Off Beat

He Shall Overcome

I am a free man. The security guard at the Landmark Center on this Friday evening apparently recognizes this fact; he immediately directs me to the third-floor conference room where members of the National Coalition of Free Men have gathered.

The aim of this emancipated-male powwow in St. Paul is to provide a counterpoint to the National Organization for Women's national convention, held here over this same weekend, June 21-23. When I arrive, author Wendy McElroy is delivering a speech entitled "Scrapping NOW: Time to Redefine Feminism," in which she compares the fledgling National Coalition of Free Men to the feminism movement of the 1960s. "It is no exaggeration to say that a cultural revolution is in process," asserts McElroy, who edits the Web site "It is a grassroots revolution, not led by elite voices or tax-funded organizations, but by men and women in the street who realize something is terribly wrong." Unfortunately for McElroy, the bosom-thumping is contradicted by her surroundings: Only about 50 people have gathered to listen to her, most of them white males.

The coalition takes pains to assure people that it's not looking for sympathy; the last thing proponents of "masculinism" want is to be portrayed as whining victims. Alas, that's pretty much what they sound like. Warren Farrell is introduced as the "sage of the men's movement." After instructing audience members to turn to their neighbors and give them a backrub, Farrell, a best-selling author (The Myth of Male Power) and former board member of NOW's New York City chapter, sets about debunking gender myths.

He argues that men do not assault women in higher numbers than their female counterparts; it's just that women are more likely than men to report it to the police. In puncturing the "myth" that men get paid more than women for equal work, Farrell doesn't provide any data. Instead he reasons that if women really did work for lower pay, then companies would not hire men. "Capitalism builds into its system a punishment for discriminating against people," he maintains. This line draws the loudest applause of Farrell's speech. Free men believe in free markets!

At that, I (being a free man) take my leave. --By Paul Demko

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