The O'Palmer was at the Irish Mens Sheds Association Conference in the Helix yesterday. Here's a general overview of the impression which was made. The O'Palmer supports the IMSA and the work it does.
It was good to have given concrete support by live-streaming the event for free.
Many thanks to all of you who tuned in to watch the live stream of the event.
Your support is Much Appreciated. There is raw footage viewable online for a limited time. The streaming was in the mid-range quality, to allow those with less-than-perfect internet connections to join in. A few technical issues aside, the broadcast was well received and certainly give a feel for the event (second only to actually being there)
So, on with the Review...
First of all, the conference was a great success. It was a great chance for mens groups from around the country to meet and talk, and the stalls set up around both levels of the foyer meant that visitors could see what these various groups are up to. The president was there, of course, as the patron of the Irish Mens Sheds Association, and the presidential address was up to his usual standard, congratulating the association while looking forward to things to come.
Also, the event well organised, and had a fantastic amount of technical support provide by the Helix, so well done to those involved. Arranging that many speakers, some of whom came all the way from Australia was no mean feat, but it all came off with only a few minor hitches. The range of speakers and topics made for a very interesting day, leading up to the Q+A, where questions from the floor looked at ways in which the IMSA could develop over time.
While all this was going on, online media streams were regularly updated with photographs and comments, retweeted and posted into facebook pages. It was genuinely impressive to see all these things come together and it was obvious that the Irish Mens Sheds Association is not a passing phase - it's here to stay and will take it's place as a significant influence on Irish society in the years to come.
However, The O'Palmer isn't about back-slapping, it's role is to offer a critique. So, with the greatest respect for the members and board of the IMSA, there is a fundamental and profound criticism which needs to be aired.
What's wrong with the IMSA?
Well, that's a tricky one, because they are what they are and it is what it is, as they say. It's always difficult to criticise something while supporting it. Yet, that is precisely why it's appropriate.
It's not exactly the IMSA which is being criticised, but rather the foundation upon which it rests, or even the earth sub-stratum upon which it stands.
Now, how can I blame the shed for the stratum? - that's hardly their fault. You work with what you're given, right? But it is legitimate, because the IMSA decided where to put down roots in the cultural landscape..
Also, you might say, it's easy to criticise and it's extrordinatily difficult to achieve all that the men's sheds have achieved, so there is no right to criticise.
Well, not quite, and here's why.
It's because the mens sheds are successful that they should listen to criticism.
They are now a presence in society. No longer can they say "we're only the men's sheds", because that's a misrepresentation. As much as the men's sheds are a product of the society in which they evolved, they are now in a position to influence that society, and perhaps have an obligation to do so.
They are no longer working with what they are given, but are able to create their own environment.
And with that in mind, there are some things that the IMSA should consider.
What came across from the conference, and indeed all the literature, web-media and publications of the IMSA is that "men need something to do", to avoid a sense of isolation and lack of purpose. This idea is repeated in many forms right across the public face of the association and there is repetitive reference to how the IMSA has helped men, and the way in which that is done.
Now there are three parts to this misrepresentation:
The first is that mens problems are innate, the second is that the IMSA self-identifies as a "help-organisation" (which is understandable because that qualifies it for grants and tax exemptions, but the same could be achieved with an educational emphasis) and the third is that what men need is physical labour to keep them occupied.
So, from the first part (that men's problems are their own), what is never addressed is
"Why is this so ?"
The assumption is that this is the way men are, that it is a biological imperative which requires an essentialist attitude towards men.
This means that it is an innate, essential part of maleness, unchanging, forever so, and all we can do is try to find ways to accommodate it. It states that they need to do something, which is essential to their identity, and as a result they feel worthless without it.
Do you see what is happening here? - in order to explain men's problems, there is a particular grammer used, which requires the use of "they". By doing this, the problem is pushed onto men, and a collective "otherness" is created because, obviously, "they" cannot be "us" at the same time.
Now, the IMSA may say that this is not the case, but this would be an objection, not a response. All one has to do is look at the site and literature, and it is obvious. It must be accepted, of course, that this may not have been the intention, but it doesn't refute the fact.
Once this is established, it presents some problems. One is obvious: lumping all men together as "they" is fundamentally offensive. Granted, although there is some merit in recognising a trend or commonality, it is not a universal.
The other side of this essentialist attitude is that the problems facing men, which the IMSA seeks to remedy, are problems arising from the men - it is their perception, their identity, their maleness which is causing the problem. It still does not address why this perception is there in the first place, or even whether it is valid.
Do you see what has happening here, again? If the problem is framed as an issue of male self-perception (as innate and essential), then there is no need to address the reasons behind it.
Is it possible that this is not a perception, but a reality? Well, yes it is possible.
While certain aspects of male aptitudes and attitudes are probably biological, Identity does not arise in a vacuum, but results from a mix of many complicated social and biological phenomena. However, the question here is whether the male sees himself as value-deficient or whether he is seen as value-deficient.
It can't be avoided that these are connected, and further, that unless the undervaluation of males is addressed, this will continue to be a problem, which no band-aid can fix. The problem is that men are valued for what they do or provide, not for what they are. This view is wrong, and needs to change, but that will never happen if men are blamed for it, as part of their essential nature. This attitude is supported, albeit perhaps inadvertently, by the IMSA, which, rather than addressing it, encourages this dominant discourse by "giving them something to do".
If men view themselves as having less worth or purpose because of unemployment, financial stress, illness or whatever, it is a response to a society which has imposed this attitude.
It's not all in their heads.
......this piece continues in part 2