Should Men Beyond 50 be a Campaigning Organisation?

There’s the Men’s Movement, and then there’s activism on men’s issues and campaigning. What’s the difference? As older men we lived through the “men’s liberation movement” in the 1970’s and tried to accommodate ourselves with feminist ideas and politics; men violent, women victims. My main response as I recall at that time was to say very little, and I think many men worked mostly at keeping our heads down. Later in the 1990’s there was the mythopoetic men’s movement. No I don’t understand that big multi-syllable word beginning with ‘m’ either! But I recall trying: 1. To get into my feminine side 2. To become more of a deep man with the help of Robert Bly, Joseph Campbell  and others. Then things seemed to go quiet around the turn of the millennium. There is still the ManKind Project, but I get the sense that overall we have not got as far as we might have once wished to challenging the authority or unpicking the assumptions of the “masculinity system”.

Men Beyond 50 is a social enterprise project whose main aims are to be a resource to meet the needs of older men and a gateway through which we can put men in touch with other organisations. As such I have no doubt we are participating in the Men’s Movement working alongside with like-minded others, and working to help 50+ men find their path to live happier and more fulfilled older lives. But could we be doing more, and – more to the point – should we? It is an open question and I invite your reponse.

Should Men Beyond 50 embrace activism on men’s issues? In particular, should we be challenging the social isolation of older men with the related problems of loneliness, mental illness, and their invisibility from political discourse. On the one hand, many older men seem angry. On the other hand, many men also feel frustrated. So they may speak out or rant in the pub, or write complaining letters to the newspapers, but in general they don’t appear to wish to mobilise. There’s the double-bind of course: to protest too aggressively or become activist may play us directly into performing the violence of the “masculinity system” we seek to change. So for the last few years at any rate, we have been indecisive about campaigning.

Are things changing? Events… events… events… and the ‘Crisis’ of the last 4 years: I am reading a 2012 Report issued by the J Rowntree Foundation, How can local authorities with less money support better outcomes for older people? . The Report begins, “Public spending cuts will have a major impact on social care, at a time when the ageing population is growing”, and goes on to describe the evidence of the rapidly growing gap between resources and older people’s needs. The Report champions “that bit of help” which engaged communities can bring to bear, and lists a number of successful and inspiring projects helping in healthcare, reducing social isolation, and promoting co-operative and mutuality-based approaches.

Well and good but two years since the 2011 report, the cuts are really beginning to take effect now and the gaps between the ice floes are widening alarmingly for older people, and of course it is the disadvantaged who are especially suffering. Disadvantaged older men are particularly those who are living alone or in isolated social situations, and of course those living in poverty. So are we older men going to speak out? Well – Are we? Are we prepared to do anything about it? And if we are, how should we go about bringing about change?

My feeling is that we older men do have to demonstrate our solidarity with our disadvantaged brothers. We have to speak out, and we have to act as elders, but without falling into the old traps of the oppositional “masculinity system”. How to do this? One example I find hopeful is demonstrated by the Circles Network. The methodology behind creating Circles of Support can be used both for individuals and for communities: inspiring leadership and empowerment, developing local initiatives, identifying the disadvantaged and providing support. I think it is a useful model and can be effective bringing about change. So far the approach has been successful bringing about social change. Does it have political potential? Yes, if we want to campaign (men and women elders together)… I invite the debate among us to begin so we can then to bring our collective voice to bear.