Men are losing sense of themselves at an alarming rate. In many ways we have lost our innate power and we live in fear. We don't know what a man is supposed to be or do or know. Gender and sexual identity confusion is endemic. Most of us have heard of 'identity crisis', and this phase that many of us go through in adolescence can become drawn out with relation to our gender identity. Boys simply don't know how to become men, and they have no rights of passage and pathways to manhood to facilitate their course. So they become boys in men's bodies, and this is what makes them capable of alarming and disturbing acts, as they do not have the understanding, knowledge, courage and self awareness to steer them appropriately with the right guides and mentors. They just have other boys alongside them. There are many reasons for this: primarily the feminist revolution which has mostly peaked in the Western World has had a huge backlash on men over time. This is NOT to blame women. Women by and large have done well for themselves and I hope their revolution continues to develop and gets even stronger. But many men are being left behind. We are also a victim our our own devices: our limitations, fears, ignorance, denial, competitiveness and isolation. We men are displaced as we define ourselves in comparison and contrast to our partner and counterpart: the woman. Having been 'in charge of things' as men it is also kind of hard to have a revolution against 'ourselves'. Rather, we need to have one against the system of men - a construction imposed upon us which is keeping us bound and trapped at a fraction of our true potentials. What I propose is that we need to reconnect to the 'wild man' within, as this gives us back our raw power and true nature, but we need to do so wisely so that we do not regress to a primitive and thuggish former self that achieves power over others and dominance of women in an endless cycle of fighting and pre-emptive striking. We need to effectively become the wise wildman, balancing head with heart and loins, mind with body and spirit, self with others and environment.
by Ben Bruce (c)
The feminist revolution has been a very necessary and justified revolution. Men, collectively and socio-culturally had oppressed women for far too long, or at least we were passive as individuals in allowing the collective to continue the oppression. This is complicity: where (as JFK said) if you are not a part of the solution you are a part of the problem. This includes perpetuating a lower level of humanity, socially and spiritually afforded to women, and a lower level of rights, privileges and responsibilities bestowed upon them. An example of this was the old proverbial 'rule of thumb', which originally meant it was okay to beat your wife so longs as the stick you used was no thicker than the width of your thumb. Disgusting, isn't it? Those in power were men, and men hung on to power fiercely.
Now men have been pretty much dethroned. Okay - some people will still point out that fewer women occupy CEO positions in the western world and are often paid less for the same work as their male counterparts (often because of residual discrimination, but also in my opinion, because they still wish to bear children and look after them). The corporate system does not yet accept a holistic employee, who has family needs to balance in with work, so if you put family first you will often be discriminated against as you are not 'putting in your all' at work. The other major factor of discrimination is domestic violence. Women and men can both be victimized by an aggressive spouse or partner who wishes to have 'power over' his/her partner (whether by physical force or mental / emotional/ economic abuse). However women are more at risk of being disempowered by domestic violence as they will necessarily be more fearful of their male partners. This is because men are more dangerous than women. For men's groups or anti-feminists who will spout on about how men are equally victimized by violence in the home I settle the argument with this: think of a man physically blocking his partner from leaving the house; now think of a woman blocking her partner from leaving the house. The two are not equal, simple as that. The man can 99% of the time physically overpower the woman due to his size and stature.
Apart from these exceptions, by and large women are very close to being on a par with men now in our society in terms of equal rights and power potential. In Australia, we have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor General and several female premiers. I personally have had several female bosses, and my mother also ruled the roost at home! I am sure that as a western male, my experience is not dissimilar from many others.
Some human rights groups will also point out that the revolution is still continuing for their cause due to many countries where women are still being oppressed; any third world country where women are not given equal rights to men as their country's constitutions and legislation are still 'behind' the Western World - and in fierce countries where human life is cheap, where might makes right, and men are typically physically stronger than women. However, these countries are largely 'catching up' to the West, unless for religious reasons the women themselves in those countries are against such progress - in which case their really is no helping them, in my opinion. The women may be deferring to 'the way things have always been done' by citing religious principles, but I also think their so called 'personal opinions' are answerable to their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons; they would cop a lot of flack for going against the grain. You can only help those who want to help themselves - and any movement or revolution needs to start from those who are at the receiving end of any discrimination. The best we could do is inspire them, that there is another way to be, a better way to live, that equality is a good thing, and then perhaps their attitudes may change in good time. For men who are oppressors, we could inspire them by demonstrating that it is better to have a partner who is an empowered and happy woman, that the marriage can be a true team based on equality. Certainly military pressure will not work - it just makes minority groups dig their heals in more, giving them a sense of solidarity under martyrdom and disdain for a collective enemy equivocated with their great religious adversary. This seems always to vindicate whatever their belief system is. We are seeing this in Iraq at the moment, where allied troops have recently withdrawn and handed over power to local authorities, only to be called back in again as insurgents rose up against the local government. It is also important to consider, on this note, that 'democracy' is not a straight forward 'good thing'. Democracy has often been used to control people if the system in place does not allow for an educated and empowered populace to effectively elect their true representatives. Sometimes puppet representatives are put in place in an obfuscated oligarchy of power groups, where a voter is really choosing between politicians that they are 'allowed' to vote for and propaganda takes care of who they eventually choose. Assassination and smear campaigns take care of any other 'tall poppies' that threaten the status quo of pre-existing power bases.
Back to men (and I am referring to men in the West): we have been displaced by this necessary feminist revolution. It has been said by a wise person that 'the pendulum must swing both ways before resting in the middle'. This means that any movement results in overkill when it is in full-flight. Accordingly men are now 'oppressed' in their own way. This is oppression that is not coming 'from' women; rather it is coming from within ourselves. A lot of people make this mistake. Let me be clear: women are not oppressing men. Men are oppressing men, and our collective social and political systems are oppressing men. Sometimes women will also be oppressing men as well, for example: calling a man or boy who is emotional 'gay' in a derogatory way, or a 'cry baby' or a 'big girl'. This is reinforcing a polarizing of masculine expression: that it is not okay to be emotional or creative or vulnerable or whatever is normally associated with the feminine. It is important to understand that men contain masculine and feminine traits and women contain feminine and masculine traits, just with different constellations and balances of such traits which are also personal to the individuality of the man or woman. Let me also be clear that whilst equality is a very good thing indeed, we should not equivocate equality with 'we are the same', because men and women are not the same. We are different, and these differences need to be understood, developed and celebrated alongside our similarities and equality.
Men on the surface are less evolved than women, collectively speaking. I understand this is a bold claim, but I stand by it. We are far less healthy and typically less responsible than women. We are typically less able to tolerate emotions in ourselves and others, and we are less able to be ourselves in the true balance and constellation of masculine and feminine traits that is unique to a man as an individual. Women are able to express themselves pretty much however they choose: they can be bold, constructive, powerful and logical, as well as passive, nurturing, vulnerable, emotional, sweet and caring. Men still struggle with being the full sense of themselves and are far more constrained by peer pressure and fitting in with being the image of a 'true man' (a polarized hegemonic masculinity). Those men who are more healthful and responsible are often those who have sacrificed their masculinity and modeled women in order to do so (because they see more women being open, honest, caring, healthy and responsible - more interested in growth and personal development). I understand there will be some exceptions to this. I am speaking generally. Some men are truly and authentically able to balance and express their own masculine and feminine traits and to be a courageous Wise Wild man at the same time.
Underneath the typical male veneer, however, is a very evolved creature within men. In order to connect with this potential and with this god-like power, we need to overcome a lot of the shackles that are holding us back. This is socio-cultural gender conditioning, which tells us how to 'be' men, even though it is not the right way to be a man; and also money, which makes us compromise our integrity, be controlled by fear and it jeopardizes our faith.
A fantastic contributor to men's studies and the men's movement is clinical psychologist and author: Steven Biddulph. I cut my teeth on this subject matter by first reading his books: 'Manhood' and 'Raising Boys' back in the 90's. I soon realized that the way we men are conducting ourselves is largely all wrong, and the way we raise boys is also wrong. This is another bold claim, and I am prepared to make it. Don't get me wrong: I have a passionate love of all man-kind and I love being a man. I respect and enjoy much of what it is to be a man, but the way men are framed and contained, held back and restrained is indeed plain wrong. In other words, we could be more.
Looking at education for example, a huge problem is that it is tailored to teach girls, not boys. Being passively attentive in the classroom, typically with female teachers (as men can often not afford to be paid teacher's wages and often in Australia they are working in construction or 'on the mines' because it is double or triple the pay; and there is a subtle unspoken fear of being labelled a paedophile). Boys are not designed to be passively attentive, often coming in stinking hot from playing sport in the sun, or these days over stimulated from computer games. Boys are usually designed to be 'actively attentive', and learn by doing things in a 'hands-on' way, not by mindless busy work and work sheets, or by hearing a teacher droning on about some subject that is not practical to a boy's daily life. Even sitting still and listening can be a huge feat for a boy (and for many men). Girls on the other hand, are typically more mature and develop earlier. They are more able to sit and be passive and thus they usually thrive in our education system. So we need education programs that are more 'apprenticeship' like, whether this is science, mathematics and astronomy, or english literature, foreign languages or geography and history - not just restricting apprenticeship-style teaching to 'wood work and metal work' type courses. We can teach lessons as 'stories' whilst we are engaged with the boys in rewarding and stimulating activities. This might simply involve movement and use of solid objects, alongside textbooks, direct instruction and creative inquiry, research and discussion. I'm talking about educational balance and diversity of teaching methods to tap into all the modes of learning that suits a boy, and a girl. Think about how an aboriginal or native american (or any indigenous) elder wiseman would teach a boy. He would not instruct them to 'turn to page 20 and complete the worksheet'! He would show them how to do practical hands-on things whilst giving encouragement and fascinating symbolic stories in the process. In so doing he would inspire the child. Of course boys still need to know how to use books and they can discover the joy of quiet reading and even research at a higher level - we just need to get them to that stage and get their own attention deficits, boredom, gender confusion and lack of meaning out of the way to do so.
An elder wiseman teacher would then set the boy into a rite of passage where he would have to prove himself with real challenges and real risks (sometimes life or death). This would be the only way he could in time become a true man, and not just a grown up boy (the latter is what a lot of our men are nowadays). For many years we have been cultural chauvanists and reflected on other cultures as primitive savagery. We now realize that tradition cross-culturally all over the wold requires boys to have 'rites of passage' where they are given real challenges to pass in order to become men. In traditional societies you don't see many teenage boys being 'disillusioned' with society and being rebellious to the point of trying to destroy their own kind. Boys will go off the rails and rebel when they are not given what they need. You can't just blame the boy's foolish decision making; there is also a context within which he is behaving like a baboon, a societal context which makes him think and feel 'blah'.
Another thing Biddulph discussed was that men in general are disadvantaged (when compared to women) in the following ways: We are typically -
- emotionally timid
- fiercely competitive
- socially isolated
The solution to all of these is for a man to practice expressing his emotions and identifying what others may be feeling around him. He may need to expand his emotional vocabulary in order to do so (a dictionary of feeling words can seriously help!). This helps connect the head with the heart and then emotions aren't so alienating and frightening and in need of suppression or avoidance. The boy needs to see men discussing and dealing with their own feelings and then he can model this for himself. Secondly, a man needs to let go of his tight grip on fierce competition, whether it be in sport or any kind of performance (work, money making, sex). Rather, learn to strive for a man's own goals because this is self fulfilling and a personal challenge for him. Enjoy what ever is being done and do it well, to the best of his ability. No need to compare yourself to others all the time. If you get praise and rewards, well done! But no need to depend on this - it is just a bonus. Thirdly, with the social isolation problem: this is referring to not having 'real' and 'deep' connections to other people, men, women or one's children and family members. Therefore: practice getting close! Practice opening up and recognize some of the vulnerability that emerges. Tell people what you really think and feel about things, and try to learn to do this in a respectful way if possible so that they will listen to you when you do.
If we are to extend this 'new man' into a true 'Wise Wild man', we would need to point out a basic recipe to get there.
Be courageous. This means doing things that are right and proper and just and challenging even if you are afraid to do so. Courage has never meant being 'fearless' - it means acting even though there is fear. When we act courageously we truly connect to the wise wild man within. Failure to do so will cause a repression to build up that overflows into outrageous acts of cruelty and violence at times, or the 'going off the rails' that we often see in younger men. At the very least (or perhaps worst) there is a submissive 'giving up' to despair: a handing over of one's sovereignty of being and manhood. As always there is brawling and thuggery, head stomping and dangerous driving. Risk taking has always been a build up un-acted upon fear and courage suppression. This is like someone who suppresses his sexual urges and ends up raping some poor person because of it. This is not good. This is true cowardice. When we act courageously, however, we naturally feel good about ourselves. Being courageous never mean hurting or damaging other people, unless it is in true self defense.
Balance: It is very important to be grounded. If you are overly mentally stimulated, by your work or lifestyle you need to get out there and get grounded. Conversely if all you do is work with your hands and with the earth you may need to achieve balance by studying and stimulating yourself mentally. With basic grounding for most of us though, we need to get our hands dirty, build something constructive, make a vegetable garden, learn a 'hands on skill', go motorcycle riding or sailing. Feel real stuff in your hands and around your body; get into all the elements of the natural world.
Wilderness: Challenging your limits and getting back to your roots as a 'wild man'. We come from nature but live unnaturally, and this is why we are sick and unbalanced. So get back into nature. Take a kayak down the 'river of no return' (with the appropriate guide of course, let's not be silly about this!). Rock climb, trek, abseil, tie knots, build temporary shelter and catch food. This will make you feel great about yourself. If you don't know how to do this because your dad was absent, passed away or was always working then don't despair! Join an outdoors club or read books about the subject. Take responsibility, for God's sake, for your own masculinity and manhood.
Bear Grylls is the quintessential outdoorsman.
An authentic man also needs growth and development in general. Reserve the right to change your profession as you grow and change. We are often cajoled into careers and work based on other people's expectations of us when we were too immature to argue or think for ourselves. Let the old work serve its purpose but also let's move on to where we need to be now. If you are sick and tired of your job then do something else! This will also fulfill your need for courage as well. As always, courage becomes its own reward.
With regard to each of our main limitations, if you are suffering from emotional timidity and isolation, slowly but surely and steadily start getting closer to someone else. Just do it. You don't have to open up an artery; you might just want to tell someone how you really feel about something. You might tell your partner you love her, and give her eye contact when you do this (if that's the way you really do feel, that is). You might allow yourself to cry at a very sad occasion; you let go of the timidity, the fear and damning restriction that is learned and passed down, yet self imposed in its maintenance and undoing of the wise wild man within.
With regard to fierce competitiveness: start striving for your own unique goals, and stuff everyone else. When you find yourself comparing where you are or what you have to someone else, realize that you have no real idea what is going on for that other person, that looks can be deceiving and you are making assumptions. Rather, if you want something, pursue it for its own sake because it's right for you. This is about being authentic. If there is a contest for some reason, then let the best man win and practice being gracious and humble in your defeat or, indeed, enjoying the sweetness of victory.
Let the wild man loose, yet keep him in line by the inner wise man as a tamer. Allow the wild man within to 'let rip' and roar his heart out to content, and, learn to balance this with the wisdom of lived experience, reason and accountability. If you find yourself doing this more, he won't need to emerge so unprepared and uninitiated in desperate reactions to fear. He will be weighed and measured and not at all found wanting.