Eugene August, author of The New Men's Studies: A Selected and Annotated Interdisciplinary Bibliography (praised in a review in our May issue), (order on-line) holds the Alumni Chair in Humanities at the University of Dayton. He is chair of the Men's Studies Committee of the National Coalition of Free Men. This article is reprinted from the Nov/Dec issue of their journal, Transitions.
What the men's movement does not need now is
Some defenders of the mythopoetic men's movement have been sniping recently at the men's rights movement. A few mythopoetics have publicly washed their hands of all political activity, hinting somewhat loftily that they want no part of an "anti-feminist backlash." Meanwhile, some men's rights defenders have been returning the fire by dissing the mythopoetic movement as New Age nonsense. If enthusiasts on both sides could call a brief truce, they would discover they had something important to learn from each other.
Far from being mere moonshine, the mythopoetic movement at its best is nothing less than a struggle to propagate a positive masculine spirituality. While mainstream churches were busy accommodating themselves to radical feminist denunciations of males as a spiritually corrupt sex, people like Robert Bly, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, and Michael Meade were (and are) vigorously affirming the spiritual vitality of the deep masculine.
While the popular media and academic feminists were insisting that men's ways of thinking were limited to linear, rational logic, mythopoetic men were demonstrating the potency of archetypes, myth, and poetry in the lives of men. If men's minds were as limited as the sexist stereotypers had claimed, Robert Bly could never have written his best seller Iron John, and thousands upon thousands of male readers would never have read, much less been inspired by, this book.
Mythopoetic men have also brought before the U.S. public the concept of "father hunger," the emptiness that a son or daughter experiences when they have not had enough fathering. In doing so, the mythopoetics have focused a spotlight on the blight that is at the root of many of our current social problems. While the liberal media and lesbian separatists were defining fathers as irrelevant "sperm donors," the mythopoetic movement was proclaiming our society's desperate need for more fathering.
In addition, many mythopoetic men have had the guts to condemn the male-trashing that is so common in U.S. society. No one has defined and denounced "misandry" more brilliantly than Patrick M. Arnold in Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings (51-63). And listen to Moore and Gillette in King, Warrior, Magician, Lover:
There has been a veritable blitzkrieg on the male gender, what amounts to an outright demonization of men and a slander against masculinity. But women are no more inherently responsible or mature than men are. The High Chair Tyrant, for instance, appears in all her or his splendor in both sexes. Men should never feel apologetic about their gender, as gender. (156)
At a time when so many male academics, politicians, and journalists have been too timid to protest male-bashing, mythopoetic attacks on anti-male sexism ring with courage and integrity.
But here we come to an important matter that some mythopoetic men may want to ignore. Whether they recognize it or not, mythopoetic concepts have a political dimension. One need only glance at Women Respond to the Men's Movement: A Feminist Collection to realize that mythopoetic men have hit a political nerve with radical feminists. The "men's movement" that these women are responding to is the mythopoetic movement, and their responses are nearly all hostile and defensive.
By affirming the positive values of masculinity, mythopoetic men have challenged a pervasive stereotype of males as an inherently corrupt oppressor class. As a staple of popular entertainment, journalism, politics, and education, this stereotype has been an invaluable tool for pushing the radical feminist agenda. By calling the stereotype into question, mythopoetic men have committed a political act-one that radical feminists will not forgive.
In brief, mythopoetic men can no longer ignore the political implications of their work. When they face these implications honestly, I believe they will discover that they have more in common with men's rights advocates than some mythopoetics now think. While mythopoetic men have been creating an affirming vision of masculine spirituality, men's rights advocates have been battling to translate that vision into political reality.
Men's rights activists have long known that it is futile to lament father hunger if one does nothing to assure fathers' rights. With divorce courts routinely exiling fathers from their children, the instances of father hunger will only skyrocket, and changing the situation requires political action.
Robert Bly and others have deplored the "soft male" who cannot stand up for what he believes is right. Other mythopoetic writers like Moore and Gillette have revivified the warrior archetype, that is, the inner fighter with the courage to risk all in defending positive values within himself and his society.
Many men's rights advocates have successfully accessed this warrior archetype. At a time when it is politically incorrect to notice the victimization of males in modern society, defenders of men's rights have had the courage to speak up about the wrongs done to men. The antidote to the "soft male" is the men's rights warrior who has the courage to defend his brothers at a time when the dominant voices in our society keep repeating that "men are no good" and "men are all alike."
When I think of a true warrior in our society, I think of Warren Farrell. Farrell could easily have carved a profitable career for himself by writing best-selling male-bashers that echoed radical feminist slanders against men and masculinity. Instead, he swam against the current, risking failure and financial loss. In true warrior fashion, he has spoken out bravely, communicating his deepest insights into the conditions facing males in modern society.
These conditions are often deplorable. In far too many instances, males are treated as subhumans, and their victimization is ignored or denied. The failure of the U.S. government to recognize early male death as a national health epidemic, the continuing male-only military obligation, the concern for violence against women when males are three times more often the victims of violent crimes-these are but a few of the injustices that the warriors of the men's rights movement have protested bravely.
Anyone who thinks that these injustices are few or trivial need only read Farrell's The Myth of Male Power to be disabused. What makes Farrell's book so important is his heroic insistence that we acquire a new set of eyes to really see the terrible things that our society does to males.
Like genuine warriors, men's rights activists have been protesting these injustices, and it is the worst sort of distortion to label such protests as a backlash against feminism. To protest the wrongs suffered by men is not to deny the wrongs suffered by women. Only bigots who insist that women are the only official victim class in modern society will regard the men's rights movement as a backlash.
Rather than a backlash, the men's rights movement is a forwardlash-a leap into the future when men will no longer be regarded as the disposable sex, when men's spirituality will be recognized and allowed to express itself freely.
The highest form of masculine spirituality must recognize that we are all our brothers' keepers. To ignore the injustices done to our brothers, to refuse to become actively involved in alleviating those wrongs-to do this is to betray the very essence of the mythopoetic vision that sees the deep masculine as holy.
When mythopoetic men truly access the strengths of Iron John, I believe that they will see men's rights advocates as their fellow warriors. I believe that they will see the necessity of joining in the struggle against the injustices that societies now routinely perpetrate against men. r
Arnold, Patrick M. Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings: Masculine Spirituality and the Bible. New York: Crossroads, 1992. (order on-line)
Bly, Robert. Iron John: A Book About Men. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1990. Reprinted: New York: Random House-Vintage, 1992. (order on-line)
Farrell, Warren, Ph.D. The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993. (order on-line)
Hagan, Kay Leigh, ed. Women Respond to the Men's Movement: A Feminist Collection. New York: Pandora, HarperCollins, 1992.
Moore, Robert, and Douglas Gillette. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. (order on-line)
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