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After O.J.: An Open Call to the Men's Movement

by Mike Dash

Author' s Note: Seattle is home to two of the leading men' s journals in the country--M.E.N. Magazine and Activist Men's Journal. [Editor: actually, three, including Backlash!, a monthly journal on Men's Rights and responses to what it labels as "pop-feminism.] Yet location is the only thing that M.E.N. Magazine and the Activist Men's Journal share: readership, topics, focus, and authors are completely separate.

This odd situation is symptomatic of a deep split in the men's movement between mythopoetry and pro-feminism. They are not even on speaking terms at present, but we need both. Mythopoetry develop what is missing--a vibrant, life-affirming masculinity. Pro-feminism works on eliminating what is toxic--a death-dealing, violent masculinity. And neither approach can succeed alone.

This article is an attempt to sort out some misunderstandings and start a dialogue between movements.

There is a lot of talk about O.J., though the jury is not in. Why? Most men have never killed anyone; we could just shake our heads and dismiss the topic. What keeps bringing it back into our minds?

The answer is that O.J.. was nothing if not mythic. He was a modern American hero--and we are definitely dealing with myth here, although in video form. Among our images of heroic masculinity, there was 03.: fast, resourceful, and flexible.

What disturbs us is the possibility that something is wrong with our contemporary mythology. We sense--something systematic, not just an alleged flaw in the personality of one man.

And what is really disturbing is this: we do not yet know how deeply it has affected each of us.

This is what is underneath our morbid fascination with OJ. It is essential that we face it, and mythopoetry can help.

So mythopoetry can help us with the inner work. However, we also need outer work and mythopoetry is not now doing it in this area. Understanding why this work is blocked is critical to moving the dialogue--and the movement--forward. As it tums out, pro-feminism and mythopoetry have each played a part.

The first thing that is apparent is that mythopoetry can't even see the work right now, much less do it. The reason is that it is so occupied with defending itself from blame. There is a great cry of wounded rage coming out of mythopoetry: it's not our fault, don't blame us, we're not bad.

The answer is yes, that's right. It is not a bad thing to be a man-though there is at times a harshness in pro-feminism that makes it sound as if it is. This harshness, however, is only skin- deep. The heart of pro-feminism is not about serf-hatred or male- bashing: it sees men as just as funny, warm, courageous and human as women. It addresses problems in the values, attitudes and practices that we were all taught-and have all to some extent absorbed.

Our situation is like that of freeborn Americans during the time of slavery. If we had lived then, we might have come to see that slavery was wrong even though the culture at large supported it. Having realized that, we might have wondered how much we had absorbed the hidden attitudes, rationalizations and beliefs the culture used to make slavery seem natural and right. And then we might have chosen to confront those attitudes in ourselves, question them in others, and work toward ending slavery.

So let us return to the present and the topic at hand. We are not to blame for what we were taught. What pro-feminism asks is, What will we now do about it? And pro-feminism celebrates every man who stands as a man of conscience, who takes on the work of repairing what is wrong. Thus the goal of pro-feminism is to undo what is toxic, and it should have a natural alliance with mythopoetry. I call on pro-feminism to stop attacking and begin building bridges.

In the meantime, however, mythopoetry is overreacting. There are three ways men can respond to the critique of mascu- linity: guilt, denial, and action. Mythopoetry has sensibly de- clined the option of guilt. But between the remaining two, mythopoetry is starting to choose denial. This is in some ways understandable. One of the Savage Man's protective mechanisms is to make himself hard to see, and another is to make the cure look like poison. Unfortunately, these mechanisms are currently over- coming mythopoetry's better judgment.

For example, mythopoetry is addressing the topic of domes- tic violence against women by claiming that women's domestic violence against men is equivalent. This may be a comforting claim, but it is difficult to find evidence to support iL Of course, any idea is open to question. And it can always be said that evidence is inconclusive: after all, the tobacco lobby still says there is no proof that smoking causes cancer.

In the specific case of domestic violence, however, we have an enormous amount of very consistent evidence. Women are murdered by men at about ten times the rate that men are murdered by women. Across the spectrum, the evidence is similar in murder, in assault, by strangers or by intimates. It is difficult to see how a ten-to-one ratio of violence outside the home would suddenly change to a one-to-one ratio inside the home. In the absence of a sound explanation and consistent supporting data, it looks like mythopoetry may get led down the path of denial.

So if denial is a poor choice--and hoping that mythopoetry will not be pulled in--let us turn to the third way men can respond to the critique of masculinity. This is the choice of action, of outer work.

Pro-feminism can help here, since it has a longstanding focus on action. Here, pro-feminism focuses specifically on violence against women rather than violence in general. The, reason is that if violence is the flaw in today's mythology of manhood, then violence against women is the center of that flaw.

Of course, this is also the center of a nerve for men-and one that is sometimes stung by the zealousness of pro-feminists. Thus it is worth repeating that the target is not men, and pro-feminists do not consider that being a man is bad. The target is those aspects of masculinity that are toxic. So what makes violence against women a good topic for men to work on?

First, it is a colossal and epidemic problem. To take just one statistic, about l American woman in 3 will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime: that means about40 million women in the U.S. today.

It is important to note that sexual assault is much more prevalent here than in other Westem countries (for instance, a woman is thirteen times more likely to be raped in the U.S. than in England). This confirms that we are not looking at something fundamentally, inherently bad about men. Rather, it is something specific about this time, this country-so it can be changed.

Second, to paraphrase: all that is necessary for violence against women to continue is for men of conscience to do nothing. Just as we would say that it was incumbent upon freeborn Americans to oppose slavery, so it is incumbent on men of conscience to oppose violence against women.

Finally, violence against women affects us all. It directly affects the women who are attacked. It affects women who are not attacked, by poisoning the atmosphere with fear, distrust and anger. And it affects men, because we are subject to male-on-male violence.

So what can we do? Each man can best answer that question himself. Them are three areas to look at: personal, social, and community life.

In the personal realm, there is a lot to be learned. In particular, we can learn from women because they are outside the manhood myth. Writings by Deborah Tannen, Susan Jeffords, bell hooks, Carol Travis and Riane Eisler are good starting points. And we can listen to the insights of women we know.

In the social realm, we can publicly stand for an end to violence against women. Also, we can begin speaking about our support of feminism again. We can no longer let the occasional harshness of pro-feminism drive us into overreacting.

In the realm of community life, there are many volun leer and nonprofit groups to work with.

Here we are in the aftermath of O.J. looking at the fault lines in today's manhood myth. We have a lot of inner and outer work to do. Pro-feminism and mythopoetry have a long-overdue opportunity to work together and a lot to contribute to each other. And we all have a lot to gain. .

Dash is active in both mythopoetry and pro-feminism. He is a founding member of Seattle Men Against Sexual Harassment, a member of Seattle NOW, and on the board directors of Alternatives to Fear (a nationally-known organization that teaches women self-defense against rape). He has also participated in numerous mythopoetic ritual groups, wisdom councils, ceremonies and men's conferences. His writing has appeared in Masculinities (published by the National Organization for Men Against Sexism), M.E.N. Magazine, Activist Men's Journal, the Men's Council Journal and MAN!


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