Men’s Group Projects: an introduction

13 Nov

As an introduction to my future posts here at Masculinities 101, this post will be a little different from most of what you see on activist and academic blogs.  I am not thinking of my contributions as a blog, so much as an attempt at solving one specific problem. I have been researching men’s feminist activism for about ten years now. I have been involved in such activism for even longer (the picture is me with NOMAS Boston in 2006). I keep running into one major, and easily remedied, concern for the groups I work with, research, and read about. My posts on this blog will be a small and humble attempt to fix that problem, and I want to start by telling a story.

When I was an undergraduate student, I went through the life-changing process of learning about socially structured inequality and about my own substantial privilege, first informally though friendships and life events, and then formally through classes in Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, LGBTQ Studies, Sociology, etc. I pass for male, white, and straight, and was born into a family with more than enough, even if my parents were recent immigrants. The fair and just world I had always imagined was shattered, and I was full of passion and righteous motivation to create social change. I joined an incredible number of advocacy and activist groups, from the Race Relations Project and “Straight” Talks to the Sierra Student Coalition. I even joined an A Cappella group with a social justice bent.

My campus had 4 feminist student groups, and I joined all of them (and the Women’s Studies Honor’s Society, for good measure). What I found, though, was that while the women-led groups would host events like the Sex Faire, Take Back the Night, etc., the men’s group would mostly eat pizza. That may sound like a joke, but I assure you, it is not. We met weekly in an office on campus, purchased pizza using the funds we received from the student activities fund, and sat around eating pizza and bemoaning the contributions we would love to make to gender equity but—at least in our minds—were not able to.

Now, I don’t think these were bad guys. I was in that room too, and while I was frustrated, I didn’t have any answers at the time and didn’t do anything concrete to try and find them. I think we were mostly just unsure of how to get involved. We didn’t know what we could realistically do or how to do it. We were especially troubled by our lacking membership. The group fluctuated from 3-8 men, and we were just positive that we needed to wait until we had more members before really taking on something meaningful. Somehow, it never occurred to us that the women’s groups were just as small, but seemed to be accomplishing a lot more.

What I have found in my research and personal experience since undergrad is that often men’s feminist groups are small groups of men unsure about what they can really contribute to the feminist movement. They often feel like they have limited resources, insufficient knowledge, and few allies, and don’t know what they can accomplish or where they can find guidance. Even the ones with institutional support – the small minority at a school that funds a men’s group coordinator as part of their gender/sexual violence prevention programming – often get hung up on what they can do and how to do it most effectively. It isn’t surprising given that a) the actual empirical research on men’s feminist activism is pretty limited (though it is growing quickly), b) a lot of the writing on men’s feminism has historically been about whether or not men can really even BE feminists, let alone how they might do so effectively, and c) the current resources often are written in dense research language for academic audiences and sometimes get caught up in internal conflicts over what methods are more effective.These are all important concerns for researchers and academics, and promise to be very useful to on-the-ground men’s groups in the long-term. In the short-term, however, I would argue that what is most important is to get men out and to do SOMETHING.

That’s why, when the editors of Masculinities 101 contacted me to be a contributor, I asked them if I could use their blog as a forum to create a resource that I haven’t found anywhere else. I wanted to create a place where feminist men’s groups and their organizers could go to find ideas and guidance on planning and executing projects that would make a concrete contribution to gender equality. So, each month, I will be posting an idea for a project that even a small, low-resource group could put together. I will tag each one Men’s Group Projects and will also include a tag for the different types of activities:

Consciousness-raising: projects for within-group improvement, such as self-education or discussion groups.

Outreach to specific groups: projects that try to involve or educate a specific target audience, like creating a presentation for sports teams or changing the sexual harassment policy of an institution.

Outreach to the wider public: projects that try to reduce gender inequality by changing the culture of the public at large, i.e. through public art, newspaper editorials, etc.

Support for another organization: projects that support the work of other feminist groups and organizations, like running a supply drive for a domestic violence shelter or bringing a supportive group of men to a Take Back the Night rally.

Direct Services to Individuals: I include this category for completeness, and will probably not write up any projects in this category because they are very difficult and take a lot of training and knowledge, for example batterer intervention counseling or advocating for a sexual violence survivor.

Each post will include a description of the project, possibly with links to groups that have done something similar or to related research, as well as the logistics: what would be required to pull it off, what needs to be prepared in advance, and how to expand on it or tailor it for a particular group, audience, or location. Some may include materials to make the project go more smoothly or ideas for self-evaluation and continuing the momentum after the event. All would benefit from the discussion and comments of the Masculinities 101 readership and from your help in spreading the ideas to people and groups who might make use of them. If you end up putting on an event you saw posted here, please post in the comments to let me know, and tell everyone how it went and how you think it could be improved in the future. If there is anything you’d like to see me post about, or if you’d like to contribute your own ideas, drop it in the comments below!

Further reading:

Hooks, Bell. Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. South End Press, 2000.

Kaufman, Michael, and Michael S. Kimmel. The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. Seal Press, 2011.

Tarrant, Shira. Men and Feminism: Seal Studies. Seal Press, 2009.

Tarrant, Shira, ed. Men speak out: Views on gender, sex, and power. Routledge, 2013.

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