The Ottawa Citizen

March 2001
SECTION: NEWS, Pg. A13 Philip Lee

HEADLINE: In search of the New Warrior: The feminist movement has radically changed the way women work, play and view themselves. Now, it's men's turn for change. In this fourth instalment of a special series, the Citizen examines today's multi-faceted men's movement.

For decades, the feminist revolution has been pushing and prodding men to change.

Finally, at the dawn of the new century, men are moving, but not all in the same direction. Men have dispersed into hundreds of factions, each with its own agenda.

Men's groups are lobbying for reform in the family courts (myriad fathers' rights groups), initiating men into manhood through warrior rituals (the New Warrior Training Adventure), encouraging men to return to traditional family roles and adopt fundamentalist Christian ethics (the Promise Keepers), supporting more involved fathers (the National Fatherhood Initiative), confronting feminists, embracing feminists (the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, NOMAS), moving into mainstream politics (The Australian Men's Party), lobbying against male circumcision (the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males, NOHARMM), and regenerating foreskins (the National Organization of Restoring Men, NORM).

The problem men face is that they want to wage a war but can find no enemy, says feminist journalist Susan Faludi, the author of Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Men feel oppressed, but can identify no oppressor.

"The male paradigm of confrontation, in which an enemy could be identified, contested, and defeated, was endlessly transferable," Ms. Faludi writes. "It proved useful as well to activists in the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, the gay rights movement and the environmental movement. It was, in fact, the fundamental organizing principle of virtually every concerted countercultural campaign of the last half century. Yet it could launch no 'men's movement.' Herein lies the bedeviling paradox, and the source of male inaction: the model women have used to revolt is the exact one men not only can't use, but are trapped in. The solution for women has proved the problem for men."

Suzanne Braun Levine, one of the founding editors of Ms. magazine, says men want liberation as much as women wanted it, yet men have found no target for their frustrations. "Organizations that have claimed or been saddled with (the men's lib) banner have for the most part seemed kooky, self-indulgent, or extreme," she writes in her book, Father Courage. "Politically they have either aligned themselves so closely to the women's movement that they operate like a gentlemen's auxiliary or have been so reactionary that their agenda would, in effect, undermine equality within the family."

Some men's rights groups believe they have found an enemy in feminists. For example, Peter Zohrab of the New Zealand Men for Equal Rights Association, lists on his Web site the issues that interest him, inclu-ding men's health, boy's education, child abuse by females, domestic violence against men, parental alienation syndrome, circumcision, rape of males, custody and child support, abortion and rape laws. Then he states that his common theme is "feminism, the state ideology, whereby women have rights, men have responsibilities and children have their lives ruined."

Other men support feminism and attempt to transform themselves without confrontation by immersing themselves in the world of myth.

A decade ago, the poet, Robert Bly, wrote of the sufferings of the modern man in his bestselling book, Iron John. Mr. Bly constructed a fascinating mythopoetic vision of modern manhood's failures and potential for salvation around the fairy tale of Iron John, a Wild Man discovered at the bottom of a pond who becomes a mentor to a young boy. The Wild Man, "who resembles a Zen priest, a shaman, or a woodsman more than a savage," can be found within every man, Mr. Bly writes.

Men responded to feminism, he says, by becoming softer and more feminine, which was a positive development, but their journey shouldn't end there. This modern, gentle man is not happy, Mr. Bly insists. He lacks vitality and masculine energy.

"Men are suffering right now -- young men especially," Mr. Bly writes. "Now that so many men have gotten in touch with their grief, their longing for father and mentor connections, we are more ready to start seeing the Wild Man and to look again at initiation."

Every weekend this year, somewhere in North America, the Mankind Project will initiate new warriors. About 20,000 men in Canada and the United States have participated in the New Warrior Training Adventure, a weekend of outdoor pursuits, introspection, games and seminars, all designed to help men connect with the warrior within.

"It offers a man the opportunity to look at how his life is working for him or isn't working for him," says Drury Heffernan, the international administrator of the warrior weekends. "It offers him the opportunity to initiate change. It's a men's initiation weekend.

"It breaks down the old paradigm of what a warrior is. The warrior is not necessarily the bloodthirsty evil image that has been handed down. The new warrior is able to be firm and soft at the same time."

What does a New Warrior look like? "Every man, any man," Mr. Heffernan replies. "He's not the John Wayne image, the two-fisted drinker, bar brawling, womanizing stud. He is a more whole, complete, sensitized, compassionate man of mission and service to his family, his community, his career and global society."

The Christian men's group, the remarkably successful Promise Keepers, has attracted tens of thousands of men to its vision of man as provider. The Promise Keepers is the brainchild of Bill McCartney, the former head football coach for the University of Colorado, and his friend, Dave Wardell, who during a car ride in 1990 discussed the idea of filling stadiums with Christian men. Since then, more than 3.5 million men have attended Promise Keepers arena conferences across North America.

A Promise Keeper makes seven promises: to pray and worship Jesus Christ; to pursue vital relationships with other men; to practise spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity; to build a strong family and marriage; to support the mission of his church; to reach beyond racial and denominational divisions; and to help make the world a better place.

Mr. McCartney has given up coaching to work with the Promise Keepers and now produces a national radio commentary he calls 4th and Goal: Coaching For Life's Tough Calls.

Michael Kimmel, the author of Manhood in America, believes the strident, anti-feminist men's rights groups that claim they are the new victims of reverse discrimination are going nowhere fast with their message, "Hey what about us. You're not focusing enough on us. All this conversation about everybody else, who's going to take care of me?"

Similarly, Mr. Kimmel admires the new age vision of the work of the mythopoets -- he would prefer there be "more Ironing Johns and fewer Iron Johns" -- while the Promise Keepers promotes a vision that "would send us back into the early 19th century."

What would happen if men simply embraced a vision of equality?

"Feminists have always argued that men can do better, that we're not biologically programmed to be rapacious beasts, that we can be the kind of fathers we say we want to be, we can be the kind of partners we say we want to be," Mr. Kimmel says. "Feminism encourages men to share housework and child care, to see our family life as important, to no longer see conquest and violence as a way to have sex. I think feminism is the best thing that ever happened to us."

How does a pro-feminist men's group operate in the real world? Are these men simply a gentlemen's auxiliary, as Ms. Braun Levine suggests, or "a bunch of eunuchs," as some of the more strident men's rights advocates declare?

In Amherst, Massachusetts, a dedicated group of men has been proving these stereotypes wrong for the past 18 years. In 1983, a group of Amherst men decided to open a men's centre, which has grown into the Men's Resource Centre of Western Massachusetts, becoming a model for similar centres throughout North America, its members training in Halifax, Maine, New York, New Mexico and North Carolina. The founders of this group were inspired by the feminist movement to try to create a masculine culture that more authentically reflects the diversity of men's lives.

In their view, while women were being oppressed, men were being dehumanized. They recognized that masculinity was in transition. Men were being asked to find new ways of relating to their partners and families and work and many were confused, disoriented and overwhelmed.

The centre would be a place where men could acknowledge their pain, whether it be physical, mental or emotional, a safe haven where they didn't have to "suck it up" or "walk it off."

They also wanted to respond to men's violence. Society was responding to the victims, but not addressing the perpetrators. They wanted to make a statement that men do care about violence, oppression and inequality and want to make a contribution to the lives of men, women and families.

Steven Botkin was there from the beginning and is now the centre's executive director. He says men must make connections with other men instead of fighting or ignoring feminism, and recognize that "feminism has laid the groundwork and pointed us in a direction. Let's see how we can add our piece to the puzzle and work as allies so we are all in this together."

Instead of becoming another lobby group, the men of Amherst decided to focus their energies and resources on providing services to their communities. They run drop-in support groups every week, some for men of all stripes, and others for men who are gay, bisexual or questioning their sexuality, survivors of abuse, men over 50, and fathers.

The resource centre launched its Men Overcoming Violence Program in 1989 and has since been certified as a batterer-intervention program by the state.

The center also runs a program for young men, focusing in particular on school violence.

Last spring, members of Men for Change in Halifax travelled to Amherst to meet with Mr. Botkin and his colleagues about bringing some of their ideas to Canada. Men for Change was formed in response to the 1989 Montreal massacre of female engineering students to help men and encourage healthy relationships with women.

Executive director Peter Davison has developed an education program for schools called Healthy Relationships that is now being used by teachers throughout North America. The text helps teachers guide teenagers when they are discussing the socialization of boys and girls, sexism and violence.

Men for Change holds quarterly retreats for men and, like its counterpart in Massachusetts, runs weekly drop-in support groups for men.

Mr. Davison, 41, says men don't need to turn themselves into victims.

"Surviving and learning to love is what's being offered to men," he says. "When feminists say 'wake up' and the backlash occurs and men say 'we don't want to wake up, we want you to go back to your role as a housewife so we can stay the same,' that's where a lot of the tension and conflict comes from. That's what a lot of the men's rights group are generating. Feminism is presenting a very strong challenge for men to wake up to love."

Mr. Davison notes that when the first women's rights convention was held in New York in 1854, 48 of the 100 people who signed a radical document call the Declaration of Sentiment were men who recognized that the liberation of women would also be their liberation.

Since then, men have turned their energies toward other causes -- civil rights, the peace movement, protecting the environment -- but have spent little energy on themselves.

"The energy of masculinity is the kind of energy that goes out and does stuff," Mr. Davison says. "It hasn't taken the shape of personal support groups.

"What are our choices for the future?" he asks. "Status quo? Change? Adapt? Mutate?

"There's a lot of pain out there, but there's also a lot of hope and promise."