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 »
Note: Originally published April 2009.
What has become of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer? In the weeks since his forced resignation following revelations he had been routinely hiring prostitutes, Mr. Spitzer has largely disappeared from the headlines. The media—not so much out of goodwill as out of the insatiable needs of the news cycle—is apparently leaving the Spitzer family alone. That’s a good thing. However, after receiving an unmarked package containing a crystal ball, MRC executive director, Rob Okun offers a glimpse of Spitzer’s life as of Mother’s Day 2009. Continue reading »
Originally published in January 2009.
Were he still alive, my father would have turned 100 on New Year’s Day. At least that’s when we would have celebrated his birthday. Accurate record-keeping was rare in the village he came from in Pinsk, Russia. Growing up, Dad said his birthday may have been in mid-November since he was named Joseph, after the biblical figure whose Torah portion is chanted in synagogues at that time of year.
You may recall from Sunday school—or the hit musical Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat— that Joseph was sold to a neighboring tribe by his brothers, jealous that he was their father’s favorite. His brothers also didn’t like the dreams Joseph had suggesting, that he, their much younger brother, was destined to lead them. When he went to find his shepherd-brothers tending their flock, they stripped him of his rainbow-colored tunic, threw him in a pit and prepared to slaughter him. Persuaded by another brother not to kill him, they settled on selling him to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver. The betrayal Joseph experienced may have been more dramatic than many of us have experienced—or have heard of—but his story still serves as a cautionary tale. Indeed, during his lifetime, my father and his family were betrayed by one of his brothers. Continue reading »
This opinion piece from two years ago Valentine’s Day speaks about the need to organize a national teach-in on men and masculinity. While it was prompted by the senseless killings of five people by a troubled man perpetrated on a college campus near Chicago, the urgent need for a frank discussion of men—and not just those who are isolated, angry, and alone—can, perhaps, begin. With an administration in Washington more sensitive to these issues than ever before, to coin a phrase, this is our time. Truth be told, at one time or another many men in our society feel isolated, angry and alone. I am no exception.
Even though it was again a man who went on another campus shooting spree, the national conversation has so far failed to focus on the root causes of this latest lethal outburst: men’s depression and how men are socialized. Until we acknowledge those issues, we can only expect more tragic bloodlettings. Continue reading »
Originally published in February 2008 for the Men’s Research Center for Change.
Good news! The Vagina Monologues, a big story locally and nationally when a production of the play debuted at Amherst (Mass.) Regional High School in 2004, is coming back. The performance in the high school auditorium on the night after Valentine’s Day, is one of the thousands being presented around the world to raise consciousness and money for the movement to end violence against women. The local performance, organized by members of the Women’s Rights Club, a student group that blends activism and education about gender violence into an inspirational mix, is a powerful beacon of possibility spotlighting what young people can do. Continue reading »
In a world where too many fathers and men are angry, hurt, and hurting others, maybe it’s time for a moratorium on conventional Father’s Day gift giving. Maybe some of the millions going to Hallmark and Wal-Mart could be better directed to a fund supporting women’s and children’s safety.
The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and the Supreme Ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei—two men who, as symbols of manhood, couldn’t be further apart. And while no pair of males could represent the full spectrum of masculinity, the Thriller and the Chiller are strong contenders. Jackson’s death June 25, encroached on the headlines Khamenei was making, warning he’d had enough of the massive protests democracy-hungry Iranians were staging in Tehran.
Jackson, whose difficult gendered life seemed to be an attempt to be male, female and all points in between, inadvertently invited us to stretch our thinking about manhood. Not so for the Ayatollah, whose adherence to an extreme and rigid patriarchal masculinity precluded any such yoga of the mind. Continue reading »