An online poll has sparked a lively debate about the different factions of the global men’s movement.
As the editor of the International Men’s Movement section at the Good Men Project, I was delighted to hear Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of Policy Planning for U.S. State Department, saying that the world needs a men’s movement.
Of course I agreed, but I’m not convinced that Slaughter—or anyone else for that matter—fully understands the men’s movement in all its diversity. So to get a sense of what other people think, I ran an online poll on the question “what kind of men’s movement do we need?”, with the help of the UK’s National Conference for Men and Boys.
So far we’ve received nearly 1,000 votes on the 10 different options we proposed and we’ll be publishing the final results in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what we’ve learnt about the “men’s movement” from this process so far.
Firstly, the men’s movement still has plenty of enthusiasts who can only see the world in black and white. I find it endlessly fascinating how many people can view every new conversation about men’s issues through a feminist/anti-feminist filter—limited by the belief that “if it’s not one, it must be the other”.
Shortly after publishing the poll we had one commentator saying “as far as I can tell this is a Men’s Rights site, ew” and another saying “this appears to be a feminist ploy”.
For me, the ability to only see two colours in the whole spectrum of the men’s movement must be like looking at a bowl containing all the fruits of the world and only being able to smell apples and oranges.
“Well it’s sure not an apple,”they seem to say as they pick up a ripe watermelon and sniff it, “so it must be an orange”.
For those who haven’t yet sampled the fruits of our movement, let’s be clear, there is no such thing as a single men’s movement. I have a personal vision of an “Integral Global Men’s Movement” that links the many different men’s movements around the world, but so far It’s a dream that spends more time on my ‘wish list’ than my ‘to do list’. I first floated the idea at a conference last year in a speech that was reviewed by Ally Fogg in The Guardian newspaper. Fogg confessed:
“I winced when I first saw his title. Over the years the term “men’s movement” has described an array of diverse trends, ranging from mythopoets who gather in the woods to howl at the moon, to those nod-along male feminist academics and activists who are less concerned with problems facing men than those caused by men. More recently the phrase has been co-opted by the angry antifeminists of the internet as a cover for untrammelled misogyny, grievously mislabelled ‘men’s rights’.”
That short paragraph highlights the key barrier we face to creating the men’s movement that people like Anne-Marie Slaughter would like to see and that’s this—even committed advocates for men like Fogg wince at the thought of being linked to a men’s movement. And many of those who are happy to identify with one men’s movement or another, often seem to be much happier attacking all the other movements.
Some pro-feminist friends told me they were glad to see that the mythopoetic and religious men’s movements weren’t leading the vote. “I’m always shocked there are still so many folks that identify as religious,” said one. “Hankering for a time gone by (and good riddance)”, said another.
Not surprisingly, many anti-feminists sent messages outlining the many different reasons they have for not liking feminists. “Feminists portray themselves as advocates of equality and then proceed to privilege women at the expense of men and ignore the problems they create for men and boys in the process,” said one.
While another commentator countered with criticism of men’s rights advocates saying that “deep within their bile are a few well-made points, and even a couple of sensitively written articles, but they are the rare exceptions.”
For my part I have spent time with pro-feminists, men’s rights activists, the Christian men’s movement; the mythopoetic movement; fathers’ rights activists; social justice campaigners and people who don’t have a label for themselves but are out in the world making a difference for men and boys anyway.
I see value in aspects of all of these men’s movements and see ways in which they could all potentially enrich each other.
I recently stumbled across an article written by the pro-feminist Australian Bob Pease in 1996 in which he wrote of the differences between the pro-feminist men’s movement and the men’s liberation movement.
“I have become increasingly concerned about the closer links being developed between the men’s liberation and men’s rights wings of the men’s movement,” he said. “It is perhaps not surprising that some of the men’s liberationists of the seventies, such as Warren Farrell and Herb Goldberg, went on to become prominent men’s rights advocates in the eighties and nineties.”
What I found particularly interesting about this article was that it reminded me of the issues that unite us, rather than divide us. Pease writes about the importance of addressing issues like men’s health, male suicide and custody battles.
These are the types of concerns that all factions of the global men’s movement share. We all want boys to do better in school; for men to live longer, healthier lives; for dads to have better relationships with their children; for fewer men to commit suicide and to see a reduction in crime and violence involving men. It’s just we have different views of what causes these problems and how best to solve them.
And so the aim of the National Conference for Men and Boys in the UK—as with the dream of an Integral Men’s Movement—is that people with shared concerns but different perspectives come together to find ways to improve the lives of men and boys and learn from each other in the process.
My favourite comment posted on the conference blog came from a man from Minnesota who said:
“I have gained by listening to feminists and Men’s Rights Advocates, all these men’s perspectives have something to tell us, and for men, I think there is a special benefit to bridging the divides which create the striking spread of choices.”
This reminded me of something that the philosopher Ken Wilber said about integral theory. “An integral approach is based on one basic idea: no human mind can be 100% wrong. Or, we might say, nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time. And that means, when it comes to deciding which approaches, methodologies, epistemologies, or ways or knowing are “correct,” the answer can only be, ‘All of them’.”
Photo Credit: Flickr/Horia Varlam