REPORT ON ‘RE-SON-ING MEN’ WORKSHOP
by Keith Mothersson, held at Big Green Gathering, July 2000

Present: Keith, Barry, Chris, Martin – after a fairly lengthy presentation a valuable dialogue or quadralogue ensued. I have reconstructed and at times expanded on what I said on the basis of notes I made for my talk.

Keith outlined an alternative approach and vocabulary which flowed from a different strategic choice concerning whether or not to identify with and contest for the notions of ‘men’, ‘manhood’, ‘fathers’ and ‘masculinity’. Although he was proposing to deconstruct these and leave them to the ‘real men’, he emphasised that nothing he would say was intended to discourage us (indeed anybody) from learning radical self-acceptance of our bodily selves and our personal uniquenesses; nor did he hold with any biologically based or ‘essentialist’ defamations of ‘maleness’, or constructions of  history designed to make us feel guilty for things other men have done in the past.

REAL MEN AREN’T!
 In ‘Refusing to be a Man’ (now out of print, but available through inter-library loan), John Stoltenburg (JS) had challenged us to question ever more deeply our sense of being men. It feels so real! But JS believes identity comes from social acts which we and others do to confirm it and these acts can be guided by beliefs which have no truth to them, albeit they then become real in their consequences. JS’es analogy was how Nazis were always celebrating getting in touch with their essential Ayran Race identity, even though biologists say there is only one well-stirred gene pool of the human race.

Admittedly the biology of female/male seemed a lot more bi-polar but it only took a few folk with double X chromosomes and hermaphroditism, etc to ground his essential point that there is human diversity and personal uniqueness anyway and how come some of us get fixated on one small set of differences and assigning them such massive cultural significance? Keith pointed out we shared 50% of our genetics with earthworms, 98.4% with higher primates, and 99.9% with the so-called ‘opposite’ sex.

All the old bases for deriving a sense of identity ‘as men’  – Men are by nature more Rational, Men are the Protectors, etc – have been shown by rational strong women to be ludicrous rationalisations and all that was left to us was to look a minus in the eye – we can’t give birth; (but then neither can some women and neither do many women). Even if we don’t go as far as to deny any other biological differences underlying the gender system, what other differences there are (testosterone) or may be were surely massively exaggerated by the gender system and assumed to have simple behavioural correlations  irrespective of cultural context, expectations, etc.

FRAT RULE NO THANKS!
Originally inspired by feminist studies of institutional sexism, John - now Val - Remy (completing his/her PhD at Birbeck) had developed the notion of FRATRIARCHY as an alternative and very dynamic mode of male dominance (along with Patriarchy, with which it was often in conflict). Although William Reich had quoted Hitler saying the family was the basis of civilisation, between 1902 and 1945 there had been a vast mushrooming of German-speaking scholarship to the effect that the all-male grouping (Mannerbund or Jungmannschaft) was the basis and motor of  ‘Civilisation’ and ‘Progress’. From Ancient Sparta to the Teutonic Knights, from New Guinea to Alpine valleys -  everywhere men’s huts and fraternities were discovered and analysed. Tremendous emphasis was placed on their exclusiveness vis-a-vis women and also vis-à-vis uninitiated males. There was a fascination with their cultic nature, with secrecy, the use of masked processions striking fear into the hearts of onlookers or those directly victimised as the Mannerbunder set out to exercise their ‘primordial’ prerogatives: the rights to Steal, to Burn and to Kill.

Whether our dads (if present) were violently authoritarian or gently supportive, we had all grown up under this totalitarian extra-familial regime – already by five we get grief if we wear pink socks to school! The Frat is the social form which rules the world from street corners and poker clubs to masons and boards of directors and armies and death squads and the World Trade Organisation. The FRAT simultaneously co-generates sexism, classim , racism and imperialism as it -


SO HOW DO WE RESIGN? - RESONNING
 But none of this takes place without contestation, nor is it inevitable or irreversible. It may be inevitable that a small boy will develop secondary sexual characteristics at puberty, but (sex and gender being different) there is nothing inevitable or - I would argue (given my sense of strategy concerning how we best use the word) desirable - about him becoming a ‘man’, which identity is bound up with a degree of emotional zombification and pressures to bond with other ‘men’ and exercise collectively sanctioned power and privilege over women and the ‘softy community’.

Nor will this conditioning process ever be one hundred percent, always there will be a memory of how it felt when we were still mummy’s boys, flesh of her flesh, wombfruit, essentially no different from little girls. For a girl to be a daughter doesn’t have to stop at age 14 or 21 on giving birth herself or on the death of her immediate bio- mother or cultural mother – so likewise boys are born sons and can hold fast all our lives to our FILIAL LOYALTY TO THE MATRISPHERE – by which I mean identification with our own mothers (including male ‘co-mothers’), to hearth and home, to the motherland of community life (Ivan Illich’s notion of the ‘convivial sphere’ fits here), widening to a more general allegiance to the commonweal and Mother Earth/ ‘the Goddess’/or Life beyond the imposition of dualistic splits.

As we become aware of how we have been damaged by patriarchal and fratriarchal pressures – and can face how we have in turn too often dumped on women, children, low-status or non-‘real’ men – we can develop a strong intention and support system for reversing out of the illusory cul-de-sac of ‘Manhood’ and any big-deal  notion of  ‘Fatherhood’. I call this re-sonning, (‘unbecoming men’ was the title of an early men’s movement pamphlet from the States). It enables us to open our eyes to the reality of our common humanity with women, girl children and sons of all ages – we are all diverse and all unique anyway, all precious, none special. It enables us to not give up on our brothers who still identify as regular guys, but to see them in bi-focal vision, the soft-strong sons underneath and alongside the hard-brittle-stressed macho ‘normal’ men. How to help re-son them, draw them back into practical, helpful solidarity with the matrisphere?

Simply approaching them as brothers either seems wimpish to them, especially if in the name of male unity we aren’t calling them (each other) on times and contexts when they/we are acting oppressively (including to ourselves); or it is read as a man to man confrontation. Either way real men are conditioned not to pay any heed (I’m not just thinking of ten-pints-a-night Sun-readers, but also hard-nosed professionals, managers, officers and businessmen who tell us we aren’t living in the real world.) So we need allies.

The original march to Greenham Common was WOMEN’S-LED MIXED, the participation of a few men was valued but not a big deal. Unfortunately, once the march arrived and settled at Greenham, there was no system for screening what other, unknown men came around to participate, nor on what basis. So after some men behaved in a sexist way all men were asked to leave. The Greenham Common Peace Camp(s) then continued to develop an extraordinary macro-feminism which moved from women saying ‘no smoking in baby’s living space’ to ‘no nukes on baby’s planet either’. Key to its power was women learning to tap into political-spiritual archetypes of the Triple Goddess: the Crone, the Mother and the Maid. ‘You remind me of my son’ they would say to policemen, hoping thus to bring them back into filial solidarity with Mother Earth threatened by the Man’s Mega-Machine. [subsequent note: We see the same archetype at work in the moving climax of the Da Vinci Code film when an elderly woman steps forward from the gathered community to welcome the cryptologist orphan-heroine back into the embrace of the mother community, all that is heartfelt, earthy and everyday].

Although its male servitors were well used to scorning one or a few ‘batty old women’, or one or a few ‘hysterical women’ with kids,  or one or a few ‘dungaree dykes’ or young punk women, the women realised they were getting synergy effects from their very diversity such that (a) they were appealing to more and more women across the country and the world; and (b) they were forcing more and more men to rethink their roles and allegiances. But even an intergenerational alliance of women was ultimately seen as just women – and more than anything else ‘real manhood’ is founded on ‘othering’ women and not-listening to them. So women needed allies.

If sex (biological) and gender (cultural) are different and sex comes more or less bi-polar, why do we need to restrict ourselves to only two genders? Perhaps we need to organise a third (or more) genders. WOMEN AND TRUE SONS VERSUS THE ‘REAL MEN’ COULD GIVE US THE WINNING SYNERGY TO DECONSTRUCT THE MEN’S HUTS BEFORE THEY WRECK THE PLANET TOTALLY.

As bio-males it is out of place and self-defeating for us to ask for admission to the women’s movement, but to the extent that we re-son I believe it may be possible to achieve acceptance into formal and ad-hoc women’s-presided mixed social spaces which can
- both prefigure a future society of radical co-humanity of all Her children (and where gender identities were held much more loosely, alongside others such as earthling which brought humans together with non-humans);
 - and serve as training grounds, camps and coalitions for skillfully challenging injustice, ecocide, etc in wider, deeper and bolder ways.

For this to happen we need to give more thought to what I call the POLITICS OF GATING SYSTEMS. In moving from soft sonhood to real manhood we passed through a series of initiations into a socially conferred and confirmed status; so in moving back out the other way we need to gain social recognition with other loyal sons and daughters, we need to shed the privileges of manhood, learn political courtesy and nonviolence, get straight (equal) with collective local matri-exchequers (most men have more money than most women) and with  the matri-‘departments’ organising care rotas, late night lifts home after meetings, whatever is needed for us to build socio-political space where everyone is equally respected and equally free to participate fully – not excluding serving as skillful defusers/bouncers on the door or gate to enforce justly enacted rules protective of the equal freedom of all (learning to bridge the whole split between responsible anarchy and just governance/true authority).  In short the CREATION OF A THIRD GENDER  (Matri-sons) REQUIRES ORGANISATION and the ability to negotiate with women collectively.

What are some of the potential advantages of this way of looking at things?
 


MAYDAY, MAYDAY!
The recognised international distress call will serve well for our current Earth Emergency. May Day the Day of the Earth of old folk-Europe, the day of the Goddess and her son/consort. It was because of this earlier pagan resonance that it also caught on as the Day of Labour (like Xmas arriving around Midwinter Solstice).

A Day of Communal Pride and Recognition of the useful contributions of each to all – thank you to the floats with the builders, bakers, farmworkers, energy and transport workers, health workers, lawyers and social workers and police even - Mum our first shelter, food, warmth, hip, soothing, protection – as we were once sheltered, fed, warmed, carried, healed, protected simply because we were in need, so now it is a part of our PERSONAL DIGNITY AS ‘CO-MOTHERING’ SONS AND DAUGHTERS that we shall insist on our right and duty to shelter, feed, heat, carry, heal and defend on the basis of need not greed – for which loving mother, dad, auntie serves double helpings to some and none to others? [Shumacher’s ‘Good Work’, the Buddhist notion of Right Livelihood, the socialist/communist/anarchist dream of worker’s control under community guidelines]. And thanks to the cleaners and workers in the sewers who only get recognised at present when they go on strike (‘Lazy workers!’) for cleaning the nappies of our city. Let this good and useful work be celebrated the better to throw into relief the myriad useless or semi-useless jobs whose rationale only comes from the absurd waste- and scarcity-creating dynamic of a frat-rule economy.

So from this sacred day in the Year let us Take Back Our Time, and constitute an annual calendar of weeks and months when societal attention is given and received around the round of the division of love and labour and across the work/home/community divides, creating instead semi-permeable interfaces where children and old people can come and go rather than being banished to ageist ghettos. Each ‘Guild of the Goddess’ deriving moral legitimacy to expose, resist and reverse the domination of fratriarchal imperatives from its ability to ally with the other Guilds and with the Matri-sphere locally and regionally and nationally and transnationally they take their dignity in serving and with all the stakeholders, think-tanks, web-sites, unions, consumer groups having to do with that social function seen now in a richly mythic, light [as well as in common-sense practical ways  - for who wants a male-led bloody revolution which can’t guarantee insulin for our loved one with diabetes?]

Just as in Wales with the creation of  Eistedfoddau, so more generally let priest/esses and artists and musicians  help weave elements of myth and  pageant to celebrate our non-antagonistic local and regional ‘nationalisms’ of the Earth (‘Matriotism’?), creating contexts where ordinary people can come together to pour out the love that is in our hearts. Let ecologists speak out with poets and dramatists in ‘Councils of all Beings’  - I speak for the gorillas, I speak for the skylarks, I speak for the wetlands - where each vanishing or threatened species and habitat can be named and grieved, and parts of the personality touched and brought into play in their defence which normal single-issue, gender-blind politics as usual cannot reach.
 

[The above is rather longer than I actually spoke for, but gives the gist of many of the things I touched on and others I would have liked to have touched on, time permitting and our needs for dialogue. What follows will be shorter and I hope that Barry, Chris and Martin will want to share their own version of their responses then – I regret not taking more detailed notes and apologise sincerely if my own tendencies to one-track-mindedness and repression of points which go against cherished nostrums have led me to misrepresent anyone – or of their subsequent responses to this more extended write-up.]

DISCUSSION
One problem was the term ‘matriarchy’: what did the Greek ‘archy’ signify? If it meant rule over and against (as per the pat/frat sense of power) then No thanks.  But we were also mindful that ‘arche’ also meant originating in, as in archeology . So where did we originate from? Whereas Keith had appeared happy to subsume fathering as simply one way of co-mothering –
[like an older sibling may be experienced by the baby as a uniquely different-but-same extension of our first motherlove sensation, likewise a clutch of aunties or lesbian partner or a loving dad (but not Him Back for the Boozer, probably, who would be felt as someone alien to and not a part of  our Matri-hearth)]

BARRY argued for the specific differentness of fathers as something/someone irreducible to mothering. He cited Swedish action-research aimed at addressing the problem of dads not bonding strongly with their babies in the belief that they might drop their children, do things wrongly (by the understanding of the mothers), not their sphere really. Social workers had worked with pre- and neo-natal mothers and fathers and arranged for the father to be given the child to hold at a very early stage, which fathers would do in ways different to how mothers hold their babies, and it was vital for fathers to develop this confidence, assertiveness even, however disconcerting the mothers found it in the short term. Begin as you mean to go on: dads are 100 percent involved and responsible, will do things differently, and can be trusted because the care of newborn babies is part of what human beings are programmed by evolution to know and care about.

In fact Barry went further and posited a co-operative version of the selfish gene as the basis for male/female unity [Keith’s take, Barry didn’t use these words]. Whereas Keith had seen children, i.e. all of us, as flesh of motherflesh , and played down the genetic contribution from either side, including from the bio-male (who in his system can be seen as in any case a (male) variant of the female, ad infinitum recursively back into evolutionary history),
Barry saw the double helix, some DNA from each sex, as grounding a sense of meaning and fullfilment in co-human partnership which could be derived from focussing on what was good for children in the present, and on the way that happy, healthy children would come together to pass on their own genes and/or support and benefit the community such that the miracle of life, the dance of DNA, would carry on down the generations eternally. In this dance men needed to move with our own authority as full co-equal contributors, not as women without wombs.

Since women contributed half of the DNA they weren’t just passive recepticles for the male ‘seed’, but they were in one sense only (if also) vessels for the miracle of new life, which was the core of  the real miracle, not the accident of vesseling and growing this new life on from their blood supply (in seahorses the male carries the young).  Even so Keith reckoned that from the point of view of the baby’s evolving experience of world and then of self/others, the matrix of Mother was primal or original (‘arche’).

 [Nor do I believe that there is any reason to suppose human persons with wombs who do give birth have a lesser understanding (taken collectively) of what is in their and their offsprings’ interests, and of what it is to be human (mammalian, animal, earthling , stardust) than those of us who never give birth – always admitted than any individual mother can and do make mistakes, naturally {though mistakes which women collectively are just as capable of noticing and where necessary intervening to correct and mitigate as sons-collectively, never mind the Real Men who think they own the joint but dinnae ken how to change a nappy} I don’t think Barry or Martin was suggesting they did have an inferior understanding to men collectively, but my point is: since I haven’t given birth, how would I know what difference it makes to women’s human understanding of life, of being human, etc? - except to listen carefully and respectfully and to that extent cede a kind of authority, which edges closer to a stronger sense of  matri-‘arche’ as written into our natural order.]

MARTIN wanted to champion true fatherhood as a bulwark against the Frat. He spoke of the nourishing influence fathers can have on their children and of the softening influence children can have on fathers who put the home before the boozer/office/sports/etc. From his own experience he raised the question of what happens when a mother is incapable or abusive? Surely he should have rights to see ‘his’ child which he personally was willing to struggle for against all-comers, and which rights did/should not exist merely via the relationship to the mother.

[In subsequent dialogue Martin and Keith reached agreement that often individual fathers did abuse or pressure children and that mothers had a right to invoke a just societal procedure to check that this wasn’t happening, just as when individual mothers lost it for whatever reason, society had a right to step in to protect her/society’s children, who were first and foremost to be respected as their own person, and not as extensions of either mum or dad or society!]

Martin was also worried about how he felt the men’s dome was being seen as a laughing stock, and a mere appendage of the women’s dome/movement. We needed to use a vocabulary which didn’t create unnecessary stumbling blocks (as much of Keith’s proposed use of terms would or easily could). We had a right to our own autonomy because we should be acting in our own interests and not to please women or any sub-group of women.

Keith agreed up to a point but if and where conflict developed between men collectively and women collectively then if would be a mis-use of our sonly autonomy – in fact a manly unilateralism – to brush past women’s collective objections. A more skillful use of our autonomy to pursue our true long-term interests would be to sort conflict out with women, because we both needed each other in common defence against the wrong kind of male autonomy which was wrecking the planet, albeit sometimes with some female participation. What was good for mothers had to be good for every mother’s child, hence every bio-male, whether we called the latter men or sons.

Martin also took issue with the notion of ‘co-mothering’ work. Why not fathering work [the metaphor of husbandry also comes to mind] or co-parenting work? Keith reckoned that through the history of patriarchy there was a stubborn problem with the notion of father’s rights to over-rule mothers and children, such that we had best regroup round the nothing-special (everyone unique, everyone precious) rights which flowed from being around the mother – which in the Tao of Matri-tribal diversity might also accrue to and be exercised by lesbian lovers, maternal grandmothers, older siblings, etc.

 As for the use of ‘parents’ and  ‘parenting’, Keith replied that it was largely a question of choosing the most appropriate verbal tactics in different situations and to different audiences (the same applied to men-talk he conceded, though not ‘masculinity’.) Feminist scholars had revealed how often patriarchal assumptions still hung about apparently gender-neutral terms such as citizen, human, individual. The same could be true of parenting.

[On the other hand the risk of saying ‘co-mothering’ is that for some it may counter-productively accentuate the sense that loving bio-dads shouldn’t bond fully and take equal responsibility for babies and children. Yet perhaps that risk is worth running for the sake of another advantage: the notion of expanded co-mothering can perhaps help us to address the wider institutional sexism of the economy, war system, etc, (which largely flow from the men’s hut or frat, not pat) in a more thought-provoking way than talking of ‘co-parenting’ work. Both terms can serve.]

CHRIS  asked the questions we found hardest to deal with: Why DO so many men behave as so many do? IS Frat-Rule endemic in the human make-up? IS IT genetic this urge to bond and run wild and live dangerously to self/others? And when step-fathers batter children is there some genetic predisposition as when certain primate males destroy their new partner’s previous offspring?

The example of various primates was considered, we felt we hadn’t enough information, nor concerning the presence or absence of societies which inculcated a peaceful approach in their male children. We knew what we wanted to believe but was it really true!? [For example Margaret Mead’s research on the gentle Arapesh men has been called into question, as have matriarchalist theses of peaceful gatherer-hunter tribes and Neolithic settlements.]

In general we felt that we needed to do serious work in these areas, or benefit from those who had. If what some evolutionary socio-biologists and geneticists were saying was true then there is no point in anyone trying to build a self-understanding or action-relevant world-view on denial of the truth. If it wasn’t true, if it was the ideological spearhead  for a new wave of  fratriarchal imperialism, then we needed to be on our guard, learn from scientists with no sexist axe to grind, and  stick up for our inherent gentleness, or at least for the possibility of those potentials being socially evoked/organised more fully than our destructive potentials (many of which some women also shared).

One thing I think we all agreed was the value and necessity of questioning what it is (or isn’t) to be male, and not taking for granted the value of strongly identifying as men, when so often we could identify in other ways.
 

POSTSCRIPT
I feel a bit ashamed that this has been an exercise in having the last word! So let me renew my hope that the other three participants will want to respond at some length. Also that others will want to join in. Whether or not readers wish to write anything for general circulation, I would value any critical feedback  ..... Also it would be great to hear from brothers or sisters who can help answer the hard questions Chris posed.

With thanks again to all who organised the men’s dome, and to the many women and brothers whose actions and ideas have opened the space for this kind of questioning. In my own case I owe special thanks to [the late]  Monica Sjoo, John [now Val] Remy and a Glaswegian friend, Tom McSorley (Tom o’ the ring) [RIP] who believes that ordinary working-class folk all over the world can understand the notion of what it is to be decent men by reference to a latent sense of  natural matri-sociology: true sons as ordinary members of the common matri-tribe.

SUGGESTIONS:  We could use a weekend together to reflect on our roles (outreach, personal growth, welfare, political solidarity) at the Big Green Gathering or similar events where men’s domes could be organised. Perhaps we could draw up a letter to women and women’s organisations, including an appendix which vented a list of specific concerns we have where there is anti-male discrimination going on.

Following the success of the million man march and the pro-Aborigine ‘National Sorry Day’ in Australia, I am considering organising a very local ‘Stewartry Sorry Day’ in my neck of the woods. It would be interesting to hear of others trying something similar, and to learn from local pilots towards something on a more national scale in the future?

Keith Mothersson,  August 2000

Post-script June 2006
Still not much momentum on this work, alas. Despite a strong theoretical commitment to its centrality, in practice I find myself, like many other sons and daughters, diverted into reacting to the various manifestations of our Frat-dominated world, e.g. I have worked in the September 11th and July 7th truth movements, which have shed a lot of light on the phenomenon of false-flag terrorism as part of the normal modus operandi of ruling fraternities. One particularly interesting book is Fleshing Out Skull and Bones - Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society, ed Kris Milligan (Trine Day LLC, Waterville, OR, 2003). See next section on Crimes of the Frat

Two other post 9/11 comments are relevant here:
a) 911 is the East Coast USA emergency number - like 999 in the UK. Which presents us with a pointed choice of emergency: 911 or Mayday!;
b) After the Iraq invasion I heard that the word in macho neocon and military circles in the US was 'Wimps go to Baghdad. Real Men go to Tehran.' Could anything be clearer as to the irrational yet powerful sickness involved?