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The original title for this piece was "Stand Up, Sit Down, Mel – Feit, Feit, Feit." I don't remember if that was my title or if I left the titling up to staff. Either way, what was a good idea then seems a silly idea now. Maybe my new title will seem even sillier in another 23 years.

by Janice Stensrude
published in Uptown Express June 1989

Mel Feit is a men's activist who is tired of the perception of men as abusers and women as victims. "The focus on women's issues over the last twenty years to the exclusion of men's issues has been unhealthy," he stated. The women's movement, in his view, began as a very idealistic vision of liberation, but "somewhere along the line," he said, "it got perverted into a movement of women desiring special privilege."

There are a lot of women in the women's movement now who don't like men," he continued. "They think only in terms of women's issues. The women's movement has been stolen from women who had this initial commitment to real equality." Some of these women, disillusioned with their own movement are now members of his organization, the National Center for Men, which was begun in November of 1987.

Feit's group felt that the men's organizations already in existence were not dealing with what he described as the "provocative" issues. "Other men's rights leaders were timid and ashamed of their beliefs," he said, "and there were several of us who just were not, and we wanted to have an organization that could express those beliefs without embarrassment. That's what separates us from other organizatoins of this kind—a commitment to tell the truth as we see it and let the chips fall where they may."

Feit claims his interest in male rights dates to childhood when, he said, "I discovered that simply because of my sex, when I got to be 18 years old, my government was going to treat me as cannon fodder, that the society I lived in could deprive me of my civil liberties and strip me of my dignity and force me to kill other human beings, put me in the position where I would be mutilated or maimed or disfigured for life—and females had no obligation whatsoever. I don't think any other example of sex discrimination against men or women is in the same league with taking human beings and enslaving them and forcing them to fight war. I was eight years old when I discovered this, and I was angry about it, and I've been angry ever since."

It was hard not to hear in his voice the angry echoes of the women's movement of the early sixties, anger at being limited, through societal sanctions, to a rigid, narrowly defined role. Feit and the other 849 members of his group are struggling to be identified by some other means than their genitals. Feit despises what he repeatedly described as "the narrowness of the male role." he views women's lives as rich in choices that are unavailable to men, and it is the dedication to the male right to these choices that led Feit and his cohorts to form their organization.

Unlike author Herb Goldberg (The Hazards of Being Male and The New Male), Mel Feit does not think men should take the primary responsibility for their less than equal position in society. "I don't think it's men's fault," he declared. Goldberg, Feit claimed, asks men to be more mature, to be more open and expressive, learn to be more sensitive and nurturing. "I speak to women and say that you need to be more supportive of the man in your life who wants to be more open and vulnerable." Men who attempt the Goldberg approach, Feit said, are frequently ridiculed and/or abandoned by their women who find vulnerability in their men frightening or, at the least, "a turn-off."

Feit, who in the past has worked as a social worker, an actor and a writer, claims he has never conformed to the traditional male role. "In my relationships with women, I have always been as non-sexist as possible. I would not court women in the usual way," he explained. "We would go out and would split expenses. My relationships with women were always based on a kind of real equality."

Feit has worn his hair long since college, but only began wearing skirts within the last several years. "When I decided to wear skirts, I was in a relationship with an incredibly liberated woman. She had an assertive personality, and demanded to be treated as a liberated woman." His ideal woman flatly rejected him and his attempts at liberation when they took the form of "feminine" dress. "That's been the case with every woman that I've met over the years. I have never met a single woman, not one, who was willing to say that she wants to have a relationship with me based on a real mutual sharing of equal rights."

Feit's theory is that the liberated women he has sought as companions felt their femininity was threatened by a man who wanted to be sensual and softer. "They haven't yet learned that to share those qualities with a man would enhance those so-called feminine qualities," he said. "They react the same way that a lot of men used to react when women first went into the workplace."

"I think that men should have the same range of choices that women have in their lives and that means being able to make sensual, soft, colorful, artistic, festive, and creative choices in how they dress. Women have an incredible range of choices that are denied men." Feit takes a practical approach to dressing—pants for New York's frigid winters and skirts for the hot and sticky days in July and August. "There is something about softer clothing that brings out elegance and grace in a person," he said, "and I don't thnk men experience that."

"I see color as just a natural way in which people express what they feel," Feit stated. "Color is very artistic and creative, and it helps people take feelings that are on the inside and move them on the outside. So I see color in many ways as the symbol of the new man. The old man is sort of black and white. The image of him is very businesslike and boring. Color says that the new man is emotionally more interesting."

Feit's decision to appear on Donahue and Geraldo in skirts was not wholeheartedly supported by everyone in the men's movement. "These guys who were afraid thought that if I walked out there in a skirt that I would be booed off the stage and no one would take me seriously," he said. "The result was just the opposite. People respect integrity and courage even if they disagree with you."

Feit does not see the symbolic issues of hair length or skirts as trivial. "I don't believe this is trivial at all," he expressed, I think we're talking about men being able to have the freedom to express the full range of their humanity, every aspect of their personality, to have the same choices that women have.

Women dealing with the frustrations of life, according to Feit, have some creative options that men don't. "Even something as simple as changing the color of your nail polish can make you feel just a little bit better," he said. The cumulative effect of the narrowness of male options, he feels, is deadly.

"Not only do men die earlier than women, but they commit suicide about three to six times more frequently, they are incarcerated 25 times more frequently, they suffer more in almost every major category of disease—including heart attack, cancer, stroke, alcoholism—and they work in jobs with a 600% higher rate of injury."

Feit's organization holds the position that men should not always have to be the initiators in relationships. "Women are the sexual celebrities in life," he said. He sees women as reluctant to give up what he views as a kind of sexual power to risk rejection the way they expect men to risk rejection.

Feit sees reproductive choice, another important issue, as a double standard where women solely make the choice that determines whether or not a man becomes a father. He sees men as frequently being trapped into fatherhood. With both pro-life and pro-choice members, the National Center for Men does not take a stand on abortion. "What we say is that whatever standards apply to women should apply equitably to men as well. We recognize it's a woman's body and maybe she should have some greater measure of control, but the way things are now, where the woman has all the choices and the man has no choice, there's such a tremendous disparity that there's no way to justify it."

Career choice is another issue. Men do not have the same range of choices that a woman has to either stay home or to pursue a career," said Feit, "and I've never met a woman who would want to bear the greater financial burden in a relationship." New York women, Feit claimed, still expect to "marry up," judging a man's worthiness by the size of his pocket book.

"I don't see that women have perfect lives," he said, "and I don't think either sex is morally superior than the other. We are absolutely equal. If we are having problems between men and women, it's because both of us are contributing to it."

"The men's movement," he explained, "is an attempt to provide a balance and to complete what the women's movement started." Indeed, with such an emphasis on the word "choice," it is hard to distinguish Mr. Feit's men's rights of the 80s from Ms. Friedan's women's rights of the 60s.

The National Center for Men is funded totally with annual dues of $35 paid by each member. If you are "unemployed or poor or whatever," the dues are $25, or possibly less. "We don't let the money stand in the way," Feit stated. Everyone in the organization is a volunteer. Feit, who works part time for a company that sells telephone equipment and has some earnings from college lecture bookings, receives a small stipend. "Even though I suffer financially, I get to meet and talk to really interesting people, and I feel like I'm doing something reasonably important and fulfilling, but I don't want to do this for the rest of my life."

Mel Feit's ideal woman is sensitive, soft, delicate and graceful. She is assertive, has a career, and functions as a responsible citizen who takes public issues seriously, does not expect a free ride from anyone, and is tough when she has to be—in the immortal words of the old gangster movies, she "don't take nothin' off nobody." Mel Feit's ideal man has exactly the same qualities. Intimacy is what he says he wants, an intimacy that "can best be achieved by two human beings who are equal and fulfilled—two equal spirits trying to find some kind of union."

"It's sort of a very romantic, corny concept, isn't it?" he said.

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