Anti-sexist men’s groups are a valuable strategy for both personal and collective change. In this XY collection, we bring together some key resources on men’s groups: discussions of their political value and potential, guides to how to form and run them, and wider explorations.
For men seeking to build gender equality, profeminist men’s groups can be a valuable means of change. As I wrote recently in my book Engaging Men and Boys in Violence Prevention (2018), “Another key strategy here is the provision of safe and supportive spaces in which men can engage in critical reflection. Non-judgmental environments for open discussion and dialogue are valuable means to foster men’s feminist awareness and lessen their defensiveness […] Critical reflection can be used for both personal change, shifting men’s identities and their relations with women and other men, and social change, inspiring and sustaining collective activism.”
“The physical exclusion of women from such spaces is controversial, with some authors arguing that this reinforces the privileging of male voices and risks the reproduction of dominant forms of masculinity and complicity in violence […] While I have described such environments as ‘safe spaces’, safety here does not mean freedom from discomfort or critique. Such spaces should involve honest and robust discussion of men’s involvements in sexism and violence, while limiting hostile and shaming dynamics […] Processes of accountability therefore are a vital part of the workings of all-male spaces.” (Flood 2018: 172-173)
Critical, personal reflection and discussion are vital processes if men are to come to more progressive understandings of gender and violence. Again as I wrote in my book, “Violence prevention education should involve men in consciousness-raising or conscientization, involving structured space for reflection on personal values, perceptions and power. This is a vital way for men to start to question dominant constructions of masculinity and develop egalitarian masculinities […] It is particularly important that this work engage men in critical reflections on their own and other men’s privilege […] Men also should be involved in critical reflection on their own positions and practices as allies for change.” (Flood 2018: 197)
I provide a longer discussion of the merits of single-sex and mixed-sex groups on 204-207 of my book, available free in PDF.
The politics of men’s groups
Men’s groups have radical possibilities, argued Michael Gilding in this early piece (1982). Even earlier, Leonard Schein (1977) argues for the anti-sexist value of men's consciousness-raising groups, in Jon Snodgrass's collection A Book of Readings: For Men Against Sexism. Bob Pease explores men’s groups’ contradictions, limitations, and political potential in this early piece (1988). I make similar arguments in this 1994 piece, including mention of my own experience in men’s consciousness-raising and activist groups.
How to form and run a men’s group
There is some writing from the early decades of men’s profeminist and anti-violence activism which explores how to form and run men’s groups. A 1977 piece by Paul Carlo Hornacek, in Jon Snodgrass's collection A Book of Readings: For Men Against Sexism describes how to run anti-sexist men's consciousness-raising groups, and it is complemented by Leonard Schein's piece in the same collection. This 1987 piece by George Marx explores building and sustaining a healthy men's anti-rape group. Stephen Schapiro describes 'A Freirian Approach to Anti-Sexist Education for Men' (2001). Tal Peretz describes how to develop a mission statement for your men’s group (2014). The Forte Foundation (2016) has produced a toolkit on starting a male ally group, e.g. for male students in business schools. Men's Resources International (USA) produced a guide to 'masculinity reflection groups', in collaboration with CARE Mali and Niger.
This XY collection of manuals provides detailed guidance on the content and curricula of community education groups among men.
There is also writing on men’s groups from the more therapeutic wings of the ‘men’s movement’, oriented e.g. towards ‘men’s liberation’, and from among efforts e.g. to address men’s health. (See this encyclopedia entry to get a handle on the different wings or strands of men’s movement activity.) This older piece by Milton Slater explores leaderless men’s groups. Kenneth Solomon’s book Men in Transition: Theory and Therapy (1982) includes a chapter on men’s groups, by Terry Stein. An Australian paper by Janya McCalman and colleagues (2006) makes the argument for why indigenous men’s groups are valuable.
There are some other online guides to anti-sexist consciousness-raising groups for men, such as:
- Newman, How to start a consciousness-raising group for men 2017
Codes of conduct
Overlapping with the guides above, there are various materials that explore codes of conduct for men: in men’s groups and networks, at conferences, and in feminist spaces. For example, there are codes of conduct from Men Can Stop Violence (USA), White Ribbon Australia, and the international MenEngage Alliance.
On conferences (as well as online spaces), relevant materials include these 12 Helpful Suggestions for Men Regarding Conduct in Feminist Spaces, another set of Suggestions for Men Regarding Conduct in Feminist Spaces (Farrand, 2007), and this older guide to ‘Appropriate behaviour at the conference’ by the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) (1993).
Small, grassroots, anti-sexist men’s groups first emerged in various countries in the 1970s, in the wake of the second wave of feminism. Groups in Australia had names such as Men Against Patriarchy (MAP), Men Opposing Patriarchy (MOP), and the Men’s Anti Gender Injustice Group (MAGIC). Such groups have risen and fallen since then, but remain an important part of men’s profeminist activism.
Academic writing on men’s groups, and on men’s movements and networks more widely, is listed here.