New all-genders London feminist group launched

// 23 July 2008

The folks behind the London Pro-feminist Mens’ Group are launching a new group, open to all genders.

Meetings will take place twice weekly, beginning on 31 July, 6.30pm, London Action Resource Centre. Alternatively, email them to get involved:

For us, the men-only experience has been very positive, especially in terms of deconstructing our role in patriarchy as oppressors, understanding how we got to become men, mutual support and raising our consciousness. The men’s group will continue to meet, probably on the weeks in between the gender inclusive meetings, but we felt strongly about trying to achieve similar results in a mixed environment. At this point we feel we’d like to create:

  • A constructive dialogue between people of all genders which has a clearly feminist perspective.
  • A group which takes the feminist principle “the personal is political” seriously and aims to create a space where we can talk openly about our own experiences of gender, of being oppressed and of perpetuating oppression, and not be afraid to be ourselves.
  • An opportunity to learn from each other’s lives and to support each other’s struggles.
  • Comments From You

    Kath // Posted 23 July 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks Jess, that looks really interesting. Alas I don’t live in the UK any more. I was wondering if anyone knows of any feminist groups in Dublin or of any Irish feminist websites or blogs. Thanks, Kath

    polly styrene // Posted 24 July 2008 at 7:59 am

    Hmmm. I really like this Michael Moore quote from ‘Stupid White Men’ on this subject.

    “Know that women are onto us. Cut out the sensitive man crap. They know the drill. Don’t try convincing anyone you’re a “feminist”. You don’t qualify, you play for the other team. It’s like a Klansman chanting. “KEEP HOPE ALIVE” . You are a specimen of the gender that will always make more money, that will always have the door swing wide open and far to wherever you want to go in life.’

    Surely it makes far more sense for men to be forming groups to address male behaviour (like the White Ribbon campaign) than navel gazing about their ‘experiences of gender’. I mean I’m horribly cynical, but I just think this type of thing is all too often an attempt to get the focus back where it “belongs. ”

    On the Men.

    Rhona // Posted 24 July 2008 at 10:53 am

    I don’t know how I feel about this, but I do find myself feeling slightly icked about the use of possesive pronouns, viz:

    “deconstructing our role in patriarchy as oppressors”, “we can talk openly about our own experiences of gender”, “not be afraid to be ourselves”.

    It just reminds me of the article that Anne Onne wrote a few weeks ago about privilege and how men push themselves (consciously or unconsciously) to the forefront of debate.

    [edited by moderator]

    Allies, yes – owners, no.

    Oh, I’m going to get shot down in flames for this…

    Leigh // Posted 24 July 2008 at 11:09 am

    A group which takes the feminist principle “the personal is political” seriously

    Polly Styrene- It seems that they are trying to change their own behavior. Also- it is not only men who perpetuate the patriarchy. While i appreciate why you might be cyncial- it does seem a bit like ‘preaching to the converted’- having a space for introspective reflection and inter-gender discussion can still help the participants become the change they want to see in society. And even if it does not make new feminists, it can at least make the participants better and more informed feminists.

    Paul // Posted 24 July 2008 at 11:56 am

    Rather than set up talking shops for either men or women to discuss, navel-gaze and reflect on relatively abstract concepts like gender identity etc, it is far more important that people – regardless of sex – get stuck in to the immediate issues that affect people’s lives on a daily basis. Every minute spent sitting around engaging in mental masturbation is a minute that could be spent doing something hands-on around abortion rights, domestic violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage. It is middle-class self-indulgence to simply attend consciousness-raising groups.

    Regarding the need for men to change their behaviour; I think that some men do and some men don’t have to change their behaviour. There are as many sexist women as there are men, something I am reminded of on a daily basis, via work, the media, and mainstream culture. There are as many cultural stereotypes and sweeping generalisations about men as there are about women. Having said that, I appreciate, of course, that women are oppressed by patriarchy in a way that men are not.

    Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 July 2008 at 12:41 pm

    mixing with feminist women they might realise stuff that affects us that they missed. even though i definitely see the need for women-only spaces, and that its better if focus on the man went to themselves to take responsibility for, cant expect feminism to bring equality if theres no communication. unless youre a separatist maybe, but i havent got the impression that they make a large percentage of readers.

    anne // Posted 24 July 2008 at 1:50 pm

    That’s interesting Paul. I always thought that women were oppressed by men. Lucky we’ve got a guy here to tell us what’s what, eh?

    It seems like the concept of patriarchy has been rejigged in order remove men’s responsibility for it. We’ll have to revert to calling it male supremacy so the weasel-worders aren’t able to let men off the hook.

    Whatever, it doesn’t sound like this group of men have changed their behaviour or their attitudes much if they can’t manage to meet without having some female company to make the occasion more palatable. I bet they are the same kind of dudes who insist on going on Take Back the Night marches too.

    Kath // Posted 24 July 2008 at 1:52 pm

    I agree with Leigh, these men are trying to change their behaviour and should be encouraged. I see the need for women-only spaces and think these can coexist alongside men-only and mixed-gender spaces.

    Paul – “Every minute spent sitting around engaging in mental masturbation is a minute that could be spent doing something hands-on around abortion rights, domestic violence, honour-based violence, forced marriage.”

    Of course, but so is every minute spent reading the paper, watching a film, taking a walk or commenting on thefword (except I am doing this from work, lol). It’s surely possible to do both. Plus feminism doesn’t have all the answers, we have to keep figuring things out. Society is constantly changing, not always for the better, and feminists should be thinking about and discussing the new challenges that will face us (not to mention the old ones that remain unsolved). Sites like thefword are a part of that process and so are conciousness-raising groups.

    Jess McCabe // Posted 24 July 2008 at 2:22 pm

    anne, I think that’s a bit unfair.

    (Some?) feminists have been saying that men need to examine their own masculinity and change their own behaviours for years. Surely that’s an essential part of the equation – as in, if men don’t check their privilege, examine what effect on the world they have, how much change is possible? I think it’s really positive that the London pro-feminist men’s group exists to do this.

    I have some qualms about this new group – I am not sure it’s appropriate for a mixed-gender group to focus mainly on masculinity issues (although I may be wrongly extrapolating that’s what they intend to do). But generally I think it’s unfair to make lots of assumptions about them insisting on going on Reclaim the Night, etc, without any kind of evidence at all to back that up.

    anne // Posted 24 July 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I said they were the same kinds of men as those who insist on going on Reclaim the Night, Jess, not that they actually did it. It’s men like that who have stopped me attending those marches near where I live because I want a night free of men, not being followed down the street by a group of them.

    They don’t sound that as if they’ve really grasped what male supremacy means if they’ve decided to lead a feminist group containing women. Back to the drawing board boys!

    Paul // Posted 24 July 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Anne, I’m not entirely sure how your comment relates to what I wrote. I said that patriarchy oppresses women in a way that is unique to their experience, but pointed out that sexist attitudes prevail throughout our society and culture, and are perpetuated by both men AND women; which is undeniably true. One of the things I found refreshing about Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs was that it pointed out the role women play in perpetuating sexism.

    Patriarchy and sexism are damaging to both sexes, despite the fact that our society privileges men of the middle- and upper-class over women of all classes and working-class men.

    Given that the basic foundation on which most feminist ideas are built is the idea that, other than the obvious physical differences there are very few, if any, meaningful differences between males and females, it disappoints me to see apparently separatist views being pushed here.

    Kath – yeah, sure, I agree that we can combine discussions and other activities alongside more material activity. However, I do think that talking-shops are very often an excuse for people to be very self-obsessed, self-indulgent and self-pitying, and are usually attended by people that don’t have any very pressing material problems to think about, and therefore no sense of urgency about actually changing things.

    Paul // Posted 24 July 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Anne, I’m not entirely sure how your comment relates to what I wrote. I said that patriarchy oppresses women in a way that is unique to their experience, but pointed out that sexist attitudes prevail throughout our society and culture, and are perpetuated by both men AND women; which is undeniably true. One of the things I found refreshing about Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs was that it pointed out the role women play in perpetuating sexism.

    Patriarchy and sexism are damaging to both sexes, despite the fact that our society privileges men of the middle- and upper-class over women of all classes and working-class men.

    Given that the basic foundation on which most feminist ideas are built is the idea that, other than the obvious physical differences there are very few, if any, meaningful differences between males and females, it disappoints me to see apparently separatist views being pushed here.

    Kath – yeah, sure, I agree that we can combine discussions and other activities alongside more material activity. However, I do think that talking-shops are very often an excuse for people to be very self-obsessed, self-indulgent and self-pitying, and are usually attended by people that don’t have any very pressing material problems to think about, and therefore no sense of urgency about actually changing things.

    Holly Combe // Posted 24 July 2008 at 4:17 pm

    I think it’s true that we need to watch out for dialogue that inadvertently tips into a traditional “men are naturally very sad if they can’t be in charge” lament. Plenty of men have been conditioned to feel they have to take the lead so I think it’s important that people are mindful of that potential sticking point while in mixed gender feminist groups. However, beyond that, I would say this is a positive thing and think that we all have our own way of considering our position in society and making steps to contribute to change. Some people will use very soul searching language to do that so -though I do see Rhona’s point about the possessive pronouns- I think we should perhaps give the benefit of the doubt.

    Laurel Dearing // Posted 24 July 2008 at 4:32 pm

    i think it could be a good place for women to point out when men do take the lead. they might realise how often they do it when usually they wouldnt because most women dont notice the subtle interruptions in normal conversations unless they were particularly rude, or wouldnt say anything about it.

    they might also see if they turn it round to their issues better when they have it pointed out. its positive. there could be a lot of potential arguments but i think that as long as they are pro-fem or feminist men that it could actually be beneficial much like when people discuss things on this site to explore and practice the diplomacy of less privileged speech in real social situations. its a lot harder not to say something offensive or interrupt when you cant edit what you say.

    as long as the people are members of other groups and they work towards some particular goals rather than just talk it would be interesting.

    Louise Livesey // Posted 25 July 2008 at 8:48 am

    Like others I am rather peturbed by this despite being initially very supportive of the pro-feminist mens group. And here’s my reasoning, their statement essentially says this

    the men-only experience has been very positive, especially in terms of deconstructing our role in patriarchy as oppressors, understanding how we got to become men, mutual support and raising our consciousness…but we felt strongly about trying to achieve similar results in a mixed environment.

    Which to me means the new group will be about deconstructing men’s role of patriarchy and how they became men. In short – it’s asking women to solve men’s problems (at best) or educating women about the hardships of masculinity (at worst). It goes on:

    A constructive dialogue between people of all genders which has a clearly feminist perspective….A group which takes the feminist principle “the personal is political” seriously and aims to create a space where we can talk openly about our own experiences of gender, of being oppressed and of perpetuating oppression, and not be afraid to be ourselves….An opportunity to learn from each other’s lives and to support each other’s struggles.

    So men want a group where they can talk about their experiences of gender and being oppressed and perpetuating oppression with women. Smacks awfully of “what about teh mens?” to me I’m afraid. Perhaps the men-only group should get back together and about how asking women to use their valuable time to listen to men talk about male construction of gender identity isn’t necessarily that feminist.

    Kath // Posted 25 July 2008 at 9:40 am

    I think it’s necessary because without any input from women, how can the men’s group be truly pro-feminist? Women are oppressed by patriarchy in a way that men are not and so women’s perspective is required for a true understanding of feminism. If the men just sit around chatting to each other all the time they could well be barking up all the wrong trees.

    Catherine Redfern // Posted 25 July 2008 at 10:15 am

    Personally I think some people are being too harsh. There are some (female) feminists who are really interested in working on this area (deconstructing masculinity) and presumably those people will be keen to get involved with this group.

    I don’t think that by making the group open to all that they are “asking women to do their work for them”. Surely people who are interested in working more closely with male feminists/pro-feminists on masculinity issues can join the group and those who want to concentrate on working with women and working only on women’s issues can continue to do so.

    Personally I don’t see a problem and the more men are interested in feminism, the better in my view.

    I’m not saying that groups like this should not be given constructive criticism, far from it – but I also think that these men can’t win no matter what they do, since one feminist or other will still think that they are doing the wrong thing and there are so many different opinions on how men should (or shouldn’t) be involved that they will always be criticised by someone.

    I think that very fact could partly explain the tentative, cautious, discussion-based nature of the group’s activities, because they are, quite rightly, trying to do ‘the right thing’ and not dictate to feminists what they should be doing or take over.

    Anyway that’s my two pence worth.

    MariaS // Posted 25 July 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Paul’s relief at finding that women can be sexist too – sheesh. It’s not a tit for tat situation, but think about why you only take it seriously if you can reframe it as that – as a situation where men are hurt by sexism.

    So, let’s see: in an oppressive system, it’s not just the oppressed that are hurt. Everyone including the oppressors lose out, so that is a persuasive reason for action. If we explain to the oppressors how they are being hurt, then they’ll come around to our point of view and help challenge the system. That’s a poor argument for me – why is it simply not enough to act because the oppressed are hurt by the system?

    Why do we have to convince men that patriarchy hurts them? Why is it not enough that patriarchy hurts women? (Answer: because in the system, the oppressors are inherently more important than the oppressed. So, while it’s a start, the PHMT tactic doesn’t get us very far on it’s own.)

    Polly Styrene makes some important points in comments on her own post on this subject (both real “light bulb” moments for me):

    “The concept of privileged groups confronting their privilege is an extremely problematic one. About the only sensible way that it can be done is for members of the privileged group to shut up and listen to members of the non privileged group.”

    http://sizeofacow.wordpress.com/2008/07/24/were-only-making-plans-for-nigel/#comment-2482

    (I’m involved in a feminist discussion group open to men – we only have one so far, he’s a sweetie :). I was concerned about this, about whether including them would mean men attending would take over, dominate & direct the discussion. But I just realised, I want some men to be there, to have to listen to what we women are saying for once).

    And, Polly making an analogy with white privilege:

    “… racism isn’t bad for me, it’s good for me, I’m a member of the privileged group. Deconstructing my own privilege won’t really do anything to change that privilege, yes I should be aware of it, but there is a danger of just becoming self congratulatory and just slapping myself on the back for being one of the ‘nice’ white people.”

    http://sizeofacow.wordpress.com/2008/07/24/were-only-making-plans-for-nigel/#comment-2486

    Good luck to this group anyway – the more people questioning and challenging the normalisation of gendered oppression and inequality, and fighting for women’s rights, the better.

    Final thought – a men’s group could be a valuable space for men to mutually support each other in deconstructing and challenging masculine gender norms. If men act or present in any way “like women” they face ridicule and violence from (mostly) other men hellbent on enforcing those norms. Yet men acting “like women” is a powerful way to show that gender is socially constructed. If men do things meant “for women” they show that they see themselves as equal to women. Similarly if men act collectively in support of women. Wasn’t there a bunch of boys in the US who decided to all wear pink as a protest in support of a girl classmate who was being harassed or discriminated against i some way? That’s the kind of cool thing such a men’s group might do. Or they could support each other in challenging sexism & misogyny in other men – maybe compare what worked, share effective responses.

    Paul // Posted 25 July 2008 at 4:01 pm

    MariaS – that is absolutely not what I said. I know that people deconstruct information to suit what they want to believe, that really takes the cake. I was making the point that sexism is endemic in our society, and is perpetuated by women as well as men. I also stated the obvious – that being socialised in to masculinity damages men emotionally, psychologically and otherwise.

    I could go on, but I can see it would be fruitless. sigh.

    Have Your say

    To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

    Sign in to the F-Word

    Further Reading

    Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

    Write for us!

    Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

    • The F-Word on Twitter
    • The F-Word on Facebook
    • Our XML Feeds