The men’s shed movement: A little bit ‘rad’ and a little bit sad

I noticed that reddit discussion threads were created at /mensrights (pre-existing thread here) and at /australia, after the ABC ran a special on the ‘men’s shed’ movement. The thread at /australia included discussion of a recent decision to block the formation of a men’s club at the University of Sydney, as detailed in this article.

You’ll probably ask, ‘What is the men’s shed’ movement?’ So, from Wikipedia:

Men’s Sheds are non-profit organisations that originated in Australia, to advise and improve the overall health of all males. However they have expanded their remit to anyone regardless of age. In many ways they parallel the growing Hackerspace movement which has similar aims and mechanisms, albeit Hack/Maker spaces are more explicit about their inclusion of all ages and genders. They normally operate on a local level in the community, promoting social interaction and aim to increase the quality of life. There are over 900 located across Australia, with thousands of active members. Men’s Sheds can also be found in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Finland and Greece.

Further explanation of the nature of the men’s shed movement is provided here.

Let me make a couple of observations about the movement, and my opinion of it, at the outset of this discussion:

  • Most men’s sheds permit, if not actively encourage, female participation.
  • Irrespective of the concerns that I express in this post, I feel that men (both individually and collectively) are certainly better off with the shed movement in place, than without it.

I’ve had some peripheral involvement with the men’s shed movement, which I see as a combination of ‘rad’ (radical) and sad. It is ‘rad’ in that it is an organisation/service specifically for men, in a society where now anything for men is seen as inherently bad and to be feared/opposed. It is ‘rad’ also in that it receives funding (albeit very limited funding) in a political environment whereby the provision of government funds for mens organisations and interests amounts to a tiny fraction of that provided for womens organisations and interests.

It is sad in that it survives on the basis of a short leash gripped by white knight politicians and femocrats. The tick of approval that they have reluctantly conferred remains in place only so long as the movement continues to operate with a diversional therapy/mental health focus, and poses no challenge to the feminist narrative. It is sad also when one compares the far greater range of outlets, programs and safe-spaces that are available to women – more often than not subsidized by the public purse. Further, female participation in such opportunities is applauded in contrast to the condescending and resentful attitude of some feminists towards men’s involvement in the shed movement. See examples of feminist perspectives of the men’s shed movement here and here.

I get the distinct feeling that with this, as with other Australian men’s health-related initiatives, those people running them fully realise just how tenuous the level of government support is and are desperately frightened not to offend anyone. This is reflected in the vanilla tone of the online forum associated with the men’s shed movement, administered by ‘Beyond Blue‘ and the ‘Australian Men’s Shed Association‘. I have started or participated in a couple of discussion threads there – see for example http://www.theshedonline.org.au/discussions/general/australian-human-rights-commission-appears-to-have-little-interest-in-men.

The level of site traffic is quite low, so in that regard they appear to have failed to capture the interest of their target audience. The movement is seen, by some at least, as fusty/musty and a forum for rather forlorn/resigned expressions of the life in the good old days, awkward blokey chit-chat, etc. The site administrators have on occasion asked for suggestions for improvement, primarily to try to increase traffic. I suggested having a section for men’s rights-type issues like portrayal of men in the media, etc, but that was met with stony silence.

I am sure that the site administrators would respond by saying that the  men’s shed movement is not intended to be a men’s rights organisations. I get that. And I’m sure that most of the guys in the sheds movement enjoy their involvement and are unconcerned regarding how that movement fits into the bigger picture of the gender debate. This is partly reflective of the fact that a large slab of the male population still don’t give much consideration to men’s rights issues.

At the same time, though, no-one can tell me that the social backdrop re: attitudes to men, imposition of stereotypes, demonisation by feminist organisations, etc, is not a contributing factor to anxiety and the development of depression and other men’s mental health issues. By getting men to recognise, discuss and maybe mobilise against these factors … well maybe that would achieve more for their mental welfare than just giving them a venue from which they can temporarily escape from their wives/lives.

I guess there are a several of ways to look at the role of the men’s shed movement, marked by end points that might be:

  • seeing the men’s shed movement as a beachhead on which to empower men to do things and/or participate as part of a movement, that will enhance their own sense of worth and create a better social environment for those that come after them, or
  • seeing the men’s shed movement as occupying men harmlessly within a sheltered workshop environment granting them some temporary solace from the #@%# that awaits outside

Long may the movement prosper, but I confess that my position lies closer to the former than the latter.

See also:

South Australian Men’s Sheds: Who, What and Why? (undated)

‘I’d be dead without it’: Life-saving men’s shed under threat (24 July 2016)

The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men (2015) A book by Prof. Barry Golding

A fight for male space: the Australian Men’s Shed movement (31 January 2015)

University of Sydney Board blocks formation of men’s group (26 September 2014) Also addressed here, here and here, and with an even more patronising article about the proposal here

More men face lonely old age, says study (12 October 2014) and one feminist’s scornful response

Men’s sheds: Because blokes have feelings too (30 August 2011) See comments

Australia – Fears of Pedophilia Shut down “Men’s Shed” (25 August 2011)

It’s time the boys got back to their sheds (4 June 2010)

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