by Marc Quinn
On March 27th, 2010, a group of 25 people (all but 2 being men) gathered in South London to discuss the state of men in the UK, and what could be done to bring more purpose, power and meaning to their lives.
Man Collective was started last November when Alex Linsley, an economics student at Oxford University, wanted to start a men’s group to gather a close-knit community of men to challenge and inspire him to step up the game in his life. Some would say he was unwise to send out an email to the entire Oxford University Network including the question “Do you have balls?” but I found it incredibly bold. Surprisingly enough to Alex, his group earned the attention of Oxford University’s newspaper “Cherwell.” Then within a week it was featured in a national newspaper, The Guardian, and within 24 hours Alex was sat in the BBC studios in Oxford talking on live radio and TV news about what he intended for the group and responding to a barrage of joint feminist and chauvinist attacks. Had anyone ever united the feminists and the chauvinists in the same camp before?
Seeing all this attention brought to Alex over something as “insignificant” as a tiny men’s group, I became highly inspired by the opportunity that lay before us to make a difference for men in the UK. For me, my stars had finally lined up. My own search into all things integral over the last few years told me that this was really a golden opportunity for us to stand for something much greater than a single men’s group. One day, at London’s busiest train station over a cup of coffee, I told Alex that I wanted to see a men’s group in every single university in the UK, and I asked him to help me. Since then, we have tried to see what an organization that could support men would look like, and how groups could be structured so that they would work well. We wanted to go beyond seeing ourselves as “menimists” (a name we have been called by the woman’s magazine Grazia,) and beyond seeing ourselves as a men’s rights group. We did not wish to outsource responsibility for the state of men in the UK to politicians and activists; we wanted to take full responsibility. To put it integrally, we decided we wanted to support the development of the left-hand interior quadrants in the most powerful way we could without making it look like “self help.”
After much discussion about WHY the British press found his group so news-worthy, we decided we wanted to see where “men’s work” was in the UK. Was there anyone out there working solely for men? What did their work look like? More importantly, we wanted to know why they were so difficult to find. We organized The Gathering as a way to accomplish this, and to connect–in many cases for the first time–the many strands that do exist in the UK.
We started The Gathering by giving everyone present an opportunity to understand why on earth two guys in their twenties would even consider gathering so many “old school” men’s group guys in one place, and what we were really wanting to build. Many were astonished that Alex’s group had gained so much attention by the media. Many were delighted to see that they were not alone in the work they were doing. Much to our amazement, many were actually quite nervous to be there.
Men’s work, it seems, had been stung by the media when it began to flourish in the 70s, and had been afraid to lift its head for fear of repeated media humiliation. We found that there were many men there who were desperate to make a difference to the lives of men in the UK, but for whatever reason had been afraid to step up and make a difference. They spoke of hostility they had received towards their work helping men–whether that was starting a men’s group, running retreats just for men, or even working with men from troubled backgrounds. As a young man who has dealt with his own challenges in life, I noticed my anger at their lack of presence in the world when I would have liked to have had them support me. I challenged these men to step out into the world with their work in our State of The Man Address that addressed where men are at these days and what opportunities lie ahead of us to truly make a difference. As the day grew on, my anger subsided as I realized these men had really been through a lot to stand for their work despite the rejection or misplaced anger that had been projected onto them. It was amazing they had not abandoned it altogether.
The organization of the day was difficult enough. We had decided to allow two women to be present: one was an independent journalist, and the other a counselor at Leeds Metropolitan University who is immensely passionate about seeing that male students have access to counseling services. We had some men drop out because women were to be present on the day. We had the passion to speak this message of empowering men, but really lacked the experience in what it took to gather these men in one place for a day. British readers will understand me when I say it was a real “Blue Peter” experience.
The attacks we have received for our supposed intentions have been anything but an impartial analysis of what we’re actually trying to achieve. As we see it, we have been added to the Pre/Trans Fallacy Walk of Shame. Where we have been following our own desire to bring more passion, purpose and vitality to the lives of men in the UK, we have been boxed into many categories such as being a support group, a men’s rights organization, a woman-hating group. We even found our name on a cult warning website–what an achievement for two men who are simply inspired by the work of David Deida, Tripp Lanier, Jayson Gaddis and The Authentic Man Program. It seemed many people simply did not know how to classify us, so we became boxed into whatever was available at the time.
What became apparent as the day went on was that nobody really knew how to classify us. Chauvinists in the press had called us “navel-gazing bulls***ters,” whereas feminists had accused us of trying to take away power from women in the world. Our principle vision for The Gathering was to help men step into the role of being compassionate, powerful leaders. If, as the feminist backlash claimed, men had enough power already, then we figured why not help more of these men to become great leaders of integrity and honor, with a true second-tier embrace? The current state of men in the UK seemed to be more men receiving little guidance on how to be men, but entering adulthood with immature values and very little in the realm of a real life purpose. The UK has done well to create equal opportunities for women, but in doing so it seems men have reluctantly entered into a gender flatland created from not finding space for the best qualities masculinity (as opposed to machismo) has to offer.
Communicating this to men is a great challenge we must embrace. We knew that there were men out there who were ready to take their lives beyond mediocre and into the next stage of their development, we just needed an opportunity to discover what language they understood best. Looking at the British male landscape, we seem to have lost that healthy blue meme ideal of living for a purpose. People are terrified of rebirthing the blue meme in the UK, and yet without it we see rising knife crime, drunkenness and alarming numbers of suicides amongst young men. If men have enough support already, why are there three times as many men ending their lives than women? Why are so many men seemingly going with the flow without making informed, conscious choices about where their lives are headed, only to find the juicier content of life being explored under the influence of alcohol?
I was at an event hosted by Don Beck in June 2009 on the future of the UK, and he raised an important point: Indian and Chinese immigrants to the UK have a much greater sense of purpose than do our own countrymen. In Don’s words: “They will eat you alive if Britain does not find its purpose.”
During The Gathering, I wondered “Why is most of this men’s work about therapy and support?” For me, the question was not about whether men would be interested in stepping up their passion for their lives, it was about how we branded this work. Firstly, why are we calling it Men’s “WORK”? And why was it not speaking to men as men? Much of this work was leading itself with words like healing, wellness, love, and community. As a young man who has played enough violent video games and has had his own fair share of narcissistic teenage years, I had to ask myself “who on earth would buy this message?”
Were we all afraid to step out into the world with our message of empowering men because we had wrapped our product in some green meme nightmare, with pink bows and promises of being “more in touch with ourselves” and “healing our inner child”? I am curious to know if wilderness retreats, drumming circles or other practices of yesterday’s men’s groups are really the way forward, or if we need to find a new vehicle to engage men today. Whatever the message ends up being, I can’t shake the feeling that we need a more provocative “in your face” approach if we want to communicate to these men. We want to show the UK that it does have balls, and that it should not be afraid to use them.
Men’s work should not be an end in itself. It should serve to create more instances of great male leadership in the world and to start a new conversation; demonstrate that men with integrity exist. Men are generally hesitant to be in community with each other, and yet it is only in community that we can really find ourselves being as powerful as we deserve to be. So why keep it just MAN Collective? It has taken a while for us to realize the importance of men being together with each other in a group without the influence of women. Then someone at The Gathering said it really well: We learn to become men when we are comfortable being with other men.
Alex got the men’s group he asked for. It runs every Monday at Oxford University and the men there seem to get a lot of value out of connecting on a weekly basis to discuss what is important to them, and where they are headed in their lives. As for the much larger vision of Man Collective, our biggest challenge moving forward is to convince those who are interested in this work that ranting against feminism and women does NOTHING to further this cause of empowering men. Our next biggest challenge is to find a vehicle in which to communicate the next generation of men’s work to the UK, and to those would want to join us. Our current realization is that men’s groups should not just be ends in themselves. Alex and I want to see men challenging the status quo by providing leadership where there is none. The next generation of men’s work is not burdened by the shame of relying on other men to support and grow their lives. It is not afraid to stand up and stand for something.
Leadership is a word that many men understand, and it appeals to that very masculine drive which most men are turned on by. Sharing your feelings is recognized by many current men’s groups as being a valuable practice for all members, but we see it as another cultivation practice that men can take on to develop the quality of leadership which so many are asking for. We believe those who do see themselves as making a difference in the world would listen to a message of leadership before they would listen to many of the messages given out by many current men’s groups. That is not to invalidate the great work many groups are doing, but simply to offer a challenge for such groups to make a bigger impact on their surrounding worlds.
Neither Alex nor I were initiated into being men with a ceremony or rite, and yet this process of providing leadership, however naively, is where we feel more men can find that fire in their belly by which to live lives they are inspired to live, and provide them with a means to play a bigger game.
About the Author
Marc Quinn has been a life-long searcher of what the hell to do with his life. He found his purpose by accident when Alex Linsley started Man Collective and he saw himself shouting at the radio against people who were attacking what Alex was trying to achieve. Marc is currently building an online presence to offer practices in the “I, We & It” domains for those suffering from Porn Addiction. He is keen to empower anyone who says they don’t enjoy their lives, and is hugely passionate about communication, dialogue and how to reach an audience with your message. Marc is a community builder in training. You can find him at www.marcquinn.net or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org