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Todd's Research on Changing Men

This is a brief summary of some of the findings from my research on pro-feminist men's groups. As I am new to this area of study these findings are only exploratory. I would love to here your input, corrections, questions about what I have found. I had a total of 12 respondents to my questionnaire. 8 men were from Canada and 4 from the United States. Along with the questionnaire I also visited group web-sites, read writings and pamphlets submitted by respondents and reviewed articles and books written on the topic of pro-feminist men's groups.

If you are interested, and have not already seen it, there is an Extensive Bibliograhy on this topic that Michael Flood has put together and posted on a web-site out of Australia.

For the majority of my discussion I focus on the answers of only 11 respondents and leave out one man's questionnaire. I did this because he admitted that he was not a member of a pro-feminist group per se, but instead belonged to a mythopoetic group. I still consider his answers interesting and valid, but did not think it was appropriate to include them in this study.

How men become involved in pro-feminist issues

Harry Christian wrote a book entitled "The Making of Anti-Sexist Men", in which he discusses the results of interviews he conducted with 30 anti-sexist men. He found that the majority of his respondents had been drawn to pro-feminism by early life experiences which departed from conventional gender expectations, adult feminist influences or a combination of the two. I had similar findings in my study. However I did expand my definition of early childhood experiences to include leftist-liberal, social justice upbringings. Six of my respondents mentioned being influenced by feminist friends (wives etc.) and five discussed early life experiences that were conducive to developing an anti-sexist outlook. Only one respondent mentioned a combination of both.

How respondents decided to join the particular groups to which they belong

Of my respondents 2 were invited to join groups by pro-feminist friends. The remaining nine either founded their own group (n=5) or actively sought out information and joined on their own, with no invitation (n=4). These numbers tend to indicate that the majority of respondents actively created or sought out a group to join only after becoming interested in pro-feminist issues.

Goals of Pro-feminist Groups

In the questionnaire I asked each respondent to list what he thought were the goals of the group to which he belonged. I then recorded whether a respondent listed goals for "personal" change, "social" change or a combination of the two. I took personal change to be efforts such as recognizing their own sexism, attempting to reduce their own sexist behaviour etc., while I took social change to be efforts which went beyond individual change, such as lobbying governments and organizing protests. 8 respondents listed social goals only, while the remaining 3 listed a combination of both personal and social. I would really appreciate input on this. In your response did you list personal or social goals? Do you think they should be separated at all? Can you have social without personal or vice-versa?

Efforts Being Made to Achieve Goals

The next question I wanted to try and answer was "are these men working in ways that are going to achieve the goals they have set for the group?" This does appear to be the case. All 11 respondents when asked "how do you hope to achieve your goals?" listed social efforts their groups were making such as producing news articles, fund-raising and speaking at schools. 4 respondents also mentioned personal actions such as going on retreats and holding reflection groups.

As a second check on the group's attempts at goal attainment, I asked respondents to state what they felt were the most beneficial aspects of the group. Every respondent listed "personal" benefits such as support, and belonging to a community of like-minded men. However, only four mentioned "social" benefits. This is somewhat of reversal from the answers to the above question where all respondents listed social goals. My guess is that respondents tendency to emphasize the personal benefits over the social ones may be partly explained by their groups' limited resources, which in turn limits their ability to affect change. It may be that emphasizing personal gains is a way to keep a positive outlook when their greater social efforts are not having the impacts they had hoped. This is only a theory, so I would like to have your input.

Accountability and the Women's Movement

I did not directly ask in my questionnaire if respondents had done work with women's groups. However, when I asked "how do members attempt to achieve their goals?" three respondents did mention working with women's groups and other feminists. I was surprised that more respondents had not mentioned this so I asked most to elaborate on this in my follow-up questions. Not everyone responded to my follow-up questions but of those who did all said that their groups had worked with women's groups in some capacity, with some having more involvement than others. I got the feeling from responses that the issue of accountability to women's groups is a difficult one that most of the groups had struggled with at some point or another. Many of the respondents mention problems with funding and deciding which women's groups to work with. Several men did recognize accountability as a problem with their group and stated that they were making efforts to improve relationships with women's groups. Others mentioned that accountability was a problem at one point but that their group had since become more responsive and have forged positive relationships with women's groups.

Limitations and Barriers to Pro-feminist Efforts

All but one respondent said that there were limitations to his group's ability to achieve stated goals. Of these ten respondents nine listed two or more limitations. What follows is a list of the most cited limitations:

-5 respondents (representing five different groups) listed size as a limiting factor, especially the difficulty in getting new, interested volunteers

-7 respondents (also representing 5 different groups) said that poor organization was a problem - there seems to be some tension over the need to avoid conflicts in groups (i.e. non-hierarchical structure, as stated by 4 men) and the need for definite organization with a group leader to get things done, as indicated by another 5 respondents

-half of my respondents cited lack of funds as a serious limitation to their ability to achieve stated goals, also 4 men mentioned that the problem of scarce resources is exacerbated by the need to be accountable to women's groups and not accepting funds that may be directed at their efforts - this represents a difficult problem to which no respondents had any solutions - maybe you could expand on this for me -another problem cited by 5 respondents is that the pro-feminist message: "that men must give up their sexism" is not one which many men support, and has a tendency to threaten other men

-another limitation is that in several groups there exists an ambiguity over goals, and also goals such as ending sexism are very large and difficult to attain

Pro-feminist Achievements

In spite of these many limitations it is really quite remarkable how much has been accomplished by those who responded to my questionnaire. There are too many achievements to mention here, but one thing I did notice from the responses I received is that some initiatives were more successful than others. The groups that were most successful focused on a couple relatively simple, attainable initiatives that had mass appeal, for example: getting men to wear white ribbons, building a memorial wall across from the Vietnam wall to remember the thousands of women who have died at the hands of men, creating an anti-violence curriculum to teach to children in schools

-finally, a few respondents mentioned that efforts must be made to build connections and share resources with other groups with similar social justice concerns. In these tough times of cutbacks this may be a necessary and effective way to gain support and be heard

These findings are only a first step in my research, and are by no means intended to be the final say on this matter. I have intentionally not presented any conclusions to my findings. Instead I would like to have your input and suggestions. My hope is that by sharing this information with men from different groups some type of dialogue and discussion may be created. So please do respond with your thoughts and comments. If you disagree with something I wrote or feel that I have left something out, let me know. I personally do not feel that after a small research project with only a dozen respondents I can draw any definite conclusions. Instead I hope to use this information and the ongoing dialogue with yourself and other respondents as a stepping stone to further, more extensive research in this area.


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