Folks often ask what the “men’s movement” really is. Part of the problem in answering that question is that there isn’t one “men’s movement” — there are several, with radically different approaches to men, women, feminism, masculinity, and society. So this will be a very long entry. You were warned. Skip it if you like!
Men’s studies is a very new field. Though women’s studies dates back to the 1960s as an academic discipline, men’s studies as a field did not get underway until the mid-1990s (though many were quietly working on issues of masculinity far earlier). If men’ studies has a leading light, it is surely the marvelous Michael Kimmel, who teaches at SUNY Stony Brook. I use his “Manhood in America” in the Men and Masculinity course I teach, and it is truly magisterial.
Kimmel, however, is very clearly identified with just one of four groups within the modern men’s movement: the Pro-feminists. Pro-feminist men are by far the group within the men’s movement most closely allied with the women’s movement. XYOnline is an excellent pro-feminist men’ site; they provide this nifty FAQ sheet on pro-feminist men. Here’s some of it:
Pro-feminist men are sympathetic to feminist understandings of society. We believe that women as a group suffer inequalities and injustices in society, while men as a group receive various forms of power and institutional privilege. The current, dominant model of manhood or masculinity is oppressive to women, as well as limiting for men themselves. We also recognise the costs of masculinity: conformity to narrow definitions of manhood comes with the price tag of poor health, early death, overwork and emotionally shallow relationships. We believe that men must take responsibility for our own sexist behaviours and attitudes and work to change those of men in general. Both personal and social change are vital.
Feminism is a movement and a body of ideas developed primarily by, for and about women. Men can never fully know what it is like to be a woman. If we call ourselves “feminists”, we run the risk of colonising feminism or looking like we’re saying we’ve got all the answers.
Some feminist women argue that men CAN call themselves feminists, as long as they live up to the same standards as women who are feminists — to support the equality of women and men. Nevertheless, most pro-feminist men use the label “pro-feminist” rather than “feminist”. We believe that there is plenty men can and should do to support feminism, and we don’t need to call ourselves “feminists” to do it.
Some of the best work in men’ studies today is done by the pro-feminist wing. I’m very sympathetic to pro-feminism, but it has its flaws. The chief flaw lies in pro-feminism’s kneejerk hostility to all aspects of traditional masculinity. Pro-feminists tend to see traditional gender roles as straitjackets to confine men and to oppress women; as Michael Flood, another noted profeminist, puts it: we must dismantle the whole system of dividing people into two “opposite sexes”, “male” and “female”. In other words, part of the problem is the two-gender system itself, one fundamentally based on hierarchy and privilege.
I know of no Christians who have published within the pro-feminist tradition. When I attended a weekend training seminar run by the outstanding profeminist outfit Men Can Stop Rape, I identified as an evangelical. The men at MCSR were fascinated; no one “like me” had ever darkened their door. Though they were friendly and warm and kind and gentle (very gentle), they had little sympathy with the notion that traditional gender roles might, just might, have some healthy aspects. Needless to say, it was an odd but enriching weekend!
The second group is the “men’s rights” movement. What Michael Kimmel is to pro-feminists, Warren Farrell is to “men’s-rightsers”. Farrell was a 1970s pro-feminist who underwent a metamorphosis, becoming convinced (as men in his movement generally are) that men suffer more in contemporary American society than women do. He wrote the bible of his movement, The Myth of Male Power. In addition to running for California governor during last year’s recall, Farrell is associated with the two main men’s rights outfits: the National Coalition of Free Men and the National Organization for Men. The latter group has a good summary of the men’s rights movement’s goals:
The long term goals of NOM are to reverse destructive social trends of recent decades. These trends have demonized the male image and marginalized menâ€™s roles. In the process they have been destroying the family and our collective sense of social cohesion. These trends declare that history merely teaches a story of oppression and that men are responsible for all that is evil in the world. But history is many things, including the record of countless examples of human excellence, exemplary values, noble achievements, boundless courage, and immeasurable good. NOM does not see the struggle as men against women; rather, our effort is against the deterioration of basic values.
We, as citizens, may not wish to admit the broad scope of influence that a small highly organized coalition of radicals has forced on society. Members of radical groups â€“ many of them bitter and resentful has misandrists (men haters) â€“ make a living by sowing the seeds of dissension. But we must admit that, although it will take time, energy, money, and intelligence, we must reverse the negativity and social decay that has gripped our society.
Among NOMâ€™s short term goals are to prepare a â€œStatus of Men Rightâ€™sâ€ report and submit it to the united Nation Center for Human Rights in Geneva Switzerland. This is being done through the research foundation established by NOM, The Institute for the study Matrimonial Laws. The report, among other objectives, is documenting tyranny of the false accusation movement â€“ a movement made possible by the negative climate created against men â€“ that includes false charge of rape, false charges of domestic violence, false charges of child molestation, false charges based on so-called â€œrepressed memoriesâ€ and false paternity charges. Men (and women) who commit terrible antisocial acts must be punished to the full extent of the law and this must include â€œbearing false witness.â€ Running rampant in our country and going unpunished, false accusation have ruined the live of millions of men, many of them languishing in prison. The report will include other highly important concerns.
Another of NOMâ€™s short term goals is to bring test cases to the Supreme Court under NOMâ€™s recently established Menâ€™s Legal Defense Fund. Men are not provided equal protection under the Constitution, and NOM is currently fostering the protection of menâ€™s rights by developing court challenges to protect the right of men. At a time in out society when very few men had to endure family court, the number of casualties â€“ men being raked over the coal and deprived of their paternal right was small. But the number of male victims of the family law justice system is staggering in comparison.
And there you have it. The vast majority of men who come into the men’s rights movement do so during divorces and child custody battles. They are convinced to a man that the “system” is rigged against men in this country, and that feminists (misandrists) are largely to blame. An undercurrent of anger and bitterness, remarkably similar to that found in certain strains of radical feminism, runs through the Men’s Rights Movement. What they do best is identify ways in which men too can be victimized; where they fail is in their choice to lay blame for men’s victimization at the doorstep of the feminist movement.
The third group is the mytho-poetic men’s movement. It too is largely associated with one man: poet Robert Bly, author of “Iron John“, a huge bestseller from the early 1990s, and a book I assign in my classes. Other major authors of the mytho-poetic movement include Sam Keen and Shepherd Bliss. Everyman Magazine is the main publication of the movement; the Mankind Project is the main current focus of the movement.
Mytho-poetic men’s groups are similar to pro-feminist groups in their compassion for women, but are far more willing to see masculinity as inherently “good”. Here’s a snippet from Mankind Project’s website:
Our stated mission is to assist men in “reclaiming the sacred masculine for our time through initiation, training, and action in the world.” Interaction with the MKP begins with an experiential weekend “training adventure.” The weekend is followed by ongoing, supportive and self-led “integration groups” formed from the weekend participants which help integrate the men’s changes and new choices into their daily lives. In addition, there are numerous workshops offered throughout the year to further assist men’s development. Since 1985, more than 10,000 men from diverse races, faiths, nationalities and sexual orientations have completed New Warrior Training Adventure weekends.
The ManKind Projectâ„¢ is a progressive and non-sectarian, non-partisan alternative to other men’s organizations. The Project has two goals. The first is to initiate men into a mature masculinity, to lead lives of integrity, connection to feeling, and a renewed responsibility for their personal mission in the world. Through weekend “training adventures” and continuing on into post-training “integration groups,” men are challenged in deeply personal ways to look at who they are and how they make choices and live behaviors which work and don’t work for them. (Bold emphases are Hugo’s).
Mythopoetic men, heavily influenced by Jungian psychology, are ardent believers in essentialism: our masculine nature is bred into our bones, not merely acquired through socialization. They bemoan the loss of unique men’s rituals, of father-son intense relationships, and of the very notion of masculinity as “sacred.” Unlike the men’s rights movement, mytho-poets aren’t angry at women; unlike the pro-feminist men, mytho-poets have no desire to deny what they see as essentially good and positive aspects of truly traditional masculinity. They believe, as I wrote in my post about men early last week, that only another man can change a boy into a man – and that men will only change their behavior when they are in close relationship with other men.
In case you can’t tell, I am very sympathetic to the mytho-poetic movement.
The fourth and final group is the Christian Men’s Movement. By far the best known group within this branch of the movement is Promise Keepers, founded just over a decade ago by former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney. Though PK (as its devotees refer to it) has lost membership since its peak in the mid to late-1990s, it remains a vital force and has led to a number of spin-off groups. The Promise Keepers and other Christian men’s groups are convinced that men in our culture have been led astray by everything from pornography to racism to workaholism to isolation from other men. In many ways, PK has built on the work of the three older branches of the men’s movement, and given that work an explicitly evangelical focus. PK is noted for its “seven promises“:
A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.
A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.
A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20 ).
Promise Keepers became famous for huge stadium rallies (they don’t draw like they used to), where men would gather together across ethnic and class lines for a day of repentance, prayer, and encouragement. PK’s greatest success, even its critics agree, is in integrating non-white men into a traditionally white men’s movenent. There are more men of color in PK than in the first three groups put together. But critics both within and outside of the Christian tradition point to what they see as PK’s uncompromising acceptance of traditional gender roles, a hostility to feminism and to gay rights, and a noted fondness for military language. ( Their 2002 rallies were titled “Storm the Gates”, and featured images of knights in armor riding to battle!) Very conservative Calvinist Christians are uncomfortable with the high number of Pentecostals and charismatics in PK leadership.
Promise Keepers does great work in restoring marriages. Among traditional Christians who see heterosexual marriage as the bedrock of society, PK is literally a godsend. Its primary focus always seems to involve strengthening men for marriage, helping them to avoid the temptations of infidelity, pornography, work addiction, and rage. Countless testimonials from men and women bear witness to PK’s success in this area. But perhaps PK’s greatest influence has been the proliferation of men’s groups within the broader church, often subtly modeled on PK.
Whew. So next time someone mentions the “men’s movement”, ask them which men’s movement they mean. I appreciate the work of all four. (There are still other groups — such as socialist men’s groups — but their numbers are too small to count here). Though at this stage of my life, I am closest to the mytho-poetic movement, I am glad that I began my journey as a pro-feminist and have spent time in and around Promise Keepers. (I’ve never had much time for the men’s rights groups, but I honor their commitment to advocating for the rights of fathers.) I don’t know where the men’s movement in this country is headed, but I suspect it’s headed in a good direction.
Me? I just bought the Bill Clinton book. I know what will take up plenty of my time the next week or two!
Edited to make it clearer which bits are quotes. (I don't agree with all of Schwyzer's assessments of the movements, but thought the quote might be useful to understand them anyway.