Some of the world’s leading thinkers on men’s issues are heading to Australia this week for what is probably the world’s biggest conference on men’s issues. Our International Men’s Movement editor, Glen Poole, will be there.
I’ve got a confession to make—I love men’s conferences.
It can sound like a weird thing to admit to, particularly as most people don’t even know what a “men’s conference” is, but it would be inauthentic of me to write this piece without first acknowledging just how excited I am today being a British man, sitting in Australia writing an article about a men’s conference for a US-based website that has a global readership.
I normally write my articles for The Good Men Project under the “International Men’s Movement” heading as I sit alone at my home in England—and yes it can feel a bit bold at times, speaking of being part of a global movement from such a solitary, singular perspective. So as I sit here today in Brisbane, sharing a space with two men from the Men’s Wellbeing organisation, as they prepare for Australia’s 10th National Men’s Health Conference—I can authentically say that today I am speaking to you from deep within the International Men’s Movement.
I’ll talk about the global men’s movement—and the central role that Australia plays in a moment—but first let’s get clear on what a men’s conference or gathering actually is.
There are many, many different communities that make up the men’s movement and they tend to be either a community of interest or a community of identity (and sometimes they can be a bit of both). A community of interest is simply a group of people united by a common interest such as social justice, gender politics, men’s rights, fatherhood etc—so if a bunch of professionals who work in suicide prevention get together to talk about male suicide, well that’s a community of interest brought together by a shared concern. In contrast, a community of identity is linked by a common identity such as gender, nationality, sexuality, profession and so on—so “gay men” or “black men” or even “all men and boys” is a community of identity.
Sometimes men’s conferences and gatherings are strong on the identity aspect—ie they are for men only. These tend to be gatherings that are focused on personal growth and development and sometimes even therapy. So there are Christian men’s gatherings and men’s rites of passage meetings and men’s support groups which are personal, men only affairs.
Then there’s the world of what you might call professional men’s conferences that are for people of any gender who are concerned with helping and working with men and boys—they are a community with a common interest such as supporting fathers, helping male victims of domestic violence, improving men’s physical health and so on.
And the nature of the men’s movement is such that even in these “professional” environments you meet lots of individual men and women who aren’t just interested in improving men and boys lives, it’s also a central part of their identity. That’s why attending a “professional” men’s conference isn’t like going to a doctors’ conference or an accountants’ convention—in my experience even the most formal men’s conferences offer a heady mix of personal passions, political tensions and practical concerns.
As I write this, the official conference has yet to start here in Brisbane and I’m already finding myself engrossed in deep, personal conversations with men who are practical strangers. Through our shared interest in men’s issues—and our own personal awareness of the lived experience of being men—we have a common language that can provide a deep, instant connection.
To be able to travel to the other side of the world and connect instantly with other men in this way is a much deeper and more embodied experience than simply writing about the existence of a global men’s movement. Today I am part of a literal movement of men (and women) who are preparing to travel from all over Australia and beyond to gather together and talk about men and boys. I am privileged to be one of a handful of international speakers this year alongside Warren Farrell from the U.S.A.; Professor Alan White, the world’s first Professor of Men’s Health, from England and Richard Aston the Big Buddy mentoring programme in nearby New Zealand.
Of course this is a predominantly English-speaking men’s movement (though it being Australia there’s a whole day on Aboriginal men’s health)—and more and more I am finding myself connected to a movement that lives beyond the Anglosphere. In Europe, for example, the European Institute for Gender Equality lists pro-feminist men’s projects in 27 countries and next month International Men’s Day (November 19th) will be marked in dozens of countries across the globe.
As well as being naturally segregated by geography and language, the global men’s movement is also segregated by methodology. The European Institute of Gender Equality currently recognises five different men’s movements as defined by the Australian pro-feminist sociologist, Michael Flood:
- The men’s liberation movement
- The anti-sexist or pro-feminist men’s movement
- The spiritual and mytho-poetic men’s movement
- The Christian men’s movement
- The men’s rights and fathers’ rights movement
There are two other men’s movements emerging that give the Australian Men’s Health Gathering an important international significance. The first is what I refer to as the Men’s Social Justice Movement. The Men’s Social Justice Movement is concerned with addressing the “social issues” that men and boys face in fields like health, education, fatherhood and family life and so on. In the UK I sometimes refer to this as the “men and boys sector” as it mostly comprises people whose job it is to work with men and boys in some way. No-one really chooses to become an active member of this sector or movement, they tend to join it without realising.
Nick Smithers—a Scottish social worker who now specializes in helping male victims of domestic violence—recently told me that he “walked backwards into the men’s movement” via his work, a description that beautifully captures how people unwittingly join the Men’s Social Justice Movement. Not surprisingly then, the Men’s Social Justice Movement has tended to be a rather passive affair that has evolved simply because enough people over enough time have stuck at working with men and boys and built skills, expertise and most importantly relationships with each other.
What sets this quiet and benign men’s movement apart is that it unwittingly connects people from various wings of the more pro-active men’s movements—the pro-feminists, the men’s rights advocates, the men’s liberationists, the mytho-poets, the Christians etc—to create a fascinating mix of men and women who are united (despite their differences) by the action they are taking to improve men and boys’ lives.
Events like the Australian Men’s Health Gathering, now convening for the 10th time since the mid-nineties, have provided a space for this invisible movement to emerge silently. Furthermore, this Men’s Social Justice Movement, or men and boys’ sector if you prefer, is providing the foundation for the emerging Integral Men’s Movement—a movement that actively seeks ways to integrate and accommodate the many different global men’s movements.
Last month in the UK, I was one of a team of men who hosted the 3rd National Conference for Men and Boys, a four day event that provides a space for pro-feminists, men’s rights activists, mytho-poets, Christian men and people working in the men and boys’ sector to come together and explore both what we have in common and where we differ and disagree.
One of the highlights for me was seeing a right-wing anti-feminist and a Marxist pro-feminist deep in conversation and finding some commonality as men, despite the huge divide that stood between them in terms of gender politics. Only the integral men’s movement appears to have the willingness and ability to proactively make these types of conversations happen—on their own, the other men’s movements tend naturally to convene with people who have a common perspective.
If the men’s movement is going to have a global impact then the key, I feel, lies in an integral approach that actively seeks to harness the very best aspects of all existing men’s movements, whilst allowing those individual movements to grow and flourish and mature in their own way. What makes Australia unique, it seems, is that it appears to have the most evolved and mature Men’s Social Justice Movement in the world. Unfortunately, the nature of the Men’s Social Justice Movement is such that nobody realises they are part of it because they tend to walk into it backwards whilst going about their daily business of making a difference for men and boys.
I have sensed for some time that the International Men’s Movement has much to learn from Australia’s example, now I am here I think I am finally beginning to discover exactly what makes the Australian men’s sector uniuqe. This country seems to have more people per capita focused on the business of helping men and boys than anywhere else in the world. As a result, it has built a silent, invisible movement for Men’s Social Justice that everyone who cares about making a difference for men and boys can learn from.
Photo credit: Flickr/Brisbane City Council