“Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. No matter what she’s wearing, no matter whether she’s in a bar, in a dormitory, in the back seat of a car, on a street, drunk or sober — no man has a right to go beyond the word ‘no.’ And if she can’t consent, it also means no. Men have to take more responsibility; men have to intervene. The measure of manhood is willingness to speak up and speak out, and begin to change the culture.”
—Vice President Joseph Biden
How could anyone—any man—not feel a bit more hopeful after reading a quote like that? And made by the vice president of the United States, no less. It’s been 20 years since then- Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware shepherded the Violence Again Women Act (VAWA) through Congress. Although it was a struggle to get it reauthorized last year, VAWA has been steadily gaining supporters from among a community of men known more for our silence than action on what was too long deemed a “women’s issue.”
That’s been changing. Gender justice activists were cheered when President Obama also spoke out unambiguously about men’s responsibility to challenge sexual violence as both Commander-in-Chief—and the father of two daughters. His statement only underscores the breadth of the sea change underway. All hands are on deck acknowledging that gender based violence is a “community” issue in which men must play a significant role in challenging. Yes, there’s a long way to go. Still, we can all be buoyed knowing this White House is the most profeminist administration in history.
I’ve long believed that those of us committed to social change—whether to achieve gender justice, restore a threatened democracy, or heal an endangered planet—have greatest success when we accentuate the positive. The bad news seems to take care of itself. Every day there are committed people around the world advancing a counternarrative—promoting what David Korten years ago dubbed “the great turning.” (If One Billion Rising on February 14 was ever going to consider another subtitle, I suggest “the great turning.”)
Of course we can’t ignore bad news—Steubenville and Sandy Hook, for example, make that impossible. Still, the media have a responsibility to strike a balance and for the most part good news is too often still under the radar. That’s why One Billion Rising has made such a breathtaking difference on a global scale. In the years I’ve been writing about gender justice and men’s responsibility to challenge violence against women, I’ve seesawed back and forth in search of that balance. As much as I’ve long written about the bad news (many of my commentaries have addressed domestic, sexual and gun violence—from Penn State to Sandy Hook), I’ve also worked to incorporate the vision and values of a new possibility for men and masculinities as reflected in the work of the profeminist men’s movement. It is in that movement that I have long seen not just a “hope” to transform conventional ideas about manhood but concrete action to realize it.
From the MenCare global fatherhood and mentoring campaign, a part of MenEngage, to the Sonke Gender Justice Network’s One Man Can program, supporting men and boys in taking action to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS, there is an unprecedented number of men’s organizations and individual men putting their shoulders to the wheel of change, a wheel women have been steering for decades.
Voice Male—both the new book on “the untold story of the profeminist men’s movement, and the magazine that chronicles the social transformation of masculinities—exist because of the women’s movement. Both were born out of women’s struggle for liberation. From off our backs and Ms. four decades ago to feministing, Women’s eNews, and Bitch today (to name just a few of our foremothers and present-day sisters), Voice Male unambiguously believes that not just a publication—but all men—can be both “male positive and profeminist.”
The first issue of the magazine came out in May 1983 as a four-page typewritten broadside. It carried no graphics, and featured listings of local, regional, and national events about “changing men.” The back page featured a poem, “Thoughts on Withdrawal” by David Grief. It included these lines: “I hide behind my walls, my moat, my boiling oil, my drawbridge: a man’s heart is his castle, mine is secure. . . .” At the end of the poem he writes, “I am scared, frightened . . . what if I die in my castle all by myself . . . I think I’ll let the drawbridge down.” Like Voice Male, the profeminist men’s movement is for and about the men trapped behind the castle walls and those who have let the drawbridge down. And, of course, it’s for the men in between yearning for connection even in the grip of painful isolation.
Whether you write it for V-Men, Voice Male, or your private journal, consider recounting your story of change—a memory of letting the drawbridge down. It is in the sharing of our collective “untold story” that we can experience our own “great turning” where boyhood and manhood will be seen as a place for all men to know our hearts, our tears, our full humanity.
Rob Okun’s new book, VOICE MALE – The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement (Interlink Books) was just published. The editor of Voice Male magazine, he speaks on campuses and before community groups across the U.S.
He can be reached at [email protected]