Rob Okun: Why men who support gender justice must let down ‘the drawbridge’

Last modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
“Our daughters, our sisters, our wives, our mothers, our grandmothers have every single right to expect to be free from violence and sexual abuse. ... 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

AMHERST — How could any man not feel a bit more hopeful after reading this recent remark from the vice president of the United States? It’s been 20 years since then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware shepherded the Violence Against Women Act through Congress. Although it was a struggle to get it reauthorized last year, the act has been gaining support from men — a gender known more for its 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 spoke out as both commander-in-chief and the father of two daughters about men’s responsibility to challenge sexual violence. His statement underscores the breadth of the change underway. Gender-based violence is a “community” issue 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. (Vice President Biden invited profeminist antiviolence advocates to a “listening session” at the White House last Friday.)

I believe that those of us committed to social change find greatest success when we accentuate the positive.

The bad news seems to take care of itself. Still, every day committed people around the world advance a counter-narrative —promoting what David Korten years ago dubbed “the great turning.”

Of course we can’t ignore bad news. But the media has a responsibility to strike a balance and for the most part good news goes unreported.

In the years I’ve been writing about gender justice and men’s responsibility to challenge violence against women, I’ve seesawed in search of that balance. As much as I’ve written about the bad news (domestic, sexual and gun violence from Penn State to Sandy Hook), I’ve also worked to incorporate the vision and values of the new possibility reflected in the profeminist men’s movement.

It is there I have seen not just a “hope” to transform conventional ideas about manhood but action to realize it.

An unprecedented number of men’s organizations and individual men are putting their shoulders to the wheel of change, a wheel women have been steering for decades. The groups range from the Men’s Resource Center for Change locally to the MenCare global fatherhood and mentoring campaign and South Africa’s Sonke Gender Justice Network, which coordinates the One Man Can program.

Voice Male — both my new book on “the untold story of the profeminist men’s movement and the magazine of that name — exist because of the women’s movement. Both were born out of women’s struggle for liberation. The first issue of the magazine came out in May 1983 as a four-page typewritten broadside. It 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.

Whether a man writes for publication or his private journal, he should consider recounting his story of change — a memory of letting the drawbridge down.

By sharing our stories, we can experience our own “great turning” in which all men can know their full humanity.

Rob Okun of Amherst is editor of Voice Male magazine. He will read from and discuss his new book, “Voice Male: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement” (Interlink Books) at Booklink Booksellers in Thornes Market in Northampton at 6 p.m. Thursday. He can be reached at rob@voicemalemagazine.org.