A Short History of The Men's Movement

What ever happened to the men's movement? What the hell are men's issues anyway?

This may surprise many readers, but during the mid to late 1980's and for most of the 1990's there was a movement across America, Canada and much of Europe known as the Men's Movement. I remember it because I was very active in it. It was largely a response (rather than a reaction) to the Women's movement of the same time period and was largely supportive of it but far less vocal. Unlike the women's movement which had a fierce political agenda of equality and recognition, the men's movement was unled and issue fractured. It had many branches that spoke to many different issues such as custodial rights, parenting, addiction, abuse, friendship, veterans affairs, issues of male disability, spirituality, parenting, age discrimination, violence, prison reform, rites of passage, gay issues, step-parenting, health issues, career issues, and many more. Far and away the most popular format for addressing these issues came from the academic arena and became known as the "Mythopoetic" movement. It was led to some large degree by poet Robert Bly and based in the poetic and mythological interpretation of gender reality and guided by Jungian psychological theory and practice. It found its greatest support in the academic world, that was already having its own problems relating to society on an everyday basis. It's lack of longevity is probably laid to the fact that it is hard to explain to a man who has just lost his job, his wife, his passion for life, that the solution to his problems lie in examining the literary search for the holy grail.

All this activity followed a decade of great social upheaval and an opening of issues for discussion that had heretofore been labeled taboo. It was an opportunity for men to grow and expand under the same banner of open debate that reflected the interests of feminist rights, desegregation and religious tolerance. But somewhere along the way, much like the feminist movement, it got bogged down in social apathy and special interests and lost its direction. It was also a victim of the negative media which found it more profitable to base sitcom jokes and story lines on self- denigration rather than men's desires to understand themselves and their world. It is very difficult to address serious inner issues while the world is laughing at you regardless of the fact that most of the laughter was previously recorded and applied to the film track. The image of bafoon has had its lasting effect on the national male psyche.

The next major effort was, and still is, in the area of child custody rights. This is a very sensitive problem with thousands of men who have, like may women, been subjected to a court system that suffers an intellectually incestuous and critical level of cranial-rectosis which proclaims that under no circumstances does a man have the capacity to be an adequate single parent. A more argumentative position is equally visible around the idea that being forced to give up 60 to 75 percent of what might be only a meager income to spousal & child support serves some kind of social purpose and is supportive in some obtuse way of family values and fostering responsible action. These are not easy questions and their refusal to support easy answers attests to the attention that needs to be applied to them for solution.

There was, however, one major positive trend that developed out of this era. That was the creation of a small but effective network of men's support groups. The nature of women makes it relatively easy for them to gather in like kinds and discuss/process the issues that concern them. They have, after all, been doing it since the dawn of time as they tended the fires and children. It is quite another story for men. Our early forefathers spent their lives hunting. Knowing that animals have sensitive hearing, they spoke only when necessary. It came quite naturally to them and became our legacy. We find it far easier to stuff, fret and just ignore the emotional concerns that we don't understand until we are faced with divorce papers, unemployment or multitudes of crises of another nature. Men's groups offer the opportunity to look at problems in a perspective that allows emotional responses and support but most importantly it gives us access to other men who can listen to us empathetically. These groups, although not as popular as they were ten years ago, are now the only generally available avenue for men to vent and gain growth in community. Therapy is generally not an available venue because of its cost and the fact that these problems are for the most part cultural not behavioral. Personal life coaching has rapidly become another option, particularly because it is openly embraced by the corporate world, but even there the field is deficient in coaches who can truly appreciate the needs that exist.

In a true reflection of the American way, the lack of a unifying political agenda has doomed the men's movement as we understand it. The only way to cure the ills and change the relationships that rob us all of our happiness potential is to create our own individual movement; to begin to value personal growth and awareness of our physical and emotional world as a worthwhile priority; to join in community with other like minded men to support each other as valued, honorable, strong, willful and successful, humans being, rather than just men doing.

© 2008, Kenneth F. Byers

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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