Welcome to men's work! And thank you for reaching out to your brother in distress. There is a glue that holds the fabric of our society together, and that glue is the support and good-will of our neighbours. In creating a support organization for men you are fostering the growth of understanding of men for themselves, and for everybody in the arena of men's issues.
There is a panoply of men's issues that the world is seemingly waking up to. Of course women's issues are real and deserving of support. Entrenched cultural attitudes around the world often subjugate women to lesser or subservient roles to men. But in the western cultures, massive strides have been taken towards equality and the establishment of support structures in many areas for women. This is good work, and deserves continued support, and in no way is men's work intended to demean or suppress women, or turn back the clock on women's issues.
The focus on women's issues has taken place over many decades, and in many forms. Overt political action has raised awareness about women's aspirations and hopes and desire for self-determination and self-expression outside the home environment. Initially feminist activists were laughed at, ridiculed and suppressed. Victories were hard won, required determination and strength, but gradually men came on board and supported women's aspirations as they were persuaded by the moral arguments and the passion of women who played leading roles and made tremendous sacrifices. The history of feminism makes fascinating reading and is enlightening for men who embark on the adventure of exploring masculine issues.
The parallels are there, and the lessons are there. Victories will be hard won. You may be ridiculed and your ideas suppressed, even your rights denied. Determination and strength of will is required. Change may take decades. There is an entrenched social attitude that is in denial or asleep to the very real issues of men. But gradually leaders will find compelling moral arguments, be willing to take a stand and speak for equality for men; and gradually the men's movement will take foothold, and win more converts, both amongst men and women.
This is not a gender battle! The 'mystery' of men and women is about complementing each other; working, living and loving together, and finally having the opportunity of creating life-fulfilling partnerships. No, it's not a gender battle; this mutuality will never change for individual men and women. But it is a political battle; a battle of ideologies, and finally of dollars, as varying groups must argue for a piece of the financial pie to fund their programs and organizational structures.
Let's not be naive; the political arena is adversarial - there are winners and losers. Entrenched feminist ideologues have attempted to rewrite history as the oppression of women by men. The most cynical (mislead?) attempt to paint men as inherently oppressive or dangerous to women. Astoundingly, some of these extremists maintain positions of influence and power; from this place they are able to guide social actions and even help construct laws that are so unbalanced vis-à-vis gender issues, that they may fairly be judged to poison gender interactions, with corresponding tears in the social fabric. This malaise must be confronted by fair-minded men and women. I believe the time of the extremist is coming to an end, fortunately.
In the meantime, these feminist extremists will paint any advance on men's issues as a loss for women; this is to be expected - they are attempting to 'win', to maintain their position of power and uphold a belief-system that maintains women as victim, and men as oppressor, and that fails to fairly take into account men's contributions to society, men's aspirations, men's rights, and men's needs.
When will mainstream feminism speak to some of these men's issues? - men are twice as likely to be victims of violence as women are; the suicide rate for men is four times the rate for women; men are 20 times more likely to die on the job than women through workplace accidents. (These figures are quoted for Canada.) Perhaps more men are victims of sexual assault and rape as perpetrated in our prisons, than women in general are - does anyone care to do that study and confront that issue? Again, this is not about denying the realities that women face, it is about waking up to the realities that men face.
When we focus exclusively on the needs and victimization of one gender, women, we inevitably paint the other gender as oppressor and undeserving of support. This is ultimately inhumane and desperately unfair. It creates misunderstanding between men and women and further erodes the social fabric. Fatherhood is under attack - in divorce proceedings fathers are routinely denied shared custody rights supposedly 'in the best interests of the child' - and consequently frequently excluded from meaningful participation in their children's upbringing. Meanwhile our prisons are full of men and boys who were raised without a father.
Have we gone so far to the extreme in supporting women's gains that we have lost balance and are actually harming our children, gender interactions, and abusing men through our negligence of men's issues? When will men's programs (support groups, anti-suicide, prisoners rights, fathers rights etc.) start to receive funding equivalent to funding provided for women's programs? Is feminism really about equality? Feminism is losing adherents and credibility precisely because it is failing to find balance in gender issues and failing to address the very real issues of men; after all, individual women and men are interested in forming loving partnerships based on mutual respect and equality. A feminist agenda that loses sight of this mutuality does us all a disservice and needs to be vigorously confronted.
It might fairly be said that women hold the moral higher ground when it comes to gender issues; any time a man attempts to speak of his issues, his needs, his rights, it's hard for him not to appear resentful or disparaging or dismissive of women's issues in the current social climate. Thus ascendant feminism has cast a shadow over 'masculism' that it is hard to move away from.
Perhaps one way to be heard is to begin any dialogue stating that while you seek to advance your issues, this is not about diminishing or attacking women's gains; it is about mutuality, and equality of need. And then you may need to repeat that statement every third sentence. And still not be heard…
You must ask your detractors if feminism really is about equality, then when is it time to address those areas where men are in need and suffering too? Are we building walls or bridges between men and women? -Fostering alienation or understanding? Change is starting to happen, as courageous feminists are challenging the most extreme elements of feminism. But men have to learn to speak up for themselves; men have to learn how to support themselves and each other, and be willing to enter the political arena on their own behalf.
Let me draw a picture for you: If a terrorist throws a bomb into a room and a man and a women are injured, normal human decency and compassion says we should help both the man and the woman. How could it be otherwise? And yet there are metaphorical bombs going off in our society today, and too often feminism can be seen to say - help the woman - ignore the man.
This is not about claiming victimhood, it is about saying that individual people have rights and needs and are deserving of recognition and support, and that no distinction should be made on the colour of their skin, the religion they follow, their sexual orientation, and finally, when we all wake up, whether they are a woman or a man.