The Start of a Beautiful Friendship: The ANU Men’s Network and You

Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope is the Treasurer for the Men’s Network.

NB: In the interests of brevity, any reference to ‘men’ should be read as ‘men or male-identifying persons’.

The ANU Men’s Network (ANUMN) is a club founded by a group of concerned ANU students to support men on campus by providing a space where they can discuss a range of critical socio-cultural issues faced, and caused, by men and male culture, as well as to seek support from a network of peers. During this past semester we have worked to establish our reputation as a place for positive discussion, as well as to dispel some misunderstandings about the club.

Upon hearing about the Men’s Network, some people assume the worst. They assume that we are a bunch of men’s rights activist (MRA) gremlins who, at our core, are vile misogynists wanting to oppress and denigrate women. This could not be further from the truth. We are not MRAs, we are not misogynists, and we do not want to oppress women. Regarding the men’s rights activism (MRA) movement, our official stance is to distance ourselves from it as it is inconsistent with the group’s supportive nature. We will not, however, forbid members from discussing its influence in society, as such discussion is relevant to male students’ well-being.

The Men’s Network is a place for individuals of all gender identifications, united by our belief in the need for men to be able to discuss personal and socio-cultural issues with their peers without judgement or dismissal. This is made clear in our constitution, where we state that our objectives are to;

(a) Promote and foster discussion of male gender-related issues such as men’s physical and psychological health, domestic violence, interpersonal relationships, and social expectations placed upon male identifying persons in the community. This discussion is intended to benefit both members and the broader ANU community.

(b) Create the space for members to seek support in a confidential and non-judgmental environment.

We believe that heretofore there has not been an effective platform for fostering a dialogue among men about these issues. Rather, men on campus have been left to rely on discussions promoted by the Departments, which, while tremendously valuable, have the major drawback of not specifically representing men. There is value to be found in a group focused on men’s issues alone, so as to provide continuous support and advocacy. Ideally, we would like to work with the ANUSA Departments to host joint men’s issues-related events and campaigns. To be clear, however, the ANUMN is not seeking to become an ANUSA department, as we do not think that that is aligned with our objectives.

When it comes to mental health, men have access to crisis-level mental health services at the ANU, but not to effective and established peer-based support systems. I myself have made use of these mental health services, and, while I do not undervalue the work that our mental health workers do, I have often found in past that all I needed was someone sympathetic to talk to. In this vein, the ANUMN seeks to provide a relaxed, non-judgmental, peer-focused space for men to discuss the difficulties they face – it is not intended to be a substitute for counselling or other support services, rather, it complements them.

In line with our belief in positive discussion, we have seen valid concerns about the group raised in Woroni and on Facebook, and we would like to thank all commentators for engaging with this discussion for their interest and concern.

Our work so far has focused on creating a space on Facebook where men can have discussions without fear of being dismissed or having their feelings trivialised. While there have been some controversial posts, or posts which are inconsistent with our objectives, the moderators, forum rules, and community have readily overcome these instances and prevented the negativity from consuming the group. Overall, the ANUMN has been successful in fostering the conversations we wish to facilitate, in the respectful manner we intended to see them conducted.

One of the greatest obstacles we have faced has been overcoming misconceptions within the ANU community. Many people have accused us of being Red Pill MRAs, MGTOWs, misogynists, and wannabe oppressors. These accusations have been difficult to dispel, but we have, by and large, managed to demonstrate to the ANU community our commitment to open, honest, compassionate, and thoughtful discussion.

We chose to make our Facebook group gender neutral so as to allow anyone in the ANU community to see who we are, what we discuss, and how we discuss things. This may seem counterintuitive, as one of our goals is to provide a safe space for our members, but we have found that people have been (largely) receptive to our goals and honest enough with themselves that, once they have seen the kind of discussions we have been having, their impression of us changes entirely. We go from being perceived as gremlins from the depths of the internet to being seen as what we really are – a group of thoughtful, caring, compassionate, and open people. Because of the nature of the space we have created, many men who would otherwise have nowhere to turn have opened up about conflicts and stresses in their lives. In turn, other members have offered support and guidance in constructive, positive, and non-judgmental ways. It is my belief that many of these positive discussions would not have arisen were it not for our efforts. It has also been fantastic to see so many women in the group offering insightful and supportive commentary in these discussions.

Having established our FB group, and sought affiliation with ANUSA as a society, we have begun talking with other groups on campus about collaborating on mental health events where we can promote discussions consistent with our objectives. Next year we envision having regular meetups with members where discussion can take place first-hand, and will be having open events where anyone can come along and learn about who we are. Our very first event is a picnic BBQ this Monday, the 31st of October, at 1pm on the Fellows Oval. You are invited to come along and meet us! Here’s looking at you, kid.

Photo credit: TED