Menís Work and the Media
An Interview with Robert Bly and Robert Moore
M.E.N. Magazine Editor Bert Hoff recently interviewed Robert Bly, author of Iron John, and Robert Moore, author of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, The King Within, The Warrior Within and The Magician Within. The theme of the interview was media and public reaction to their work.
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover
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The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine
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Bert: Why do you feel this Menís Work, this inner work, is important?
Robert Bly: I would say that what society asks of men is that they throw themselves out of their bodies, into the outer world and into work, into farming a field or working for a corporation. My father threw himself out into the fields, but he balanced that with a lot of reading and some solitude. So I think from that point of view that Menís Work is simply saying to men that we cannot remain unbalanced, that we need literature, poetry, the thought of each other and the mythology if weíre going to live joyfully until weíre 90 years old. What do you say, Robert?
Robert Moore: What I would want to emphasize is that this is not a new concern at all. We are simply trying to rediscover what men for thousands of years did. Itís only in the course of recent modernization, secularization, urbanization developments that men have lost touch with the awareness that they need to be doing inner work as part of their initiation process. Weíre trying to reconnect with something that males of our species did for a very long time, and have lost touch with. The world is in terrible need today of mature men. Weíre trying to show the depth of the inner work that men have to do in order to have a vision of what it is to be a man today.
Bert: Why is it important or valuable to women that men do this Menís Work?
Bly: I can hear Robert saying right now, what good is it for a woman to be married to an immature man, or to a boy. Is that right, Robert?
Moore: I think so. In circles I move in, there are a lot of very committed people in the women's movement who are extremely, tremendously concerned about rape, about domestic violence, about other forms of oppression of women and children. I think the thing that Robert Bly and I are trying to communicate is that this kind of behavior would be drastically reduced if we could help men to get in touch with their depths, in touch with their hearts. Just recently at the Chicago Menís Conference I pointed out that the scathing caricatures and depreciation of menís work by the media no doubt has led to a lot of continued domestic violence and other kinds of behavior that might have been alleviated if a lot of men could have found their way into this work.
Bly: Robert has been talking to the question of stopping or diminishing the amount of violence, and thatís very important. But, also, women want to be met in a certain emotional way. I donít believe that my grandfather and my grandmother were disappointed with each other. But on the other hand they both worked on the farm, and my grandmotherís work was just as important as my grandfatherís. They had the satisfaction of working on a thing in common, which we often donít have now. They also worked 12 to 15 hours a day. But when the Industrial Revolution relieved the woman of incessant work, women become much more clear about what they want emotionally from a man. The men go on working many hours a day, without any training from their fathers as to how to meet the emotional needs of women. I think that what we have is a situation in which the women feel a great deal of disappointment with men in daily life.
Moore: Robert is really saying here that thereís a lot more fundamental kind of connection with the emotional life that this Menís Work offers, not just to women but to entire families.
Bly: Itís possible that thereís a certain distance thatís built into men, that has nothing to do with any individual culture. If that distance is built in, then women need to know that, and men need to know that. Each of them needs to be aware of when they are inhabiting a distance that one of them has chosen, and when theyíre inhabiting some sort of distance that is simply built into men. Men have to be aware enough of that so that they know what do with it. Do you want to stay in the distance, what do you want to do? The man has to know about the dissatisfaction that the woman feels with him, without being shamed by it, and without being thrown into despair about it.
Moore: Let me piggy-back on what Robert is saying here. Psychologist Dave Goodman's book, Reclaimed Powers, really touches on something I think Robert and I both are aware of. And that is that there is really different trajectory in a manís life-cycle and a womanís life-cycle with regard to these issues. Robert is probably right in saying that men have a certain hesitance about intimacy. Thatís particularly true in the first half of life. Men are growing into more capacities for intimacy and emotional richness in the second half of life, and women growing into more expressions of aggression and assertiveness in the world in the second half of life. Goodman points out what a stress on relationships happens in mid-life if couples are not aware of these gender differentiations. Itís not that men are not capable, itís just that we pick up that stuff more in mid-life.
Bert: How, then, do you see your work as related to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estťs? It strikes me that Women Who Run With the Wolves is almost like women discovering an Iron John of their own.
Bly (chuckling): I wouldnít put it that way. The last issue of New Age Journal has letters from two irate women, after the editor remarked that Clarissa is doing for women, perhaps, what Iron John did for men. The women said, "Outrageous to compare Clarissa Estťsí work with Blyís shallow and patriarchal book" So if a man writes about the Wild Being itís regressive, but if a woman writes about it, itís advanced.
But what weíre talking about is that Wild One inside, that comes up when life is too manicured, too ornamental, and busts everything up.
Clarissaís talk here in Minneapolis the other night was very touching. There must have been 2,000 women there last night. There was a wonderful feeling of gladness in her presence. So she is defending something that most women have not felt has been defended.
Moore: What Robert is talking about is something I often talk about, and the way I get at that is the sense of the Great Self that is within both men and women. Robert and I have tried to talk about that from the masculine side, and I think that she is talking about this undomesticated, wonderful, radiant being that comes through the feminine soul. I think that thatís quite a powerful parallel to what weíre doing.
Bly: Yes, I think so, too.
Bert: Robert Bly did a tape with Deborah Tannen, which the New York Times mis-labeled as a "battle between the sexes." You said that you were attacked as much, or more, by the men in the media than by women.
Bly: The surprise that I had, not having done work directly related to menís studies before, was the amount of scorn that men, younger men especially, put on it. This seems to correspond to a tremendous lack of self-esteem with men as a gender. I was stunned by the way that men were perfectly willing to make fun of everything connected with men and their attempt to say anything of depth.
Moore: Yes, that is true of my experience, too. Itís been amazing to me.
Bly: Gentlemanís Quarterly recently had an article by a man who went to a menís conference in Austin. He was in his mocking mode from the first moment it opened. That kept him "above" the whole thing. I said to myself, I donít believe thereís any woman coming to a womanís conference, who would immediately begin to mock it, without even listening, and would persist all the way through, so that by the end heís superior to all the 400 men that were there, without any doubt.
So I think that one of the major problems is that the younger male is extremely competitive with all other males and has to prove himself. And a lot of those people go into journalism.
Moore: It makes sense psychologically, too, because if youíve really got a lot of problem with father, and the grandfathers, that often results in a dominance of the Trickster archetype in the personality. All authority, particularly male authority, is suspect, and thereís no such thing as a man of integrity. So anytime you see a man speaking, if youíre in that Trickster place in your soul, you automatically know that that man is a fraud. Just like father, and just like grandfather. Itís interesting, there are three major professions that have a lot of this Trickster energy, this sort of immature Magician energy. One of them is journalism, another is the academic world, and the other is the world of psychotherapy.
Bly: So, Robert, go on with that a second, the feeling of distrust, that if any man is up there being admired, or even has chosen himself to talk to a group, that he is a fraud. Why would that be felt so deeply?
Moore: The question of whether there is any legitimate authority used to be talked about in terms of sovereignty issues. When you and I have spoken of the importance of reconnecting with this King in the other world, for men, this has been an attempt to acknowledge that the issue of legitimate authority is an important agenda for men. It is important to ask what kind of masculine authority, masculine integrity, does one need in order to construct a viable world? We need to understand that father wounds and grandfather wounds de-legitimate all forms in the psyche. When this happens, one has a hard time feeling anything positive about any male authority anywhere. Thatís why itís very interesting, this whole throwing around the term patriarchy. There was a recent review of your work and my work in a Jungian journal, which wanted to characterize our work as patriarchal, thereby dismissing it. I think what this particular reviewer was feeling was that we were trying to help folks rediscover masculine authority, and to him, of course, that had to be patriarchal.
Bly: I remember mentioning Zeus energy a few years ago. Bill Moyers seemed to understand it immediately. Itís one of the things he wanted to ask about first. But when you get young male reviewers or Ms. magazine people, they will absolutely deny that thereís anything like positive Zeus energy.
Moore: I just think itís important for us to realize that this kind of thing comes out of wounding experiences with the masculine, for both men and women. If a young man has not known any older man who does have integrity and is not abusive in the expression of his own personal authority, then he will often come to this Trickster position. I think young women who have had either weak or abusive fathers come to that same place. Today it has come to the point that a recent Newsweek issue, had an article, "The Paranoia of White Men" on the front page. In that article there was a lot of this talk about, "weíre going to wait around and watch these guys die ..."
The article talked about a lot of attitudes toward middle-aged white males, and the implication was that the only good one was a dead one. The fact that that could have been a cover article for Newsweek is very telling about where the media is. My response to that, as a Southerner, was, "Gee, is that author a recruitment official for the KKK or the American Nazi Party?" Theyíre saying things which the KKK and the American Nazi Party are affirming all over the place in their recruitment strategies.
Bly: Well, you know, itís also true that when you go into the new exhibition at the Whitney Gallery in New York this year, everyone is given a little pin to put on, which says, "Why would anyone ever want to be born white?"
Moore: Itís a racism. Thereís a lot of incredible racism and sexism that has become Politically Correct in our country now. I think that one of the things that people in the Menís Work today have to really get conscious about is standing firmly against racism and sexism in all its forms. Itís gotten to where itís not Politically Correct to take that position.
Bly: Well, so, what have we said so far about the media? Namely, that thereís a lot of ignorance and also hostility towards any kind of male teaching authority; that hostility often springs from men who have been wounded by remote fathers or hostile fathers or grandfathers.
Moore: Right. And that, therefore, what you really see is that thereís really no vision of any kind of positive masculine. Anyone who tries to speak of a positive masculinity is immediately caricatured.
Bly: But white women also have to absorb these things such as why would anyone ever want to be born white and remain alive? Why do the white women defend themselves at this moment, more than the white men do?
Moore: Itís a good question. I think many of them donít. I hear a lot of frankly racist statements about white women that come from their own mouths. When you get people apologizing for their sex or their race, something is very badly wrong. I think what weíve got to do today is re-invent the idea of the humanities. It's amazing that you have to say this today, that you have to affirm that we are one species. But I think that in our current cultural context, it is a radical idea to affirm, in the academic world at least. The kind of thing youíre talking about is a kind of cul-de-sac that people get into when they start interpreting multi-culturalism as saying that no one has anything to say to anyone who is not in their tribe.
Bly: Yes, I know, thatís a highly dangerous interpretation.
Moore: Can you say something about your view of that? I think itís important for the readers of Seattle M.E.N. to be aware of whatís going on in the academic world and in the circles that are influencing the media today.
Bly: Well, I would say, as I understand it, that in the universities the prevalent attitude would be exactly the opposite of, letís say, Michael Meadeís attitude when he tells a story from the Celtic tradition, or from the Central European or African tradition. Michaelís sense of it is that these stories come from depths almost before culture or race, and that theyíre a form of food, or as in the title of his new book suggests, the water of life. These stories are meant to give men and women that gorgeous affection for strengthened life and compassion that they need to live. But in the universities the idea is that if this story is Celtic and you are not Celtic, then you should be shot if you attempt in any way to move into that place and describe that story. It appears to be respect for the other culture, but what it really means that each culture becomes completely isolated and is not allowed to speak.
Moore: Itís the New Tribalism. Weíve got to get beyond this kind of malignant, regressive tribalism. Itís amazing to me the way in which the universities are fostering this. Robert, do you remember when you, John Lee and I were in Minnesota, and Malidoma Somť came and told his stories from Dagara tribal life? The men there found that so tremendously helpful in reflecting on their own experience as North American white males. And so I think itís not just Michael, I think itís Malidomaís view and the views of many others of us that we have to have this food from other peoples.
Bly: When Malidomaís elders in the Dagara tribe thought over Malidomaís name, which means "friendly to strangers," they decided to send him to the United States, so that the deep knowledge of the Dagara tribe, going back for thousands of years, would be available to the people of the United States. So they do not accept the hysteria of the American universities.
Moore: Right. In addition to Michael's new book, I want to mention Malidomaís excellent series of books which is just beginning to come out. I think men should take a look at those.
Bly: The first one is called Ritual: Power, Healing and Community. Itís a tremendous book.
Bly: Letís go a second back to that question of why the women defend themselves a little better as white women than the men defend themselves as white men.
I see two answers. First of all, men have been more connected with the actual deeds of empire, and murder and slaughter of other races than the white women have. So you have to say that the white men carry something on their shoulders. I noticed the other night, when a couple of thousand of women were in Minneapolis to listen to Clarissa, how light-hearted the thing was at the very start. How the women were very likely to break out into song, to drum, to laugh. I was aware that if that had been men, they would have been more heavy-hearted, because of all that we are carrying on our shoulders from the past. So thatís one theme. And the heavy-heartedness of the men is very appropriate.
The second reason that I wanted to bring up is that certain moods, energies, affects or emotions have been apportioned between the sexes. Generally we know that for women, being arranged among the defeated, in Greek times when the Great Mother was defeated, and who were often defeated economically all through the last thousand years, the emotion often felt is shame. Men, by contrast, enjoyed the emotion of conscious anger. They were equipped to express anger. Well, one thing that is happening now is that each gender is feeling what the other one used to feel. Women, having felt unconscious anger for centuries, are now feeling a conscious anger. Thatís very new for them, and they feel quite terrified and exhilarated when they realize that they can have the anger of Achilles if they desire it.
Moore: Yes, what youíre saying is a very hopeful sign. At the collective level women are beginning to get much more conscious about their own warrior energies, their own aggression, and now have the capacity in a new way to move toward integrating that. And men, in this new awareness of shame, would be much more aware of their intimate issues, what I would call lover issues, and have a chance now to move towards integrating that in a more conscious way.
Bly: So I would say that men have been experiencing shame unconsciously for generations, and that the grandfathers and the great grandfathers acted out the shame, but in a trance form. And that now the men are being asked to come out of the trance and actually feel the shame, the shame of having been treated shabbily by another man as a child, or the shame of having been abused, physically or otherwise, to be conscious of that.
You can see how the womenís movement, then, would move much more naturally into a political agenda. Thatís what the women are asking from the men. But they donít realize that if youíre bringing shame up, it moves into the political much less quickly than if you begin with anger.
Moore: Thatís right. It moves into the heart issues much quicker.
Bly: So Gloria Steinem describes in Revolution from Within how she felt so much shame in her childhood, and never realized it until now. Gloria Steinem went with anger for 20 years, and now is coming into the shame a little bit.
Moore: Itís interesting. Sheís almost, in a way, recapitulating the trajectory that youíre saying that we men are having, coming back into heart issues in mid-life.
Bly: Thatís right. It also says that if one of the tasks of this century is for the men to become conscious of their shame, they would naturally pick up all forms of shaming and absorb it, until they can make a conscious decision about what kinds of shame are appropriate and what kinds are not. And then the men would also have to preserve the warrior during this time, and ...
Moore: Thatís right. Absolutely. And if a man has not had any kind of a healthy warrior initiation, then he would be extremely devastated during this process. Because, as you often say, heíll be taking those spears and arrows right in, without any kind of discrimination.
Bly: Yes, and then heavy feelings of shame after your father and grandfather have only gone into trance with it, would mean that you donít really have any training in dealing with shame. You can say that women train each other, in a certain sense, so that they can feel the shame one minute and laugh the next, as a matter of survival. But when a man goes into shame he often doesnít laugh the next minute. He goes into a severe passivity and depression and doesnít know what is happening with him.
Moore: Or moves into an addiction right at that point.
Bert: I had heard that shortly after Iron John came out Robert, you took a year off from doing menís work. Was that related to media and public reactions to your work?
Bly: No, not really. I simply did more lecturing than I intended to, all those ten years that I was doing that work, and it speeded up toward the end because of the wonderful excitement of teaching with James Hillman and Robert Moore and Malidoma and Michael. So I simply decided to take a year off completely, and do what Robert said, pay some attention to the humanities. And recognize that each of us needs time for our own souls, no matter how important the work is that we think weíre doing.
Moore: If Robert hadnít had the personal integrity to do that, he would have been contradicting what heís been teaching men about care of the heart and the emotional body. But I want to go on record to say that many of us, John Lee and a lot of us, are really glad that Robert is coming back out now, and beginning to do more events. Because I think that Menís Work is really fueled by a lot of the energy that Robert brings to it.
Bly: Well, I think that Iím glad to come back and do some. I think that Michael Meadeís new book, Men and the Waters of Life, the books of Malidoma, and Warren Farrell's large book, The Myth of Male Power, will ignite the controversy again. It will be interesting to watch and see what happens this time. But this is bound to move in waves, because the suffering of men is so extreme, the idea that it could simply fall away and stop is absurd.
Moore: I would just like to add, too that the fourth volume of my series with Douglas Gillette, The Magician Within, is just coming out. There, we address a number of these issues on the shape of masculine initiation as well as the need to go against this "New Tribalism" that has come about. There are a lot of books that are coming out that ought to fuel things again.
Bly: Robert, how are you satisfied with the way the reviewers treated King, Magician, Warrior, Lover, and The King Within? How did that feel to you?
Moore: I experienced what weíve been talking about, the depreciation of any images of male authority or male aggression as potentially being healthy. Weíve got a lot of this sort of Trickster reaction to that, but on the whole thereís been a lot of positive response. But I think that the Trickster reaction comes out when you really see a struggling to get the shadow up, and get people to address it. For example I think thereís been a lot more positive response recently to The Magician Within than there has been, in some ways, to The Warrior Within.
If youíre talking about warrior, youíre trying to get people to face that there can be a healthy assertiveness and a healthy aggression. If youíre talking about the King, youíre trying to talk about a healthy male sovereignty, a healthy male authority that is not simply abusive or oppressive. This is more controversial in our time than the issue of the Magician. Theyíre much more comfortable with that. But theyíre not comfortable with the heart stuff, either. And so thatís why thereís been so much caricaturing of Robert Blyís work.
Most of the shaming of the menís movement has been shaming about men getting into the heart stuff, saying that men are whining, and theyíre cry-babies, and theyíre quite often weeping, and this sort of thing. I think a lot of this kind of shaming has kept men out of Menís Work.
Bly: Yes, itís interesting that the King concepts, the Zeus concepts, have been met with shaming by most of the people, the men, in the country. But the support of it is coming from the people that are the most shamed, namely the black prison population. And you know the kind of work that Harris Breiman has been doing in prison. Those men in prison, where a lot of that is going on, feel tremendously helped, inspired and invigorated by the concept of the Inner King. And they donít mock it at all!
Moore: Thatís right. Those men in that maximum security prison have been talking about their fellowship as the fellowship of the King of Hearts.
Bly: Yes, thatís right. So it seems that the American men are not shamed enough, yet.
Moore: Yes. You know, itís very interesting, Robert, that I have noticed lately that I feel a lot of ferment among Black men across the country, who are taking up these king and warrior issues in a very fresh, un-shamed way. I suspect that itís going to be from their quarter that we get the most leadership on this.
Bly: Iím glad to hear that, because I think thatís quite possible. And as far as the heart and the lover not being taken seriously, disdain of the heart has been a part of our culture for a long time. Several years ago I published a book of love poems, Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, a long time ago, and several times it was criticized because I didnít express enough rage at the women in it.
Poetry with heart in it is often mocked. The academies donít want it, and the tough guys donít want it.
Moore: Bert, I just want to announce that my wife Margaret and I went to see the Hubbard Street Dance Company, here in Chicago, an outstanding dance group, nationally and internationally, doing a premiere of a performance called "The Foraging Ground," a piece of dance thatís been evoked by Iron John. The director of the dance company said on a radio interview that the choreographer was really seeing it as a response to the menís movement. And itís a very positive, non-shaming response. So I imagine things are changing a little bit.
Bert: There seems to be a longing to shame authors these days. One author told me that a national magazine has been phoning around to ask, "What is the author really like?"
Moore: Anytime that you have idealizations projected on writers or cultural innovators, then the people with the long knives are not far behind. Letís be clear about that energy. Thatís that detached, cold, sado-masochistic Trickster stuff that is really abroad now. So anyway, Bert, I think itís important to name that energy for what it is. You know, the Trickster, when itís not integrated, cannot be anything constructive or positive. It simply wants to destroy.
Bert: Sometimes I think that what happens is that the media creates myths in our culture ...
Bly: Careful how you use that work myth, now! Or Iíll kick your ass!
Bert: Iím not talking about the positive myths, now, Iím talking about the blind ones. Delusions -- fixed false beliefs. I mentioned Robert Bly in our vanpool, and a woman said, "Oh, isnít he the one who says women arenít oppressed anymore?" (Bly laughs.) I felt that she knew nothing about your work, but nevertheless had a strong opinion.
Moore: Yes, very common. Itís these cultural stereotypes and caricatures that people fall into so easily.
Bert: Either of you want to make any closing comments?
Moore: Let me just say, I think weíre just beginning the work that men have to do together for their community. Iíve been encouraged lately from what Iím seeing at the grass roots. Robert mentioned the work thatís going on in prison. I know of work thatís being led by black men in the black community around these issues. I think that weíre going to enter a new phase of creativity. Robert and I are looking forward to the Mendocino conference of leaders this summer. Weíre going to be trying to figure out ways that we can support the kind of grass roots ferment thatís going on. And I want to say again how glad I am that Robert has completed his sabbatical, and is going to be back out here with us.
Bly: I just want to say to the readers of Seattle M.E.N. that they need to become very conscious of the shaming of them thatís being done by the media. It would be wrong to go into a trance about it. The purpose of the shaming is to prevent the men from doing any heart work, or any work with their own private matters, or moving any farther into a heart relationship with other men. So I think one can consider this shaming by the media as a kind of gift, because it forces a man to say, "Am I doing this work just because itís fashionable, or is there something essential here, something involving the good of humanity, thousands of men and women, that I will not let fall away?"
Moore: Right, exactly! I think that the whole issue is keeping our mind on the task. If we just keep our mind on the task, and off of what the latest column says, I think weíll be a lot better off.
Bly: I remember, I was with Tomas TranstrŲmer, the Swedish poet, at one time during the Vietnam War. We were standing by the ticket counter at an airport. He said to me, "What has been happening with the attitude toward the anti-war movement in the United States?" I said, "At the moment, thereís some fall of support." He said, "Those ups and downs donít mean a thing!" Then he put his thumb and forefinger out, about an inch away from each other, and he said, "Actually the middle class has been moved this much, and thatís what has really happened." I think that thatís true here, too, that on the part of ordinary people, some change has already occurred, and that is the important thing.
Robert, I just want to tell you, how delighted I am at the way you keep working. Pretty soon, itíll be time for you to take a whole year off, then!
Moore: Iím looking forward to that! Well, youíve modeled that. I admire anybody who practices what they preach.
Bly: I know, but youíve modeled a tremendous amount of thought. And Iím always delighted when Iím with you, because there are so many ways that we can deal with this life, besides feeling it. We can also think it.
Moore: Thatís why weíre in this together!
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