We All Have A Stake in Having Better Sex!

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Feminist Men Conference Day #1

I will attempt to break into chunks, and round up some of the conversations, feed back, fall out and continuing dialogue sparked at the first ever National Conference for Campus Based Men’s Gender Equality and Antiviolence Groups Conference. For the sake of brevity, let’s call this the “Feminist Men” conference. Hosted at Saint John’s University, about 90 minutes outside Minneapolis, St. John’s is a Benedictine Catholic all boys school, which made me feel a little bit like Lauren Hutton in “Once Bitten“.

Initially I was concerned that being so far into the woods would prevent me from finding a bar. Instead, I found a beautifully designed campus full of clean Scandinavian lines, pane glass, a lake, slightly menacing church structure and a cozy single bed in the “Episcopal House of Prayer”. The House of Prayer had communal bathrooms, a fireplace, and the incredible Meditation Chapel that functioned as a confessional chamber (due to the excess of urban Jews shacked up in the House of Prayer, we did more talking then meditating). Turns out the bar was a short car ride into town and everyone was eager to find it. Aside from the rifle shots blazing in the woods – there was a deer hunt coinciding with the conference – it was the perfect blend of pastoral and accessible.

The mission of the conference was: “For the first time, campus-based pro-feminsit men’s groups from across the country are meeting toether to share resources, trade their best ideas, discuss strategies and simply find out what’s happening on other campuses.”

The opening plenary was moderated by sociologist and author Dr. Michael Kimmel. He is an early pioneer of the movement, getting his start in DV shelters, and author of “History of Masculinity” among other books. He kindly drove me from the airport to the woods at breakneck speed. The panel featured Patricia Eng of the Ms. Foundtion, Dr. Shira Tarrant, editor of “Men Speak Out” and “Men and Feminism”, and Courtney Martin, author of “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” and a blogger for of Feministing. Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall was unable to make it.

Articulate and inspiring are words that come to mind when taking in this panel. I got to soak it up and then use the themes and ideas in my own intro remarks an hour later. Courtney talked about authenticity, and figuring out how to be authentic in whatever space she was entering as a person, activist and resource. Pat Eng talked about growing up the youngest of 5 daughters, and the burden of not being a boy. The panel discussed the idea that gender equality is not a zero sum game, men don’t lose if women gain. Shira piped in that the real frontier is a place where we express multiple gender identities and leave the gender binary behind. Michael Kimmel joked that some men doing this work suffer from “pre-mature congratulations.” Resounding message from amazing women addressing a room of eager men was: Don’t Rescue Us.

Other topics tossed around: Accountability. Having a personal stake in the work. How do we project a vision what we want in the world?

I scribbled furiously. What is the message that can go out to folks who are less inclined to call themselves “feminists” or “activists” or “progressive”?  How about: we all have a stake in having better sex. Only a total asshole would disagree with that statement, right?

My presentation was next. Excited Mobile Facebook Status Update:

is screening to a full house of activist men!

I gave my intro addressing the notion of our collective personal stake in the work of better sex and better relationships. I addressed my deep belief in the power of storytelling and my trajectory from feminist to “slut” to filmmaker to survivor to activist and to the current state where all those identities mash together. I showed the film and we had a spirited Q/A.

Essentially I traveled to Minnesota to meet and get to know the folks who do this work, on the ground, addressing men. Would they find my film useful? I know there are things that men and women won’t say if I’m in the room – out of politeness, or because the audience or their peers might shut them down. It is absolutely critical that the message of the film, and those tough issues and disagreements are framed and addressed in the most constructive way possible. Folks in the room included: CALCASA, Men Can Stop Rape, White Ribbon Campaign, Man-up, V-Men, SAFER, and activists from Tacoma Washington and Iowa City. Basically this concentrated brain trust accelerated about six months of emails and phone calls into a two hour bite.

The afternoon included “Voices of Men” by activist and lovely person all around Ben Atherton-Zeman, and the tail end of Byron Hurt answering questions following clips from Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Filmmaker/speaker tip! We can all learn from the gracious, grounded and authentic manner that Byron addresses complex issues raised in the film, accepts praise, and accepts criticism. Especially the “why didn’t you make this kind of film instead of the one you made?”

The day wrapped up with a little cocktail hour where the University of Iowa feminist men + Courtney Martin + white wine resulted in a barrage of nonsensical Facebook updates including:

is with Derrius from Iowa who sweats my sexy French designer

just learned the term “nut cup”

is with real life cast of “Glee” from Iowa, feeling patriotic

is about to take it to Old Chicago Bar with @shiratarrant @mencanstoprape and the state of Iowa

We wound down the evening with fireside chats at the Episcopal House of Prayer and a little twin bed sleep over party with Dr. Shira Tarrant.

Highlights from day #2 are next…

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2 Comments on “We All Have A Stake in Having Better Sex!”

  1. 1 Ben Atherton-Zeman said at 9:21 am on November 13th, 2009:

    I’m glad you liked the performance of “Voices of Men” – now we can be mutual fans!

  2. 2 Jonathan Grove said at 2:39 pm on November 18th, 2009:

    I’m not sure anyone could have recapped the “brain trust” any better… such an amazing experience to have been a part of… thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking!


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