men, masculinities and gender politics

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Starting your own group for men against sexism

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Many men have been latching on to feminist politics without taking up our place in the struggle for too long. Its’ not enough to read bell hooks or Angela Davis, call ourselves feminists, hang out with riot grrrls or rock the emo-boy style anymore. It’s time to get out there, look inside and deal with the fact that most of us have been socialized in a society that teaches us to take power away from people around us. The fact that 1 in 3 girls are raped before the age of 17 is our responsibility. The fact that 1 in 5 boys are sexually assaulted before they turn 18 is our responsibility. Dismantling patriarchy is, in part, our responsibility. We have to step up—and here’s one place we can begin.

Okay. So, you want to start a group for men against sexism, and have been wondering how to do it. That’s great. There aren’t many resources out there already, but you’re not on your own. This article is a primer—a for-beginners guide to creating this group.

The first step, in my opinion, is to do a little soul searching of your own. Take the time to answer some important questions. Why are you putting this group together? What do you expect to get out it? What do you want to see accomplished? Are you willing to let control over the group go? How does starting a group like this boost your own ego? This is the time to be honest with yourself and know your intention.

In Chicago, in 1995, I started a group for men against sexism. I received a lot of validation from people around me and this definitely went to my head. Because of this, I was a little more controlling of the group and a little less critical of my own actions. This is definitely something to watch out for.

When you’ve answered some basic questions for yourself, it’s time to get the group together. Before you put the word out, think about who you want to invite. Are trans people welcome? Is this a group for bio-men only? Is this a group for people of all genders who have been socialized to be men? Think about gender, in all its’ complexities, and make sure to address it while starting your group.

Flyers, emails and word-of-mouth will do the trick in gathering together the first meeting. Figure out the time and place, how long the meeting will be, who will facilitate and what preparation you need to do.

During the first meeting, spend some time-sharing the results of your soul-searching. Get group members to answer some questions as well. Why did they join? What are they expecting to get from it? What are they willing to put into it? Challenge yourself and other members to take the risks that are necessary in effectively undoing the sexist socialization we’ve all received.

Setting up the foundation of the group is very important. Even though people within the group may want to jump into the material, it is important to make agreements about how to deal with critiques and self-reflection, picking topics and challenging group dynamics. Set up some ground rules around welcoming critique and consensual ways of bringing these critiques up. Make agreements about looking at group process and using this as a basis of discussion. Figure out ways to flush out the sexist dynamics that are taking place in the group and within the relationships that group members have and use these lessons as places to work from. Have people learn what their bodies feel like when they’re feeling defensive and get support from other group members to recognize and keep their defenses down.

After this process is initially set-up, you can decide on what you want to accomplish. The following sections are topics you can choose and tasks you can take on. But don’t limit your group to my suggestions. Work the creativity in the room and grow as a group!

Reading/Reflecting

There are a lot of great reading materials out there that will feed hours of discussion. Authors like Joanna Kadi, bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, John Stoltenberg and Michael Kimmel; Books about feminist politics, abuse, men’s issues and all forms of oppression; Zines about men against sexism, feminism, disability and many other topics; and countless web sites will provide an abundance of materials for the group to consider. If you choose the ‘reading/reflecting’ route, make sure to select reading materials from a wide variety of sources and to keep plenty of time for reflection about what you’re reading and what it brings up for everyone. Challenge the group to get personal with the readings and not stay in an academic or head-driven space.

Accountability & Amends

I’ll bet that at least one person in that group has had nonconsensual sex, non-communicative sex, sexually assaulted or harassed someone, and/or raped someone. I’ll bet that everyone in that group has acted out of sexist patterns in one way or another. Because of this, it is really important to talk about accountability and amends. Many anti-sexist men’s groups focus on the question: Where do we go from here? I think it’s important to address our previous and present actions. With this, it’s important to ask ourselves: Who have we hurt? And, How can we make amends to them? What does real accountability look like? How can we actualize this in our group and in our lives—past, present and future.

Men’s Intimacy and Homophobia

How many guys, when hugging, look like we’re burping each other? How does homophobia play into our fear of intimacy with each other? These are great questions to deal with in the group. And there are great ways to deal with them. Have groups of two hold hands and walk around the block, and then process everything that comes up. Have people look into each other’s eyes and take time to talk about it. Challenge each other to take respectful emotional and physical risks.

More, More and More

Don’t limit yourselves. Aside from these topics here, you could discuss sex, men’s health, talking about sex, power, privilege and so much more. Have brainstorming sessions to verbalize all the possibilities of topics, exercises and ways to interact. One of my favorite groups would meet for one long day per month, have workshops in the morning, cook a big lunch together and have more workshops in the afternoon. We would bring in outside facilitators, bring in our own ideas and challenge each other constantly.

While your group is getting going, there’s another thing to consider. In the world of men’s groups, there are usually many different types. These include: pro-feminist, mythopoetic, father’s rights, and religious groups. Pro-feminist groups have been the most active in confronting sexism and facing oppression head on. While all of these groups have different values regarding men’s’ roles in society and different takes on the role of patriarchy, pro-feminist groups traditionally have taken a stand against patriarchy. It is important to consider who your group is aligning itself with and how that reflects on the commitments of the group to help each member work toward the end of sexism in their lives.

And the last thing I want you to consider is evaluations. As the group moves forward through the weeks or months, consider the ways in which you can put thought into action and evaluate the progress you’re making. In a group I was part of, we would work on all these issues month after month. In between meetings, the partners of people in the group would call me up to tell me how their partner was being sexist. I would bring up these phone calls in the group and we would work out the issues. This was not ideal, but the idea sparks energy in me. Thinking about who we take our sexism out on in our daily lives can bring us a list of people who may help evaluate the effectiveness of this group and our work in it.

You will definitely make mistakes, come across a bundle of challenges and grow. Keep an open mind and your defenses down. Good luck.

Finally, Here are a couple resources to help you along the journey:

On The Road To Healing: A Booklet For Men Against Sexism.Available through the Planting Seeds Community Awareness Project. http://www.pscap.org.

XY Online Magazine http://www.xyonline.net

Men Against Violence Web Ring: http://www.interactivetheatre.org/mav/

The Art of Facilitation: How to Create Group Synergy. By Dale Hunter, Anne Bailey, and Bill Taylor