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The Men's Movement is Dead. Long Live the Men's Movement!

Thoughts on Attending the Annual National Wingspan Conference

Copyright © 1996 by Dick Gilkeson

This article appeared in the January 1997 issue of M.E.N. Magazine


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Having been present at the 1996 Wingspan Conference, I am delighted to report that UN-leadership and UN-organization are still the order of the day. There was little talk of a men's movement, or of plans to take millions of men to Washington, or of installing officers or building a larger organization, or any of the other manifestations of an institution-in-the-making.

In a MENTOR Magazine article in (Nov/Dec) 1989, I suggested that "What's truly happening may be the least visible movement in history;" that what was happening was that men were learning tools and ways to get at a fundamental part of our nature. That "men are trying to learn what it means to be alive and true to our inner selves." I suggested that men are getting together to end our isolation. "Those of us involved in the men's community know that the outward manifestations of a movement are not really important, and that reaffirming what has deep meaning for each of us is." I proposed that "as men come by understanding by telling our stories, the apparent need for segregation (from women) will decline."

What we were saying seven years ago has not changed despite a media campaign to make Robert Bly a movement leader (which resulted in 90% of the criticism of the "men's movement being targeted at what he alone had to say); despite attempts to cash in on an inflated image of some kind of significant social movement; and, despite parallel activities seemingly aimed more at visibility and fund-raising than at deep soul work.

This year's Wingspan Conference, despite being the smallest to date, was totally reaffirming of a vision of men sharing ways to do the work of emptying the pond bucket-by-bucket, or of going down in a hole to do the work suggested in mythology. The meeting was one of hearts, with little attention paid to the political topics of the day.

A father, who was a resident of the Sunrise Ranch commune where the conference was held, brought his young son to the first part of the Saturday evening dance ritual. After the two had left, he asked his boy how he felt being part of the joyful ritual. The young man simply reported, "I felt alive!"

His testimony summed up the entire event, and to a large extent, confirmed the real work that men are doing throughout the world. We continue to resist efforts to revitalize the patriarchy by institutionalizing our efforts. It is more clear than ever that the men of Wingspan prefer to use our time and energy on the kind of work best done in small groups away from the limelight.

What is evident is that something of great importance has been taking place in the men's community, particularly over the past decade and a half. The "shamans" have been going off and deepening the tools and medicines and convictions needed to help the various "tribes" realize a deeper purpose in life. Men's groups, and women's groups, and, increasingly, mixed groups, continue to meet regularly sharing stories (our own and those that have weathered the vicissitudes of time), ritual, dance, song, poetry, and psychological thinking.

Wherever groups are meeting, whether in the woods, in church basements, "on the bus," on school campuses, in prisons, or wherever, the ways we are learning to touch hearts and to love and trust one another have been facilitated by what men have been teaching one another at mythopoetic gatherings including the Wingspan conferences. The energy needed to expose or otherwise create the "magic" that the modern-day shamans are carrying throughout the world was jump-started through the efforts of elders and teachers, such as Bly, Hillman, and Meade and the many others who have attended the Wingspan events.

This year's conference confirmed that their work is moving ahead. At least the Wingspan shamans have been down in the mythological hole long enough to now be back out in the world. We have chosen those tools to which we have been exposed that have best married with our individual stories. We have learned a jargon that has helped our understanding and are learning to leave that jargon behind as we do our work back out in the world with a greater sense of our souls and our hearts.

The path ahead is not one the press will be much interested in, I suspect. While the writers cover million men marches and stadiums full of men, the real work facilitated by the men represented at the Wingspan Conference will go on in church basements and neighborhood gathering places, in schools and prisons. Men and women now have a much wider array of ways to touch hearts in small groups and rekindle our humanity. At best we've merely been distracted by all of the efforts to label what we've been doing as movements.

The task now is to continue to invite others to find their stories and follow their paths; to support through our presence, our publications, and our gatherings those shamans who facilitate small groups as well as all who join their hearts together in support of one another; and to continue to create ways to open our hearts to each other-not as an institutionalized movement but as a movement down into our mythological holes and then back out again into the world. Long live this men's movement! r

Dick Gilkeson has edited Portland's MENTOR magazine for many years. I want to acknowledge the contributions that Dick and Alan Winter have made to the men's movement, and grieve the passing of the MENTOR we know. Bert H. Hoff


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