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Masculine Mystique

Book Review

Copyright © 1997 by Bert H. Hoff

Andrew Kimbrell, The Masculine Mystique: The Politics of Masculinity. (New York, NY: Ballantine, 1995)(order on-line)

Andrew Kimbrell

Book cover

Order on-line

Andrew Kimbrell has produced a powerful and deeply insightful book, which I think will strongly influence society's thinking on men's issues in the next decade. I think this book can succeed where other "men's rights" and "men's issues" books have fallen short and spoken largely to an already-committed audience-preaching to the choir. My first clue was when Dixon Hamby came up to me at Wisdom Council and urged me to review the book. Dixon, a practicing Buddhist whose piece on mentoring appeared in the last issue, is much more into "inner work" than he is into political crusades. It reached him. I have not encountered a book that dealt so well with the full range of men's issues since Aaron Kipnis' undeservedly underrated Knights Without Armor.

This is not so much a "men's book" as it is a "social issues analysis" book. It offers a deep, comprehensive analysis of the issues men face today. It begins in all three threads of the "men's movement"-profeminist, men's rights and mythopoetic-but quickly moves beyond them, to a new level. One of the book's main strengths is that it has passion, but not polemics. There is no time spent in comparing men to women in ways that inflame the gender war. He simply lays out facts in a clear, straightforward manner.

Another of the book's strengths is that it offers a cogent, well-thought-out overview or context in which to view men's issues. Robert Bly speaks of the alienation of men from family stemming from the industrial age. Kimbrell takes us back further. In the medieval ages, men shared the fields and the common green, subject to duties of days of service to the landlord. By the end of the 16th century, lords had enclosed the commons, forcing men to leave the land and offer their services for wages. Queen Elizabeth remarked in 1595, on what was supposed to be a triumphant tour of her prosperous realm, "Paupers are everywhere!" This forcing people off the land enabled the creation of great wealth through agricultural exports, and provided the capital for the industrial revolution. It alienated men from their land and from their families, as they scrambled to find wages-a process he calls the "enclosure of men."

This is a process that continues in third-world countries today. This "enclosure of men" metaphor provides a powerful organizing theme as Kimbrell explores the Machine Man, the Competition Man, the Profit Man and the Power Man, and discusses issues of loss of breadwinning capability, fatherlessness, men's health, and men's loss of connection with nature. Again, the even-handed tone and the thoroughness of the documentation make his points persuasive but not polemical. But he saves his best analysis and his most poetic writing skills to describe the forgotten veterans, the homeless, and the plight of the African-American. Throughout, he articulates some basic themes about fundamental shifts in our post-industrial society, of which we are yet only dimly aware, that will make life vastly different for men in the future.

He then describes some inspiringly positive examples of workplace health-screening, men's health centers, men providing mentoring, men becoming involved in schools, and men forming community through men's groups. These pave the way for the action steps he outlines in the Male Manifesto in the last chapter in the book.

His chapter on redefining masculinity suggests that all three branches of the "men's movement" have fallen short of meeting the challenges that face men. He does not have kind words for those who view masculinity as dysfunctional, and express an explicit or implicit "misandry" in stating that males are responsible for "war, environmental devastation, rape, physical abuse, and so on." He also faults "equal opportunity masculinism." "They seem to be advocating that both genders become a new breed of androgynous competitors in the technological state." But he finds roots in the mythopoetic men's movement for what he terms a "deep (or transformative) masculinism" based on the ethic of husbandry. This, he feels, will lead to reconnection of men to each other, to family, to community, and to the earth. Only recently has the term "husbandry" been restricted to marriage. He cites Sam Keen and others to describe the husbandman who sees the masculine "in terms of a deep relationship to wife, children, community and soil." The first step in moving toward this deep masculinity is in building a community of men. He cites the example of the Shawangunk Men's Council, the prison men's council so eloquently described by Harris Breiman in earlier issues of M.E.N. Magazine, and in men's councils around the country.

I urge you to read this powerful book.

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