Paving the way for feminist men

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:

Dr. Rachel Griffin:

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.

Dr. Michael Kimmel:

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.

Jonathan Grove:

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.

Join the Conversation

  • v

    Never mind feminist men, we really must look at people of our very own gender who make moneuyfrom exploiting it. True issues are shit being marketing at us like “feminine cleansing stuff” which we do not need because our vaginas are not dirty. Men are as much victims as we are in the sense that they are being peddled lies about girls being dirty if they don’t buy advertised pieces of shit and we have to educate EVERYONE.

    • Emmett J Doyle

      On the one hand, I want to point out that cleansing stuff is sold to dudes, too.

      On the other hand, I have to realize that it’s not marketed in the same way, and when it is marketed, it’s not so much a ‘your junk is dirty’ thing as a ‘look, hot babes will play with your junk if you clean it with this product’ thing. So, still misogynist.

  • nazza

    When truly accurate discussions of gender are so few and far between among men, it is easy to see things as good versus evil.

    As I understand it, there is no path by which Feminist men can follow that has been set in stone. Already feeling slighted or at odds with most other men, they struggle to find an adequate identity without knowing quite how they are integrated with the whole. Time and maturity make a difference, but still cannot span the gap.

  • makomk

    Interesting: “Men Against Violence Program Coordinator”. That title doesn’t specify one particular kind of violence, yet from what I can tell it actually mostly or entirely refers to domestic violence and rape against women, like every other “Men Against Violence” group. Apparently we’re just automatically meant to assume that this is the one kind of violence that men will be against, and that all other kinds of violence shouldn’t really matter.

    This is just one reason amongst many why male feminists are such an interesting bunch. Not only does it fit nicely with the good old gender roles in which men are the heroic saviours of vulnerable women from other evil men, but it seems to be a prerequisite to actually be recognised as feminist, and appears to be the reason this conference could get funding in the first place. (Female feminists aren’t exactly immune to this either – they just tend to use a slightly modified version of the gendered expectation in which all men are in the “potentially evil” category and none get to count as “saviours”. Men are still expected to follow the same “saviour” role, just without being recognised as such. This doesn’t help.)

    • Emmett J Doyle

      I’ve grappled with the same thorny issue- that when the privileged party attempts to strike against their own privilege, they become a ‘savior’ of sorts, if they aren’t careful, and only serve to once again reinforce their own privilege, after a fashion.

  • George Marx

    I think that Jonathan Grove’s efforts deserve at least minimal support. One needn’t see his efforts or the efforts of other men as “better” than those of many women. It is difficult for me to see how domestic violence, rape, stalking etc. can be seriously addressed as “societal” issues, as opposed to being (“only”) “women’s issues” without the (much more) active involvement of men. Men confronting other men is (unfortunately) often the best way to reach men who don’t listen well if at all to women.

    I would doubt that Jonathan or most other pro-feminist men would not also strongly support struggling to stop male violence directed at men.

    I don’t see that it’s an “either/or” dynamic of Women vs. Men in being active. Obviously the efforts of men have probably been at most 1/1000th if not 1/1,000,000 the efforts of women. Certainly we men get more press than our numbers should justify, but that can be addressed.

    More efforts by men are important! Accolades from feminist women for such efforts are certainly not necessarily a good thing, though understandable. Thanks!

    • makomk

      George: if by “support” you mean say nice words about how awful male violence against other men is and how something must be done about it, no dobut. The question is, is he doing anything about it and – more importantly – would he consider other people doing so to be a good thing or a distraction from the more important matter of violence against women.

      • George Marx

        (M) George: if by “support” you mean say nice words about how awful male violence against other men is and how something must be done about it, no doubt.
        (G) Men can “say nice words” – as a pick up line with women and/or other exploitative or at least not useful ways. Grove – does much more – and is Most Modest – in not claiming (as some men do) to be doing some excellent things.
        (M) The question is, is he doing anything about it and – more importantly – would he consider other people doing so to be a good thing or a distraction from the more important matter of violence against women.
        (G) I’m unclear in what you say as to How violence against women is going to stop Solely based upon the efforts of Women (apart from Men). JG – works with both men and women in an effort to Both: 1.) Support women’s efforts to stop male violence against them and 2.) Help build and support efforts by Both women and men to focus programming in college settings in the U.S. that work with men – towards stopping male violence against women.

        There certainly are situations where programming and efforts towards men can be at the expense of programming in support of women and this issue needs to be taken seriously.

        At the same time to expend efforts over many, many years that are oft times limited to:
        1.) Helping women (which is of course most important!) and
        2.) Focusing upon men solely in terms of incarceration and court mandated – battery intervention/cessation programs

        is destined to perpetrate a continuation of the present, where male violence remains a Huge, Huge, almost impossible burden/issue that has no hopes for things to get better, yet alone envision a world of No such violence.

        If you are really interested in efforts that JG does or wish to substantively look at such efforts potentially to criticize him then Google or otherwise search for his efforts online. If you are Not interested in his efforts or think he is getting “too much praise” that is understandable also.

        There are men such as JG who are attempting to do good work focusing upon working with men. It is Not an area where one will make a lot of money or get a lot of praise generally. It is an area where progress can be slow and efforts are at times frustrating as there are strong forces perpetrating the status quo and even making things worse.

        I know JG and attended the Conference which was written about. Thanks!