04/04 – 2016
Ann Arbor/Michigan AMSA conference
After three intense days at the American Men’s Studies Conference in Ann Arbor/Michigan, About Men has inspired many hearts once again. For the first time, Owen Marcus and I showed the film in an academic men’s themed forum. To my surprise we weren’t the only non-academics attending the conference. (Well I guess I am also an academic to some extend with my background). We met counselors, men’s group facilitators and performance artists. It was reassuring to experience the interdisciplinary quality of the men’s studies conference. About Men is still the most recent documentary out that gives insight into the sacred space of an American men’s group. We gained a lot of new connections with men and women working with men’s work one way or another, and we are both continuously making an effort to getting the film out.
What stood out for me at the conference is the question of how men’s groups are developing and have changed the last fifty years. There seemed to be a particularly challenge between a more political gender discipline on one hand and a more therapeutic/support work for men on the other. After a presentation about men’s groups in varied contexts, a discussion around the potential for more political men’s groups in the future evolved. This debate around what is personal and what is political, when it comes to self-developing processes, seems to be pushed forward particularly by younger generations. For a typical man in the men’s groups that I know of, his work and purpose in the group is to move away from the left brain and into the right brain. The men also describe this process as moving away from the head and into the body: what am I feeling in my body rather than how can I rationally explain it. To me it is an interesting and relevant debate to engage in, and to be conscious of the political implications of one’s identity as a man doing self-developing work. Is it likely that the political is personal for non-heterosexual and non-white men, but not so much for heterosexual white men? In what way can physical reactions and feelings in the body relating to an emotional state be political? Would it be fair to say that men first and foremost need to be comfortable with themselves as individuals and then with their ethnicity and sexual orientation? The debate also highlighted the fact that most men’s groups throughout the US have white heterosexual members, which poses the question if there is something structural or conceptual about men’s groups that is less attractive to various ethnicities and LGBTQ?
In multiple presentations throughout the conference, the trend that younger generations of men are more in touch with their feelings and less constrained by a traditional masculinity was emphasized. Perhaps this trend impacts what and how younger men in men’s groups work with themselves. For instance when I met a group of young college men who were all part of a men’s group on campus, they told me that they focused a lot on white privilege, and they did not find the distinction between right and left brain important. I am sitting back thinking that perhaps it is only later in life, that you feel a need for going beyond the political to deeply understand the personal?
02/03 – 2016
ABOUT MEN screening in Michigan coming up!
About Men is screening at a men’s studies conference in Ann Arbor Michigan April 1st. Owen Marcus, who started the Sandpoint Men’s Group, and I are going to present the film and lead a discussion afterwards. The Sandpoint men’s group portrayed in About Men is still thriving in North Idaho, where the men are continuously working on exploring vulnerability and improving their personal relationships. The American Men’s Studies Association Conference on Men and Masculinities is the twenty fourth conference held of its kind, but today it seems more relevant than ever. Despite men’s studies’ fight to be a recognised academic field in the Western world, men’s rights are a topic of debate especially in the Scandinavian countries these days.
Currently a Danish TV show is pushing forward the debate about men’s legal abortion rights. The show tells the stories of men who are being faced with becoming a father after having had sex with women who claimed to be on contraceptives during the intercourse. It asks the question whether women’s power in regards to their uterus can be compared to men raping women. Supposedly one out of ten women has cheated their way to pregnancy (British research). Should men have a right to sign off on the legal father role? It is a complicated and controversial issue and it asks us to look back on the history of gender equality, where men’s rights were more or less absent. It speaks to the discussion about the contemporary role of man, and how especially the father role is challenged. From my research the role as a father seems a dominant topic for men who are working with themselves in challenging old stereotypes. The old definition of manhood and/or masculinity is limiting for a lot of men when it comes to being a loving, accepting, embracing father. This also speaks to the debate about women’s need for men – as fathers and partners, when women historically are becoming financially independent. The need for men to come together and voice their concerns about being fathers and/or partners are met in men’s groups all over the world. Men’s groups are one of the few places where men feel safe to express, explore and work on emotions and feelings that they do not fully understand and control themselves.
I am looking forward to experiencing the AMSA conference, which focus on “unmasking masculinities” through workshops, presentations and artwork. It is my hope that the academic discussions will make their way out to the public and resonate with a lot of men. About Men is that missing link between the academic and the real world. I am excited about presenting the men of the film’s stories and bringing in the voice of the men to the discussion.
04/12 – 2014
The film is showing in Cleveland. See more info and buy tickets here.
03/03 – 2014
Owen Marcus who started the Sandpoint Men’s Group just wrote an article about the impact of the film screening in its hometown. Read it here.
Meanwhile, I am preparing myself for the Danish Premiere in a week from now. Tickets are already sold out!
About Men is screening in its hometown Sandpoint in Idaho January 31, 2014 in the Panida Theater. Click here!
About Men will have its Danish premiere March 11 2014! It is finally happening. Kvinfo (the Danish Center for Information on Gender, Equality and Diversity) is arranging the screening, which will include a panel discussion on men and masculinities. Tickets here!
MEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF CHANGE
Blog post introducing video interview with Michael Welp and Jo Ann Morris, co-founders of White Men as Full Diversity Partners
One of the men of the Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 is the co-founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners, and he is aware of the two different kinds of contexts in which to work on oneself as a man.
Men’s groups are about working with oneself; realise things that might have been hidden, challenge beliefs around oneself and others, focus on feelings, treating oneself and others fair and equal.
Diversity labs coach employees to engage in group-based dialog and get a better understanding of current diversity dynamics that will ultimately lead to improved equality on the workplace.
In the men’s group, each man is working on completely personal issues, ideas and beliefs, and in a company everybody is learning to confront behaviours that are limiting for one’s coworkers and oneself. Are those two contexts really that different from each other? In the men’s group there is really no distinction between personal life issues and carrier issues – in both contexts the men learn to respond to their inner feelings and realize how those are a result of one’s relationships.
As the interview will address, maybe it is not that easy to distinguish between the impact of a men’s group and the impact of corporation’s diversity work – they share the same goal – but a difference is that a men’s group depends on voluntary membership whereas the employees are part of it because of an obligatory protocol.
Through Michael’s work he balances it out – at work, summits and conferences the diversity discussion leads, and in the men’s group the personal feeling leads. The result is improving the culture you are a part of and making sure that it is inclusive.
As this interview touches upon, it is relevant to discuss men’s groups’ diversity characteristics and whether the men’s group’s closed doors make the group all-inclusive. Unfortunately that is a discussion for further research and is not part of this specific documentary film.
Here is a great article about men’s groups and how the academia often fails to recognise its positive impact
Western Illinois University’s Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men’s Development
Read about my process of making this film
In terms of research and how I found my subjects, I began researching networks, websites and organizations and one site led me to another. Blogs like http://www.rolereboot.org and thenewmale.com were very useful for me to approach the topic and help me formulate questions. I contacted authors that were referred to several places and a lot of Facebook networks for men, and finally Owen Marcus, a writer and “sculptor of change”, got back to me. He put me in contact with a few people working in New York City, and I got in contact with a men’s group in New York City in spring 2011. I filmed that group just one time and a short film was the result of that meeting. Unfortunately, that group was not interested in being part of a bigger documentary project, but I was very determined to make a feature length documentary film about a men’s group after experiencing this one in New York City. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to make contact with other groups in New York City, I reached out to Owen again, and he invited me to come and film his group in Northern Idaho. To this point I had been conducting several interviews with men working within men’s work, such as a professor, a mentor for young men, businessmen, and a shamanistic priest. Those interviews played an important part in my research and preparation for going to Idaho to meet this specific men’s group who had agreed to be the center of my film.
The reason the Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 had such an inviting attitude toward the film originally, without having even met me, is due to the founder Owen Marcus, who is working on a large scale, for incorporating men’s work as a coach, a rolfer, an author and speaker. The Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 also has Michael Welp as a member, who is the founder of the organization White Men As Full Diversity Partners and co-founder of Men Advocating For Real Change, and his political and professional position inspired the group as a whole to be open to being part of a film. Another three men from the group are Waldorf teachers, and use similar methods to the men’s group’s with young people in the alternative school structure. For those reasons, the group was originally interested in expanding their personal work to inspire larger communities. Through email correspondences, they expressed to me how inspired they were by my project and how it made them realize the importance of letting the whole world see what powerful work they are doing.
The group spent several months preparing for the filming process both practically and psychologically, fully aware that the decisive protocol of the meeting would be stretched regarding the rule that everything that is said in the room stays in the room. However, when we arrived to film the meetings, we agreed to this rule even though we all had signed release forms stating that all material was subject to being used in a film with the purpose of being distributed potentially all over the world. This situation specifically points to the ethical considerations we all as subjects and filmmaker had to make around such a personal and secret phenomenon as a men’s group. The group filmed themselves for a month to get used to the presence of cameras in meetings before I arrived, while using the footage as a tool to reach deeper into their own personal development. In that sense, the group was already a natural part of the filming process, and a few of the men acted as decision makers, assisting the planning and conceptualisation of the film. One of the men from the group also wants to be a filmmaker himself, and is currently making a film about fatherhood. Even though the men’s group might be one of the more developed, serious and professional men’s groups In the US with all of these qualified individuals, the film is sending a rather opposite message: that these men are simply average men with average life situations.
In New York City I met with the men’s group member Michael Welp, who was at a conference a few months before I finally decided to go to Idaho, and that short meeting was all the group relied on in terms of agreeing to let me make a film about them. I raised money for the trip through an online fund-raising campaign based on a video where I included the men’s own home video quality footage. My only knowledge of the group at this point was based on this footage they had sent me of one meeting, email correspondences and a few phone conversations. As a filmmaker, I was limited from the beginning in several ways. It was difficult for me to plan almost anything regarding the shooting and story, and on request of the group, I was asked not to bring a crew. Thus it was only me and my boyfriend who flew out to live among the men for three weeks in the summer of 2012.
This was partly an anthropological project due to the fact that I lived in the house of one of the men from the group and was completely welcomed and integrated into the small community of Sandpoint. I became friends with all the men, which was definitely necessary in order for me to make this film. The men were open to having people from the local community assist with the filming and they were very attentive to ensuring that the process went smoothly and professionally. Two local young men became part of the crew, assisting with filming the meetings. Unfortunately, there was no time to involve these local men in the idea of the film, and they were spontaneously thrown into the project with no expectations or technical guidelines. One of those men experienced a minor shock, since he was completely unaware of the phenomenon of a men’s group and was overwhelmed by the emotionality between the men. However, he felt very inspired and was incredibly thankful to be a part of the film process, and is now considering becoming a member of a men’s group himself.
The men took time in the meetings to discuss the presence of the film crew and cameras, and they all had the experience of forgetting all about the cameras and not feeling limited by the filming process. On the other hand, they all recognized the influence of my questions and presence along with the film crew, which they took in and evaluated with the purpose of making sure that no one felt uncomfortable and recognizing how my presence became part of theirs. Their genuine interest in the film project meant that they were open to my outside perspective as a Danish woman and curious about the dynamic I might bring into the group. The men and myself quickly found that the fact that I am a woman and from another country did not have any negative influences on the process, because they trusted that I would do my best to represent their group and their personalities. The group’s concern was that the power of the work they do would be impossible to show on film, and they believed that such work would only be fully understood if it was experienced physically in real time.
I have tried my best to make the atmosphere of the living room where the meetings took place come through in the film, so that an audience will come as close as possible to feeling like they are in the room with those men. Experiencing the meetings was incredible for me, because I felt the energy and love from all the men and how powerful their presence and work with each other was, even though I was behind the camera and excluded from the process in that way. The crew would stay behind that line and never communicate with the men in the meeting, but simply acted as flies on the wall for the four hour long meetings. Before and after each meeting, we would socialise with them all and talk a little bit about the film process – again as if the men themselves were just as much part of the film crew. On the final meeting I was there filming, the men asked me to put the camera down and enter their circle. Suddenly I was a potential character in my film, asking to take on the role of a member of the group, which I attempted to do. This experience made me realise how difficult it is to let your guard down and simply express your vulnerability. Crossing the line as a filmmaker and becoming part of the community of my subjects was very powerful, and it completed both my and the men’s experience of the film process very much in the spirit of the men’s group. They gave me a ring as a totem that they all have symbolising their membership of the group, and I am now the only proud female owner of the Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 totem.
The founder of the men’s group of my film, Owen Marcus, is blogging about letting me into their sacred circle. Read here.
Me and Owen Marcus were recently interviewed on the online radio show A New Conversation With Men about the experience of being behind and in front of the camera. Listen here.
Two days ago, I showed an excerpt of the film to a group of students and professors at my University. Afterwards, a young man came up to me and told me that he himself is part of a men’s group and how surprised and amazed he was that the group of my film had actually agreed to open up their sacred circle for anybody to see. A woman also came up to me and told me how important my film is, and how we need to bring the conversation of the film into all spheres – starting with elementary school. She hugged me and thanked me for making the film. I can only pass on the appreciation to the men of the film, since they are the actual message and I simply the canal. However, as she reminded me, I introduced the film with a comment that hit the tension in an audience right on the spot: I said, “This is not a film that makes fun of men but a serious film about men, but if you feel like laughing that’s OK”. That comment did make the audience laugh, but no one laughed throughout the 15 minutes excerpt. In America at least, you need to be prepared for an audience feeling very uncomfortable watching men exposing their vulnerability.
The film process
I have now been in Sandpoint/Idaho for eleven days, and Sandpoint is the most beautiful place in the US I’ve experienced. Sandpoint is surrounded by mountains and a big lake named Pend Oreille. The town has a lot to offer and it is clear that the greater county of 40.000 people takes advantage of Sandpoint, where only 7.300 people live. A lot of people do water sports and are sailing on the lake, while enjoying the small beach in town. The wild life is also worth mentioning, though I haven’t seen a moose or a bear yet, everybody living in Sandpoint regularly have a big animal like those visiting their gardens. However, I did hear a lot of coyotes two nights ago when I got to sleep in a tipi, and I’ve seen several big deers on my way home at night. Besides the nature, the arts and cultural activities are huge here compared to the size of the town, and with the farmers market the vibe in Sandpoint is simply amazing. Luckily I can combine the filming with all these incredible activities and sceneries.
Lets get to what I was most excited about here in Sandpoint – the Men’s Group. When I arrived on Monday evening, I met most of the 10 men that are part of the group and that meets up every Wednesday for a four hour long meeting and basically tries to figure out what it means to be a man. First of all they have all been overwhelmingly welcoming to me and Nik (my boyfriend who is assisting the film production on sound), and while the camera most times has been a third character exploring with us, we have got to know the men and feel part of the community in a way that I could not have imagined before hand.
Sandpoint is no doubt very different from NYC, where I’ve lived the last two years and have taken as exemplary American. The people here are very much in touch with nature and they care for a sustainable life style and for being connected with oneself and ones surroundings. Before coming here I had only spoken on the phone with a couple of the men from the Men’s Group and I had met with one of them in NYC at a conference, so I had little idea about what to expect.
We live in one of the men’s house, which is a very big and decorative house facing the lake on the side of a mountain, so you can imagine how fortunate we feel when we wake up in the morning and are enjoying our breakfast on the porch facing that beautiful scenery. I simply can’t wait to show you the images from here!
Speaking about images, I have already filmed more than twenty hours and 400 GB and I have yet another week to follow the men around in their everyday life. I feel honoured that the men are sharing their personal rich and inspirational stories with me and on camera, and I really feel how excited they are about their stories being put into a film for the rest of the world to see.
I have been doing a lot of interviews with the men from the Sandpoint Men’s Group and people outside of the group. Most of the men have been part of the Men’s Group for at least three years and it is very inspiring for me to hear the individual men’s stories.
One of the men’s dad past away recently and it has impacted him more than anything else in his life and made him understand how important his dad was to him and will continue to be for the rest of his life. He was spreading his dad’s ashes at a few memorable places in town before going on a longer journey with his wife to San Francisco to say goodbye.
Another man who has shared his story with me is the youngest man in the Men’s Group, age 31, and he is working with understanding his purpose in life and trying to build community and make a difference locally. He became a father when he was only 24, but his relationship to his son is making him realise and improve his relationship with his own father. However, his dad seem to not understand what it is his 31 year old son wants from him.
The group meetings on Wednesdays are difficult to describe, and the men themselves have a hard time defining the men’s group in a simple way. It is a sacred space, where the men get a chance to express an experience, a feeling, a belief without being judged – flip it and turn it around before taking it out to the real world. As it might sound it is big abstract concepts and beliefs and/or less abstract specific experiences at work – for instance the man feels too weak and insecure to say something that goes against his boss. They play out scenarios and try to visualise what it would be like in the real world and then get a better understanding of their personal needs, qualities (which they call “truth”), and this makes them more confident and comfortable when dealing with issues in real life. Basically the group meetings are about getting more in touch with feelings and learning to react to feelings in a positive and useful way. Each man’s journey inspires and helps the other men’s individual journeys, and the safe space for giving and receiving feedback from equal men is what makes the Men’s Group so powerful.
Being a fly on the wall to these meetings, I have experienced the power of support between those men and seen men being able to express joy (and their inner truth) in a way I’ve never seen before. It almost feels magical and a bit scary – but I guess it is just human nature at it’s fullest.
I can’t wait to show it to you on film!
Why is there a need for Men’s Groups?
Constantly talking about and reading about gender and relating to the notion of womanhood myself, I find my self wondering about and asking questions to the men in my life about how they relate to what it means to be who they are, what it means to be a man in general, and how they see the future for men. This interest led me to focus on gender and masculinity theories in undergrad and now as my masters thesis making a documentary film trying to come closer to the current state of men.
It seems easier to access the issue in a situation of crisis, which is most often times the point of departure for men being part of a so-called men’s group. Also a point that led my interest to men doing so-called men’s work, is my own father’s sudden expressed need for going on leave from both family and work and went traveling for some time all by himself. This made me realize that a lot of men might go around and feel disintegrated or unhappy and have no or few ways to turn for help.
Men are influencing what is meant by terms like masculinity and manhood. How society treat and expects men to behave is a back and forth process made from actions and reactions. After the women’s liberation movement the role of women have changed and women is now perceived to be in an equal position to men on all levels of life. This development influences the role of the man, since his originally privileged position on the job market and at home is being challenged, and the man is faced with a redefining of his position as a man in society.
The young generations of a democratic Western society like the US or Denmark is more or less born into a gender equal society and boys are not being treated differently from girls throughout their social sphere. There is a tendency that men in their 40-50’s come to a point in their life where they are asking questions about the essence of their identity, and feel a need to get deeper into themselves. A lot of men seek other men who feel a similar need and they join together in small groups meeting up on a weekly basis. This phenomenon is called a Men’s Group.
Some men believe that all men would benefit from being part of a Men’s Group anytime anywhere, and that the younger generation also at one point in their life will come to this realization despite of what they immediately think. It takes a certain amount of life experience to reach the point in life it seems. Still Men’s Groups are for men exclusively, suggesting that not the time in history but the man himself is essential. At the same time, the phenomenon of Men’s Groups can also be related to the growing movement of globalization, sustainability and mindfulness.
Suggesting that men today are in increasing numbers seeking a deeper connectedness to themselves and their surroundings, I am especially interested in why this is happening to men more than women and why there is a need for an institutionalized group phenomenon.
We can talk about a general feeling of displacement of men in the Western democratic society, and what I am looking to find out is how men realize and respond to this. It turns out that a lot of men in fact engage in processes of improving their life in various ways. Beginning with their individual position they continue to help other men to experience a positive development as they have done through whatever personal work they have engaged in.
Men who actively work with notions of manhood and who work to improve the future for boys and men is very much needed in our society where not only men feel disintegrated at an older age, but boys fail to complete a degree and level with the girls.
The education system is slowly recognizing the need for incorporating other strategies of learning to improve boys’ opportunities in primary and middle school. At the same time organizations like Boys to Men advocate for men to be better role modeling fathers. The need for men to take part in the reevaluating process of coming closer to how we on all levels of society can meet the boys and men with more secure opportunities is more and more apparent.
Therefore I am optimistic to learn about the many groups of men who faced with the challenge of coming closer to manhood actively take responsibility. While working with their individual self, they see the importance of reaching out to other men.
The more focus we can put on men’s positive developing processes and spreading the word about the possibility for other men to engage in similar ways, the more we help to secure a better integrated man.
The men of the group in Idaho that I am filming, is confronting the inner core of themselves of trying to get more in touch with their essence. This group of men and their specific way of getting in touch with their inner self is contributing to the broader discussion on what it means to be a man today. This group is the example that I am putting forth for other people to realize the importance of taking seriously the less favorable position men in our society is taking. Hopefully we will learn how to better deal with being a man and understanding a man.
I am officially now going to Sandpoint to film a Men’s Group who will be the central character of the film. I will be going in mid July this summer, and the men are very excited about the whole project.
Recently I did an amazing interview with author and sociologist Michael Kimmel, and a very insightful interview with Integralist, Shemantic Priest, and author Gary Stamper where I among other aspects learned about the masculine archetypes.
The fund-raising campaign is up and running tonight at indiegogo.com!! Please notify your network, and thank you for your interest and support.
The Kickstarter campaign will be up and running any time soon! It is very exciting for me to be able to show a clip from the inside of a Men’s Group and reach out for support.
The last week I have been in contact with a men’s community in Idaho and we are discussing the possibility of me going there and filming.
This past Wednesday I interviewed Bill Proudman and Michael Welp, who are the men behind the newly launched initiative called Men Advocating for Real Change (MARC) http://onthemarc.org/home. It is a very exciting forum working with ways for men to improve the working conditions for men and balancing the personal with the professional.