Paul Elam: Presentation to the International Conference on Men’s Issues 2014

We will over the next few weeks continue to present full transcripts of all the presentations at the International Conference on Men’s Issues 2014. Here we bring you Paul Elam’s speech, the final speech from  Day 1, June 27, 2014, introduced by Warren Farrell.

As always, thanks to Rick Westlake for doing the bulk of the work on all these transcripts.–DE

(Attila Vinczer)

Our next guest will be Paul Elam. He will be introduced by Warren Farrell.

I want to share with you a quick little thing that happened to me at the border crossing when I was on my way down here. The guard actually grilled me quite a bit, and he wondered – he asked a question, “Why would you drive 300 miles to go to the VFW?” And I tried to answer in a manner that would be conducive to what he would want to hear; I just wanted to get out of there. But it really stuck in my head: Why do I do the things that I do? Why would I come here, drag my father along, my two boys, spend a few days here – why would I do this? Many people, asking why.

The reason is, I care about my father. I care about my sons. I care about my fellow man. I also care about women. But I’m noticing that — my sons included, as they’re going through school, they’re not being treated very equitably. It’s a problem for me. And, in a sense, I would like to thank everyone here, for taking this time, for Paul putting this incredible piece together, this conference; because it really is helping my boys and other young boys that are growing up in a world that is not very friendly to them.

Would you please introduce Paul Elam?

(Applause. Warren Farrell takes the podium, and beckons up Paul Elam.)

I want to stand next to somebody that’s taller than I am – I think you’ll do.

I just want to tell you that I didn’t hear about A Voice for Men until a few years ago. When I heard about it, I heard about it like a lot of people hear about it; there’s a lot of angry men out there, expressing their feelings, and you know, they’re discriminating against women, they must be misandrists–and I said to myself–I didn’t even look at that, I didn’t investigate that–I internalized, after a lifetime of working on men’s and women’s issues, I internalized the probability of the truth of that, without even checking it out. If I, who have spent my life working on these issues, didn’t have the awareness to check this out, what type of–

When I did check it out, I found that there was “Humanist” right in the title. There were articles from all over the world! There were people that were hurt and that were angry; there were people that were writing intellectually; there was Miles Groth, there were people who were gay, there were people who were African American; there were people who represented, in their diversity, exactly the opposite of everything that I was hearing! And I was realizing, had not Warren Farrell had … (Microphone problems)

… “you, more than anyone else, perhaps, have the experience of being attacked, for things that are not at all close to what you are saying, what you feel, what you believe. And yet, your first instinct was to go exactly where everybody who had attacked you had gone.”

And so, I felt bad about that when I looked at the website.

But then I had something else happen with me. I met Paul. And we met at my home, when Cassie Jay, a woman who is doing a documentary here, was interviewing both of us. And I heard him articulate the feelings and the fears, and the movement; and I heard a lot of the same types of things that I feel, that I was trying to articulate and put forward. And what I also heard and felt was a really warm, loving, caring man. And a warm, loving, caring man who had not so fallen into the trap of warm-loving-and-caring that he couldn’t express something more than warm-loving-and-caring – he couldn’t express outrage, he couldn’t express anger – and that he had enough courage that he could allow anger on his site. Because … (A/V difficulties)

… perspective. And so for women to be able to understand their anger – emote their anger, and their feelings and their fears; and then for me – (A/V difficulties)

… that wouldn’t be expressed also by us, was both unfair to men – it was my own form of sexism, but it was also was unfair to a movement. A movement often attracts people in pain, and its job is to channel that in a healthy way. But Paul has understood – (A/V difficulties)

(Dean Esmay shouts, from below podium) Hey, everybody, we’re running ahead of schedule, believe it or not! Let’s take a ten-minute break while we figure this out!

(Break for the audio/video crew to handle the problems.)

(Paul Elam steps up to podium)

Ladies and gentlemen, could you take your seats, please? We’re about to start again.

(Break in video)

You must like that chair. You know, there are steps right there.

(Warren Farrell) See, it’s a metaphor for the eyes, always take the hard way — so, should I stay behind these mikes, or can I move around? – Okay. Testing – we’re about ready to begin again … Yeah, that – amazing.

(Paul Elam) Excuse me, if we could, everybody, could we get everyone to take a seat, please? We’re about to start again.

(Warren Farrell) Paul said, “You were saying really nice things about me, Warren, so if that was not recorded, you’ve got to repeat those things.” (Laughter)

The real conspiracy was not the feminists, putting those things that, that … it was the conspiracy to say something like that twice. Which I am extremely happy to do.

I was saying, what – When I was initially introduced to AVfM; it was from a distance, and it was before I had ever seen the site. And some people told me that the site was angry, and there were people that were angry; and I confessed, I confess now, to, at that point in my life, thinking, Oh – angry men out there; that’s discrediting the efforts that we’re making. And I didn’t even look at the site. And here, you know – if you look ME up on Google, you find a lot of negative things about me, here and there; and it’s sort of like I trust that those things — I’ve convinced my wife those things aren’t true.

And so I mean, I was worried, and so, knowing all of that, and having spent so many years of my life being distorted, and accepting that, and working on that internally – I still retained the sexism inside of myself, of not allowing myself to think, “Maybe these are false attacks. Maybe these are false accusations.” And I said – later, when I looked up the website, and saw this underneath the headline, “Humanist Theory” – well, this at least doesn’t start out saying, you know, “hate-women theory.” So, I started going down, and I saw this sweetheart named Tom Golden writing for it, who I happen to know; he’s worked with me, and he’s one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever hear speak. And so, I was thinking, well, if he’s associated with this, this must be good.

And then I kept reading other things, by the people; people from India, people from African-American background, people from gay persuasions, people who were women, people who were feminist in their orientation. And then, I started speaking to Paul, and Paul said he had invited thirteen feminists, thirteen times, to appear with him, to talk these issues through; assuring them that he would give them some type of sense of protection, and some type of — at least 50% of the time to speak. And so, I thought, “this is good.” Then I had this experience, where I actually met Paul. And I met Paul in my home, when Cassie Jay was doing a documentary on what’s called the Men’s Rights–MRAs; which I believe should be called Men’s Issues, but that’s another issue.

We’re sitting in there, and Paul is talking about this issues, in ways that resonate with the things that I’ve been writing about, thinking about, feeling, trying to articulate, for years. But there’s a difference. There’s a difference between Paul and I. And the difference was that my message was only barely being heard. Paul was putting out there, to tens of thousands of people, these issues. He was secure enough internally to allow the space for the anger. He knew intuitively — like I knew intuitively (but I was with the National Organization for Women) that when Valerie Solanas wrote the SCUM Manifesto, that the Feminist Movement should not be defined by a book that is called “The Society for Cutting Up Men Manifesto” And so, there’s always going to be unhealthy people drawn to every movement, and we need to let them share what they are doing, or be active in the way that Tom was talking about, or to be able to honor something differently as Tom was talking about. And then, with that activity, with that ability to express the feelings in whatever way counts, that would be able to create part of the healing process.

But we had something else going on here.

As I looked over the site, I saw that this was not just a website. This was a person who had reached out to thousands of people, all around the country and the world, that was piecing together pieces that no one else in the history of men’s issues had ever been able to piece together. They were piecing together political pieces, they were piecing together humanist pieces. And that meant he was working with thousands of people. And tomorrow I’ll be talking about some of those people that he was working with, and acknowledging them. But right now I saw that it was people from many different walks of life, many of whom were working as volunteers. When a person can do that, that means that they are able to cooperate; they are able to work with – they are able to inspire. And so, here’s a man who is able to write, able to inspire, and as I got to know him, a man who truly loves his wife, Stacey; and when she couldn’t make it this weekend, rather than say, “You’ve got to come here and support me,” he supported her to support what she needed to do when she was there. From my perspective, that’s what a man needs to do. He needs to care, he needs to love, he needs to think, he needs to have courage; he needs to be able to provide a space for anger. He needs to be someone like Paul Elam.

Thank you.

(Applause; Paul hugs Warren and steps to the podium.)

Thank you. Thank you, Warren. I think the first thing I want to say, I want to talk to whoever was responsible for having me follow Tom Golden, Barbara Kay, and Warren Farrell. (Laughter)

Oh, wait – that was me! So I will have to live with it.

Thank you so much, Warren, for that very warm introduction, and thank you all for being here, and for the very warm introduction and welcome that you’ve given to this conference.

I have a talk, today, planned to speak some about the issues of blue-collar men. However, as is always the case with AVfM, it’s a shifting landscape; different things happen. There’s one thing now that I know; thanks to the technical brilliance of the people at the back of the room – despite the sound problems — we are now streaming this live on YouTube. It is going out. (Applause)

I’m going to address something that I got up here especially to address earlier today; something that’s really weighing heavy on me. And that’s the situation that we had with a man who came here, who I saw; and, in talking to him, felt like he was a very lonesome individual, I’m sure with some emotional issues. And he’d touched people in a way that was not sexual – men, other men – that was not sexual, but it was sort of a come-on that was inappropriate — I’m sorry? — Okay; from what I’ve witnessed. And I certainly didn’t take it as sexual. However, I trust that you survived the experience. And for those needing it, we will have Calvin Mann make “survivor” t-shirts.

I do want to say that I’m saddened, because I heard that in the media, the Detroit Press, that they came out – one of the writers came out, said that he had come here and been molested by this man. I had an encounter with the man; I did not interpret it that way. And, once I found out about that, I did happen to see him in the parking lot, and I had to ask him to leave. Which I hated doing. I hated asking somebody to leave here, because they might have emotional problems. And that’s part of what we’re dealing with here.

And it reminded me of something that’s going on right now, and has been for years.

If you go to the Department of Justice website, the US DoJ website, right now, you will see a statistic from our Attorney General that asserts that “the number-one cause of death for African-American women between 15 and 44 is Intimate Partner Violence.” It’s the same Department of Justice that does not even have that on the top 15 causes of death. What is our Department of Justice saying about men – and, in particular, African-American men – to put this lie up on a Government website?

And to repeat it: despite the fact that Christina Hoff Sommers, three years ago, wrote an open letter to Eric Holder about this, that was published in USA Today? As far as I know, it remains, to this day; it is not going to be moved. This is some of the difficulty that we’re facing.

But I just wanted to get out there, how saddened I was to ask this man to leave. And I look forward to the time when we can have a conference where there might be some help, here, for him.

(Applause)

Thank you.

Blue-collar men – If we look at this building, and this building in particular, which was paid for in blood; if we look at our society at large, the standard of living that we have, the roads we drive on, the planes that we flew here on, designed, built, engineered, almost primarily by men; if you look throughout history, and you look at everything from pyramids, to aqueducts, to these engineering marvels, you will see a standard of living from all that, eventually, that led to a standard of living like nothing before in human history; much of it paid for with the sacrifice of men. Yet now, we look at those men – and I can tell you, as somebody with a blue-collar background – as something less.

I started AVfM from a semi truck, with a laptop, driving ten, twelve hours a day – well, no, it was only ten, because the DOT says I could only – (Laughter)

But my logbook reflected ten hours a day of driving. And I sat there each evening and wrote from that laptop, to start A Voice for Men. And now, look at you. Just look at this. It’s amazing. And it obviously wasn’t me that did it; it was a lot of people.

I’m going to wander a minute, because I don’t want to forget. One of the ways that I’ve seen AVfM characterized, particularly by the SPLC, was that it was a mouthpiece for myself. So apparently, all the writers for AVfM that are here, all the crew that’s working — In particular, I want to point out AVfM Italy, which is now published in Italian; AVfM Brazil, which is published in Portuguese; and the several other affiliates that we have, of people writing original content, who live in their countries, are not mouthpieces for Paul Elam. I also want to take this opportunity to announce that on August 1st,  we are going to launch two more websites – AVfM Hebrew, and AVfM Farsi – on the same day.

(Applause)

And the individuals that are responsible for launching those two sites are working together.

I’m not going to talk a long time today. I want to just close this by telling you a story about blue-collar men. And not of all their magnificent accomplishments, but of some of the sadness that I’ve experienced in looking at their lives; and in particular, one of them that I wrote a piece about, my uncle Walter.

We used to visit my Aunt Johnnie when I was a youth, every Sunday. She baked fresh bread, and the whole house just was like a bakery when you walked in the door. It was magnificent. And we would sit around her kitchen table, and eat bread, and talk. And I think at this time, I was twelve. And I really wasn’t even consciously aware that I had an uncle. And I went running through the house one Sunday, while I was there; and there was this aging man, laying on a bed by himself. And I could look at him and see that something was draining the life out of him. Because he just lay there. While the rest of the house was filled with the sounds of family and the smell of fresh bread, Walter lay there by himself, trying to catch up on rest.

There was something about that moment that frightened me, and I think it was because I saw a possible future, for myself, that I didn’t want to see. I couldn’t wrap my head around all of it, but it was something that I felt; and I wondered who this guy was, and at the same time, I was so frightened I ran out of the room.

And my next memory was of his funeral. And it wasn’t that much longer from that day. And I remember my Aunt Johnnie standing there, sobbing and wailing so profoundly that she had to be propped up by a relative on each elbow; she was in such grief.

And I thought about that moment, just not too long ago; and I remember with shame how he and his work were forgotten, even in his own home. And forgotten by me, after that day that I saw him and walked off.

And I think that experience really drives a lot of what I do.

We could go on all day about the greatness of all these men that make sure that things work, that the world works; and how they are the living answer to things like “The End of Men.” I don’t know if anybody’s read that; I have. Saying that men aren’t rela[vent]–This could only be an idea entertained by somebody so disconnected from the real world that they think that there’s air-conditioning bunnies that are pushing cool air into this room; and that when they flush their toilet, the Poop Fairy takes everything away and sends it out of our way. You have to be very, very disconnected from the real world.

There won’t be an End of Men, because that would be the End of Us.

And that’s all I have for today. I just want to thank you all for being here.

(Applause; Paul leaves the podium, then returns.)

I thought I would come back up while you were still applauding. A couple of things:

We are having an Appreciation Dinner here tonight. You are all invited. Everybody in this room is welcome to attend … what we’ll ask for you to do is perhaps, as we close for now, if we can get some “esprit de corps” here, and move the chairs where the Security staff will direct. We just need to move the chairs out of the way. You’re welcome to come here. It’s free for everybody. We’ll probably have a tip jar, or something like that, to help out; but please be sure to come. There’s some special things during that dinner that we’d like you to see.

Seven-thirty. That’s it!

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