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Man, oh Man 

Masculinity reexamined at NOMAS conference

This is a man's, man's, man's, man's world James Brown

Oh yes it is but between the heyday of Brown's performing career and now right about the time the performer was remanded to a South Carolina jail on domestic abuse charges a group of American men began to rethink the traditional roles assigned to them by society and to question sexism in all its forms. In 1975, a small group of men in a women's studies program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville decided to join in the movement to emancipate women, and thereby "[liberate] men from traditional constructs of masculinity."

This year marks the 25th anniversary of what's known as the pro-feminist, anti-sexist men's movement in the United States. In 1982, a national council was created to coordinate efforts; in 1983, that council became known as the National Organization for Changing Men (NOCM); and in 1989, the name was changed to National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS).

This weekend at Colorado College, NOMAS hosts the silver anniversary conference on men and masculinity, 25 Years of Changing Men: History, Progress and Opportunities. A wide array of speakers, performers and workshops, all open to the public, will talk place in Armstrong Hall, including Thursday, Aug. 10's pre-conference institutes. The institutes include day-long trainings in issues close to the organizers' hearts: ending men's violence and dismantling racism.

Registration for the Aug. 11 - 13 conference events is from 4 - 6 p.m., Aug. 10, in Armstrong Hall, to be followed by a screening of the critically acclaimed film, Journey to a Hate Free Millennium, an exploration of hate crimes and the difficult task of victims not to hate in return. (Individuals can also register to attend any of the workshops by stopping in at Armstrong Hall any time over the weekend.)

Moshe Rozdzial, co-chair of the Colorado chapter of NOMAS and a key conference organizer was made aware early in life of crimes of hate his parents were Holocaust survivors, a key factor in his interest in redefining manhood outside of society's assigned masculine roles.

"For me, my struggle with what men should be was long-standing because of that issue," he said. "The masculine model was always one of violence, was always the image of men in uniforms and fighting. I did not associate with that image. I could not, because of my family background, say 'that is me.' I did not want to have that image because of what it did to my family."

Rozdzial and his colleagues now focus their attention on the negative impact of culturally reinforced images of manhood, especially those associated with violence and physical aggression.

"The way masculinity is constructed in this culture," said Rozdzial, "is that men are place into a certain box, the 'masculinity box.' There are a certain set of characteristics which are only allowed for men, which, in reality is a very small subset of all our human capacity.

"The fact that men have to be non-emotional, that men have to be the providers, the aggressors and competitors, that men have to be the ones that fight the wars, are very constricted aspects of our whole total human experience."

Of course, as with all social movements, the pro-feminist, anti-sexist men's movement has witnessed a backlash a result of "fear of change," according to Rozdzial.

One of the weekend's featured films, Tough Guise, an educational video geared toward college and high school students to "systematically examine the relationship between images of popular culture and the social construction of masculine identities in the U.S. at the dawn of the 21st century," addresses that backlash in graphic terms, showing the grotesque addition of exaggerated musculature (and larger, more lethal weapons) to fictional male heroes as male roles are redefined in a changing society an attempt to cling to old stereotypes in the face of change.

"Men had to change as women changed," said Rozdzial. "But there is a reaction. The reaction can be very subtle and it can be very blatant."

For example, the recent rash of adolescent male school shootings can be viewed as reactions to change in "a man's world."

"Columbine and all of those shootings, the violence of young, especially white men," said Rozdzial, "[can be seen as] a reaction to what happens to men when they think they are privileged and they don't get the entitlements they think they should get."

NOMAS emphasizes that the men's movement does not restrict or diminish male roles, but seeks to enhance and broaden traditional definitions of masculinity by making it safe for men to "break out of the box."

This weekend's conference offers teachers, parents, counselors, men, women and students an opportunity to envision a new kind of man's world.

Additional reporting by Kristin Echt

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