Resistance to International Men’s Day

This article is about how one gutsy MRA started International Men’s Day despite attempts to shut him down. His name was Thomas Oaster.

Thomas Oaster was an articulate and passionate men’s rights advocate. He was prolific in his work with men’s groups, men’s issues, and political advocacy both on and off campus where he taught. He had many fine MRAs around him, men and women who helped to improve the lot of males, but what of the man himself? Who was he really, and what is the unknown story of how he inaugurated the first International Men’s Day? The following will be about Thomas Oaster and how he put IMD on the map for all who choose to celebrate the event into the distant future.

In the early 1990’s Oaster’s growing interest in advocating for men (and gynocentric resistance to that advocacy) led him to the idea of creating a globally celebrated International Men’s Day. His goal was to create a platform where the stories of men could be told in their own words rather than being interpreted by others.

In a moment of nostalgia about this dream he mused:

“You don’t get points in men’s groups for flexing your ego, but I’d like it to be known that Kansas City has become the hometown of International Men’s Day because a hometown boy got that thing rolling.”[1]

As you will read in what follows Thomas Oaster, and Kansas City, can indeed now take credit for being the epicenter of a global movement.

The first IMD event took place in 1992 when small groups of MRAs scattered through 4 continents simultaneously celebrated with Oaster in the first celebration. Today, thanks to his vision, there are millions of people in more than 60 countries celebrating IMD. This achievement is remarkable when we consider it took place 20 years ago at a time when advocacy for men and boys was considered unthinkable.

Thomas Oaster was the Director of the Missouri Center for Men’s Studies and employed as Associate Professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City where he taught classes on men’s issues. That’s right, classes on real men’s issues. He told of how he first became attracted to the men’s movement by an intellectual interest, but quickly came to feel persecuted for his association with this politically incorrect subject. “I got beat up, slammed” reports Oaster, “People said, ‘What – do you hate women?’ The more I got beat up, the more I got drawn in. My Teutonic background took over.” [1].

The first IMD event was launched on February 7, 1992 for the purpose of what he said was “drawing positive attention to important [men’s] issues.” [2] The event was successful both in 1992 and again in 1993 and 1994.[3] People in four continents celebrated and guests at the various events came along to hear speakers talk on topics ranging from the “silent tragedy of men’s health” to “man bashing” and to share, talk, wine and dine.

It was a miraculous occasion. For the first time in history people gathered at the same time on four continents to actually speak of such things. On that day, February 7, men and women rejoiced in the company of like-minded souls as they shared intimate stories that ears had never before heard. Oaster spoke at his hometown Kansas event, reminding attendees that discussion of men’s health and wellbeing deserved to be heard though the cacophony of misandry;

“We want the bashing to stop. It’s not a request. It’s a statement. We want it to stop! To give you an example, a woman walked through here and saw the material and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. You’re not seriously going to have a men’s day, are you?’”[4]

Oaster hoped that the day could become a means of education and consciousness raising where the positive cultural accomplishments of men could be celebrated and men might be faced with a better variety of choices about how they wanted to live their lives;

“Women and men should both have options” wrote Oaster, and “International Men’s Day is an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of options.”[5]

Oaster proposed six core objectives for a men’s day, and they were to: celebrate men’s positive traits and contributions, improve gender relations, focus attention on men’s health and wellbeing, remove misandry, increase life options for men and boys, and to develop a humanitarian-style approach to all men’s issues. These six objectives were the foundations that would later be reaffirmed and ratified by a new generation of IMD celebrants, but not before a group of ‘anti-Oaster’ University women had played their final hand.

After the popular success of the first International Men’s Day event in 1992, feminists at his campus became increasingly vindictive. During his planning for the 1994 and 1995 IMD events, a bomb was suddenly dropped by at least 6 former and current female ‘graduate students’ who collectively complained that Oaster had sexually harassed them and was “hostile” in the classroom. The two most serious allegations put forward by the troupe were that Thomas Oaster had touched the forearm of one student with what she perceived was a “brief stroking motion”, and that he had advised another student to dye her hair blonde in response to her question about what she could do improve her poor grade. To drive the nail deeper another student said he had referred to her as “Blondie” at least twice. The curators at the university entertained these shallow and dubious allegations and were quick to respond by imposing restrictions on Oaster’s movements and work. [6]

Despite these distractions the next two IMD events went extremely well with several hundred individuals in attendance. However the fourth year of IMD heralded a change in the weather when his antagonists decided to double-down in their efforts to shut him down.

In 1995 Oaster had planned to orchestrate his fourth and biggest IMD event when he increasingly became the target of workplace bullying. He decided to sue the Curators of the University for Infringement of his civil rights as a tenured professor, claiming that he was being denied freedom of speech, salary increases, graduate teaching assistants and the use of university facilities.[6] Naturally the court proceedings took up much of his time and energy and this taxed his ability to effectively organize or advertise the upcoming IMD event.

Due to these circumstances the next IMD event was a flop with few people turning up. After this failure, and feeling drained by a complex court case, Oaster decided to defer future IMD plans and take a well-deserved rest.

With precision, Thomas Oaster had been persecuted for his role in the men’s rights movement. [6] Late in 1995 Oaster won his court case against the UMKC and the University was forced to pay him $74,000 plus $15,000 for legal fees. After settlement Oaster resigned from his job as he felt he would no longer have the respect of his students, and he shelved plans to continue celebrating IMD. [6]

General interest in the event waned until 1999 when Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh, a History Professor at the University of the West Indies revived the event and shifted the date to November 19 – the date of his father’s birthday.

Jerome Teelucksingh continued Oaster’s emphasis on highlighting positive aspects and accomplishments of men. In a 2009 interview Teelucksingh also gave a nod to the work of Oaster when he stated this;

“I could be considered the founder of this version of IMD on 19 November but we need to also acknowledge the pioneering efforts of persons and groups before 1999… They are the ones to be honoured.” [3]

In 2009 an international IMD committee was formed with Jerome Teelucksingh as chairman. The group came together to increase awareness about the event and to foster its growth into more nations.

Taking note of the foundational IMD objectives introduced by both Oaster and Teelucksingh, the committee encapsulated the objectives of International Men’s Day in six guiding principles that would serve to protect the core values of the day and offer a reliable reference point for future IMD celebrants.[3] The ‘Six Pillars,’ which are suitably loose and open to interpretation, are now used as a guide by IMD celebrants around the world:

  • To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sports men but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.
  • To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.
  • To focus on men’s health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
  • To highlight discrimination against males; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law.
  • To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
  • To create a safer, better world; where people can live free from harm and grow to reach their full potential

It’s my belief that the spirit of Oaster’s original vision and that of A Voice for Men have much in common. Both movements aim to create an inclusive international voice for men as free as possible from sectarian distractions. Moreover, both IMD and AVfM reject the notion of a unified men’s movement, encouraging instead a diversity of men’s voices on a variety of humanitarian issues:

Thomas Oaster said this:

[T]here is no such thing as a unified men’s movement, the phenomena involved comprise a variety of sub-movements, even after analogies to other issues concerning which there are far left, far right, and middle-of-the-road orientations, there is yet another more fundamental point which can be made about the value of respect for all men as human beings. A day of respect should go beyond the current social activities referred to as Men’s movements. This is true because the men’s movement itself goes beyond the Men’s movements. The men’s movement, more fundamentally, is a turning of the human psyche and the articulation of this turning through the male voice.[5]

Paul Elam, founder of avoiceformen.com said:

[C]ontinuing to buy into the false unity of a non-existent entity will only slow us down. I have always taken care, and still do, to point out that AVfM is not synonymous with the men’s movement. And after mulling this over one more time of thousands, I am really glad that I have taken this approach. I don’t know what the men’s movement is, in all honesty. I don’t even know that it exists.[7]

While the similarities in the two movements are obvious, there are some important differences. For instance in Thomas Oaster’s day there was no internet, whereas today it is a vital medium for all activism, including here at AVfM. Another difference is that IMD focuses the year-long work of activists into one big day of publicity, whereas other activists strive to make ‘every day’ a men’s day via regular online publicity.

. . .

International Men’s Day is a grassroots movement with no official management. It does not belong to any government nor is it owned by the United Nations or any of its agencies. We might say that nobody owns the event, or better yet everybody owns it. Any person can self-nominate as an IMD coordinator for a specific region or event and, if desired can form alliances with an international network of individuals working to promote the day. Any current and future coordinators are merely hitch-hikers catching a ride on an international platform that nobody owns.

Nobody needs to gain permission to mark the day. All one need do is be mindful of the spirit of the occasion as laid out in the six pillars which ask us to remain true to the lives of men and boys without allowing that message to be diminished by negative or irrelevant concerns.

In recent years IMD has spread into new regions and attracted some mainstream attention. With this new attention it is perhaps time to remind newcomers that the originators of the event were fighting for liberty and freedom, and that we still have a very long way to go on this front.

With this in mind let us finish with words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, itself delivered on November 19- the date of International Men’s Day. The words of his address speak equally to the purpose of International Men’s Day today and of the great sacrifices made by Oaster and other men and women who fought on the battlefield of cultural misandry;

‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated [the ground], far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.’ [Lincoln]

Despite the resistance, the tradition of IMD lives on. In Oaster’s name let’s dream it forward.
 

Sources

[1] George Gurley, ‘Finally, men get their day’ (Kansas City Star: Feb 6, 1993)
[2] Fred Wickman, ‘about Town’ (Kansas City Star: Jan 27, 1992)
[3] Jason Thompson, ‘International Men’s Day; the making of a movement’ (Soul Books, 2010)
[4] James Fussell, ‘Men have their say at weekend forum’ (Kansas City Star: Feb 6, 1993)
[5] Thomas Oaster, ‘International Men’s Day: RSVP’ (Cummings and Hathaway, 1992)
[6] Cheryl Thompson, ‘Complaints surface about UMKC professor’ (Kansas City Star: Mar 10, 2003)
[7] Paul Elam, ‘Adios, c-ya, good-bye man-o-sphere’ (A Voice for Men. retrieved October 2012)