Paving a Rocky Road, a conference for interrogating notions of masculinity, exploring men’s involvement in the feminist movement, and talking about programmatic and activist ways to initiate more men into the feminist fold, took place last month. After attending the first meeting of this kind last year, I wrote a column about my impressions, including this observation:
Many young men, it seems, are stuck in stage one of gender consciousness. They want to prove that they are one of the “good ones” and separate themselves from all the gendered behaviors and beliefs that they now see as oppressive. That, or they wallow in guilt. (This is not unlike the stage many white kids get stuck in upon fully realizing their role in perpetuating racism.) At worst, this point of view is paralyzing. At best, it leads to burnout. It’s not until privileged folks, men in this case, can own the ways in which they have a self-interest in resisting systems of oppression that their work becomes sustainable.
Jonathan Grove, a great advocate that I met last year, spearheaded this year’s meeting. Jonathan is the Men Against Violence Program Coordinator at the Pacific Lutheran University Women’s Center. In any case, I was sad I had to miss this year’s meeting because of a prior speaking engagement, but Jonathan was nice enough to send some of the presenters’ reactions along:
For me the conference was both inspiring and a site of struggle in a number of important ways. I felt warmed by the willingness of those who attended to engage in difficult conversations; likewise the depth of the conversations being had was eye-opening at the intersections of marginalization and privilege. However, I struggled deeply with the seeming lack of common knowledge about the histories of feminisms that the men’s movement against gender violence, from my standpoint, largely relies upon. This was in a sense deflating and simultaneously hopeful in terms of the consciousness that the PLU Women’s Center created a space to spark.
For me, the exciting part of the conference was the fact that there are several campus-based programs that are emerging as national exemplars of what can be done on campus to institutionalize these groups, so that they don’t wane with each graduating class. The willingness of MCSR to serve as the national clearinghouse and organizing instrument of these groups is especially welcome.
The highlights of the conference for me were getting to know even more folks working to make this a more equitable society with even less violence. Particularly exciting to me was that a very diverse group (in every sense) which came together to talk frankly about barriers, within and outside of the movement, which keep us from changing the culture. While maybe we didn’t “Pave the Road”, we certainly raised the bar and created the space to start spreading gravel.