New Internationalist

Action And Worth Reading On Masculinity

Issue 175

New Internationalist
Issue 175 - September 1987

Dos and Don'ts

Most ideas for action comprise contact addresses which we file away thinking we might use them one day. But here the NI suggests action men can take - and stop taking - today.

Dos

  1. Listen to what women say. Men traditionally dominate conversations, particularly in public settings - they break into women's sentences as if it is their natural right to hold the floor. Notice other men doing this - and then notice yourself. But also listen to women in a public sense by responding to their political initiatives and campaigns.

    This includes promoting an equal opportunities policy at work, which if you take it seriously will mean great changes in the way you recruit people.

  2. Try and establish new relationships with your men friends. Too often we are good at pursuing activities together but terrible at talking to each other about the things and people that mean most to us. Don't assume that only women offer intimacy and understanding. And don't be afraid of expressing your feeling for a male friend with a hug or a kiss. If he's likely to misinterpret it, then talk about it first. This is bound to feel self-conscious at first - but, honestly, it does get easier.

  3. Take more responsibility for your relationship if you have one. Be prepared to make sacrifices - if you are not already making any then you can be sure that your partner is making too many. This might mean cutting down on sport on Saturdays; it might mean foregoing that political meeting or that drink after work in order to be at home. Chasing goals single-mindedly is not necessarily a bad thing - but it is if it becomes a general mindset and stops us noticing the emotional needs that are staring us in the face. Take responsibility for keeping in touch with your own family and friendly contacts rather than leaving this to your partner. And don't assume that your children will bear your name rather than your partner's or an amalgam of the two.

  4. Do more housework. The problem is not so much that we are not prepared to clean that oven or bleach that toilet. It is rather that we find it all too easy not to notice or remember that these things need doing. Instead men too often rely on female partners to take responsibility for organizing household tasks even if the execution of them is to be divided equally.

  5. Consider what you can contribute to fatherhood - don't assume that you will be able to approach the experience in the same way your own father did. Share all the responsibilities with your partner as equally as possible. Take whatever paternity leave is on offer at work and campaign for better conditions in this respect - though adequate maternity leave will have to be fought for first. Consider staying at home with your child or at least cutting down the number of hours you work. And if you have already been through the experience of fatherhood and feel you didn't make the most of it, don't despair - grandfathers often have more time to discover the joys of being with children.

 
 

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  1. Don't use pornography. This is an absolute must because it is powerful stuff - the verbal and visual images from pornography stick in the mind and help condition male responses to women long after they were first encountered, as men who stopped using pornography ten years ago will tell you.

  2. Try not to let other men's sexist remarks slip by without comment and never comply with their dismissal of gays. It's always much easier to keep our heads down and say nothing. But we can't leave it up to women to do the job for us and we do at least have the advantage of knowing from the inside the mentality that produces the sexism. If you sacrifice men's respect by challenging this attitude then their respect is frankly not worth having.

  3. Don't indulge your awareness of women's bodies. No one is asking you to stop finding other people sexually attractive. But men too often have difficulty in being aware of anything else about a woman. Something to remember which might help is to fight your mental tendency to split women into different physical compartments: breasts, legs, bottom, etc. Try to see all women everywhere as whole people, even when you never speak to them. Avoiding pornography will help this personal campaign.

  4. Avoid being a physical threat to women. The keynote article mentions the need to avoid worrying women on a dark might mean forgoing that political meeting and lonely street by crossing to the other pavement. Another ground rule to remember is that if you have to ask the time or for directions try and ask a man rather than a woman, since women will often be worried by the approach. This may seem over-dramatic, but if it causes even a minority of women concern it is worth putting ourselves out in this small way.

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    Don't insist on determining the course of your sex life with your partner. Be careful to allow her more space to decide what she wants - which means not putting pressure on her to make love when she does not want to. Try to get away from the idea that penetration is the only valid kind of sex. And try to focus as much on what your partner wants as what you want - she is likely to have been doing this for you for years.

 
 

CONTACT POINTS

AOTEAROA (NZ)
Men Opposed to Racism and Sexism
29 Turakina Street Grey Lynn, Auckland

Men for Nonviolence
P0 Box 1780, Wellington
Umbrella group for Wellington area offering counselling and support groups.

Men's Newsletter
P0 Box 26, Christchurch
Circulates nationally, good forinformation and linking.

AUSTRALIA
Men Opposing Patriarchy
P0 Box 366, Rozelie, NSW 2039

Men Against Sexism
P0 Box 77, Collingwood, Victoria 3066

Men's Contact end Resource Centre
109 Young Street, Parkside, SA 5063

CANADA
Grindstone Co-operative
P0 Box 564, Station P, Toronto, Ontario M6S 2T1
Holds an excellent men's conference every spring.

Men Against Rape
P0 Box 65306, Station F, Vancouver, BC 05N 5P3
Supports education and action around gender Issues.

Kingston Men's Forum
256 Mowat Avenue, Kingston, Ontario K7M 1 K9

UNITED KINGDOM
Achilles Heel
79 Pembroke Road, London El 7
Recently resuscitated occasional magazine.

MAN (Men's Anti-Sexist Newsletter)
22a Oakfield Street Roath, Cardiff

Everyman
320 Commercial Way, London SE15 5BY
Magazine aimed at popular market to be launched this autumn

UNITED STATES
Changing Men
306 North Brooks, Madison, Wisconsin 53715
Publishes excellent bi-annual newsletter.

Embers from the North Woods
2618 Fremont Ave S, Apt 308, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408
Newsletter dealing with male identity and style.

Anti-Sexist Men's Caucus
763 Stagecoach Road, Trinidad, California 95570


Worth reading on... MASCULINITY

Three of the best books about men now available are actually hot off the press, which is one sign that more creative thought is being done about masculinity at the moment than has been the case in the fairly stagnant years since the 1970s. One is from Australia, one from Canada and one from the US Gender and Power, by Bob Connell, who contributed much to this issue, is accessible sociology of the best kind (Ailen & Unwin Australia: Stanford, North America; Polity Press elsewhere 1987). Canadian Michael Kaufman has put together an excellent anthology of recent theoretical writing about masculinity called Beyond Patriarchy (Oxford University Press, 1987) and The Making of Masculinities (Allen & Unwin 1987) is an anthology from California, edited by Harry Brod, which I have yet to see but which comes reliably praised. This recent writing includes the perspective of gay men, which was markedly absent from earlier works.

These are works of theory and thus require a certain amount of commitment from the reader, as do the key feminist texts to which they respond and refer (and which men as well as women should read). A less strenuous way of absorbing some of this thinking is to read some of the feminist novels which take up an ever greater shelf space in any decent book shop - this is one of liveliest genres in modern fiction.

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