back to pt I

" feelings [of frustration] have come to a head as a result of the decision to follow through with this year's conference in Arizona, violating the boycott; and more, by the intense efforts of Council (of which I am a part) to cover our asses and refuse to take responsibility or create accountability...we pay great lip service to accountability, yet when it appears most essential, our lip service is just that." - Rus Ervin Funk, NOMAS Council member, in a May 1991 letter to NOMAS

The following year, issues of internal racism came to the fore with NOMAS's decision to hold the 1991 M&M Conference in Tucson, Arizona - a state being boycotted for conventions and conferences by a number of national civil rights groups because it rescinded state recognition of a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
          The boycott, and the incompatibility of NOMAS claiming to combat racism while refusing to respect a boycott called by a majority of the national groups whose primary work was on racial issues, was brought to the attention of NOMAS's leadership by several people - most notably John Stoltenberg, a well-known pro-feminist writer; Vernon McClean, Chair of the Committee to Eliminate Racism and one of the only African- American activists in NOMAS; and Council member Rus Ervin Funk. Funk and Stoltenberg were vilified for their efforts. Curiously, an open letter from Vernon McClean, explaining his support of the boycott, was the only major document on the issue submitted but not published at the time in Brother. McClean (as with Nikki Craft in Changing Men a year and a half later) found himself one of the only representatives within NOMAS of a constituency being championed by pro-feminists - who in turn found it useful to ignore or suppress his views when they became critical of Council's choices.
          Efforts, particularly by Bob Brannon and Phyllis Frank, to defend the decision to convene in Tucson included personal attacks on NOMAS's critics, claims that relocation would cost too much, and heated denials that the well-publicized boycott even existed. A disinformative critique of the (non-existent) boycott was even circulated in conference promotional material. NOMAS Council upheld its decision to meet in Tucson, and to retain a Tucson promotional firm - which by definition depended upon advocating convention business in Arizona - to organize the event. (As a further ratification of NOMAS's boycott-busting decision, the same firm has subsequently been retained to help organize the Chicago and San Francisco gatherings in 1992 and 1993. Given that this is the only major organizing task NOMAS undertakes, one wonders just what, if anything, NOMAS can do on its own.)
          Several NOMAS Council members chose to honor the boycott by refusing to attend both the conference and the attached Council meetings. Council members present proceeded with business in their colleagues' absence, and did not even discuss the boycott. Silence, as the saying goes, is the voice of complicity.
          The political significance of holding the NOMAS conference in Arizona, and the lack of commitment by NOMAS to combatting racism, can be put in perspective by an imaginary alternate proposal. What would happen if, for 1994, NOMAS decided to site its conference in Colorado - a state now being similarly boycotted due to its recent passage of a statewide anti-gay referendum? Such a decision, in reality, would never happen. Too many of NOMAS's leaders are personally vested in gay rights issues. They would know about the boycott, they would respect it, and they would be rightly outraged at a proposal to ignore it. It's obvious why there was not a similar reaction to a racially-based boycott of Tucson - and why NOMAS probably couldn't be trusted to honor a feminist- initiated boycott. Or even to know about it.

" NOMAS fails to encourage local, grass roots pro-feminist organizing and instead has a fossilized national structure that saps energy and resources...a more decentralized structure would better facilitate local grass roots organizing. NOMAS doesn't take a strong enough stand and as a result it attracts men who do not have strong feminist principles. There is a lot of time wasted on in-fighting trying to clarify positions and issues." - Steven Hill, co-editor, Activist Men's Journal, Dec. 1992

If Only All of Patriarchy Were This Disorganized...

NOMAS's 500 members, and M&M Conference attendees, pay to support the publication of Brother, and also form at least a quarter of the subscriber base of Changing Men. They also support administrative costs and conference organizing costs.
          The business of NOMAS is conducted in two annual meetings of the NOMAS Council - one adjacent to the summer conference, and a mid-winter planning meeting. Council members are all volunteers, serving elected two year terms. There are at present eighteen Council members and five Alternates. Once Task Force leaders and friends of whoever compiles the mailing list are added, the larger NOMAS Leadership Collective numbers anywhere from 50 to 80 people - nobody seems quite sure. While a local collective (until recently a Pittsburgh group; the task is now being assumed by volunteers in San Francisco) handles correspondence and record-keeping, and there are Co-Chairs that prepare meeting agendas, there is no formal, accountable decision-making process between Council meetings.
          NOMAS's track record of refusing to deal with internal challenges to its lack of accountability doesn't stem entirely from male supremacism. Other structural factors also contribute: * A small, national group. With a limited budget and a geographically vast and relatively tiny membership, information (and hence power) is concentrated in a few hands. * An enormous and unwieldy Leadership Collective. (When in doubt, give everybody titles!) * Volunteer administrators. NOMAS has only precariously managed to staff one office position. Other Council members are volunteering their time to NOMAS - after both their paying careers and whatever other political or cultural men's issues brought them to become interested in a national group. * Classism. The money and time required to attend national conferences tends to concentrate power in East and West Coast middle and upper-middle class white professional cliques. * Poor organizing. Many men active in local pro-feminist groups don't know or care that NOMAS exists. NOMAS has had limited outreach and frequently poor service to members in such tasks as processing memberships, beginning subscriptions, etc.
          NOMAS's inefficiency, however, goes beyond these limitations. There is no external accountability - nobody outside NOMAS (e.g., feminists) is allowed to provide and manage input into NOMAS's political priorities or practice. NOMAS's relative absence from the broader feminist movement isn't just poor organizing and networking - it's a means of self-protection.
          NOMAS also can claim no real accountability to its members. The Council elections are one source of input - but generally the only people running for Council are current Council members and their invited friends. Aside from organizing an annual conference (a task farmed out to a hired firm, one step further from accountability), NOMAS actually does very little. There's not much incentive for a local activist to become involved, aside from the cooptation of a nice title with a prestigious national group. Thus, NOMAS's lack of grass roots activism also functions as a form of self-protection for NOMAS's existing political elite.
          With little or no accountability, little organizing being done and few resources to divide, what is left in North America's only continent- wide male pro-feminist organization is male supremacism. A handful of people with the most access to information and the greatest need to feel themselves in control or at the center of things assert their power over the political agenda - at the expense of trashing critics and ignoring criticism, at the expense of crippling the organization, at the expense of scaring away most newcomers, and at the expense of dishonoring their own acknowledged political philosophy. NOMAS, the great hope of feminist women, is in fact a textbook example of patriarchy at work.

" The first step in reforming NOCM should be to make the National Council a democratic group representing NOCM's constituencies...I believe that it is possible to reform NOCM in positive, supportive ways. Whether the NOCM leadership will allow such changes to occur is open to question." - George Marx, Madison (WI) Men Against Rape, in a letter to the Activist Men's Caucus, Aug. 1987

Visualize Pro-Feminism

What might a genuinely pro-feminist organization be like?
          For one, its leadership would be answerable to feminists inside and outside the organization. For example, a group such as NOMAS could have not just a designated liaison who dialogues with feminist groups (shouldn't every pro-feminist be doing that?), but a paid advisory board that would provide guidance feedback on NOMAS initiatives and would keep NOMAS better informed on issues of primary concern to the feminist movement.
          For another, its leadership would be answerable to its membership. A pro-feminist group obviously is going to want to have its agenda be defined by a feminist interpretation of men's issues as well as those issues of greatest priority to women; but that input needs to come from the grass roots. A national structure should facilitate communication among local activists - as has happened in the better moments of the M&M conferences and some of the task forces. That dynamic should not be a by-product of the organization, as has been the case with NOMAS; it should define the organization. In the case of NOMAS, this means that the national organization - not its task forces - should have a readily identifiable, fully funded political program organized by and accountable to the grass roots. Leadership should not have the freedom it currently enjoys to define, or undermine, NOMAS.
          For another, the decision-making needs to incorporate empowering structures such as concensus, rotating representation and an open flow of political and financial information. This is always a challenge in a primarily volunteer movement often defined by how long it takes for its most energetic leaders to burn out and step back. But if more activists knew about NOMAS and felt it worthwhile to become involved, turnover for the less appealing organizing tasks would be more orderly, the political agenda would not be so centralized, and NOMAS would not be so dependent upon a handful of overworked and too-willing-to-be-in-control movement martyrs.
          Finally, a group operates only as well as its components. Persons who accept leadership positions in a group like NOMAS need to themselves embody the principles their organization espouses. In this case, it means not engaging in such traditionally male behavior. It means being honest, being able to admit mistakes, accepting challenges without defensiveness, sharing organizing skills, developing listening skills, and not needing to be the constant center of attention.

" I feel really good that I never joined NOMAS...NOMAS doesn't have any kind of accountability. In fact, the organization has an unerring ability to get basic process and politics wrong. There are probably many men who would be active and accountable in support of women's rights. But I can't believe that more than a dozen of them will be found in NOMAS." - John Macdonald, Ottawa-Hull (Canada) Men's Forum, Dec. 1992
"Success must be measured not by the overcoming of a constructed crisis, but rather by long-term and sustained organizational and political change." - Michael Shiffman, commenting on the debate over the presence of men's rights advocates in NOCM, in Brother, Summer 1988.

In the years of its existence, NOMAS has unquestionably done some good work. NOMAS was willing to proclaim itself gay-affirmative, and to identify homophobia as an important aspect of how patriarchy cripples men, long before most groups not organized by gays or lesbians would broach the subject. The Men & Masculinity conferences, which are convened by NOMAS, have been frequently exhilarating chances for men to interact and dialogue honestly and openly about issues most men won't talk about. Individuals affiliated with NOMAS, through task forces and in their own work, have made vital contributions and include nationally recognized leaders in battles against domestic violence, rape, pornography, and other issues central to feminism.
          What NOMAS has not managed to do is be a pro-feminist organization. Despite years of rhetoric to the contrary, since its inception the internal politics and decision-making structure of NOMAS have continued to embody some of the worst aspects of male dominant, patriarchal behavior. With NOMAS leaders, individually and collectively, acting to protect each other, to avoid accountability to either NOMAS membership or to feminist groups, and to discourage grass roots activist initiatives within NOMAS, it's difficult to perceive how the cause of pro-feminism is served.
          Indeed, the culpability and the patriarchal buffoonery of NOMAS impairs the ability of all male pro-feminist activists to be taken seriously as allies by the feminist movement. It's easy enough to demonstrate that the implementation feminist principles benefits all people, female and male; yet the men's pro-feminist movement in the U.S. has remained relatively small and politically marginalized during the explosion of popularity for men's rights groups and particularly the mythopoetic movement. Pro-feminism's inability to make its case to American men stems at least in part from its representation by a single national group not interested in organizing or outreach and not particularly committed to pro-feminism itself.
          Unless and until NOMAS adopts reforms that can institutionalize accountability and prevent future incidents such as its ass-covering paralysis and white male bonding frenzy in the Jeff Beane/Changing Men case, the Arizona conference, the confrontation in Atlanta, the refusal to adopt a program challenging male supremacy, the toleration of men's rights dogma, and on and on and on, North America still needs a continental organization run by and for pro-feminist activists. If NOMAS doesn't do it, its leaders, members and funders had better ask why. And if NOMAS still doesn't do it, somebody else ought to.

Geov Parrish is co-editor of the Seattle-based Activist Men's Journal.

Thanks are due to Nikki Craft, Steven Hill, Kiyoko Parrish and Jezanna Rainforest for their help and guidance in preparation of this article; and to Jon Cohen, Ken Dill, Rus Ervin Funk, George Marx, Andrew McKenna, Chuck Niessen-Derry, John Stoltenberg, Jack Straton and David Ward for additional discussion, information and historical background.

go to part I of Geov's article

go back to main page



No Status Quo Websites