Without an Agenda, With a Clue: The New “Male Feminist Network” Contributes to Gender Discourse on Campus
by ERIC WARD
This fall, Gideon Mausner ’11 founded the Male Feminist Network. Unlike the other feminist organizations on campus, the group identifies with no wave, and has no political, economic, or activist agenda. Its mission is to create a safe space on campus where men in the Yale community can meet and discuss their relationship to masculinity, women, and each other.
Mausner took inspiration from Michael Kaufman, author of Cracking the Armor: Power, Pain, and the Lives of Men. Originally published by Viking in 1993, and re-released as a Penguin paperback in 1994, the book in now freely available for download from Kaufman’s personal website. The book’s mission as set out in its introduction, is as follows:
“The real problem is that the ways we have defined male power over several thousand years has brought not only power and privilege to the lives of men, but tremendous pain and insecurity as well. That pain remained largely buried until the rise of feminism. As women have challenged men’s power, we’ve been left feeling increasingly vulnerable and empty, and full of questions. Bereft of the socially created power on which we had come to depend, we have lost sight of our innate human capacities and potential. […] We have to redefine what it means to be men, but to do so we need to reshape our world in a design of equality, diversity and shared strength between women and men.”
Like Kaufman—who moves fluidly between pornography, violence, and bromance— the Male Feminist Network entertains a wide variety of topics. By design, the meetings have no set itinerary; usually, members share challenging experiences from the previous week, one of which is taken up for discussion. Men’s relationships to women—as friends or as lovers—are a common topic.
According to Mausner, men who identify as feminists often struggle to fit into all-male groups. He was not referring to fraternities or athletic teams; the majority of the groups mentioned were “ad-hoc.” Even in the absence of any organizing principle, these groups tend to give rise to gendered patterns of behavior: sexist jokes, discussions about particular women, or masculine competitiveness. Many men feel tempted to speak up, Mausner said, but social pressures often suppress that impulse. In these situations, the men feel torn between their relationship to their beliefs and the integrity of the immediate social group.
The Male Feminist Network works under the aegis of the Yale Women’s Center, which provides resources and space to over a dozen other undergraduate organizations. The Women’s Center also hosts another all-male feminist organization. Originally called “Yale Men Against Rape,” this group briefly became “1 in 4” before settling on its current name, “Pro-Feminist.” Mausner defines the aims of Pro-Feminist as one of “educating men about sexual violence in the form of men against women.” To date, there is no membership overlap between these two male feminist organizations. “Ours is an interpersonal support group, theirs is an activist organization,” he says. “They have entirely different trajectories. A person could be a member of both, but right now, that’s not the case.”
With a small but devoted membership, the Male Feminist Network has recently decided to move its meetings to private residences. “The open structure of the group led for it to be exciting, but not super-constructive,” Mausner said of its tenure at the Women’s Center. At the time of the interview, he said that the group intends to start meeting at a flexible time and place, to better accommodate the schedules of its members. As before, the meetings will continue to appear in the Women’s Center weekly email newsletter, and Mausner urges the seriously interested to contact him directly. “First and foremost,” he said of the group’s future, “we want to be there for each other.”
Eric Ward is a senior in Yale College.