Do We Need Men's Lib? Berlin Conference Addresses Male Troubles

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Men have issues too, though it's a perspective that is rarely mentioned in the debate over gender equality. Germany's family minister is holding a conference next week on challenges males face -- including the work-family balance and lower life expectancy -- next week in Berlin. Feminists are unlikely to be amused.

Men are taking a greater role in raising their children these days. But do their employers care? Zoom
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Men are taking a greater role in raising their children these days. But do their employers care?

German Family Minister Kristina Schröder has long had something of an adversarial relationship with the country's feminists. Not only has she refused to support hard quotas for women in top management positions, but she also has repeatedly broadsided "early feminism" or "feminists from the last century" for failing to recognize that "partnerships and children produce happiness." For many women's rights veterans, Schröder's book published last spring, in which she essentially declares the dawning of the post-feminist era, was something of a last straw.

Now, Schröder is wading even further into the gender debate. On Monday, she will open a two-day conference specifically focusing on issues specific to men as society strives to achieve gender equality. Called "Men's Policies: Contributions to a Gender Equitable Society," the gathering is the first such high-level conference ever held on men's issues in the German-speaking world. And, as Schröder has made clear, comes not a moment too soon.

"The demands made on men and women in today's society are changing," a Family Ministry spokeswoman told SPIEGEL ONLINE in a statement. "Many men do not want to live like their fathers and grandfathers. In addition to their careers, they want more time for their families. The changes in gender roles that women have experienced have made it necessary to open new perspectives to men outside of traditional roles."

At a time when the gap between men's and women's salaries in Germany are wider than in any other European country -- and when just 2.2 percent of the top leadership positions in the country's top 100 companies were held by women in 2010 -- Schröder's focus on men's issues might seem to be missing the point.

A 'Betrayal' of Women's Rights

Yet there has been a growing focus on issues specific to men in several countries in Europe in recent years. Men in Germany, Austria and Switzerland have all come together in their respective countries in recent years to establish associations focusing on problems facing males and the Austrian Labor Ministry has even created a section devoted specifically to the subject. In 2004, the ministry held the first ever European fatherhood conference.

Schröder herself explained her own focus on men's issues in an open letter published in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in the spring of 2011. "We have become so used the monopolistic claims of women's rights activists on issues relating to gender equality that the idea of including boys and men to a greater degree in the debate has, in the best case, been ignored and in the worst case been branded as a betrayal of the goals pursued by the women's rights movement."

Yet the combative language Schröder has often used in her confrontations with German feminists, and in that treatise in particular, is the kind of rhetoric that many activists for men's issues would seem eager to avoid.

"I have great respect for the feminist moment," says Thomas Gesterkamp, the author of several books on men's issues, including "The New Fathers between Child and Career." "First and foremost, it is important that the issue is present. The terms of the debate have to change so that one doesn't always equate the pursuit of men's issues with the disadvantaging of women."

So what are those issues? Several men's issues activists speak of the fact that, while the traditional roles of women are changing to include professional careers and liberation from being seen as the primary childcare provider within the family, the discussion has not broadened to relieve men of being seen as the primary breadwinner. That, they say, means that even as men have become more active in their families, there has been no complementary relief at work.

Societal Expectations of Men

In some ways, that is not entirely true. Germany in recent years has introduced generous parental leave provisions that allow one parent -- either mother or father -- to take 12 months off from work to care for newborns and couples a total of 14 months, which can be divided as they wish. Other European countries have adopted similar programs.

But, says Markus Theunert, who will be taking part in several events at next week's conference in his role as president of maenner.ch, an organization that unites all men's and father's groups in Switzerland, societal expectations of men remain a hindrance.

"Many men would like to work less than they do," he says. "But because of ongoing societal gender roles, they often don't feel like they have the freedom to do so."

The labor market, though, is not the only area where men feel there are improvements to be made. Life expectancy for men, for example, remains lower than that of women. Yet it is an issue that goes largely ignored, as does the fact that many of the leading causes of death for males, such as heart disease and strokes, can often be linked to stress, men's activists say.

'Not Real Men'

Another significant issue is that of education. Statistics in recent years have shown that boys and young men make up a greater share of lower-tier schools in Germany whereas women are the majority in the college prep high schools, or Gymnasiums. Boys are likewise far more likely to end up in special needs schools.

Mostly, however, the movement seeks to change the terms of the public debate. "I hope that we will soon normalize the discussion," says Andreas Goosses, spokesman of Forum Männer, a Germany-wide group which focuses on men's issues. "I hope that men will be seen as people with a gender and as partners in all issues. We want to help answer the question as to how productive perspectives can be developed that benefit both genders."

While next week's conference is not likely to change the situation anytime soon, it does take a step towards the fulfilment of Family Minister Schröder's pledge to focus more attention on issues affecting men and boys beyond merely establishing a German Boys' Day last spring. And the hopes of men's activists are cautious at best.

"We hope that men's issues become more visible," Theunert says. "Traditionally, men don't have issues, and if they do, then they aren't real men. As such, this conference is something of a challenge for men as well."

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1.
Jakespeare 10/19/2012
British Psychologist Havelock Ellis called Men the Ornamental Sex...and to some extent that is all that we are from a reproductive sense. Since we left the trees, mothers have systematically brought up their men children much differently than their women children and there is a multiplicity of reasons for doing so. Since I am a man, I can only speculate but there probably is some real resentment against men father after nine months of discomfort, great angst and the ultimate pain of giving birth. For countless millenia, boys have been excluded from the kitchen, the bathroom and the nursery as if this was to be far below their anticipated station in Life. After ten to fourteen years of mother-lavished care, women seemed to think that they had done their bit and watched as boys distanced themselves from mommy and took on the role of symbolically killing their daddy. North American native mothers had a ritual that they performed for this separation of boy from mother. The men (led by the boy's father) of the tribe would show up by design and demand to take the boy away from the mother. She would go into planned hysterics pleading to not take her boy from her. This was done so that the boy would remember mommy but break away to do the manly things the men would teach and sometimes inflict on him. The women of the tribe would be gathered about putting on a show of comforting the weeping mother in front of the boy and the newly arrived men. When they left with the boy, mother would turn to the women and ask, "Did I it do OK? Do you think he will still love me?" The onset of adolescence is a huge traumatic experience for a child- boy or girl. Because of the social discipline of tribal culture, this drama played out before boys left an indelible mark on them. Our children in our shifting and confused culture, bear the stamp and seal of motherhood until adolescence, when it all peels of and reveals a fresh new person who must choose what kind of person they are to be and what kind of relationships they will form with others of our butterfly generation. Men are still nowhere... now here. Now there. Nowhere... until some surrogate mother takes them in and decides their fate for them.
2.
retarded-freak 10/22/2012
Feminists still have a strong failure in the department of male-female courtship. Women nevertheless follow the idea of man as extroverted entertainment. Women still prefer the alpha-male, "man-of-power". At least in the USA it is like that. For instance, women are voting for Mitt Romney, as he has a look to attract women, lots of money, and power. They are similarly attracted to Stephen Harper and possibly George Bush.
3. Really?
champs-elysees 10/22/2012
---Quote (Originally by Jakespeare)--- British Psychologist Havelock Ellis called Men the Ornamental Sex...and to some extent that is all that we are from a reproductive sense. ---End Quote--- Are we really? Please take a look around you, from the chair you sit on to your PC monitor, virtually every invention or discovery has been - and is - male made. Women can only give birth to babies because they completely rely on men. Even today, as feminists have partially succeeded in replacing the real father by the state and its social system as an "over-father" - the state needs the man to do all heavy, dirty work women tend not to like, and so to indirectly finance the divorced "liberated" women by their tax and alimony. Thatcher was elected by a female majority, yes, but the people she sent to war in the Falklands were excusively men. I totally refuse to any sociological or biologist attempt to define the human race as being a "female race" and the male as being unnecessary. One may argue that nowadays the woman is not dependent on somebody doing heavy work any more - which is true to some degree - but on the other hand science can peplace female reproduction organs as well, so these talks about necessity of a specific gender lead to nothing good. ---Quote--- Our children in our shifting and confused culture, bear the stamp and seal of motherhood until adolescence, when it all peels of and reveals a fresh new person who must choose what kind of person they are to be and what kind of relationships they will form with others of our butterfly generation. Men are still nowhere... now here. Now there. Nowhere... until some surrogate mother takes them in and decides their fate for them. ---End Quote--- Again I disagree. Being male or female is in our genes. All the socialisation you counted up just makes a very small part of the man or woman. In the 1960's, when Dr. Money made his infamous "gender-experiment" by trying to socialize a boy he castrated as a girl to prove the overall influence of socialisation, this turned to be a complete failure: The "girl", never knowing he was a boy, behaved absolutely like his male twin-brother and later committed suicide after he was aware of what the genderists had done to him. It is proven latest science that boys and girls are different in their thinking and doing way before any socialisation can influence them. Scientists have found out that even new-born babies, one day old, behave gender-specific, with the boys rather being interested in mechanical objects and the girls in human faces. The responsible factor ist testosterone, and you can not socialise that. Knowing all this, we finally should stop gender politics being female-focussed. Every law, be it in the workplace or about child custody, has to have an equal outcome if you change the gender in the words - otherwise it is sexism. How come feminists who declare all liberty to women and who look down on classical housewifes, suddenly turn to the old role model of the nurturing mother when it comes to child custody and its financing? By the way, most children are killed by their mothers, not their fathers, so why should we believe the father be less able to raise his child? Men indeed have lots of issues to discuss about, from higher unemployment, higher punishments, less health care to shorter life expectancy. What makes me wonder here, is that the Spiegel opens this discussion in english, totally ignoring this theme in the german version of its online-magazine.
4. Gender
Kofi 10/23/2012
Gender vs. Sex. Gender is a. the social construct of the sexes b. viral political ideology to grab and seize power in order to explore the gender dimension of whatever, a political technology More male mothers, please.
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