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Being a Male Ally in a Massive Women’s Movement

Early September I led a small delegation of Re-evaluation Counseling (RC)* men to Beijing for the 4th NGO Forum on Women, as part of the larger No Limits for Women delegation. Here’s a brief report of some highlights and lessons learned.

 First and foremost was the honor and pleasure of being at such an international, well-informed, powerful liberation gathering. The international women’s movement is an impressive movement—its strength, its diversity, and the common depth of understanding of women’s oppression and liberation were truly moving. Every day I got to be witness to women speaking out, organizing, teaching, and learning from each other. I often sat and cried at the sheer pleasure of being led by such wonderful and brave women.

The second most powerful aspect for me was being in China, a fact which is inextricably linked to how the conference went. As a person from the United States, I was constantly struck by how cooperative and community-focused life in China was—a stark contrast to the individualism so prevalent in my home country. Seeing hordes of bicycles navigating the streets side by side with trucks and cars; watching volunteers work tirelessly to make sure that all of the travelers’ needs were met; meeting so many people who understood that of course women need to organize and work together for the common advancement—all these images and more were daily reminders of the beauty of the country that hosted this conference.

Third, of course, was the experience of being a man at a conference of 32,000 women. I was quite moved by how welcomed I was as a man at this conference. Nearly every woman I met, from many different cultures and countries, was pleased that I was there, understood that the women’s movement needed male allies, and was eager to figure out how to work together. The position paper that we distributed on men as allies to women was hugely popular, and the several workshops that were offered addressing men’s issues were well attended by women as well as men.

I was proud of our men’s delegation. For financial and logistical reasons, it was largely a U.S. delegation, and we struggled to have a broad enough perspective on issues facing men as allies to women on a world-wide basis. Nevertheless, the work we had each done on our own goodness as men and the understanding of the key role we can play as allies made us a unique and important presence at the conference. Each man there struggled to get himself into the thick of the conference, to make friends with men and women there, to sort through what the key issues were and what kind of a difference he could make, and to share the tools and insights of RC as best as he could.

I think we did very well. We struggled with arrogance and isolation and tackled the key issue of making real friends. For every person that came to one of our workshops or support groups, another ten or twenty was influenced by conversations they had with us or by comments we made at other events. All of us had our eyes opened to a much, much broader picture of the world.

Here are a few highlight vignettes from my time in China:

• A group of us made friends with some of the Chinese young adults that were working as volunteers at the conference. After all the workshops were over each day, we would sit around in a big tent and laugh, teach each other card tricks, play Chinese checkers, and get to know one another. After many days of doing this together, we organized an evening to do an introductory lecture on RC for them, which went very, very well. Most of the evening was done in separate women’s and men’s classes, with introductions and some games ahead of time all in one group. The young men were eager for the tool and used mini-sessions and sessions well for themselves right away.

There was one complication from doing this introductory lecture, which we found out the following day. Each volunteer who had been at the lecture had been asked to not come back as a volunteer. They snuck back into the conference two days later for closing ceremonies and to say good-bye to us. They were not in any serious trouble, but it was a lesson learned in organizing in a tightly controlled environment.

• I had a steady stream of wonderful interactions with Chinese men. I was constantly pleased to see how open they are with each other; how easily they show their embarrassment and caring; how delightfully they tease, hold hands, and carry on very public, friendly, caring relationships. It made me feel very hopeful about the prospects for men’s liberation. One of the young people gave me the nickname “the silly man,” and for days I was accosted by young Chinese men looking to play and laugh with me any chance they could get.

• I learned a good deal about the art and importance of being able to identify the key issue in a discussion and to be able to talk about it in a way that moves a whole discussion forward. For all the good will and interest on the part of women towards men, it was also painfully clear how little good information anybody had on the actual situation for men. In workshop after workshop I would attend, I would watch the discussion veer off-track when men were being discussed. I got to practice many times trying to say something simple and concrete, often using a personal example, to try to steer the discussion onto a productive course.

At one workshop, on men’s role in the reproductive cycle, I listened to several speakers address issues of condom use and vasectomies and other questions related to men, birth control, and family planning. When the last speaker spoke, she chastised all the previous speakers, saying they had missed the key issue. “Who’s fault is it that there are unwanted pregnancies? It’s the men! Who’s responsible for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases? It’s the men! Why do women have sex against their will? It’s the men!”

As she was the last speaker, the workshop had about ten minutes of comments before the end. I waited to see if anyone was going to address the issue of men. No one did, and so I screwed up my courage and made a brief comment. I addressed the issue of how men appear to be sexual animals and how this assumption needs to be challenged. I then spoke quite briefly about what happens to boys around closeness and showing ourselves, how nearly all hope for closeness and affection is channeled towards sex, and how if we are going to have any hope of addressing the issues that she raised, we need to challenge the social structures and cultural norms that drive men in this direction.

I was the last speaker who spoke, and I got quite an enthusiastic response from the audience. What most surprised me, however, was that the speaker to whom I addressed my comment shouted for me to come over to her. “My brother,” she said, “My brother, in the ten years I have been lecturing on this issue, you are the first man I can call my brother.” She then insisted that we have our photograph taken together, trade business cards, and vow to work together forever more. Just on the strength of one brief comment at a workshop!

• Our workshops and support groups were a good success. We worked hard to make friends, especially with men. We suffered many disappointments of people promising to come to groups or workshops and not showing up, but we also had nice successes, made some life-long friends, and reached some key people with RC information. The workshops on the Black Men’s Peace Project, Men Eliminating Sexism, and Changing Men’s Roles in Society were all well attended and good examples of using basic RC information with people who don’t have the RC tools.

• Finally, for anyone who ever had a question as to the power and effectiveness of Co-Counselors using our tools, information, and our brains freed up by discharge, you only had to look at the 300 or so Co-Counselors in China with the No Limits for Women Project. It made my heart proud to see how well people functioned, how beautifully they represented our Community, how vital our skills are, and how well loved we became. I also had the privilege of being on the over-all organizing committee, and I must say I have never seen eight people function so well, on such an important issue, as those eight women did while we were in China. It was a privilege at every moment to be a Co-Counselor, and a man, with this group in China.

Chris Austill
International Liberation Reference Person for Men
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA


* Re-evaluation Counseling (also called Co-Counseling) is a process whereby people of all ages and backgrounds can learn how to exchange effective help with each other in order to free themselves from the effects of past distress experiences, including the effects of oppression.  No Limits for Women uses the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling to create a system of ongoing mutual support in which women can help free each other from the emotional harm done by sexism.  It also provides the opportunity to develop fresh and intelligent prospectives on the global and local issues involved in the elimination of sexism/male domination by women and male allies

For more information about Re-evaluation Counseling, see: <https://www.rc.org/page/about>

For more information about No Limits for Women see: <https://www.rc.org/publication/foundation/nolimitsmission>


Last modified: 2015-01-22 17:45:10+00