Here's a NOMAS background article that was written (and published
in Activist Men's Journal) in late Dec. 1992, a couple weeks before
the mid-winter NOMAS meetings in San Francisco which Geov attended.
AND THE MEN'S PRO-FEMINIST MOVEMENT
The Dubious Legacy of the National Organization
for Men Against Sexism
by Geov Parrish
Amidst the anti-feminist backlash in politics and popular culture, with
newly sensitive guys beating drums in the woods and their wives and/or
kids at home, and men's rights advocates enjoying unparalleled access
to their brethren in the media, judiciary and electoral arenas, many feminists
and men take heart in knowing that not all men are like that - that there
are, in fact, some honorable men out there committed to social justice,
gender equality, and the many battles against sexism. For the past decade,
the primary national political organizing forum of pro-feminists in the
U.S. has been the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS.
however, have cast a troubling light on NOMAS. Specific charges surrounding several
items printed in recent issues of Changing Men magazine - a publication loosely
affiliated with NOMAS - have, through denial, powermongering, and inept leadership,
escalated into profound suspicions concerning NOMAS's accountability and commitment
to feminist principles and a feminist political agenda. Even more critically,
they have brought to the public eye dynamics that have been with NOMAS since
its birth: dynamics that demonstrate a truly troubling tendency to tolerate and
to reinforce male supremacism.
This article documents
the history and current crises in patriarchal power-wielding within NOMAS, among
NOMAS's leadership, and in NOMAS's credibility with feminist women and organizations.
By tracing this history, it is hoped that future decisions on how to handle such
crises within NOMAS will also recognize and correct the structural mechanisms
that have been breeding these situations. The ideology of male supremacy appears
to be alive and flourishing, both unwittingly and at times quite intentionally,
among alleged pro-feminists. It's another reminder that, even when they learn
to mouth the right words, most men still don't get it - and don't seem to see
any compelling reasons to want to get it, either.
The National Organization for Men Against Sexism began as an outgrowth
of annual Men and Masculinity (M&M) conferences - gatherings of several
hundred mostly male activists, academicians, and others concerned with
gender issues. The first M&M conference, in 1976, was organized by
a Women's Studies task force of the American Psychological Association.
The 1977 conference, with the theme of "Men Supporting Men," was
the first to have an overwhelmingly male attendance.
A turning point came
at the 5th M&M conference in Los Angeles in 1980, when what had been an explicitly
feminist political agenda was challenged by men's rights presenters wanting to
hold a workshop outlining the ways in which women oppress men. The workshop proposal
was turned down, but only amidst enormous amounts of controversy and discussion.
(A concurrent workshop proposal by a group of Gay Nazis was rejected with less
This was the first
widespread acknowledgement that the conferences were not meant as open forums
for all men's issues, but were to have an explicitly pro-feminist cast. Within
a year, a corresponding political organization was launched.
A year after its
1982 founding, the National Organization for Men became the National Organization
for Changing Men. Under the rather unfortunate acronym of NOCM (popularly referred
to as either "no-cum" or "knock-em"), the National Organization
for Changing Men was an umbrella group intended to further the networking and
proposals fostered in the annual meetings. NOCM also had some of the same principal
founding figures as Changing Men (CM) magazine, a Madison, Wisconsin-based periodical
published by the grandiosely-titled (and male-run) Feminist Publications, Inc.
CM began in 1977 with a focus on helping men evolve new roles in a society shifting
toward gender equality. In addition to funnelling subscribers to CM, NOCM also
began publication of its own, in-house newsletter, Brother, which reported more
specifically on the internal projects and politics of NOCM.
With a dearth of
national political groups that self-identified as addressing men's issues (excluding
outfits like Congress, the Democratic and Republican Parties, et al), NOCM, like
the conferences that gave birth to it, quickly found itself a focal point for
any and all men who cared about gender issues - whether or not they had a progressive
slant. In the early and mid-1980's, two other movements cleaved off and eventually
outgrew the pro-feminists: the so-called "men's rights" activists,
explicitly misogynist male privilege apologists who organize around such issues
as alimony, child custody and fathers' rights; and the SNAGs (Sensitive New Age
Guys), who have since become the enormous and more explicitly misogynist mythopoetic
movement led by icons such as Robert Bly and Shepherd Bliss. Whether either of
these perspectives had a place in pro-feminism was a point debated by some but
generally not confronted by NOCM's power elite; what happened in each case was
that a more explicitly anti-feminist agenda found media access and popular (male)
support, generated its own groups and institutions, and became independent and
Our goal is to change not just ourselves and other men, but also
the institutions that create inequality." - from the NOCM
The NOCM Statement of Principles in place through 1989 clearly shows these
roots. It begins by defining NOCM as: "...an activist organization supporting
positive changes for men today. NOCM advocates a male-positive, pro-feminist
and gay- affirmative perspective...traditional masculinity includes many positive
characteristics in which we take pride and find strength, but it also contains
qualities that have limited and harmed *us*." (emphasis added) There is
no mention of patriarchy or male privilege. There is no definition of "feminism" or "pro-feminism," and
no mention of what role (if any) feminist activists or groups should be offered
to guide NOCM's vision and goals. (Nor, for that matter, are such relationships
spelled out with gay or anti-racist groups - two other constituencies whose
goals NOCM claimed to champion.) In only one paragraph - the fourth of a seven-paragraph
document - the SOP acknowledges feminist issues, noting that "...women
and men can and do work together as allies to change the injustices that have
so often made them see one another as enemies." The emphasis is clearly
upon men's concerns and worries rather than on what would be progressive men's
responses to feminist challenges. Curious, indeed, for an organization that
explictly identified itself as "pro-feminist."
The conferences are useful as an important place for me to meet people...and
it provides a place for EMV to meet as well. Other than that it's not been exactly
clear what NOMAS offers." - Bill Warters, former EMV Co-Chair, Syracuse
NY, Dec. 1992
With an influx of new, often more explicitly pro-feminist men, the face of
NOCM changed in the late 1980's. By 1990, the group had changed its vague and
frequently ridiculed acronym to NOMAS - the National Organization for Men Against
Sexism. Reflecting this more clearly anti- patriarchal title, NOMAS's governing
body, the NOMAS Council, gradually included more activists with an explicitly
feminist analysis and focus.
has about 500 dues-paying members, mostly in the United States. Its primary activity
is still the convening of annual national M&M conferences: in Chicago in
1992, in San Francisco in 1993. Secondarily, NOMAS publicizes and provides administrative
support for its various task forces, and, when money allows, prints issues of
Brother. Over the years, M&M Conferences have also spawned a number of committees
and task forces under the NOMAS umbrella: Brotherpeace, Ending Male Violence,
Gay Rights, Men's Studies, Bisexuality, Pornography, Reproductive Rights, Male-Female
Relationships, the Committee to Eliminate Racism, Child Custody, and others.
NOMAS members also receive as part of their membership fee a subscription to
Changing Men - a magazine outside the editorial and financial purvue of NOMAS,
but retaining close political connections. In exchange for the subscription arrangement,
NOMAS receives free publicity and a regular two-page feature section in CM edited
Gentlemen, I despise you for editorial decisions that will foster much more of
what I and many youths endured, but I'm glad I know whose
side you're on." - Martin Dufresne, Montreal Men Against Sexism, in a
Sept. 1992 letter to Changing Men
THESE Are Feminism's ALLIES??
In August 1992 (issue #24), Changing Men published a theme issue on "Sex
and Sexuality" which included - among other problematic articles - a piece
by California therapist and NOMAS co-founder Jeff Beane describing his experiences
as a gay male teen in the late 50's and early 60's. The often moving article,
outlining Beane's alienation and confusion in an oppresively homophobic world,
culminates with Beane's wistful, romantic portrayal of his sexual conquest,
as a 17-year-old, college-bound high school senior, of a 12-year-old neighborhood
boy. In the same issue, CM published in its classifieds section an ad for NAMBLA
- the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a pedophile group notorious
in gay male political circles; an ad for Libido, a magazine whose conception
of exploring the exotic fringes of sexuality is suspiciously similar to Penthouse;
and an introductory article for the special section, written by Duayne Allen
and boldly headlined as "An Invitation to Transgressive Sex."
A number of men and
women immediately challenged CM for both the NAMBLA ad and the romanticization
in Beane's article of coercive sex with a child. One of these, feminist activist
Nikki Craft, researched and submitted for publication an article which, among
many other things, outlined past connections between CM editor Michael Biernbaum
and a pedophile publication known as Uncommon Desires.
Changing Men's editors
and publisher initially claimed, in response to their critics, that the NAMBLA
ad was an editorial oversight; that the Beane article was appropriate and did
not warrant challenge or review; and that it was inappropriate for CM to print
Craft's criticisms of Biernbaum and of past CM practices.
Equally telling was
the response by NOMAS. While Changing Men is editorially and financially independent
and has a responsibility only to sell its magazines, NOMAS is an explicitly political
organization with a mandate to combat male privilege. NOMAS retains ties to CM,
and the article in question was written by a co-founder and highly visible, fundraising
representative of NOMAS.
Amazingly, the response
by much of NOMAS's leadership was to back the article and, like the editors and
publisher of Changing Men, to direct attention away from the issues it raised.
In a Nov. 1992 letter to Minnesota pro-feminist activist Chuck Niessen-Derry
endorsed by several members of NOMAS's Council and discussed at a meeting of
NOMAS's three Co-Chairs (Bob Brannon, Phyllis Frank and Jim Hanneken), Kurt Colborn
states that challenges of Beane's predatory behavior are inherently homophobic,
since gay teens cannot be expected to develop similarly to their straight counterparts.
While massive documentation in sexual development studies suggests that a college-bound
senior fucking an elementary school student might be considered problematic,
the leadership of the nation's preeminent male pro-feminist group - the only
such group explicitly organized to combat sexism and sexual abuse - is advocating
greater male sexual access to children, and refusing to criticize Beane for something
(pedophilia) which it claims all gay men do. Say, what?
Behind the scenes,
the attempts to divert, ignore, or barrel through challenges to Changing Men,
and to NOMAS's complicity, were uglier. Lengthy, misleading, self-serving memos
were circulated by CM's editors to NOMAS Council members to back up allegations
that the problem wasn't Beane or CM at all - it was that annoying woman, Nikki
Craft, who kept pestering male activists about accountability and was therefore "bullying" and "impossible
to work with." Issue #25 of Changing Men, containing Craft's article and
numerous letters from persons objecting to #24, also contained a lengthy treatise
by CM's editors admitting no responsibility beyond mishandling the Beane article
and correcting the "oversight" of soliciting and accepting advertising
from the best-known pedophile group in North America. There was no admission
of responsibility from Beane or Allen and no mention of the questionable Libido
ad. The CM section edited by NOMAS ignored the entire controversy. NOMAS apparently
did not consider any aspect of the issue important enough to warrant comment
- including one of its leading officers having publicly, intentionally and proudly
romanticized his sexual experiences with children.
Attempts to pressure
NOMAS and Changing Men for an appropriate response were generally met by personal
counterattacks. For example, Nikki Craft was described as having engaged in "witch
hunts and character assassination:; Chuck Niessen-Derry was "heterocentric." (To
use the term "witch hunt" in reference to a woman activist is particularly
offensive.) The memos from CM editors Biernbaum and Cote made a point of attributing
unnamable but sinister motivations to their critics. Some NOMAS Council members
joined in the counterattacks.
After writing two
letters demanding accountability from NOMAS leadership over the child sexual
abuse issue, Child Custody Task Force convener and former NOMAS Co-Chair Jack
Straton received a phone call from Co-Chair Bob Brannon. Brannon, noting that "we
all have skeletons in our closets," suggested that if Straton did not back
off, Brannon would publicize a 1989 incident in which a woman charged that Straton
had been emotionally abuse to her. In a backhanded way, the phone call demonstrated
that some in NOMAS are perfectly able to use the concept of accountability -
if only to sidestep their own accountability. The men's club closes ranks and
silences or discounts critics to protect its own - Old Boy Network tactics that
seem strangely out of place in a pro-feminist group.
NOMAS has not realized what many people thought of as its promise. It's an Old
Boy Network that militates against any kind of real activism and on-going critical
thinking. The best thing that could happen to NOMAS is for it to collapse and
be transformed into an activist organization. As a person involved in activism
I find it less and less supportive. In fact, the conferences have become problematic
rather than a source of ideas
and information." - John Speaks, former NOCM Council member, organizer
for the 1990 Atlanta M&M conference; Dec. 1992
A History of Male Supremacism
The challenges that face NOMAS in 1993 don't stop with the task of convincing
members and allies that NOMAS doesn't actually endorse or practice the fucking
of children. Ultimately, NOMAS must own and find ways to break off and steer
away from its own history thus far - a history consistently splattered with
similar examples of non- accountability and male supremacism.
As late as 1988,
men's rights activists and other anti-feminists enjoyed a substantial presence
and acceptance within an allegedly pro- feminist group. While presentation of
a men's rights agenda was barred at the 1980 Los Angeles M&M conference,
Men's Rights Inc. leader Fred Hayward gave a highly visible and well-attended
presentation at the 1987 conference in Hartford. In addition to liaisons to feminist
women's groups (positions which essentially entailed attending meetings and being
a visible representative of NOCM), NOCM also had in its structure a designated
liaison to the men's rights movement - presumably to "dialogue" and
find common points of interest with groups whose entire political reason for
existence was antithetical to pro-feminism. Many men who considered themselves
pro-feminists were genuinely concerned about issues such as alimony and child
custody, and were not willing to confront the "male lobby" on its very
regressive anti-feminist agenda. (Ironically, Bob Brannon was one of the leaders
of the movement to dislodge the men's rightists from NOCM.)
After a lengthy pro-men's
rights, anti-feminist letter was printed without editorial comment in Brother
in December 1988, changes to NOCM's Statement of Principles were pushed through
Council in 1989 that explicitly disavowed the men's rights agenda and reaffirmed
NOCM's commitment to feminist principles. As part of the Council's actions, no
further copies of the Dec. 1988 issue of Brother were to be circulated.
These moves toward
greater pro-feminist clarity also came at a time of increasing activity and visibility
for the pro-feminist activists in NOMAS. M&M Conferences in Seattle (1988),
Pittsburgh (1989) and Atlanta (1990) had explicitly political themes, workshops,
and public demonstrations that were included with the usual themes of self- improvement
and male bonding much more obviously than in previous years.
internal politics and structure of NOMAS did not - and still do not - reflect
to NOMAS's new-found activist tendencies first evidenced itself in the January
1990 mid-winter Council meeting planning for the Atlanta M&M Conference.
NOMAS Co-Chairs Jon Cohen and Jack Straton, both well-known activists, submitted
a proposal for NOMAS to adopt a "National Campaign to Challenge Male Supremacy." The
campaign listed three political focuses: reproductive rights, child custody issues,
and ending men's violence.
In an eerie foreshadowing
of the response of some of the same NOMAS figures to Jeff Beane's article three
years later, the proposal was initially rejected as being inherently heterosexist.
Six months later, at the M&M Conference in Atlanta, a revised proposal was
passed. While some individuals have worked to implement specific portions, the
campaign itself immediately disappeared from NOMAS's agenda and has never resurfaced.
At the 1990 M&M
Conference in Atlanta, Bob Brannon was confronted by many of the members of a
local group, Men Stopping Violence, which was organizing the conference. Brannon,
in his role as NOMAS liaison to the local organizers, was accused by several
people of repeatedly speaking in angry and demeaning ways to MSV's Executive
Director, Kathleen Carlin; and, during the conference, of making racially insensitive
remarks to Oakland Men's Project activist David Lee (who is Asian-American).
The meeting called
to air these accusations included Brannon, Phyllis Frank, Lee, a number of MSV
activists, and men trained in intervention techniques for batterers and abusers.
Atlanta activists present at the lengthy meeting have characterized Brannon's
response to the concerns as being dismissive and "in denial" regarding
NOMAS Council members,
many of whom were aware of the confronta- tion, chose not to even discuss it.
(Little wonder the Council had failed to support a proposal to challenge [white]
male supremacy!) In the wake of the incident, Men Stopping Violence chose to
sever its ties with the National Organization for Men Against Sexism.
...while it is good to discuss ways of making sure this "type
of thing" never happens again, nothing replaces accountability. I would
suggest that our being in Arizona indicates that we are a social organization
and not a political one..." - Chuck Niessen-Derry, NOMAS Council alternate,
in a May 1991 letter to NOMAS explaining reasons for his decision to honor the
boycott of the Tucson M&M conference.