by Jack Heath
When Steve Biddulph wrote Manhood it sent ripples all over the place. I first came across the book about two and a half years ago at a friend's place down in Kangaroo Valley. My wife was pregnant at the time with our first child and from the time we had known Cath was pregnant I had spent a good deal of time wondering what sort of father I would be and revisiting my relationship with my Dad. Becoming a father was my introduction to men's issues.
I bought a copy of Manhood soon after and it wasn't too long before it was being sent to a whole heap of men friends. One copy found its way to Daniel Petre at Microsoft (he has since resigned - see p24). He sent even more copies out and together with Rob Olver who runs Frontline Agency they came up with the idea of Manhood Online - an Internet site that would promote the values and issues espoused in Steve's book. They put together a Council that included Steve, Rex Finch, Graeme Galt and myself. Later, I came on board as editor and Hothouse Interactive Productions put together the site which we launched on 1 September 1996 - Father's Day.
The Internet seemed like a pretty logical path given that men are the predominant users of the Internet with a concentration in 30-40 year old range. It also made sense that we were using a technology with a strong element of anonymity. As people who have worked with men's groups would know, providing a safe space is really important to men's dealing with their deeper wounds. The Internet seemed a great way into issues that men might otherwise shun in day-to-day circumstances. But having men glued to computers was never our idea of where it should end. By providing details of men's groups, events and gatherings we have sought to promote face-to-face interaction which is the key to men's stuff - it's just that the Internet is such a great way into it.
One of the particularly valuable tools is the way that you can build community around a story - Steve's article "The Big Talk With Dad" is a great example. Through the mechanism known as threads people can paste their comments right alongside the article. Suddenly one story leads into many other stories and a rich textured weave of experience and wisdom emerges. It's this story telling and sharing that really makes the difference. We're wanting to provide pieces that are interesting and relevant from highly personal stories about sexual abuse to matter of fact practical advice about dealing with stress. Each Friday we put up a handful of pieces so you can expect something new each weekend.
We also have incorporated a few special features including a team of Special Advisers who answer questions on a whole range of issues from men's health to fatherhood and parenting to men in prisons. You can buy books through the site. One very popular feature is the Manhood Snapshot where you can read men's answers to 16 big questions about life or you can add your own. At the moment, we're putting in place the Manhood Forums which will be available to all members to talk about whatever they like. We decided to go the membership route (a nominal amount of $20 per year) because we believed it that if we were going to build a community then its members needed to put something in - even if it was just a nominal amount. So far we've been very pleased with the membership response but we're always looking for more members and their stories.
Stepping back from it all, I've been particularly struck by how quickly men's issues are building a mainstream momentum - it's not overwhelming, but it is happening and it's gathering pace. I guess the best indication of the mainstreaming of men's issues occurred in September of this year when The Economist magazine carried a cover story feature on men! No longer are men's issues seen as something being pursued by a few men on the fringes. Having said that, as a relative newcomer who's had the good fortune to build on what's been done by others, we should acknowledge the efforts of many other men who walked the path without the assistance of the technological wizardry that is now at our disposal.
At its heart, building community around men's issues is what we're really on about at Manhood Online. And we want to do this in a way that leads men to direct their energies towards a better world. As we say in our editorial platform, we're about non-competitive frames of reference - women have been active in freeing themselves for some time now and it's time for us blokes to do the same.
We certainly don't think the Internet has all the answers but we believe that like any technology when used for the good it can be of enormous benefit. This is partic-ularly so with men's business. But enough of my words - why not come and check out the site and if you like what you see join us to build a vibrant and caring community around men's issues. Our address is http://www.manhood.com.au/ and we're keen to know what you think of Manhood Online.
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