The idea of women-only and men-only groups, practices and actions is often rejected and badly mistaken as a segregationist strategy or a way to reproduce gender differences. Most of the anti-authoritarian feminist groups I know, in European countries at least, use women-only groups as one of the best ways they have to understand the oppressions they suffer from, and to emancipate and empower themselves. Most of these feminist, as far as I know, don't do it on a seperationist basis and still develope mixed lives, activities and discussions. Throughout history, groups of oppressed people (be it proletarians, slaves, black people, colonised people, indigenous people, GLBTQIs...) made the choice to have some times and spaces specifically between themselves to organise against their oppression and oppressors.
Even if many men and anarchists, feeling threatened, criticize without taking the time to try to understand the positive aspects of women's groups, it's women's perfectly legitimate choice to do so. It's not really for me to explain it more and I'd rather focus on something different in many regards but that I've experienced as really useful and a great tool to positively and collectively confront masculinity: men-only groups.
Let's make it clear that I don't see men-only group as an aim in itself. It's a means to help building the mixed and degendered society that we can dream of. I would also add that, in my experiences, men-only groups didn't look like a popular tribunal/court, puritan confessional or collective therapy where men would have to judge themselves or to compete to be the best pro-feminist. They're on the contrary aimed at being a place where men share a common goal of feeling comfortable to talk and to change themselves and help others. We are also taking care not to end by just reinforcing the usual masculine solidarity against women (some men-only movements, especially in the US are just conservative, essentialists and pro-masculinists and have nothing to do with what we fight for).
Anti-patriarchal male groups do not work by the fact it's a men-only group. Society is full of men-only discussions and spaces (bars, sport clubs, groups of friends, some collectives) that often just reflect patriarchal and virile relationships between men. Anti-patriarchal menīs groups work when some men choose to do something that rarely happens - taking some formal and organised time to discuss and struggle against patriarchy. If we seriously want to confront masculinity, we need deep and serious talks about a lot of personal, intimate and difficult issues. We can consider ourselves anti-sexist and struggle with it for years, our mixed collectives/discussions/groups will still sometimes reflect a lot of oppression, focus on seduction, fears, frustrations, angers that make us feel secure in disclosing ourselves and showing emotional vulnerability.
Non-mixed groups give the possibility to get out of the usual competitive arena. I've seen myself and many other men addressing personal issues that they would never have talked about (at least before) in mixed groups and debates. One of the basic reasons for men’s groups to work sometimes so efficiently is that a discussion is always easier when you share a common experience with people around, and can sometimes be uncomfortable when you have to speak of something that doesn't necessarily give you the role of the good guy in front of people who could feel oppressed in that situation. It's good to go beyond this, but men-only groups offer a way to question ourselves, perceive that we share problems and feelings with others, and feel more confident to change. It can help to develop, step by step, more sincere and productive discussions in mixed groups.
In my experience we usually, collectively don't take much time and initiative as men to speak about patriarchy. We often follow feminists and at the best say they're right. There are a lot of ‘uneasy issues’ that we usually skip in informal situations. Menīs groups are a way to do our part of the job as men and to try to change ourselves while women use womenīs groups to do so... It can help us reach better relations and understandings of oppression when we go back to our mixed groups, discussions and lives.
Our relations between men are, to me at least, really frustrating, with constant competition and pressure to be the strongest, smartest, funniest, the one who knows the most and acts and speaks the best. While those who are not so good at whatever it is, can just shut up and listen. These relationships are often enclosed inside rigid norms that prevent us from many great feelings, discussions, physical exchanges. Changing our relations to women is therefore only part of the job, changing our relations to other men is one of the most important things that we can start doing through men-only groups.
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