Undoing the “Isms”
NOMAS recognized early on that all oppressions (the “isms”) are linked. Fighting against a single oppression (e.g., sexism) without recognizing that it is intertwined with all other oppressions (e.g., racism, classism, heterosexism) will not move us toward the creation of a just society. Thus we believe that it is essential to pursue justice on a broad range of social issues—to work toward ending all of the “isms.” In furthering this end, NOMAS is committed to actively and continually examine and challenge any and all oppressive beliefs and behaviors in ourselves, our organization, our communities and the systems that govern our lives.
Whatever socially imposed burdens men have to overcome, women are still the most universal and direct victims of our patriarchy. Our movement was born directly out of and continually nourished by feminism. We maintain a highly visible and energetic position in support of women’s struggle for equality. We applaud the insights and positive social changes that feminism has stimulated for both women and men. Although we are an organization for men against sexism, we welcome women as members and leaders of NOMAS. The inclusion of women alongside men in our membership and leadership enhance our accountability to the lived experience of feminist women. NOMAS has historically been a think tank about how men can appropriately and accountably engage the anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-heterosexist and anti-classist movements in this culture. Work that members of dominating groups do which is not accountable to all of those being dominated is necessarily oppressive: it is likely biased, flawed and incomplete. The work toward liberation that members of oppressed groups do has historically provided many occasions for dominating group members to strive toward being accountable allies (e.g. men who worked for women’s suffrage, etc.). Men in NOMAS have worked to continue this tradition by listening to marginalized communities and walking against the dominant cultural tide.
The enduring injustice of racism, which, like sexism, has long divided humankind into unequal and isolated groups, is of particular concern. Racism touches all of us and remains a primary source of inequality and oppression in our society. The very concept of “race” has no basis in biology—it is a socially constructed fabrication created to promote white supremacy. Racism has a long and complicated history in our country. Initially and brutally wielded against African and Native Americans, racism has long been used to oppress other people of color. However, racism is not only based upon skin color. Various white-presenting ethnic/religious groups have also been deemed “racially” inferior and subjected to oppression (e.g., Jews, Irish, Italians). The dynamics of racial oppression can be seen throughout our history in immigration policy, residential segregation, health care disparities, employment discrimination, voter suppression, policing, sentencing, language, stereotyping, and virtually every area of American life. As with sexism, we maintain a highly visible and energetic position in support of the struggle for racial equality.
One of the strongest and deepest anxieties of most American men is their fear of homosexuality. This homophobia, combined with systemic sexism, makes most men afraid to deviate from the traditional male role. Beyond restricting the expressional freedom of heterosexual men, homophobia and heterosexism contribute directly to the oppression of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons. We are committed to calling out popular myths about homosexuality; calling attention to the incredible fear, anxiety and suffering caused by homophobic and heterosexist oppression; and working for the creation of a gay-affirmative society. We also support the right of all people to challenge the restrictive nature of a patriarchal binary conception of gender through expressions of identity, presentation and/or sexuality.
Enhancing Men’s Lives
Our patriarchal culture and society teaches, rewards and enforces traditional masculinity. Men are given a privileged position as long as they conform to the approved list of traits and behaviors that make up traditional masculinity and avoid those that are labeled feminine. This process results in the subjugation of and violence against women. But men also pay a price for this arrangement. The aggression and competition that are part of the male role often spill over into intra-male violence. Stoicism, self-reliance, risk-taking and avoidance of “weakness” can lead to physical injury, ignoring of symptoms and reluctance to seek professional help. Men are also discouraged from expressing the full range of human emotions. The average life expectancy for men is five years less than it is for women. We believe that men’s lives can be greatly enhanced by rejecting the constraints of traditional masculinity.
By Redefining Masculinity
Some people in the pro-feminist men’s movement have been parsing traditional masculinity into what they see as its positive and negative components. It has become popular to label the negative components as toxic masculinity. People who take this approach envision a “new masculinity,” incorporating what they see as positive traits of traditional masculinity and rejecting the dysfunctional, destructive ones. Some even go as far as bringing traditionally feminine traits into the “new masculinity.” While we applaud the good intentions of this approach, many of us are concerned about its reification of the concept of masculinity itself. We believe that it is important to see that there is nothing inherently “masculine” about any of these human qualities; women and girls can and do possess them. The same is true for human qualities that have traditionally been labeled “feminine”; men and boys can and do possess them.
Many of us favor moving beyond the traditional masculine and feminine sex-role assignments and stereotypes. We encourage every person to develop and express whatever human traits they may choose; to become the person that they aspire to be. Thus, in some real sense, we would be content for the entire cultural-constructs of “masculinity” and “femininity” to gradually fade-away.
Classism is perhaps the least discussed and understood source of inequality in our society. In the broadest sense, classism can be defined as “systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes resulting in economic inequality.” However, the contemporary focus on the “99% v. the 1%“ obscures the fact that systemic classism is most oppressive for working-class and poverty-class people. Beyond inadequate social safety nets, this can be seen can be seen in areas such as: exclusionary zoning laws and residential segregation; discriminatory banking policies; tax laws; tolerance of payday loans, rent-to-own and other predatory practices; union-busting and right-to-work laws; disparities in access to health care and quality education; differential exposure to environmental challenges such as air and water pollution, toxic chemicals, workplace hazzards, trash accumulation and the placement of dangerous facilities; and, for impoverished rural populations, inadequate transportation especially diminishes access to distant public services, as well as medical, educational, and employment opportunities.
While we believe that it is important to work for economic equality, we believe that it is equally important to recognize that–as with most oppressions—class inequality is supported by a set of beliefs and cultural attitudes that divides people into dominant and subordinate categories and puts forth assumptions about the worth, character and ability of members of each of them. These assumptions provide justifications for systemic oppression while fostering individual prejudice and overt acts of discrimination. In our country, a dominant middle-class culture is presented as the norm. The portrayal of the beliefs and practices of middle-class people as being obvious and natural bestows unrecognized and unearned “class privilege” on all members of that group. At the same time, members of the “lower classes” are seen as unfortunate, deficient, defective or deviant. The prevalent dogma is that the working-class is something that you should strive to escape from if you are in it or avoid falling into at all costs if you are not. If a working-class culture is recognized at all, it is seen as an impediment to seeking a “pathway to the middle-class.” The worth of working-class values such as interconnectedness, rootedness and belonging; making do and not wasting; directness and expressiveness in speech; and valuing character rather than status are rarely considered.
We believe that cultural attitudes and beliefs as well as economic policies must be challenged in the quest to end classism.
From our By-Laws:
We understand the term accountability to mean an explicit process of voluntary communication and consultation with representatives of social groups whose interests and concerns are considered most relevant and important. Being “accountable” to a group does not mean taking orders from that group, or handing over the responsibility for making appropriate decisions. It does mean consulting with that group before making important decisions, and being fully aware of its concerns. It also means having a process of communication and consultation already in place, before a crisis or difficult issue arises.
11.2 Outside Groups to Which NOMAS Should Be Accountable
11.2.1 Outside Social Groups Included
As a national men’s organization with a broad agenda of issues relating to gender, sexism, and injustice, NOMAS has the obligation to be accountable, on issues that directly concern them, to several important social groups which are central to this organization’s stated principles. These are:
- The Feminist Women’s movement
- The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBTQI) Rights movement
- The Civil Rights (Racial Justice) movement