Introducing the perspective of John Stoltenberg

In 2004 I created a little 20 page pamphlet which was basically a reprint (not for sale or resale) of a fabulous article by John Stoltenberg.
Here is the introduction I wrote, followed by the final page of reflections. 


This little pamphlet consists of an article by John Stoltenberg, who has previously given us two other marvellous but insufficiently known books:

Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice, - many of which essays were given as keynote contributions to US anti-sexist men’s gatherings;

The End of Manhood: Parables on Sex and Selfhood
(both books revised editions, London and New York: UCLA Press, 2000).

However this article comes from a brilliant summary John wrote, which can be found at pages 26-39 of ‘Men and Power’ (ed Joseph A Kuypers, Nova Scotia, 1999), which I would encourage everyone to buy or borrow. And is entitled


In my view John here gives the clearest-yet description of how ‘men’ arise and why it would be better if we who happen to have penises (no big deal) could channel our common humanity and diverse personal uniquenesses into more fruitful and caring relationships and actions, than those which result from learning to play the ‘real boy/lad’ and then abuse and confuse ourselves and others further to graduate as a ‘ real man’, and have to keep ‘proving’ this sad and empty nonsense again and again.

Unlike almost all other currents in/around the ‘men’s movement’ – and even in much feminist thinking on questions of gender – John isn’t looking to rescue any usable core of ‘essential maleness’ or ‘true masculinity’ or ‘biological manhood’ which some ‘new men’ or ‘socialist men’ or ‘new fathers’, etc may think to regroup around. Instead he goes much deeper, using new and creative arguments, which I believe closely reflect our personal experiences of growing up and the pressures we experience (and in turn inflict) to fit ourselves and others into the category of ‘man’.

Although, like any new and creative thinking, it can take effort and quite a time to get the hang of what John is and isn’t saying, I believe the effort is richly rewarding.
Keith Mothersson, Scotland, April, 2002  keith[dot]mothersson[at]phonecoop[dot]coop


Many people will seek to build on John’s fine work in various ways. For me, two of the many questions his work gives rise to are these:

If we ‘unbecome men’ how should we re-identify?

Can our new practice and status (as true allies and loyal ‘sons’?) be practically recognised, monitored and symbolically confirmed (reverse ‘initiations’, if you like) not just by other non-‘real-men’ males but also by females of all ages and cultures who recognise a common interest with each other in resisting, de-constructing and transforming all male-dominated institutions and co-ordinating all true daughters and sons into the ‘Matri-sphere’ of home and community life … extending and linking organically all the way out to large-scale public challenges and transnational alternatives in defense of our true ‘Motherland’/Mother Earth Herself ?, and if so, how?

To complement John’s essay I offer some brief sociological reflections on the dynamics of what many still call Patriarchy, but which I see as FRATRIARCHY, which is the extra-familial social form of the present world (dis)order: playground gangs and football teams, pubs and poker nights, vice rings, college fraternities, hunting bands and war lords, the guys chopping down the Amazon and the more established ‘men’s huts’ of golf clubs, masonic lodges, Royal Colleges, Chiefs of Staff and MI5, banks and board rooms (and too many unions), stock-exchanges, Sky TV and the IMF: wherever we look the main damage is not being inflicted by males individually or as biological beings or only by males (women are not ‘essentially more moral’); but it is being done by males principally and collectively and acting under the fanatical delusion of the fundaMENtalist Manhood cult.

‘The FRAT simultaneously co-generates sexism, classism , racism and imperialism as it -

How could Class develop without bailiffs and strike-breakers, Global Caste without slavers and arms traders, or Readiness/compulsion to put up with the other injustices of Sexism, Racism and Ageism without the collectively enacted domination of the Pub (and/or the Church/Mosque, Football club, etc)?

Certainly, all other oppressions can’t be reduced to gender, whose expression they always inflect. But the ‘Gammar of Gender’ and Frat-analysis helps show how all these other oppressions are generated and guaranteed, and won’t be resolved until (enough) women, with least stake in these fratriarchal divisions, find the unity, energy, and (enough) male support to seize the lead in defence of the heartfelt world I call our true Motherland, or MATRI-SPHERE, or MotherEarth.

[Subsequent Postscript:
John's work is a fine expose of what Buddhists call the 'emptiness' of gender identity, something which is empty or devoid of ontological reality, since it doesn't have a fixed self-contained nature but always arises in interdependence with others, and moreover as something which always threatens to melt away again!  - hence the compulsive need for reperformances to prove and establish as 'Real' this constantly shaky illusion.].