|Men's work started for Paul Whyte way back in 1961 at the age of five. Paul recalls, “Jimmy Stevens walked up to me, I smiled at him and he punched me in the nose. He went to do it again and I punched him in the nose before he could hit me again. We both stood there with tears welling up holding our noses and decided to be friends. Jimmy was my best friend for the next four years.”
From an early age, the push was on to get all Paul's family out of the “trades”. He had come from a line of merchant seamen and ships' engineers for dispossessed Highland Scots, it was the route to freedom and a good life away from Scotland.
Studying chemistry was Paul's way out of lifeless work and he is still making his living from formulations he has developed. The condom lubricant Wet Stuff is his most successful product and has been important in the campaign to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS. Such is Paul's attitude to things that he has been selling Wet Stuff to public health campaigns at cost for the last ten years.
He has a history of activism behind him that stretches back to when he left home at the age of eighteen. He has been involved in a number of movements anti-war, inner city housing, environment, peer counselling and anti-nuclear.
His foray into the men's business began in 1976. At the age of 20, Paul began organising men's groups. Soon after he started living with his first partner. “As I assisted Susan to get stronger, I really needed to talk with other men. After a few years of false starts I was sitting on a beach with two mates and we just listened to the story of each other's lives. We were spellbound. After that few hours we invited all our mates over one night per week. It was the start of the men's movement for me. I have been organising men's groups and building towards a movement ever since.”
Out of the cluster of men's groups that Paul was involved in forming and developing, one group started organising a yearly men's festival in Sydney, about 100 men met at a bush camp for seven days. Paul persisted for eight years in the work of this yearly men's gathering.
1983 was to represent a turning point. Paul was sent along to a course in peer counselling to get some skills for the men's group he was part of. He took to Re-evaluation Counselling like a duck to water and regards it as a pioneer organisation in the development of men's work. “Its founder, Harvey Jackins, has had the guts and integrity to speak of men as a group oppressed by society (not by women or children) since 1985. My men's emotional work is informed by that training.”
Paul is currently the Men's Reference Person for Australia for a private community organisation. He leads a annual five-day intensive training sessions in men's liberation, building on a base in emotional work.
By 1988 Paul had come to the conclusion that while large gatherings were very inspiring they could not give the continuity and development that was needed. True to his activist nature he then founded the Sydney Men's Network with the aim of developing men's groups as a permanent part of men's lives.
Of course, this was just one chapter in a very busy life. Paul led one of the early campaigns against sexual abuse and rape. “I was the first person I'm aware of to speak out against the sexual abuse of males by both males and females. I called for the making public of this form of abuse. Soon after a number of publicly prominent men spoke publicly about their histories of sexual abuse survival from both male and female perpetration. The silence was broken, at least in Australia.”
By 1990 there was an embryonic men's movement but still most men were cringing from leadership. Paul invited Charlie Kriener, an international men's leader, for a string of workshops around Australia and a men's leadership conference in Sydney.
The following year, he organised the First Conference on Men's Issues with Peter West the founder of the Australian Academic Men's Network, drawing academics and men's movement men together. As a result of the conference, the boys' education debate came to the fore publicly.
The Australian and New Zealand Men's Leaders Conference, which has become a key men's movement event began in 1992, when Paul joined forces with Robert Ware and Michael Flood to bring together key men from around Australia. “I am relieved that we can stand publicly and proudly as men leaders and peers in building this movement,” Paul says.
In December 1994, Paul's son Christopher was born. “He remains the most inspiring male that I have ever met since meeting my dad.”
If you're wanting to hear more from Paul or to email him direct then check out the Men and Emotions area he hosts on Manhood Online.