With the emergence of the Women’s Movement, a deep cleavage was created in gender relations, seemingly pitting women against men in the struggle for equality and status. An effect of this separation in spheres, was a collective of men feeling as if they were being misrepresented, or left behind during a revolutionary period of changing gender relations. A product of this was the conception of men’s groups around the world. This paper attempts to look at the development of the men’s movement in Canada since its emergence more than 10 years ago, it’s origins, and the significance that it plays in gender relations today, whether this be as a threat or a compliment to the women’s movement and the advances that have been gained by means of their work.
The Men’s Movement, contrary to what many believe, is not a homogenous coalition of groups in pursuit of the same goals. Much like the diversity seen in the Women’s Movement, there exists extensive diversity between the different men’s groups and organizations that label themselves under the Men’s Movement ‘umbrella’. There are men who name themselves as anti-sexist and pro-feminist, who see the role of the movement as one working against sexism in all its forms. There are other men who see a need to reclaim some of the ‘power’ that men have lost to women as a result of feminism. Some men march in the streets and lobby governments to give a voice to issues of domestic violence, rape, and abuse, while others rally for ‘men’s rights’, claiming that women’s rightful place is in the home. But there is one common understanding that unites these men, and it’s the belief that traditional definitions of masculinity no longer work, that the models of masculinity that today’s men have inherited are no longer appropriate, and that they need to be challenged and redeveloped.
There are at least five separate men’s movement’s in North America today, including Canada, who act independent of each other, and lack any kind of coordination. To begin with, there is the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement which traces it routes back to Robert Bly, and Michael Mead, the so called fathers of the men’s movement. They focus primarily on men’s inner work, emotional recovery, working through grief issues, and anger management. They are most popularly known for their King and Warrior “Theme Weekends”, which encourage the men to get back to nature, where it all began. They are apolitical, although you’ll find a lot of the agenda of the non-Marxist left mixed in. (Kimmel, 89-91) They are also somewhat critical of ‘traditional’ male roles, but generally open to the idea that there exists different roles for men and women.
They are tolerant towards homosexuality, but gay issues are not a central focus. Next is the Feminist Men’s Movement, which has it routes from authors such as John Stolenberg. These groups are much more political, and can be identified with the more militant end of feminism. Some of their political action areas include gay rights, anti-military, and anti-rape. They see gender completely as a social construct, opposing ‘traditional’ societal gender-roles, or any gender roles at all. In addition they see male violence as the result of bad training or role-conditioning by society. Generally, they see men as oppressors, but sometimes see men as oppressed by traditional gender conditioning. As a result of it’s strong antipathy to the traditional family this generally puts them in opposition to fathers rights groups. Finally, they maintain very negative view of Christianity and religion in general. Next are the Fathers Rights groups.
These groups were based primarily around issues of single and divorced fathers, their problems with court bias, and the divorce industry. Recently, a growing interest in the social issue of fatherless families has also emerged. They also maintain a mixture of views on gender roles, everything from conservative ‘restore the man as head of the household’ ideas, to guys who want to dissolve the nuclear family and abolish all gender roles in society. They tend towards anti-feminism, but not uniformly nor centrally so and have no particular view of religion or homosexuality. Men’s Rights groups are another type. They tend to overlap with the Fathers Rights Groups, but with a broader spectrum of interests including the draft, men’s treatment in prisons, choice for men, and an opposition to gender-roles. They are strongly egalitarian, and generally sympathetic to ‘egalitarian’ feminists but extremely critical of so-called gender feminists and most of current feminism. They see gender mostly as a social construct, and are strictly opposed to public policies that treat men and women differently, such as affirmative action, all-male draft, and tender-years doctrine. Circumcision is a another hot topic, but they maintain no unanimity of views on this. In general they tend to be suspicious of traditional religion’s gender roles, but insist that they are tolerant of homosexuality, though it is not a central focus. Lastly we have the Christian Men’s Movement, such as the Promise Keepers.
This group represents the newest and most radical of the five. They are strictly anti-feminist, favoring traditional gender roles, for example, the ‘bread winner home-maker’ model. They are also primarily evangelical and fundamentalist Christian. Not surprising, they are disapproving of homosexuality, but, its not a central issue. Like with the Mythopoetic Movement, their focus is mostly on inner work, but they do flirt with political stances and have a rowing alliance with the Christian Right.1 They see male violence as innate, and that it is the job of social conditioning to prevent it. They are similar, in certain ways, to the feminist men, in that they both see contemporary social conditioning as leading to male misbehavior which, in turn, leads to most family conflict. Despite that fact that the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement and the Feminists Men’s Movement talk a lot about racial inclusiveness, the Christian Men’s Movement is the only one of these groups that has successfully included large numbers of minorities in its membership and leadership.
Contrary to the Women’s Movement, the emergence and development of the Men’s Movement in America and Canada have not been symmetrical.
The Men’s Movement first emerged in America in the mid 1970’s with the publication of The Liberated Man Farrell, by Warren in 1974. Farrell was a feminist, and in his book he talked about women’s liberation and how it could help men, how masculinity is defined, and how to go about setting up men’s consciousness-raising groups. From that booked emerged the creation of men’s groups such as the Men’s Awareness Network and the National Organization of Changing Men, and later the whole network of men’s groups that today, make up the men’s movement, the newest of those being the Christian Men’s Movement. Though these books did have an impact on men in Canada, the actual mobilization of men’s groups did not occur till much later into the mid 1980’s. Some of the first men’s groups to emerge where groups as compliments to feminist groups, such as Men Working to End Sexism (Montreal). These provided an outlet for men to gather and focus not only on ‘women’s issues’, but also the ability to look at ‘men’s issues’, such as fatherhood, male role models and sexism towards women and men. These groups were followed by father’s rights groups, such as FACT ( Fathers Are Capable Too- Toronto) and the Toronto Resource Center. Some of these groups emerged because of genuine concern for the role of fatherhood and the lacking father figures in our children’s lives. However, with strong support from such groups in America and other countries, specific groups emerged from the increasing frustration amongst men that divorce settlements and alimony laws were biased in favor of the women, leaving them voiceless victims of the divorce courts and blood sucking ex-wives. However, what has seen the largest reaction and the biggest affect on the development of men’s groups in Canada, has been the issue of violence against women.
Since 1989, we have seen emergence of two significant large men’s organizations, including Men For Change (Halifax) and the development of the White Ribbon Campaign(WRC), (Toronto). The uniqueness of this phenomena is as a result of not only the different sociological and cultural norms between Canadian and American men, but more significantly the Montreal Massacre. On December 6 1989, a young man entered the Ecole Polytechnic in Montreal with a Sturm Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle and began to systematically murder every female student he could find. Fourteen women died in the massacre, and 13 others were wounded. Before Marc Lepine had finished, he turned the gun on himself. Lepine left a suicide note, detailing how he was refused admission to the engineering school. He blamed these women and feminists for ruining his life. In the opinion of many men, this was the final straw and something had to be done. ‘Men for Change’ was formed in the aftermath of the tragic killings in Montreal, by a group of Nova Scotia men. It is a pro-feminist, male-positive, ant-racists, and gay affirmative organization that is dedicated to promoting gender equality and ending sexism and violence. One way which it accomplishes this is through conducting open meetings, which are open to everyone, enabling men to meet other men who are concerned with similar issues and looking for a chance to share ideas and experiences.
Though they state that they are a pro-feminist group, they do retain some mythopoetic elements, such as their quarterly gatherings at the farm, where the participants work the land, share a pot luck, sleep on the floor around a wood stove, encouraging a good chat, perhaps even a little drum banging. The purpose behind these quarterly weekends is very similar to that of the King and Warrior “Theme Weekends”. These weekends which are held several times a year, to help direct exploration to “the Jungian Archetypes and other masculine typologies”.(Kimmel, pg. 95) In addition, on a more intimate basis, they also run reflection groups, which are closed bi-weekly group meetings held year round between the same group of guys to monitor progress and offer advice and support when needed. Though not the most significant ribbon campaign in the country, in 1990, they also created the ‘Purple Ribbon Campaign’, which serves to raise public awareness on violence against women in the province of Nova Scotia, in conjunction with the Women’s Action Coalition of Nova Scotia. They also have developed youth programs, feasible to class room environments, for both boys and girls, geared towards defining and eliminating gender role stereotypes, and offer services, such as an extensive list of resources, pamphlets and references on many different subjects involving gender issues. Though their web site is one of the only sites in Canada on the Men’s movement, it is nonetheless one of the most extensive sites on the movement today, containing links, detailed information on the structure of their organization and comprehensive explanations of the various educational programs that they conduct. It is also updated regularly, and can be found at: http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/CommunitySupport/Men4Change/m4c_back.html
The other major development that resulted from the Montreal massacre was the development and launch of the ‘White Ribbon Campaign'(WRC).The WRC is the largest effort in the world of men working to end men’s violence against women. It was created in 1991, when a handful of men in Canada decided that they had a responsibility to urge other men to speak out against violence against women and decided that wearing a white ribbon would be a symbol of men’s opposition to men’s violence against women. With only six weeks preparation, as many as one hundred thousand men across Canada wore a white ribbon that first year. At present, there lacks sufficient data on the number of men that wear them now, but estimates are near half a million. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage men and boys to wear a white ribbon for one or two weeks, starting on November 25, the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women. (In Canada we wear ribbons until December 6, Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.) Wearing the white ribbon is the equivalent to making a personal pledge never to commit, condone nor remain silent about violence against women. The WRC is also an educational organization, which encourages reflection and discussion leading to personal and collective action among men. Throughout the year, they encourage men to do educational work in schools, workplaces and communities, also to support local women’s groups, and to raise money for the international educational efforts of the WRC. They also distribute Education and Action kits to schools to help in spreading the message against violence against women and maintain a website. What is interesting about this group, and define it as primarily a Feminist Men’s group is that though they encourages men to wear a white ribbon and to participate in commemorative events such as the Montreal massacre, they themselves do not organize events on December 6, nor do they make public statements unless requested by women’s groups. Why? Because they think it should be a day for men to step back and listen to the voices of women.
The development of the Men’s Movement, I feel has done nothing but aid the Women’s Movement. Pro-Feminist groups have been successful in lobbying for women’s rights and access to previously restricted areas, and though they also lobby for human rights, or equal rights, to a certain extent men have been forgotten in the wave of feminist awareness. With the experience and organization that the Women’s Movement retains, the Men’s Movement has the ability to learn and developed substantially.
One of the biggest obstacles that faces the Men’s Movement and it’s ability to remain an influential factor in the in the world of gender relations are the actual structural organization of the movement. Because the movement is still small, and different groups are not coordinated, this wastes a lot of resources that could otherwise be shared. Though it is unrealistic that groups such and the Promise Keepers, Canada division, and members of Men For Change are ever likely to join forces, they have the opportunity to learn from each other, just as the varying groups within the Women’s movement have done. Members much also seek to bring the movement more into the mainstream, encouraging more research and the development and initiation of more Men’s Study Programs on campuses around the world. For the one’s that already retain connections with women’s organizations, it is essential that these links be maintained and emphasis be put on the synthesis of operations In the future perhaps we will see the creation of a new movement, the ‘Humanist Movement’, where from equal playing grounds, men and women can join to fight for human rights and human development.
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Men For Change: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
White Ribbon Campaign: Toronto, Ontario.