freedom to be themselves and to express their feelings, hopefully leading to less pent up anger, depression, suicide and violence. A radically different masculinity would mean not having to live in fear of other men’s violence and fear of being seen as weak or not having all the answers all the time. Ultimately, men should get involved in feminist politics because FHM – Feminism Helps Men!
Jon Waters recommends www.xyonline.net and Slow Motion – changing masculinities, changing men by Lynne Segal to learn more about the male role in feminism. Contact him directly at londonprofeministmensgroup@