Men & masculinity: two conferences

During October I shared in two conferences about masculinity politics, in different corners of Europe.

The first was in Barcelona, held in an old, old municipal building – renovated now – that had been a historic cultural centre for women (see the picture, left).  Titled "Congreso Iberoamericano de Masculinidades y Equidad", 7-8 October, it was a mixture of research and activism. Details: There was some participation from Latin America though most delegates were from Spain - a meeting of men’s groups for gender equality from around the country.

About 250 people came to the opening plenary, when I gave the keynote address. I was quite nervous, but got into the swing about 10 minutes in, and I think gave a decent talk on the theme of masculinities, men, global politics and gender justice.  I don’t speak Spanish, so there was simultaneous translation, done by a guy hidden away in a back room, a bit eerie. Enough people were listening to the translation that when I made a joke, there were two waves of laughter, about three seconds apart.

Opening session, CIME Barcelona
The congress was partly about research, more about action.  They were trying to agree on a political platform, and through the fog of my extremely limited Spanish, I listened to a two-hour debate over the draft document.  Spanish political style is different from Australian, more eloquent certainly, and seemingly more intense.  They did agree on a declaration, by acclamation at the concluding session. The text is online now, called the "Declaration of Barcelona".

Two weeks later was the Austrian "Männertagung 2011", 20-21 October, also a mixture of activism and research.  Held in Graz, a thousand-year-old city in the pretty hill country of Styria, once a Hapsburg hangout and now a university town.  I came by train from the north, through the mountains with autumn snow and leaves.  Details of the conference:

The conference was in the technical university on the working-class side of the river, a gritty industrial building in a gritty industrial area.  About the same number of people as in Barcelona, and again I gave the opening plenary address, very well received - thank you, colleagues from Austria!  Here there were more people from social work and other human service professions.  Austria has a network of men’s counselling centres, and is almost unique in having a national office of men’s affairs, located in the social welfare ministry.  (They have a separate ministry for women.)

So the big political moment in Graz was when the Minister turned up, gave a short address, and answered questions from the floor.  He’s a Social Democrat, tipped as a future leader; the current conservative government is struggling in a big corruption scandal.  A theme of the conference was ‘hegemonic masculinity’. The irony did not escape the conference participants, when the Minister and university authorities offered us a perfect illustration – affable, authoritative, and giving absolutely nothing away.
Discussion group in Maennertagung
Photo credit: Men's Counselling Centre Graz

But the main work of the conference was done in workshops.  I shared with Elli Scambor, one of the conference convenors, a research workshop about hegemonic masculinity.  Other workshops dealt with migration, men’s health, queer issues, equality politics, violence, fatherhood, and youth work.  In another plenary, Thomas Gesterkamp from Germany ( gave an illuminating tour of the politics of masculinity, including the menacing masculinity-fundamentalism that has emerged in right-wing politics in Europe.

The Birthday Party, Graz
A conference party with a difference!  Celebrating the anniversary of the Graz men’s counselling centre, it was held in a music/drama venue, with a cake...  And no, it had not been left out in the rain.
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