Originally published in June 2008.
It was no accident that New Orleans was the site of the 10th anniversary of V-Day, a dizzying two-day celebration in April of the global movement to end violence against women and girls. The vibrant, pulsating city, though far from healed in the two and a half years since the levees broke, flooding the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, offered safe harbor for the slam poets, artists, writers, healers, hell raisers, and hope mongers—activists all in the struggle for truth, justice, and a new American way. I was part of the tribe that converged on the Big Easy, in my case to also speak at Tulane University and to visit one of my daughters. Continue reading »
Originally published in December 2007.
“From this day forward, I promise never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women, sexual assault and domestic violence.” — White Ribbon Campaign pledge
Is that a pledge you can sign onto? I hope so. Continue reading »
Originally published in October 2007.
Can advocating for a new brand of masculinity find a place in the national conversation about next year’s presidential election? Manhood—even with the presence of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race—is still a central aspect of presidential politics. In post 9/11 America, the question, “Who is the toughest and strongest, firmest and most decisive candidate to best protect me from the terrorists?” is one most voters would admit, on some level, they are asking themselves. For many, “Who is thoughtful, deliberate, compassionate and collaborative?” is not. It’s not a question we read about in the paper or hear a talking head on a television news program ever raise, and rarely see blogged about online. Continue reading »
A version of this September 2007 web editorial, “Women’s Equality, Men’s Liberation” originally appeared as “Men Also Share Fruits of Women’s Equality Day” in the cutting edge, online publication Women’s eNews (www.womensenews.org).
On August 26, 1920, 72 years after the struggle had begun, women in the U.S. had at last won the right to vote. Eight days earlier, suffragist (Anita) Lili Pollitzer, a 25 year-old activist, had successfully persuaded Tennessee state legislator Harry T. Burn, 24, to cast the deciding vote. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally the law of the land and the nation’s 26 million voting-age women were at last enfranchised. Woman Suffrage Day (now named Women’s Equality Day), beyond commemorating the date women succeeded in getting the right to vote, also symbolizes women’s ongoing quest for equality. While acknowledging that pivotal anniversary, the day can be more than only a celebration for women. It affords men a chance to learn from women’s struggle for independence valuable tools we can apply to our own liberation. Continue reading »
Originally published in June 2007.
Inspiration. How do you bottle it and keep it with you for those times when you’re feeling down? I was wondering about that conundrum the other day after I participated in a rally for gender equality organized by a group of high school students. Continue reading »
Originally published in Spring 2007.
It’s happened again. Another male has shot up a campus, killing 32 people and himself. We are heartsick, angry, outraged—and strangely numb. Many of us are suffering from post-Columbinitis, a malaise that desensitizes people to violence. We distance ourselves from our feelings, passively consume television’s carefully packaged new infotainment program, “Tragedy at Virginia Tech.” Numbly, we watch the same footage, interviews with students, families and expert talking heads, or we tune out, overwhelmed by a culture that feeds on violence. All that temporarily awakens us from our torpor are touching photos and testimonials about the victims. Continue reading »
Originally published in the Hampshire Daily Gazette in March 2007.
Among the many men who walk through the doors of the Men’s Resource Center for Change are soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these men have been ordered to attend one of the many batterers’ intervention groups we run for men who act abusively in their intimate relationships. We’ve been teaching men in these groups that there is never any excuse to abuse another person—and a lot more—since 1989. We give men tools to stop perpetuating domestic violence in their families. The truth is, many of these returning vets are haunted by much more, by deep and complex problems associated with being at war. Continue reading »
Originally published in February 2007
In the trade I ply—encouraging men to explore options outside the constraining box of conventional masculinity—there’s certainly no shortage of bad news. Men’s violence against women (and other men) remains at catastrophic levels; there’s little chance the Men’s Resource Center for Change is going to be short of problems to address anytime soon. Nevertheless, my family and friends will tell you I’m a glass-half-full person—upbeat, optimistic. Even in the face of gloom and doom—the senseless, tragic war in Iraq, the criminal neglect plaguing the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, the indifference to the suffering in Darfur—I always seem to look for ways to connect the dots of possibility, the signs of hope trumping despair. So where is the good news?
Let me cite three examples. Continue reading »
Originally published in December 2006.
“I have a son, 18, and three daughters, all in their twenties. The thought that even one parent in South Dakota might face the news that his or her daughter was not only the victim of rape but was also pregnant and would be forced—by state law—to deliver the rapist’s baby, well, that was something I knew I had to challenge.”
I shared those words with a lot of people last month when I spent the final five days before the November 7th elections campaigning in South Dakota to overturn the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation. As the director of a pro-feminist men’s center, as well as a father, I knew I had to go to South Dakota. Happily, by a more than 55% to 45% margin, we were successful and the law was overturned. Continue reading »
Originally published in June 2006.
Amid the barbecues and neckties that will mark Father’s Day on June 18, some dads are offering a gift of their own to their families—teaching peace.
A growing number of fathers, father figures, and other male mentors are joining a national campaign aimed at increasing awareness, transforming attitudes, and encouraging men to teach the next generation that violence is wrong. Continue reading »
Originally published in April 2006.
You know how in some movies there’s a scene with a split screen where two characters are shown simultaneously? An image like that came to mind not long ago when I heard in the same evening two distinct stories, one about men’s stubbornness and one about men’s tenderness.
Imagine on one side of the screen the captain of a U.S. Navy vessel standing in the ship’s radio room; on the other side, a man about his age, a spiritual seeker from the United States, visiting with children in a crowded Indian orphanage. Here are their stories: Continue reading »
Originally published in March 2006.
For a society long noted for its simplistic characterizations of men, the film Brokeback Mountain may mark the beginning of a new awareness about the depth and complexity of men’s emotional lives. This stirring story of love unfulfilled, tenderly evoking Ennis Del Mar’s and Jack Twist’s relationship over a 20-year span is so artfully layered that it cannot be dismissed simply as a story about “gay cowboys.” Ennis and Jack are not so easily pigeonholed. Nor are the rest of us. Characterizations of any man as simply “the silent type,” “tough guy,” or “emotionally unavailable” are too shortsighted. Continue reading »
Originally published in December 2005.
Never has the voice and message of the Men’s Resource Center for Change (MRC) been more needed than it is today. With the drumbeat of war still a loud and persistent part of each of our lives, the relationship between how boys and young men are socialized and the narrow, dangerous effect that training has on us cannot be overstated. From the misogyny and violence in some hip hop lyrics to key male government officials sanctioning torture, it is clear that work with men needs as many friends and supporters as ever before. Continue reading »
Originally published in September 2005.
While Casey Sheehan, the 24 year-old soldier who was killed a year and a half ago in Iraq, isn’t the only deceased member of the military to put a human face on the Iraq War, the futility of the U.S. occupation there is now in sharper relief because of the efforts of his grieving, emboldened mother, Cindy. Throughout August, Cindy Sheehan took up residence outside of George Bush’s vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas imploring Mr. Bush to meet with her to explain what exactly her son died for. Mr. Bush refused. Now Casey’s mom is on a 25-state peace tour in her quest for answers about the continuing bloodbath that has taken the lives of nearly 1,900 U.S. military and uncounted thousands of Iraqis. Cindy Sheehan’s maternal voice awakened in MRC Executive Director Rob Okun, a father of four, thoughts about Casey. Rob found himself wondering recently what Casey would have to say if he were alive today.
Originally published in Summer 2005.
A headline in The Boston Globe on Father’s Day, “Daddy, What Did You Do in the Men’s Movement?” caught my eye with its catchy if cynical play on the phrase, “Daddy, what did you do in the war?” Expectantly, I began reading, eager to see how New England’s largest newspaper would report on the “personal growth, challenging violence” component of the movement that the Men’s Resource Center for Change has been championing for nearly 25 years. What a letdown the article turned out to be. Continue reading »
This article is excerpted from a talk Rob Okun gave in Portland, Maine, on March 2, 2005, to the group Boys to Men.
Recently, despite my having filled out a form authorizing my son’s high school not to release his name and address to military recruiters, Jonah, who turns 17 this spring, has been getting mail from the Marines. Already a progressive young man with three older feminist sisters, Jonah is highly unlikely to enlist. Nevertheless, he still feels the pressure conventional masculinity continues to exert on young men—40 years after the Vietnam antiwar movement began to shape alternative ideas about manhood. Continue reading »
Originally published in January 2005.
By Marian Kent, Becky Lockwood, and Rob Okun
On Election Day 2004 citizens in more than 100 Massachusetts communities had an opportunity to express themselves about an issue affecting the lives of tens of thousands of children in the Commonwealth—custody rights after separation or divorce. While the ballot initiative was non-binding, if they were ever enacted as law, their terms suggest a likely damaging impact on the lives of children living in post-nuclear families. The questions “passed,” drawing strong support statewide even though many who supported their recommendations later said they weren’t sure exactly what they were voting for. Continue reading »
From March 2004.
The Men’s Resource Center organized a signature ad campaign to celebrate women and the ongoing, significant contributions they continue to make in the service of creating a safe, egalitarian society. The full-page ad (text below) ran March 8th, International Women’s Day, in the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts with 170 men’s names. Thank you to all who signed the ad and contributed to our costs in running it.
Broadcast on Public Radio Station WFCR-FM, Friday, February 13, 2004
Will men ever “get it”? Will we ever recognize that the days of trying to limit women’s freedom of expression are long over?
WFCR INTRO: Those thoughts were on the mind of commentator Rob Okun after he learned that an Amherst businessman was spearheading a drive to try and stop female students from performing The Vagina Monologues at the town’s high school tonight.
Those supporting both women’s empowerment and men redefining masculinity owe the play’s critic, Larry Kelley, a thank you for illuminating the need to bring more men into this crucial conversation. Certainly, Eve Ensler’s play is about women’s lives. But it’s also about men waking up to women’s reality. Continue reading »
In June 2008, Rob stepped down as executive director of the Men’s Resource Center for Change. A central part of the organization since 1992, Rob delivered a “farewell address” at the MRC’s 12th annual Challenge & Change awards dinner on May 4th. What follows is an edited version of his remarks.
Yesterday, a number of MRC staff and volunteers marched with our banner in the annual Northampton Pride March where we celebrated the rights and lives of the LGBTQ community. It was, as it is each year we march, heartwarming to be among the thousands celebrating gay rights. And it was heartwarming to hear recognition for the MRC from the throngs along the parade route.
Today, May 4th, is another important date to mark. On May 4, 1970—38 years ago—four students were shot and killed and several others wounded at Kent State University in Ohio. National Guard troops had opened fire on an anti-war protest staged after then-president Richard M. Nixon reported he had secretly ordered a bombing campaign on Cambodia, widening the illegal Vietnam War. Days later, Mississippi State troopers killed two students and wounded 12 others at Jackson State University. The war had come home. Continue reading »