The following is a discussion by Janice Fiamengo of the medieval practice of damseling to garner chivalric responses from males, a practice that is alive and well in the political sphere today.
The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling
By Janice Fiamengo
Well over a century ago, our ancestors debated women’s demand for voting and other privileges. Traditionalists argued that women faced a choice: they could either have special treatment on the basis of their alleged vulnerability as a group, or they could have political equality, but they couldn’t have both. Lo and behold, women got both, with peculiar results for our political culture.
In our time, the performance of powerlessness has become a dominant strategy of power, nowhere more evident than in politics. “I’ve been traumatized” is now a more galvanizing cry than “I can handle that”—and trembling weakness often eclipses demonstration of strength and competence.
Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions like black actor Jussie Smollett, who teared up on cue for Good Morning America while discussing his alleged assault by noose-wielding MAGA men, the performance of quivering hurt is far more likely to be used with success by women, and the past few years have brought a plethora of enactments of feminine fragility: demands for apologies, declarations of fear and shame, and the demand that tales of trauma be believed, all appealing to the in-group empathy of women and the chivalric impulses of men.
AOC has outlined in detail, in a video of one and a half hour’s painfully self-absorbed length, how she was convinced that “Everything—was—over” as she hid in her office waiting for Trump supporters to come for her. It didn’t matter that she was not near the epicentre of unrest, and that the voice she heard that so terrified her was that of a Capitol police officer rather than a rioter.
One might expect her to hesitate to share her fears once it had been revealed that she was never really under any threat at all. But instead, AOC doubled down, linking her Capitol ordeal to her experience years before as an alleged victim of sexual assault.
According to her logic, what actually happened to her in the Capitol complex doesn’t really matter; only what she felt. And anyone who doubts what she felt—or doubts her right to use that feeling for political leverage–is someone with contempt for the recurring trauma of survivors like her.
What is perhaps most striking about AOC’s hour and a half long video is her very deliberate self-infantilization as she plays up the non-rational elements of her response.
Her story is told to the camera as if for the first time—though of course it was filmed weeks after the event and presumably was much-rehearsed. There are long pauses while she seems to search for a word or is overcome by emotion while remembering.
The appearance of spontaneity, of in-the-moment visceral intensity, is almost perfectly mastered, and in that sense it is an Oscar worthy enactment.
AOC’s voice frequently trembles with seemingly irrepressible emotion as tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes within a very short time, she moves from near-tears to smiles and laughter. At moments she appears lost in thought, unconscious of the camera, gazing out of the frame as if consumed by feeling; at other moments her glance is directly to the camera lens, inviting soul-to-soul intimacy.
The performance is about as far as could be imagined from the rationality and self-control—and above all the calm strength, the inner power–that one would traditionally have expected from a politician, someone responsible for conducting the nation’s business. It is a performance of youth, certainly, and even more so of deep feminine vulnerability and emotional volatility—far more appropriate to a 16-year-old high school girl—and even then an immature and narcissistic one–than a 31-year-old congressional representative who proposes and votes on federal legislation.
Such a self-performance, which is certainly not confined to AOC, raises troubling questions about the impact on public life of women, and men to a lesser extent, who define themselves by their experience of trauma and claim authenticity on the basis of powerful feelings beyond their control.
If AOC cannot be counted upon to respond rationally in a moment of minimal or merely imagined danger, how can she be counted upon to do the people’s business at all? Being a member of the House of Representatives requires tough-mindedness and resilience. Accusations and personal attacks—though not physical attacks—are a normal part of the job. Hysteria and over-reaction –as in accusing Ted Cruz publicly of trying to kill her—interfere with the focus and maturity necessary for the work of government.
AOC’s justification of her fear is damning: “When we encounter such a terrifying moment,” she explains, “we respond with the entirety of our life experience.” In other words, AOC admits that the moment was terrifying because she couldn’t separate her previous experience of alleged assault from her current perception.
Note how glibly she speaks of herself not as a rational individual in control of her own responses but as a member of a pre-determined collective, in this case the identity group ‘female survivor.’ She admits that, as a female survivor she cannot help how she responds to an unsettling situation. The embrace of the hysterical feminine—and not as a moment of weakness overcome but as a deliberate strategy of power—should be profoundly alarming to all who care about the future of western democracies.
It is always easy enough for rationality to be lost inadvertently in the midst of heated political argument—but it’s a calamity when it is deliberately rejected. And that’s where we’re at now, at a time when women’s public tears and professions of fragility have been granted unprecedented political power.
There have always been women who understood the equivocal power of feminine weakness and warned against it. Canadian journalist Sara Jeannette Duncan, a skeptical supporter of the women’s movement, wrote in the Toronto Globe newspaper in 1885 about the double-edged sword of a woman’s public tears: they got results, certainly, but they detracted from the intellectual self-discipline necessary for productive political engagement.
“Nothing is more unconsciously dramatic than a woman’s outcry against a suffering which is often hers through no fault of her own,” Duncan wrote, “But if she asks the ballot by virtue of her ability to sorrow eloquently […] it seems to me that she will be sorely puzzled to know what to do with it when it is hers” (Toronto Globe, 15 July 1885, p. 3). If women wished to be treated as political equals, Duncan advised, they would have to overcome their reliance on postures of eloquent sorrow.
Many of Duncan’s feminist contemporaries, however, embraced claims of female emotional superiority, alleging that maleness was responsible for war, cruelty, and inequality.
Widely admired Canadian feminist Nellie McClung addressed the question of what she called “The New Chivalry” in her 1915 book In Times Like These. “People tell us now that chivalry is dead, and women have killed it,” she quipped at the start. She was referring to the idea, quite common at the time she wrote, that women’s entry into public life would destroy their special status as a protected class.
When the British vessel Titanic sank in April 1912 with enormous loss of life, 74% of the women on board were rescued as compared to only 20% of the men. Men deliberately stood back, giving up places on life boats and accepting their own deaths so that women could be saved. They did so in part because they knew that to survive a disaster like the Titanic sinking while leaving women to drown was to be permanently disgraced. Such was the power of chivalry, as a concept and a living reality, in British and North American society.
McClung makes no reference to the Titanic sinking in her discussion of chivalry—though the disaster was very much a recent memory.
She dismissed chivalry as a romantic notion far more honored as an idea than as an actual practice. Yes, beautiful women have always had an easy time of it, she admitted, but the notion that women are protected as a whole is little more than a pretty theory. She asserted this at the very time that young men were being maimed and killed by the hundreds of thousands in the trenches of Europe while some of their female counterparts discussed voting rights. McClung actually had the gall to argue that when women had the right to vote, war itself would become a thing of the past because war was in her words, “a crime committed by men” that would end “when women are allowed to say what they think of war.” Up until now, she alleged with a sarcastic dig at chivalry, “women have had nothing to say about war, except to pay the price of [it]” (15).
According to McClung, what women wanted was justice, not chivalry: not men’s gallantry, not men’s sympathy, but the right to represent their interests and pursue professional careers in the same way men did. This would be, she said, a “fair deal” (42). Significantly, though, she did not reject chivalry altogether, saying that “Chivalry is a poor substitute for justice, if one cannot have both.” In the fair society of McClung’s vision, women should have equal rights but should also have special rights as women when appropriate.
And it turns out that special rights are often deemed appropriate—perhaps more now than ever before. The temptation to act the damsel in distress appears near-irresistible.
When women occupy positions of political power, the media is ablaze with stories about the feminine qualities they allegedly bring to their positions—according to a recent article in the left-wing academic journal The Conversation, their empathy, ability to work collaboratively, communication skills, openness, and inclusivity.
But one quality conspicuously lacking is the ability to resist playing the damsel.
In my home province of British Columbia, the chief health officer is a woman named Bonnie Henry, an unelected official who has exercised extraordinary, often devastating power during the COVID pandemic, deciding whether schools could open, which businesses were essential, how many people could gather, and whether protests were legitimate, all with a soft quavering voice and endless promises of just a few more weeks as the axe fell regularly on citizens’ freedoms and livelihoods. She has generally been very popular, her saintly image memorialized in a public mural and a musical ode.
But at the first sign of criticism, the vulnerable damsel has emerged onto the public scene.
In the middle of the pandemic when most people, on her advice, were isolating in their bubbles, Henry took part in a panel discussion about women in leadership , and made much of her own suffering, singling out the “death threats,” “nasty notes,” “phone calls,” and “harassment” she had allegedly received, and suggesting that “people find that it’s OK to do that for a woman who’s up front more so than some of our male leaders” though she followed that with “But I could be wrong.” Fortunately for Henry, it doesn’t matter whether female leaders are attacked more often or more viciously than male leaders (actually they’re not)—a chorus of chivalric experts are always happy to chime in about women’s special suffering, and Bonnie Henry, suffering to the tune of $360,000 a year while peons lost their businesses, stoked public sympathy even while wasting precious pandemic time appearing on a panel to damsel about how hard it is to be her.
It’s a now standard part of gender politics—endless claims and controversies about sexism, endless rounds of demands for apology, apologies offered, apologies refused, apologies accepted but criticized as inadequate, and so on. Just a few weeks ago, Canadian newspapers ignited with inflammatory headlines such as “Ford owes apology to every woman in Ontario after hurling ‘sexist’ comment, Horwath says.” Readers could be forgiven for assuming that the Conservative leader of Ontario, Doug Ford, must have said—or rather ‘hurled’–something outrageous if it required not only an apology to Horwath, the feminist leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, but to every one of the millions of women in the province. It turned out that during a back and forth in the provincial parliament, Ford had said, “It’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard listening to you.”
An extraordinary number of journalistic words were spent hyperventilating about the alleged misogyny of the outburst, and Horwath couldn’t resist the halo it offered her as a deeply wounded but valiant champion of womankind; later that day, she tweeted out a message to all women advising them: “Don’t let anyone try to tell you you don’t belong at Queen’s Park,” though there had been no suggestion that she didn’t belong (at the provincial legislature). “I’m going to continue making positive proposals to give people the help and hope they need to get through this pandemic.” If she were really so deeply concerned about constituents affected by the pandemic, she might have thought it frivolous to waste an entire day fussing about her alleged hurt feelings.
But that is the nature of the female politician these days, consumed with thoughts of self, narcissistic displays, allegations of harm, and demands that others recognize the uniqueness of female suffering.
The notable confusion in our societies is highlighted every time an allegation of gendered trauma or necessity for gendered apology is raised. Do women require kid gloves treatment in the public sphere, or not? Are their feelings more delicate than men’s when it comes to personal remarks and perception of threat, or not? If the answer to these questions is no, then why do female politicians not say so loud and clear? If the answer is yes—women do require kid gloves treatment—then why do we continue to pretend that women today seek equality of opportunity?
The fact is that women’s ability to demand equality when it suits them and special treatment when that suits them is a ridiculous and corrosive distraction. Women’s claims of victimhood take a great deal of time and energy away from many pressing issues, and create an uneven political playing field in which every man knows he can be wrong-footed, and every woman knows she can power trip if she wants to. The damsel option disinclines some women from whole-heartedly pursuing competence because they know they can deflect criticism or gain advancement by sorrowing eloquently, creating bad faith in many women, suspicion and resentment in many men.
Until it becomes an actual political disability to claim weakness and demand apologies—our public culture will continue to be held hostage by the damsels among us.
By Professor Andrew Samuels: transcript of talk delivered in Japan in 2019
In most countries, relationships between women and men continue to be studied and discussed in academic and clinical circles. One reason for it is because, whilst such relationships reflect social and cultural changes, they also drive them.
This is a talk about gender, psychology, politics and the relations between women and men. I have been writing about these matters for forty five years and I am still not sure what I think about them, or sure what is true and accurate.
(1) I dedicate my talk to two people. First, to my friend Professor Takao Oda, who brought me to lecture and teach in Japan many times. I still grieve his loss at a very young age. He taught me much about Shinto and about sand play.
The second person is one of my heroes, the British World and Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams. She has been my muse in writing this talk. (1) Here she is:
Now, I present the structure of my talk:
MEN AND POLITICS
IN PRAISE OF GENDER CONFUSION
JUNGIAN ANALYSIS AND GENDER: BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
ANIMUS AND ANIMA – A PROPOSAL
ON INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS – THE PHENOMENON OF PROMISCUITY
All I know is that the debates around gender, whether within Jungian analysis, or outside Jungian analysis, or between Jungian analysis and other disciplines are numinous and fascinating. We are all caught up in them, with our particular culture, history and geographical location playing important parts.
During the talk, I will ask you in the audience to engage in four gentle experiential exercises. Please do not worry about them, but I wanted to give advance notice.
I will try to be careful not to give the impression that I am deeply familiar with contemporary Japanese culture. Yet I believe that my ideas may well strike a chord with a Japanese audience.
Why might my ideas from London strike a chord with you, here in Japan? I was very struck by the scandal in which the entrance examination results for medical school were falsified so that more men got in than was in fact the case. The picture is of the authorities apologising:
The BBC recently broadcast a report on the resistance by Japanese women to the compulsory wearing of high-heeled shoes in the office. The important thing was not the rule (which is often in use and we have things like that in Britain – but the new phenomenon of Japanese women’s resistance to it. In the picture, the woman in the meeting room is boldly and defiantly wearing trainers. Yet, we read in the newspapers how the Minister of Health and Labour defended the rule as ‘necessary’.
Next, I was also struck by the headline in this economic report: that in terms of economic gender inequality Japan is the worst in the G7. I didn’t know that.
I also learned that married women may not continue to use their maiden names.
Look, we have similar tensions in the West and we are in paroxysms over #MeToo and sexual harassment. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve become aware that Japan is in the middle of an intense national debate about gender. That was why, with the encouragement of Professor Konoyu Nakamura, I chose the topic for today’s talk.
(2) You may be asking why I focus on heterosexuality, and not include homosexuality, and do not enter into discussions about transgender? It is not that I am uninterested in these latter themes; indeed, I have written much about them, and am known publicly as an advocate for the rights of gay men and lesbians and, more recently, of transgendered people. But I think it is time for me, and maybe for the field, to return to the majority concern once again, and that is heterosexuality, whether we like it or not. In so doing, one need not be hetero-normative, as I will try to show. (2)
‘Gender’ has come to mean the arrangements by which the supposedly biological raw material of sex and procreation is shaped by human and social intervention. Gender and the passionate politics it spawns have given rise to traumatic divisiveness in our world – West, East, South and North. But, looked at with the eye of a psychoanalyst, the very idea of gender also has a hidden bridge-building function: it sits on a threshold half-way between the inner and outer worlds, and thus is already half-way out into the world of politics.
On the one hand, gender is a private, secret, sacred, mysterious story that we tell ourselves and are told by others about who we are. But it is also a set of experiences deeply implicated in and irradiated by the political and socioeconomic realities of the outer world. The notion of gender, therefore, not only marries the inner and outer worlds, but actually calls into dispute the validity of the division.
It is no wonder, then, that gender issues get so politicized as well as continuing to turn us on. Nor is it any surprise that contemporary cultural and political discussions focus so often on gender issues – like the proportions of men and women in the various arms of government, paternity (as opposed to maternity) leave, and the perennial and unsolved everywhere issue of equality of pay. Here is an iconic image of a women’s protest against the lodging of nuclear weapons in Britain on a US air force base. Reflect on the shape and tone of the bodies in such conflict….
MEN AND POLITICS
Leaving aside the actions of the women at the base, let’s focus on men for a moment. Why? Far too much psychological writing on gender focuses on women! Not many psychoanalysts write about men. Ironically, men have become the object of much political and psychological scrutiny in the West these days and are often seen as ‘the problem’. I say ‘ironically’ because, for millennia, men were the ones to scrutinize other groups and make them problematic: women, children, Blacks, the fauna and flora of the natural world. Men were a sort of papal balcony from which to survey the universe. But, in our age, a huge shift in cultural consciousness has taken place and new questions about men have arisen: men as (errant) fathers, men as (violent) criminals, men as (apathetic) citizens.
(3) The three underlying questions seem to be: Can men change? Are men powerful? Do men hate women? I will briefly discuss these questions and then, as an experiential exercise, ask you to discuss amongst yourselves and then vote what you think about the answers to the questions. (3)
Can men change? Men can change, of course, and yet the statistics about who typically takes care of children or does the washing-up show that they have not altered their behaviour very much. Why not? In the past few years, far too much time has been spent on irresolvable philosophical, metaphysical and quasi-scientific discussions about the relative importance of nature and nurture in the formation of gender identity and performance. Yet it may still be politically useful to consider the limitations on men’s capacity to change – not because of biological hard-wiring but because of psychological factors, in psychotherapy language ‘internalization’: A kind of psychological rather than biological ‘inheritance’ referring to the way men take in (internalize) images of manliness they see projected by the outside world and make them part of their inner world.
Exercise 1: Please discuss this question ‘Can men change? with your neighbours for a few minutes. Then we will vote on the question ‘Can men change?’ Those who say yes? Those who say no? Those who abstain?
Are men powerful? They certainly have economic power. But Black men, homeless men, men in prisons, young men forced or tricked into armies, disabled men, gay men – these are often vulnerable figures. We have serious trouble contemplating male economic power and male economic vulnerability simultaneously. We know, too, that men are scared of women. Never mind their fear of ‘the feminine’, what scares men is women. How can a man be said to be powerful if he is scared of women? And men are also frightened of other men. When contemplating the question of male power, what each of us has internalized is crucial in determining our answer – which means that personal experience and circumstances are decisive.
At the same time, the undoubted economic power that males possess could be made to serve progressive ends. If men and their formal institutions put just a tiny proportion of their economic power to benevolent use, it would make an enormous difference. Or if men got fully behind attempts to engage with the climate crisis that threatens us with apocalyptic destruction. So whatever changes may be taking place in the world of men could have immense political and social effects.
Exercise 2: Please discuss this question ‘Are men powerful?’ with your neighbours for a few minutes. Then we will vote on the question ‘Are men powerful?’ Those who say yes? Those who say no? Those who abstain?
Do men hate women? Here, the word ‘ambivalence’ comes to mind and, as we shall return to the concept later, its history will be useful. In 1910, when Jung’s superior, Eugene Bleuler, coined the word ambivalence, he meant it as a very serious symptom of schizophrenia. By the 1930s and 1940s, it had become the sign of psychological maturity according to psychoanalysis. Ambivalence is the capacity to have simultaneously hating and loving feelings towards the same person. So it is not only a problem, but an extremely hard-to-achieve aspect of psychological and social maturity.
Exercise 3: Please discuss this question ‘Do men hate women?’ with your neighbours for a few minutes. Then we will vote on the question ‘Do men hate women?’ Those who say yes? Those who say no? Those who abstain?
IN PRAISE OF GENDER CONFUSION
Most people are wary now of any individuals who seem too settled and sure in their gender identity and gender role. Think of the tycoon – so capable and dynamic, such a marvellous self-starter. Do we not know that, secretly, he is a sobbing little boy, dependent on others, perhaps mostly females, for all his feelings of safety and security? Or the Don Juan, talking incessantly of the women he has seduced, who turns out to have fantasies of being female himself and yearns to be seduced by another man? Or the woman who seems so fulfilled as a mother, yet privately desires to express herself in ways other than maternity, to come into another kind of power, to protest her cultural ‘castration’?
We have come to accept that behind excessive gender certainty lurk gender confusions like these. At the same time, even many people who are suspicious of too much gender certainty feel that it is basically a good thing to be pretty certain about one’s gender, to know for sure that, in spite of all the problems one has with being a man or a woman, one is indeed a man or a woman.
Yet the contemporary emergence and (sometimes) the acceptance of transgender means that another ideal altogether is needed to make sense of what we are experiencing in the muddled and mysterious world of early twenty-first-century gender relations and gender politics. Many people who come for therapy are manifestly confused about their gender identity. They may know how a man or woman is supposed to behave; but they are not sure that, given what they know about their internal lives, a person who is really a man or a woman could possibly feel or fantasize what they are feeling and fantasizing.
In Britain, one of our most famous sports journalists has transitioned from male to female. Quite a fantastic thing to do in his profession. And he writes: ‘Its OK to find this confusing’.
For these profound feelings of gender confusion to exist, there has to be an equally profound feeling of gender certainty in operation at some level – certainty based on the images presented by society. You cannot know the details of your confusion without having an inkling of the certitude against which you are measuring it. The client sobbing his little boy heart out knows very well that ‘real’ ‘manly’ tycoons exist out there and evaluates himself negatively as a result. Indeed, we could even say: no gender certainty, no gender confusion.
What this means is that, to a very great degree, people construct their gender confusion in relation to their gender certainty. If gender certainty is part of ordinary socialization, then gender confusion is equally constructed and not a deep personal wound or failure.
We need, therefore, to extend radically the by-now conventional insight that gender confusion lies behind gender certainty to see that gender certainty lies behind gender confusion. To the extent that gender confusion is usually taken as a mental health problem or neurosis, we are making a colossal mistake and even playing a destructive con trick on those supposedly suffering from it. The problem, in fact, is gender certainty.
We can look at how this operates for men specifically in Western societies. The clichéd idea that many men living in a feminism-affected culture feel confused about who they are as men takes on a rather different cast if we disown the idea of the desirability of gender certainty. From this angle, modern men are not so confused – or at least feeling confused is not their main problem.
Their problem is being afflicted with a gender certainty that is of no emotional use to them in their lives, and may be actually harmful to their potential. (When men’s movement leaders offer a certainty that seems to have been missing from the lives of men, they are unwittingly doing nothing more than bringing the unconscious gender certainty that was always there to the surface and reinforcing it. As that certainty came from the culture in the first place, there is nothing radical or scene-shifting about it at all.)
That’s enough on men. Now, the really interesting question is what to do with the feelings of gender confusion from which everyone suffers these days. It all becomes easier to live with if we replace the word ‘confusion’ with something that sounds more positive, like ‘non-binary’, ‘fluidity’ or ‘flexibility’ or even ‘androgyny’. But the word ‘confusion’ has merits because it comes closer to capturing what contemporary people feel about their gender identity.
In fact, gender confusion can contribute something valuable to political and social reform and change. If gender is a story we tell about ourselves that is half private and half public, it is also something upon which most polities have erected a welter of oppressive practices and regulations, mostly favouring men. Unfortunately, many Western governments may be turning back to a retrogressive form of gender politics fuelled by the certitudinous ‘family values’ of the past.
We psychotherapists and analysts need to access what is involved in gender confusion and gender certainty in a new language of fleshly images that speak more directly to people’s experience. Children seem to grasp this instinctively. When my son was 8 and my daughter 7, they taught me their theory of gender confusion, which has much more to do with self-image at depth than the more conventional, journalistic presentation of men as mixed up because of what women have managed to achieve.
They identified four equal categories: boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-girl and girl-boy. Anatomy is important but not decisive in determining who belongs to which category. So my daughter could refer to herself as a girl-girl or a girl-boy while my son oscillated between being a boy-girl and a girl-boy. Context was important – it depended on whom they were with. This system gets beyond a simplistic heterosexual-homosexual or feminine-masculine divide. In the adult world, as many (or more) boy-girls are heterosexual as are homosexual. The certitudes upon which homophobia rests are subverted by this way of speaking.
In fact, the celebration of confusion embodied by such children’s theories may be a more effective, interesting and radical way to enter gender politics than either the suspiciousness and judgementalism of the therapist or the nostalgia-fuelled return to certainty we see in some aspects of the men’s movement or the advocacy of an ersatz merger of men’s sociopolitical interests with those of women. Gender confusion unsettles all the main alternatives on offer.
I conclude this section on gender confusion by saying that nothing is more suspect than the complaint, fuelled by ‘victim envy’, that society now favours women over men. Nevertheless, as suggested earlier, it would be wrong to end by reasserting that males have all the power. Perhaps there isn’t a monolith called ‘men’ after all.
JUNGIAN ANALYSIS AND GENDER: BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
Now is the time to look at Jungian contributions to discussions about the matters I have been raising.Now the questions become:
Is there such a thing as innately ‘masculine’ or innately ‘feminine’ psychology?
Is there such a thing as a ‘feminine psychology’?
I’ll begin with a general discussion, then consider whether there is a feminine psychology that applies to women. In a moment, I’ll look at the ‘feminine’ in relation to men, and, after that, at femininity and masculinity as metaphors.
Males and females do have experiences that vary markedly. But it is a huge step from that to a claim that they actually function sufficiently discrepantly psychologically for us to speak of two distinct psychologies. The evidence concerning this is muddled and hard to assess.
For instance, the discovery that boys build towers and girls build enclosures when they are given bricks can be taken to show a similarity of functioning rather than difference (which is what is usually claimed). Both sexes are interested in their bodies and, possibly, in the differences between male and female bodies. Both sexes express that interest in the same way – symbolically, in play with bricks. Or, put in another form, both sexes approach the difference between the sexes in the same way.
The differences that we see in gender role and gender identity can then be looked at as having arisen in the same manner. The psychological processes by which a male becomes an aggressive businessman and a female a nurturing and submissive housewife are the same kinds of processes – and one should not be deceived by the dissimilarity in the end product.
What I have been describing is not a woman’s relation to an innate femininity or to an innate masculinity. Rather I am talking of her relation to the phenomenon of difference. Then we can consider the social or cultural structures erected on the basis of that difference. Each woman lives her life in interplay with such difference.
This leads at once to questions of gender role (for example, how a woman can best express her aggression in her culture) but these questions need not be couched in terms of innate femininity or innate masculinity, nor in terms of a feminine-masculine spectrum. Rather, they might be expressed in terms of difference.
In the example, the difference between aggression and submission needs to be seen as different from the difference between men and women! Or, put another way, whatever differences there might be between women and men are not illuminated or signified by the difference between submission and aggression.
Now, as a Jungian, I am of course aware that men are said to have access to the ‘feminine’, or to the ‘feminine principle’ and I used to think that such an unremittingly interior view was the jewel in the Jungian crown. Well, these days I am not so sure.
If we’re attempting to describe psychological performance, we have to be sure why terms with gendered associations and appellations are being used at all. Otherwise we end up with statements such as that ‘masculine’ aggression is available to women via their relation to the animus, or ‘feminine’ reflection in the man via his anima. But aggression is part of woman and reflection is part of man.
What is more, there are so many kinds of aggression open to women that even current attempts to speak of a woman’s aggression as ‘feminine’ rather than ‘masculine’ still bind her as tightly as ever. Let us begin to speak merely of aggression. Gender engenders confusion – and this is made worse when gender terms are used exclusively in an inner way. When we speak of ‘inner’ femininity in a man, we bring in all the unnecessary problems of reification and substantive abstraction that I have been describing. We still cannot assume that psychological functioning is different in men and women, though we know that the creatures ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are different.
The question of ‘difference’ brings us to a point where we can play back these ideas into analytical psychology. From Jung’s overall theory of opposites, which hamstrings us by its insistence on contrasexuality (‘masculine’ assertion via the animus, etc.), we can extract the theme of difference. The notion of difference, I suggest, can help us in the discussion about gender. Not innate ‘opposites’, which lead us to create an unjustified psychological division expressed in lists of antithetical qualities, each list yearning for the other list so as to become ‘whole’. A marriage made on paper.
So what I am suggesting is that in both the collective, external debate about gender characteristics and the personal, internal debate about gender identity, the question of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is best left in suspension.
It is probably fair to say that post-Jungian analytical psychology has become preoccupied with the ‘feminine principle’. Here, I am not referring to the writings on women and ‘feminine psychology’ by Jung and his early circle of followers. The problems with that body of work are well known and often repeated. But in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly in the United States, women writers in analytical psychology have set out to revise, or revolutionize, the early work. Such writers are struggling to be ‘post-Jungian’ in their attempt to critique those of Jung’s ideas that seem unsatisfactory or just plain wrong without dismissing Jung altogether.
The reason why there has been a concentration on the ‘feminine principle’ in recent Jungian writing is that it has provided a means to celebrate the specificity of women’s identity, life, and experience. In addition, having the notion of a ‘feminine principle’ in mind helps to make a critique of culture out of personal confrontations with it. The basic desire of feminists who are involved in Jungian psychology has been to refuse and refute the denigration of women that is perceived in analytical psychology, to bring the feminine gender in from the condescending margins, and to promote an alternative philosophy of life to that expressed in the power institutions of a male-dominated society.
Taken as a whole, and I realize I am generalizing, feminism which draws on Jung’s ideas stands out from other varieties, with which I feel more in sympathy, in two main ways. Both of these stem from Jung’s approach, resist eradication, and cause great difficulties. It is assumed that there is something eternal about femininity and, hence, about women; that women therefore, display certain essential transcultural and ahistorical characteristics; and that these can be described in psychological terms. What is omitted is the on-going role of the prevailing culture in the construction of the ‘feminine’ and a confusion develops between what is claimed to be eternal and what is currently observed to be the case.
It is here that the deadweight of the heritage of archetypal theory is felt. Jung assumed that there is something eternal about women and, hence, about femininity. As the feminist Jungian analyst Polly Young-Eisendrath writes: ‘Certain beliefs about difference – for example, about gender and racial differences – have influenced our thinking about the meaning of symbolic representations, behaviours, style, and manner of people who are alien to the roots of our psychology in Switzerland’.
I would like to say what I find problematic in the many attempts to locate eternal models or maps for the psychological activity of women in mythology and goddess imagery. When such imagery is used as a kind of role model or resource for a woman in her here-and-now pain and struggle, which is one thing. But when it is claimed that such endeavour is a reclamation of qualities and characteristics that once prevailed in human society only to be smashed by the patriarchy, then that is altogether more suspect. For it is a highly disputed point, to put it mildly, that such an era ever existed.
Could this be a case of taking myth too literally? And isn’t there a hidden danger here? For if men were to claim that they are in the direct line of psychic inheritance of the characteristics and qualities of gods and heroes, then we’d end up with the status quo, with things just as they are, for they couldn’t be any other way. As far as role-modelling and resource provision goes, surely any woman, even or especially an analyst, can perform this task for another woman.
The search for hidden sources of authority is a project constellated by what is seen as a flawed cultural tradition. But there may also be a ‘flaw’ in the project itself, for such a search demonstrates the very sense of weakness and lack of authority which it seeks to overcome. Engaging in a rivalrous search for female archetypes could lead to a new set of restrictions on female experience, as several writers have observed.
Trawling the recent literature, I have been struck by the massiveness of the feminine problematic, signified in numerous phrases such as: feminine elements of being, feminine modality of being, femininity of self, feminine ways of knowing, feminine authority, feminine assertion, feminine reflection, feminine dimensions of the soul, primal feminine energy pattern, feminine power, feminine response, feminine creativity, feminine mysteries, feminine body, feminine subjectivity, feminine transformation. I could have quadrupled the list; for ease of reference, I have subsumed all these terms under the general heading of the ‘feminine principle’.
Something oppressive has come into being – not, repeat not, because what is claimed as the content of the ‘feminine principle’ is oppressive but because celebrating the feminine has raised it to the status of an ego-ideal, leading to a simple and pointless reversal of power positions. Further, perhaps it is the shadow of feminism generally to make women feel inadequate when they don’t come up to its mark – or cannot emulate notable feminist figures. (4)
ANIMUS AND ANIMA – A PROPOSAL
There is an apparent consensus going around that everyone – male and female – has both animus and anima. Well, maybe. But what I want to propose is different to this trendy idea.
I say that animus and anima images are not of men and women because animus and anima qualities are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. No – rather, for the individual woman or man, anatomy is a metaphor for the richness and potential of the ‘other’. A man will imagine what is ‘other’ to him in the symbolic form of a woman – a being with another anatomy. A woman will symbolize what is foreign to her in terms of the kind of body she does not herself have. The so-called contrasexuality is more something ‘contra-psychological’; anatomy is a metaphor for that.
But to fully benefit from his ideas of animus and anima these have to be subjected to a post-Jungian critical revision. Classical Jungian notions such as eternal and internal masculinity and femininity, which lead to the assumption of essential differences between the sexes, are not the most fruitful way to use Jung’s ideas. Instead, animus and anima represent the expansion of the roles available to both sexes. We can happily consider aggressive and assertive woman (such as athletes and activists) and nurturing and receptive men (fathers). Hence, we transform a traditional and repressive theory into something that supports an expansion of roles and behaviours for women and for men. Animus and anima become motors of progressive change.
But anatomy is absolutely not a metaphor for any particular emotional characteristic or set of characteristics. That depends on the individual and on whatever is presently outside her or his conscious grasp and hence in need of being represented by a personification of the opposite sex. The difference between you and your animus or anima is very different from the difference between you and a man or woman.
The whole gender debate suggests that we Jungians join with those who question whether heterosexuality itself should be taken as innate and therefore as something fundamental and beyond discussion, or whether it, too, has a non-biological dimension. Freud’ s perception was of an innate bisexuality followed later by heterosexuality.
Jung’s view was that man and woman are each incomplete without the other: heterosexuality is therefore a given. In this sense he differs from Freud’s emphasis on bisexuality as the natural state of mankind. In Freud’s approach, sexual identity arises from the enforced twin demands of reproduction and society. What I have been arguing shifts the concept of bisexuality from something undifferentiated (polymorphous or polyvalent) into a vision of there being available to all a variety of positions in relation to gender role.
If discriminations like these are not made, then those analytical psychologists who espouse the idea of innate, body-based, sex-specific psychologies, find themselves lined up with those groupings often referred to as the ‘New Right’ or conservative or traditional. This is the case in Britain and the US. Here, too, isn’t that possible? New Right assumptions about sex-specific psychology tend to be based on appeals to tradition and often have a romantic appeal but those of us working therapeutically need to be aware of the way in which the assumptions can be used to promote the notion of ‘order’ and of how women’s activities, in particular, are decisively limited. Men win – again.
ON INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS – THE PHENOMENON OF PROMISCUITY
What happens in private between the sexes is also an important source of developments in society. Sexuality, including fantasy, may be viewed as proactive and as a motor of resistance to unjust and oppressive conditions both for women and men.
For this reason I want to focus on sexual promiscuity.
Back in the 1960s, in the summer of love, we in the West didn’t talk about ‘promiscuity. The reference was to ‘non-possessive relating’ or ‘alternative families’ or ‘free love’. In the talk. That is to say, promiscuity was viewed as a political statement.
It is still hard to find much contemporary discussion of promiscuity in a Western context that does not take a negative line. The word that appears over and over again in the context of sex is ‘casual’. Casual sex is the term with which we are now most familiar.
Exercise 4: To be done on private. I ask you to think of the last time you experienced absolute and total lust for another person (define lust as you like). What happened? If you acted on it, what feelings did you have at the time, and now? If you didn’t act on your experience of lust, what feelings did you have at the time, and now?
Promiscuity is the background phenomenon that since the late nineteenth century has underpinned numerous discussions that couple politics and sexuality. Conventional accounts of intimate relations praise them when they radiate constancy, longevity and fidelity. But more radical accounts suggest that ownership and control of the other are also critically important. The best known of these was Friedrich Engels’ 1884 OriginoftheFamily,PrivatePropertyandtheStatein which he states that the first class opposition that appears in history coincides with ‘the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage’ especially in ‘the possessing classes.’
Today’s monogamy may be seen as chiming and co-symbolizing with neo-liberal market economics and with implicit and explicit claims by powerful Western countries and corporations to ‘possess’ planetary resources. Monogamy, it can be argued, is therefore implicated in a wide range of injustices – environmental, economic and ethical. Now, this point can be made with greater or lesser passion, for monogamy certainly has its merits and cannot only be reduced to the level of political tyranny.
The corollary – that non-monogamy is correlated with sustainability, equality and social justice – remains, perforce, untested though hugely suggestive. Ownership is a tendentious perspective on relationships and geopolitics alike; but public strategies for sustainability, such as the principle of ‘global commons’, can be seen to co-symbolize with non-monogamy in the private sphere.
If we consider, for example, the Midrashic story of Lilith we can understand the possible relations between politics and sexual behaviour a bit more fluidly. Lilith was Adam’s first consort who was created from the earth at the same time as Adam. She was unwilling to give up her equality and argued with Adam over the position in which they should have intercourse – Lilith insisting on being on top. ‘Why should I lie beneath you’ she argued, ‘when I am your equal since both of us were created from dust?’ Adam was determined and began to rape Lilith who called out the magic name of God, rose into the air, and flew away. Eve was then created. Lilith’s later career was – not surprisingly – as an evil she-demon who comes secretly to men in the night, hence being responsible for nocturnal emissions. She was also a murderer of newborns. But in the end, after the destruction of the Temple, Lilith enters a relationship with God as a sort of mistress.
My point is that this kind of material can be taken as much as an expression of the influence of the sexual on the political as the other way around. The experience people have of the sexual is also a motor of their politicality, political style and political values. Sexual experience and its associated imagery express an individual’s psychological approach to political functioning.
I think this is illustrated by the image of the Palestinian paramedic Razan Ashraf al Najar in Gaza in 2018 running towards danger to treat a wounded man. She was shot by an Israeli sniper.
PROMISCUITY AND PSYCHOTHERAPY/ANALYSIS
With these thoughts in mind, I want to turn to our own profession of psychotherapy, both in and of itself and as representative of the wider culture. My accusation is that, when it comes to promiscuity, psychotherapy as an institution and many (but not all) psychotherapists as individuals are hypocritical. In terms of the etymology of the word ‘hypocrisy’, they are play acting or feigning something. As well as scoring points, I am interested in probing this phenomenon.
It is significant that sex outside of relationship is largely untheorized by analysts and therapists – or, if there is a theoretical position taken, it is invariably in terms of psychopathology, of an alleged fear of intimacy, problems in attachment (‘ambivalent attachment’) and relationship, perversion and so on. There is a contemporary absence of consideration of what my late friend the relational psychoanalystMuriel Dimen referred to as ‘sex-as-force’.
I think it is interesting to ask whether there might be something in the fundamental thinking or set-up of psychotherapy that leads to a carnality-averse conservatism. We have learned, mostly from Foucault that, for every majority discourse, there is likely to be a subjugated minority discourse. In psychotherapy – as in society – the majority discourse is relational. Hence, the subjugated minority discourse will be the opposite of relational; in the language of this talk, promiscuous.
I have wondered if the silence of psychotherapists on the topic of promiscuity reflects a kind of sexual horror – sotheytranslateeverythingintoadiscourseofrelationalityinwhich‘persons’getsplitofffrom‘sex’.
Putting these ideas – of hypocrisy and a subjugated non-relational discourse – together, exposes the secret moral conservatism of numerous psychotherapeutic clinicians compared to their often very different sexual behaviour as persons. We could begin to understand this more deeply by seeing it as envy on the part of the therapist of the sexual experimentation and out-of-order behaviour related to them by their clients.
The matter comes to a head when psychotherapists engage with infidelity (‘cheating’) on the part of their clients. Whilst not denying that some therapists, particularly couple therapists, understand cheating as a systemic phenomenon, the overall psychotherapeutic take on the matter is that it is a symptom of something else, some problem in the cheat, usually of a narcissistic kind. The cheated upon usually feels immense pain and the cheat often feels great guilt. These are strong affects for the therapist to engage with. Hence, unsurprisingly perhaps, what we see in the majority of instances is a counter-resistant valorization of relational longevity and an utterly literal understanding of ‘object constancy’ at the expense of relational quality. Provided you are in a longstanding relationship, you are, to all intents and purposes.
Is that true?!
To end, I will simply put up a slide that repeats the structure of the talk.
MEN AND POLITICS
IN PRAISE OF GENDER CONFUSION
JUNGIAN ANALYSIS AND GENDER: BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
ANIMUS AND ANIMA – A PROPOSAL
ON INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS – THE PHENOMENON OF PROMISCUITY
Thank you for listening.
The above talk was delivered at the conference entitled ‘Jungian Psychology: East and West, encountering differences’ at Otemon Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan on November 2-3, 2019
*This transcript posted at Gynocentrism.com with permission from the author.
I hope this chapter from The Plural Psyche of 1989 will still be of interest. It is, on one level, a critique of gender essentialism in the Jungian community and in its theorizing. As such, students of analytical psychology and Jungian Studies could well be interested. They should note that the chapter was very controversial in its time and led to attempts to claim that I was not a real Jungian because I had abandoned the interior perspective in which ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ were exclusively metaphorical matters.
In addition, the chapter was my first attempt to sketch out a contemporary variant of animus-anima theory that led to a subsequent suggestion that the theory was useful in underpinning an approach to gendered behaviour that greatly extends what we understand as male/masculine or female/feminine behavior for men and women. In this sense, Jung’s antiquated gender theory gets given new legs. (Written in September 2013.)
In this chapter, I look at developments in analytical psychology concerning gender identity, gender characteristics, and gender role. This is set against the background of a general debate about the psychology of sex and gender and the question of sex-based psychology. As in [all my work], the linkage between gender certainty and gender confusion is a central concern, as is the tracking of fluidity, flexibility, and a pluralistic ethos in connection with gender.
THE GENDER DEBATE
Some questions: are men innately more aggressive than women? Does that explain their social and political dominance? Is there such a thing as innately ‘masculine’ or innately ‘feminine’ psychology?
In his book Archetype: a Natural History of the Self, Anthony Stevens drew on the work of the sociobiologists Wilson and Goldberg to reach the conclusion that ‘male dominance is a manifestation of the “psychophysiological reality” of our species. In addition [there is] genetic and neurophysiological evidence relating to the biology of sexual differentiation. . . . Patriarchy, it seems is the natural condition of mankind’ (Stevens 1982: 188–92).
In Jung and the Post-Jungians, I drew on the work of Janet Sayers to critique Stevens’s position (Samuels 1985a: 220–2). Sayers felt that those opposed to changes in women’s role had appropriated biology to their cause and she demolished the sociobiological case in a witty and learned way. For instance, Wilson quoted studies that showed that boys were consistently more able than girls at mathematics but that girls have a higher degree of verbal ability. And boys are, in Wilson’s view, more aggressive in social play. From these bases, Wilson concluded that ‘even with identical education and equal access to all professions men are likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in political life, business and science’ (quoted in Sayers 1982: 77). She wryly remarks that it is hard to see how males’ lesser verbal ability leads to their being better fitted for political life. Surely, if biology really does determine social role, it should be the other way round?
Recently I came across the work of another academic psychologist, Gerda Siann (1985). She comprehensively surveyed the various research findings that purport to link aggression to the male hormones. She concluded that ‘no specific areas in the brain or nervous system have been pinpointed as controlling aggression’ and that an overview of the repeated studies shows that androgenized girls do not seem more aggressive than their peers, siblings, or mothers. Overandrogenized males do not display noteworthy dominance, assertion, or aggression in spite of the fact that their greater size would guarantee victory (they seem to be rather gentle people). What is more, Siann’s careful reading of the research findings shows that castration has no effect on the overall aggressive behaviour of sex offenders, save in relation to actual sexual behaviour. Finally, plasma testosterone levels do not seem to relate directly to aggressive behaviour. Siann’s overall conclusion was:
the evidence does not show any clear and unambiguous relationship between male hormones and the propensity to display violent behaviour or feel aggressive emotion. Indeed the likelihood of such a simple unidirectional relationship has been thrown into doubt by two additional lines of investigation. The first shows that the secretion of male hormones is itself directly affected by environmental and social variables, and the second is concerned with the speculation that female hormones may also be implicated in violent behaviour and aggressive emotion.
(Siann 1985: 37)
To sustain Stevens’s sociobiological viewpoint, female aggression has to be overlooked or minimized. What is more, there is a confusion between ‘aggression’ and ‘dominance’. Not all human dominance depends on aggression. We have to explain phenomena such as altruistic or self-sacrificing behaviour, conscience, the checks placed on the power of a leader, human capacity for collective decision-making, and so forth.
What follows is a discussion of the third question with which we started this section: are there such things as innate ‘masculine’ and, more pertinently perhaps, innate ‘feminine’ psychologies? If there are, then there could be a noncorporeal innate factor in aggression.
BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
It is hard to write flexibly and fluidly about what is flexible and fluid. The danger when trying to reflect on our current preoccupation with gender is that we might become too clear and too organized – a reaction formation to the inevitable anxiety (and guilt) we experience at finding that what we thought was solid and fixed is perforated and shifting. Humanity is not just divided into women and men but also into those who are certain about gender and those who are confused about gender. As we have seen, getting the balance between gender certainty and gender confusion is a hard task. Clinically, we see the negative effects of an excess of either position and working with individual patients in the area of gender identity is a kind of research work before moving on to the collective stage and a wider scale.
For gender confusions have as important a role to play as gender certainties. They contribute something imaginative to social and political reform and change. I refer to ‘confusion’ and not to something that sounds more laudable like ‘flexibility’ because, experientially, that is precisely what it is, no bones about it. Not for the first time in psychology, we can fashion the strengths out of an apparent weakness. To do this, I have found that I have had to learn from women about what they have been through.
Does use of the word confusion not imply the possibility of definition and clarity concerning gender? The way I use the word ‘certainty’ in relation to gender is intended to suggest that, while clear definition is theoretically possible, it is, for the most part, illusory and/or problematic.
In order to discuss the subject at all, the distinction between sex and gender should be noted, allowing for some overlap as well. Sex (male and female) refers to anatomy and the biological substrate to behaviour, to the extent that there is one. Gender (masculine and feminine) is a cultural or psychological term, arising in part from observations and identifications within the family, hence relative and flexible, and capable of sustaining change. Now, in some approaches, particularly in analytical psychology, what can happen is that a form of determinism creeps in and the invariant nature of gender is assumed, just as if gender characteristics and qualities were as fixed as sexual ones. The history of women shows that change is possible just because the social meaning of womanhood is malleable. But when this is ignored, as by Stevens, the possibilities of change, other than as part of ordinary maturation and individuation, are lost.
Is there such a thing as a ‘feminine psychology’? I’ll begin with a general discussion, then consider whether there is a feminine psychology that applies to women. In a moment, I’ll look at the ‘feminine’ in relation to men, and, after that, at femininity and masculinity as metaphors.
Males and females do have experiences that vary markedly. But it is a huge step from that to a claim that they actually function sufficiently discrepantly psychologically for us to speak of two distinct psychologies. The evidence concerning this is muddled and hard to assess. For instance, the discovery that boys build towers and girls build enclosures when they are given bricks can be taken to show a similarity of functioning rather than difference (which is what is usually claimed). Both sexes are interested in their bodies and, possibly, in the differences between male and female bodies. Both sexes express that interest in the same way – symbolically, in play with bricks. Or, put in another form, both sexes approach the difference between the sexes in the same way. The differences that we see in gender role and gender identity can then be looked at as having arisen in the same manner. The psychological processes by which a male becomes an aggressive businessman and a female a nurturing and submissive housewife are the same and one should not be deceived by the dissimilarity in the end product.
What I have been describing is not a woman’s relation to an innate femininity or to an innate masculinity. Rather I am talking of her relation to the phenomenon of difference. Then we can consider the social or cultural structures erected on the basis of that difference. Each woman lives her life in interplay with such difference. This leads at once to questions of gender role (for example, how a woman can best express her aggression in our culture) but these questions need not be couched in terms of innate femininity or innate masculinity, nor in terms of a feminine-masculine spectrum. Rather, they might be expressed in terms of difference. In the example, the difference between aggression and submission needs to be seen as different from the difference between men and women! Or, put another way, whatever differences there might be between women and men are not illuminated or signified by the difference between submission and aggression. In the previous two chapters, we have been exploring how gender difference is formed in relations between parents and children and by cultural and social organization.
I am aware that men are said to have access to the ‘feminine’, or to the ‘feminine principle’ and I used to think that such an unremittingly interior view was the jewel in the Jungian crown. Now I am not so sure. If we’re attempting to describe psychological performance, we have to be sure why terms with gendered associations and appellations are being used at all. Otherwise we end up with statements such as that ‘masculine’ aggression is available to women via their relation to the animus, or ‘feminine’ reflection in the man via his anima. But aggression is part of woman and reflection is part of man. What is more, there are so many kinds of aggression open to women that even current attempts to speak of a woman’s aggression as ‘feminine’ rather than ‘masculine’ still bind her as tightly as ever. Let us begin to speak merely of aggression. Gender engenders confusion – and this is made worse when gender terms are used exclusively in an inner way. When we speak of ‘inner’ femininity in a man, we bring in all the unnecessary problems of reification and substantive abstraction that I have been describing. We still cannot assume that psychological functioning is different in men and women, though we know that the creatures ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are different.
The question of ‘difference’ brings us to a point where we can play back these ideas into analytical psychology. From Jung’s overall theory of opposites, which hamstrings us by its insistence on contrasexuality (‘masculine’ assertion via the animus, etc.), we can extract the theme of difference. The notion of difference, I suggest, can help us in the discussion about gender. Not innate ‘opposites’, which lead us to create an unjustified psychological division expressed in lists of antithetical qualities, each list yearning for the other list so as to become ‘whole’. A marriage made on paper. No, I am referring to the fact, image, and social reality of difference itself. Not what differences between women and men there are, or have always been; if we pursue that, we end up captured by our captivation and obsession with myth and with the eternal, part of the legacy from Jung. I am interested in what difference is like, what the experience of difference is like (and how that experience is distorted in the borderline disorders). Not what a woman is, but what being a woman is like. Not the archetypal structuring of woman’s world but woman’s personal experience in today’s world. Not the meaning of a woman’s life but her experience of her life. Each person remains a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’, but what that means to each becomes immediate and relative, and hence capable of generational expansion and cultural challenge. My suggestion has been that paternal deficits constrict the expansion and truncate the challenge.
In both the collective, external debate about gender characteristics and the personal, internal debate about gender identity, the question of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is best left in suspension – even, and the word is used advisedly, in some confusion. ‘Gender confusion’ is a necessary antidote to gender certainty and has its own creative contribution to make. This is particularly true in the treatment of borderline disorders, as we shall see in the next chapter. For, when we consider gender and the borderline we will see how gender confusion and gender certainty can operate in isolation from each other. Inadvertently, those who propound a ‘feminine principle’ play into and replicate the dynamics of unconscious gender certainty, denying gender confusion.
It is probably fair to say that post-Jungian analytical psychology has become preoccupied with gender certainty and gender confusion in its concern with the ‘feminine principle’. Here, I am not referring to the writings on women and ‘feminine psychology’ by Jung and his early circle of followers. The problems with that body of work are well known and often repeated. But in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly in the United States, women writers in analytical psychology have set out to revise, or revolutionize, the early work. Such writers are struggling to be ‘post-Jungian’ in their attempt to critique those of Jung’s ideas that seem unsatisfactory or just plain wrong without dismissing Jung altogether.
The reason why there has been a concentration on the ‘feminine principle’ in recent Jungian writing is that it has provided a means to celebrate the specificity of women’s identity, life, and experience. In addition, having the notion of a ‘feminine principle’ in mind helps to make a critique of culture out of personal confrontations with it. The basic desire of feminists who are involved in Jungian psychology has been to refuse and refute the denigration of women that is perceived in analytical psychology, to bring the feminine gender in from the condescending margins, and to promote an alternative philosophy of life to that expressed in the power institutions of a male-dominated society.
Taken as a whole, and I realize I am generalizing, feminism which draws on Jung’s ideas stands out from other varieties, with which I feel more in sympathy, in two main ways. Both of these stem from Jung’s approach, resist eradication, and cause great difficulties. It is assumed that there is something eternal about femininity and, hence, about women; that women therefore, display certain essential transcultural and ahistorical characteristics; and that these can be described in psychological terms. What is omitted is the on-going role of the prevailing culture in the construction of the ‘feminine’ and a confusion develops between what is claimed to be eternal and what is currently observed to be the case. It is here that the deadweight of the heritage of archetypal theory is felt, but as the mirror image of Jung’s problem. He assumed that there is something eternal about women and, hence, about femininity. As Young-Eisendrath (1987: 47) writes, ‘certain beliefs about difference – for example, about gender and racial differences – have influenced our thinking about the meaning of symbolic representations, behaviours, style, and manner of people who are alien to the roots of our psychology in Switzerland’. She goes on to say that we need ‘something more than maps and charts of our own design’.
I would like to say what I find problematic in the many attempts to locate eternal models or maps for the psychological activity of women in mythology and goddess imagery. When such imagery is used as a kind of role model or resource for a woman in her here-and-now pain and struggle, that is one thing. But when it is claimed that such endeavour is a reclamation of qualities and characteristics that once prevailed in human society only to be smashed by the patriarchy, then that is altogether more suspect. For it is a highly disputed point, to put it mildly, that such an era ever existed. Could this be a case of taking myth too literally? And isn’t there a hidden danger here? For if men were to claim that they are in the direct line of psychic inheritance of the characteristics and qualities of gods and heroes, then we’d end up with the status quo, with things just as they are, for they couldn’t be any other way. As far as role-modelling and resource provision goes, surely any woman, even or especially an analyst, can perform this task for another woman.
It could be argued that referring to a goddess as a role model or resource is to miss the point about what is special in a divine figure – the numinosity that attaches to such a figure and hence provides a special form of authority. I am not convinced by this argument, for any figure can constellate the kind of venerating transference that is exemplified in the mortal-divine relation. This is something well known to any and every analyst who has experienced an idealizing transference. If the numinosity is not what is specific to the goddess, then, as I suggested, it is her a-temporality, that which is claimed as eternal and absolute in her.
The search for hidden sources of authority is a project constellated by what is seen as a flawed cultural tradition. But there may also be a ‘flaw’ in the project itself, for such a search demonstrates the very sense of weakness and lack of authority which it seeks to overcome. Engaging in a rivalrous search for female archetypes could lead to a new set of restrictions on female experience, as several writers have observed (Lauter and Rupprecht 1985: 9 discuss this point in detail).
Could we try to play the feminine principle in a pragmatic and not an eternal or absolute key? If so, then its truth would be measured, in William James’s words, ‘by the extent to which it brings us into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience’ (1911: 157). We would have to start assembling material on the experience of difference as well as on the experience of womanhood and manhood. Sociologists and academic psychologists may have done this but depth psychologists have not – or not yet. Then, in Shorter’s words, we would become less concerned with the ‘image’ of woman and more with ‘likeness’ to that image. She says: ‘Likeness is consciousness of image and its embodiment. . . . It is not a question of imitation; each person becomes in part and to the measure that he (sic) is able “like to” the image’ (Shorter 1987: 40). Or in Caroline Stevens’s words: ‘as a woman, anything I do is feminine’ (personal communication, 1987).
The second point of disagreement between feminism in analytical psychology and feminism generally has to do with the impression that much Jungian discourse on the ‘feminine’ seems directed away from political and social action. Dwelling upon interiority and feeling becomes an end in itself. So, just as middle-class Victorian women were believed to be the repository of sensibility and confined to hearth and home, in the Jungian manner of it, women in the nuclear age are meant to be mainly private creatures.
My concern is that much thinking and writing around the ‘feminine principle’ has opened a secret door into analytical psychology for the return of what is, paradoxically and ironically, an overstructured approach to psyche, heavily dependent upon abstraction and decidedly moralistic. What I’m suggesting is that much contemporary Jungian work on feminine psychology may be seen as far more of an ‘imitation of Jung’ than was consciously intended. The intention of rectifying Jung’s mistakes and prejudices has been perverted.
Trawling the recent literature, I have been struck by the massiveness of the feminine problematic, signified in numerous phrases such as: feminine elements of being, feminine modality of being, femininity of self, feminine ways of knowing, feminine authority, feminine assertion, feminine reflection, feminine dimensions of the soul, primal feminine energy pattern, feminine power, feminine response, feminine creativity, feminine mysteries, feminine body, feminine subjectivity, feminine transformation. I could have quadrupled the list; for ease of reference, I have subsumed all these terms under the general heading of the ‘feminine principle’.
Something oppressive has come into being – not, repeat not, because what is claimed as the content of the ‘feminine principle’ is oppressive but because celebrating the feminine has raised it to the status of an ego-ideal, leading to a simple and pointless reversal of power positions. Further, perhaps it is the shadow of feminism generally to make women feel inadequate when they don’t come up to its mark – or cannot emulate notable feminist figures.
GENDER, METAPHOR AND THE BODY
I would like to say a few words now about the literal and metaphoric relationships between anatomy and psychology to draw together the psychological and scientific aspects of the gender debate, and because I will be talking again about this towards the end of the chapter. A literal determinism has seduced those who seek to make a simple equation between body and psyche. We do not really know what the relationship between them is but it is probably indirect. The fact that a penis penetrates and a womb contains tells us absolutely nothing about the psychological qualities of those who actually possess such organs. One does not have to be a clinician to recognize penetrative women and receptive men – nor to conclude that psychology has projected its fantasies onto the body.
A claim is often made that a female’s body contains in it certain qualities and characteristics that lead to there being a quite specific and innate female psychology, based on the female body and quite divorced from male psychology, based on the male body. Now, as I just mentioned, there seems to be no problem with the idea that males and females have experiences of their bodies as different from the other sex’s body. But the argument that innate psychological differences between the sexes are based on the body has serious and insidious difficulties in it. It sounds so grounded, so reasonable, so common-sensical, so different from social or ideological styles of exploring gender issues. However, if psychological activity is body-based then, as body is more or less a constant over the entire history of humanity, body-based psychological theory can only support the horrendous gender situation with which we are faced just now. For, if it is body-based, how can it be altered? It must be an inevitability and we would have to agree with Stevens when he argues that ‘patriarchy is the natural condition of mankind’ (Stevens 1982: 188).
Of course, psychology cannot be split off from the body. But the link is on a deeper level even than that of anatomical or endocrinological distinctiveness. The link between psyche and body surely refers to the body as a whole – its moods and movements, its pride and shame, its rigour and its messiness. On this level, the body in question is already a psychological body, a psychesoma, an imaginal body even – providing a whole range of experiences. Sometimes, this imaginal body provides crossover experiences, ‘masculine’ for women and ‘feminine’ for men. When the link between psyche and body is envisioned in terms of the body as a whole, then whether that body is anatomically male or anatomically female is less significant. But I am not attempting to deny anyone’s experience of their body, nor to dispute the value of paying attention to the body. Indeed, the descriptions in this book of the father’s relations with his children are markedly oriented towards physical experience and activity.
Even on a literal, bodily level, recent advances in anatomical research show that things are not what they seem to be. This renders attempts to link bodily and psychological characteristics, even of a subtle and metaphorical kind, highly relative, mutable, and conditioned by the state of knowledge and belief at any one time. In her book Eve’s Secrets (1987), Lowndes engages in a comparative study of women’s and men’s sex organs. It turns out that the results of such studies depend completely upon what is compared. For instance, we usually compare penis and vagina, or penis and clitoris. But what if we compare the penis to the sum of clitoris, urethra, and vagina (the so-called CUV)? Then, according to Lowndes, the fact that the clitoris does have a much longer and deeper structure under the skin that merely culminates in the visible crown means that the female possesses an organ equal in size to the penis and composed of the same erectile material. What is more, a woman has a glans – this is not to be found on her clitoris but close by the opening of her urethra, a raised area as yet possessing no consensual medical name. Looking at the man, Lowndes points out how little is known about the inside of the penis and suggests that in the corpora cavernosa there is an area, or spot, that is as sensitive as the clitoris and performs the same functions: a male clitoris.
Lowndes has also found that men and women both have erections, though the charging with blood is visible more markedly in the male. She has also established, by means of careful test measurement, that there is a female ejaculation, composed of fluid that is neither urine nor vaginal secretion.
Anatomical differences between sex organs of men and women are, on the basis of Lowndes’s work, quite literally skin-deep. However, the point is not whether she is right or wrong about it but rather to underline the problems with regarding the body as a fixed element in a body-psyche linkage. Again, this is not to deny such a link, merely to point out the impossibility of dismissing fantasy and/or changing knowledge from our eventual conclusions.
A further instance of the psychological significance of such work is that it is not at all new. In 400 BC Hippocrates said that men and women both ejaculate. In AD 150 Galen said that the vagina and ovaries are penis and testicles ‘inside out’. In 1561 Fallopio discovered, as well as his tubes, that the clitoris has deep structures. In 1672 Regnier de Graaf looked for and found evidence of female ejaculation. It seems that what we say is the case about the body is already psychological (e.g. Freud or, indeed, Kinsey).
Why is this issue of the body as a possible base for sex-specific psychology so critical? I can give two suggestions about this. First, the whole cultural versus innate gender debate is, or has become numinous. If I have taken one side rather than advancing a multifactorial theory, this is partly because it is what I think, partly because that’s my personal style, and partly because a clash of doctrines is where the life in psychology is to be found. Again, though I think I’m right, it does not matter so much whether I am right or wrong, but whether what I am talking about can be recognized.
The second reason why the gender debate stirs us has to do with our ambivalence about our constitution, the psychological make-up that we bring into the world. On the one hand, how secure and fulfilling to know that one is quite definitely a man or a woman! I certainly feel a need for certainty and at no time do I suggest that there are no such entities as men or women. On the other hand, I am sure that anatomy is not destiny and am trying to work my resentment at the idea that it might be into a critique of those who tell me it is. There are no direct messages from the body.
Which leads back to the great problem with an overdependence in theory-making on the body’s impact on psychology. If anatomy is destiny, then nothing can be done to change the position of women. So women who base their quest for a new and positive meaning for femininity on the body inadvertently undermine their own cause. On the contrary, we know how definitions of women and men change over time. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, for instance, representations of men in literature and drama quite often had them as crying – so different from this century, in which big boys don’t cry. The body is not an icon in a vacuum.
It follows that animus and anima images are not of men and women because animus and anima qualities are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. No – here, for the individual woman or man, anatomy is a metaphor for the richness and potential of the ‘other’. A man will imagine what is ‘other’ to him in the symbolic form of a woman – a being with another anatomy. A woman will symbolize what is foreign to her in terms of the kind of body she does not herself have. The so-called contrasexuality is more something ‘contra-psychological’; anatomy is a metaphor for that. But anatomy is absolutely not a metaphor for any particular emotional characteristic or set of characteristics. That depends on the individual and on whatever is presently outside her or his conscious grasp and hence in need of being represented by a personification of the opposite sex. The difference between you and your animus or anima is very different from the difference between you and a man or woman. (I do realize that I am discussing animus and anima in their personified forms but I am bringing them in as illustrative of the indirect nature of the relation between body and psyche.)
What I am saying is that ‘metaphor’ can be as seductively misleading and one-sided as ‘literalism’. Sometimes, it is claimed that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are metaphors (you know, ‘just’ metaphors) for two distinct Weltanschauungen or the typical styles of operating of the two cerebral hemispheres. Why can’t we just talk of Weltanschauungen or just of hemispheres? When we bring in either masculinity and femininity or maleness and femaleness we are projecting a dichotomy that certainly exists in human ideation and functioning onto convenient receptors for the projections. Then the argument that masculinity and femininity should be understood nonliterally, as really having nothing to do with bodily men and bodily women in a social context, may be taken as a recognition that a projection has been made, but falling far short of a successful recollection of it, certainly as far as our culture is concerned. All the other divisions that we know about – rational/irrational, Apollonian/Dionysian, classical/romantic, digital/analogic, and so forth – all these exist in every human being. They cannot conveniently be assigned by gender (or sex), save by the kind of bifurcated projection I have depicted. Why do we make such a projection? Surely it is more than a question of language? It could be because we find difficulty in living with both sides of our murky human natures. In our borderline way, we import a degree of certainty and clarity, and hence reduce anxiety, by making the projection. Summarizing my view: it is in this projection that we find the origins of dualist ambitions to construct distinct psychologies for the two sexes and of the attempt to use ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ solely as metaphors.
The whole gender debate suggests that, as with the father’s relations to his children, we need to question whether heterosexuality itself should be taken as innate and therefore as something fundamental and beyond discussion, or whether it, too, has a nonbiological dimension. Freud’ s perception was of an innate bisexuality followed later by heterosexuality. Jung’s view was that man and woman are each incomplete without the other: heterosexuality is therefore a given. In this sense he differs from Freud’s emphasis on bisexuality as the natural state of mankind. In Freud’s approach, sexual identity arises from the enforced twin demands of reproduction and society. What I have been arguing shifts the concept of bisexuality from something undifferentiated (polymorphous or polyvalent) into a vision of there being available to all a variety of positions in relation to gender role – without recourse to the illusion of androgyny.
Feminist art critics have faced up to many of these problems concerning the body. In a critique of the relation between the biologic and the cultural, Parker and Pollock state that ‘acknowledging the importance of events of the body . . . is not reducible to biological essentialism, a facet of patriarchal ideology which supposes a primordial difference between the sexes determined by anatomical and specifically genital structures. How the body is lived and experienced is implicated at all levels in social or societally determined psychic processes’ (Parker and Pollock 1987: 29). Parker and Pollock go on to describe an art work entitled ‘Menstruation II’ by Cate Elwes. During her period, dressed in white and seated in a white, glass-fronted box, she could be watched bleeding. Questions and her answers could be written on the walls of the box. Elwes wrote, ‘The work reconstitutes menstruation as a metaphorical framework in which it becomes the medium for the expression of ideas and experience by giving it the authority of cultural form and placing it within an art context’ (quoted in Parker and Pollock 1987: 30).
If discriminations like these are not made, then those analytical psychologists who espouse the idea of innate, body-based, sex-specific psychologies, find themselves lined up with those groupings often referred to as the ‘New Right’. New Right assumptions about sex-specific psychology tend to be based on appeals to tradition and often have a romantic appeal but, as Di Statham has argued in her paper ‘Women, the new right and social work’ (1987), those working therapeutically need to be aware of the way in which the assumptions can be used to promote the notion of ‘order’ and of how women’s activities, in particular, are decisively limited.
The same point is made, with a good deal of passion, by Anne McManus in the August 1987 issue of the British feminist journal Spare Rib. She wrote:
Feminism is flowing with the rightward tide, its critical radical spirit diluted beyond recognition . . . A decisive shift came in the transformation of women’s liberation from oppression, to today’s confirmation of that oppression in a type of popular feminism which unashamedly embraces anything female. Never mind that this implies a conservative re-embracing of traditional women’s roles that the original movement was all about denouncing. Now any old gullible gush practised by women is feminist, especially if it’s emotive, and authentic (what isn’t authentic anyway at this level?), and anti-male rationality. A false dichotomy between thinking men and feeling women evacuates reason to men while women’s fates are sealed, trapped again in eternal emotionality which leaves male power safely intact. Thus women are immobilised and trivialised by their very softness and tenderness, voluntarily abdicating the dirty power struggle, and thereby the power, to those who have it.
James, W. (1911) Pragmatism. London: Longmans Green; Cambridhe, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Lowndes, J. (1987) Eve’s Secrets. London: Bloomsbury.
Parker, R. & Pollock, G. (1987) Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1984. London & New York: Pandora.
Samuels, A. (1985) Jung and the Post-Jungians. London & Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Sayers, J. (1986) Sexual Contradictions: Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Feminism. London: Tavistock.
Shorter, B. (1987) An Image Darkly Forming: Women and Initiation. London & New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Siann, G. (1985) Accounting for Aggression: Perspectives on Aggression and Violence. London & Boston: Allen & Unwin.
Statham, D. (1987) ‘Women, the new right and social work’. J. Soc. Wr. Prac. 2:4.
Stevens, A. (1982) Archetype: A Natural History of the Self. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
The Men’s Rights Movement exists to recognize and ameliorate problems, institutional or social, that predominantly or exclusively harm boys and men. To that end, activists have adopted strategies ranging from filmmaking to legal action. Media analysis has also been done (Allemano, 2012) but with folktales largely ignored. This is unfortunate since folklore in its various forms has practical functions: entertaining, justifying institutions, enforcing cultural norms, educating, and providing escapism (Bascom, 1954). Thus, MRAs could harness the power and versatility of folktales to influence the culture. “The Four Artful Brothers” (Manheim, 1977) is a strong foundation since it complies with pro-male values in several ways.
The story tells of siblings who leave home to find jobs when they’re father is unable to provide for them. Becoming a thief, a hunter, an astronomer, and a tailor, they return home, demonstrate their skills to their approving father. A dragon attacks days later and the boys combine their talents to rescue the princess, resulting in them getting awarded their own principalities.
Folklorists have argued that this tale and its variants have remained popular partly because it focuses on educating sons (Zipes, 2000). This theme is relevant for contemporary advocates because male literacy and academic achievement lags behind that of girls (Autor & Wasserman, 2013) and has since 1870 (Tyack & Hansot, 1988). But this tale doesn’t just dramatize anxieties regarding male education, it alleviates them. “The Fourt Artful Brothers” is a multi-genre narrative that includes action, fantasy, and real-world problems, which are the kinds of texts boys prefer and which they aren’t usually given (Boys Literacy Teacher Inquiry Project, 2008). To wit: the siblings battle a dragon and survive a shipwreck, satisfying the action requirement. The presence of a dragon, an omniscient telescope, and a magical needle-and-thread place the text within fantasy. And the premise of the story – leaving home to find gainful employment – is a realistic goal and concern for many young adults. Altogether, these elements fulfill the multi-genre requirement.
Combined with that is a nuanced depiction of masculinity. For instance, the story is about young men mastering skills and courageously facing mortal peril. These two traits – mastery and courage – are considered bedrocks of traditional manhood (Donovan, 2012). Yet, the tale is inclusive of men who deviate from norms. Consider the mentors: their role as teachers is people-oriented, which contrasts with men’s general preference for object-oriented work (Rong et al., 2009). The main family also deviates from norms; the boys have no mother, implying that childrearing and housekeeping were done by their father and themselves since the birth of the youngest. The youngest himself does tailoring – a subset of textile work like sewing, knitting, and weaving – which has traditionally been a feminine craft (Barber, 1998). Notably, the king says that each of the brothers have an equal right to marry his daughter, metaphorically saying that all men are worthy of respect and recognition, regardless of their gender expression.
Another point in the tale’s favor is its multilayered subversion of male disposability. While the boys do endanger themselves for a woman they’ve never met, their primary motive is to prove the usefulness of their skills. Their secondary motive is economic, since they came from poverty and are unemployed at the time. Another challenge to the disposability of men comes from the king. Unlike real-world leaders who conscript men to war (Watson, 2014) or citizens who sacrifice men for women’s benefit (FeldmanHall et al., 2016), the king offers an incentive to save the princess and the boys are the only men to go her rescue.
Marina Warner, a prominent mythographer, once declared, “I decided that it was crucial not to leave the territory of the imagination to those history has taught us to recognize as dangerous” (The University of Sheffield, 2017). Hers is an attitude that men’s rights activist should embrace wholeheartedly, especially because those who pose a threat to male wellness already have a head start.
Donovan, J. (2012). The way of men. Milwaukie: Dissonant Hum.
FeldmanHall, O., Dalgleish, T., Evans, D., Navrady, L., Tedeschi, E., Moobs, D. (2016). Moral chivalry: Gender and harm sensitivity predict costly altruism. Social psychological and personality science, 7(6), 542-551.
Manheim, R. (1983). Grimms’ tales for young and old: The complete stories. New York: Anchor Books.
Rong, S., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological bulletin, 135(6), 859-884.
Tyack, D., & Hansot, E. (1988). Silence and policy talk: Historical puzzles about gender and education. Educational researcher, 17(3), 33-41.
What we are witnessing is a hacking of the parental brain with the bait of dramatized neoteny. Once our biological operating system is hacked in this way, and the hack is taught as cultural operating practice, nothing can undo it. This iteration of superstimuli is here to stay. The only way around ‘aggressive vulnerability’ is to say NO when faced with its demands, which will be all day & every day in the form of female victimhood, race victimhood, “marginalized” sexuality, and so on — the hegemony of the child archetype.
Biologists, neurologists, evolutionary psychologists, and ethologists have long recognized parent and child instincts in the form of parents’ urge to caretake and protect juveniles, and conversely of juveniles having an impulse to announce their vulnerability to signal their need to be cared for. This biological fact was independently discovered and understood by archetypal psychologists (parent & child archetypes), object relations psychologists (parent & child objects), and by other schools of psychology dealing with the ‘inner child’ and the need for caretaking. Object relations psychology goes so far as claiming the sexual libido is subservient to the evolutionary imperative of parent~child bonding, making the latter the strongest motivator in human affairs.
As an interesting point of distinction, Jungians differentiate between the child archetype and what they call the ‘puer archetype‘ which can be represented respectively by the images of a toddler (child) and an older child/teen (puer). The puer archetype is perfectly represented by the figure of Peter Pan – youthful, loving of new experiences, playful, spontaneous, optimistic, adventurous. The puer is not a vulnerable child in need of coddling and protecting, he’s an independent child or youth and an archetypal imperative vital to the psychological health of all men and women. This is why I reject admonishments of the puer impulse as “Peter Pan syndrome” and “failure to launch,” which essentially shames men into assuming one-sided adult responsibility. “Failure to launch” applies more properly to an overidentification with the child archetype, which deserves challenging when it reaches the status of personal or cultural dominance.
While the above video provides only half of the full speech given by Hillman on the child archetype, it does impart a good overview of the topic. Hillman touches there on Jung’s description of the child archetype as including vulnerability, a sense of futurity (that life will begin in the future), innocence, and also a feeling of “hermaphroditism.” This sexual orientation is also confirmed in Freud’s idea that toddlers are “polymorphous perverse” and haven’t yet formed what he understood as an appropriate genital identity. Perhaps this all makes sense when you consider the concerns of the ‘marginalized’ wokists today who champion multiple genders, non-binarism, bisexuality, transgenderism etc. and aggressively demand to be taken care of.
The following is an interview with Shepherd Bliss, the man who coined the phrase ‘Mythopoetic Men’s Movement’ and who was a notable participant within the movement. Contemporary men’s movements will find much in Bliss’s views to disagree with, however he did articulate some valuable perspectives as belonging to the mythopoetic mindset, such as the rejection of reductionist definitions of masculinity in favour of a multiplicity of male archetypes. – PW
Bert: As one way to start, perhaps I should go into my own personal story. I wonder if it reflects what’s happening with the men’s movement. When Bernetta was in a women’s spirituality group I lamented that there was nothing to get into men’s spirituality; men’s deep inner work. Robert Moore and Doug Gillette’s book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover moved me so much that I designed a seminar around it. A group of friends and I did a six week King, Magician, Warrior, Lover and Green Man seminar. At that stage I wasn’t even content with staying with the four because I thought that the Green Man was important for our focus on the Earth.
Now I find Alan Chinen’s Once Upon a Midlife and Beyond the Hero a breath of fresh air. In Beyond the Hero he describes the Shaman/Trickster as an older and deeper archetype than the King, Warrior or Hero.
I’ve given some thought to the misgivings you have, about the Warrior archetype.
Shepherd: I’m glad you added that vital Green Man. Your experience, the connection that you made to the Moore/Gillette book, has happened to a number of men. Their book is entry-level work. It can ignite people and get things started. I honor that work.
Then the question is — what’s next? What more is there? People get frozen in a metaphor, such as the Warrior, as if that were the whole story or the guiding star. The problem is, if you have a whole group of people who are all catalyzed by that image, it is not a community that has diversity. It’s similar to what happens in support groups where everybody has the same problem and is working on the same issue. From ecology we learn that an ecological system is strongest when it is diverse. Life on Earth is based on biodiversity. That’s what’s behind my concern with that singular focus. Some people are too oriented toward the Warrior energy. It is a component of Men’s Work. But too much focus in that direction takes you more into men’s rights than into mythopoetic work.
Bert: Are you suggesting that warrior is not mythopoetic?
Shepherd: Mythopoetic implies polytheistic. Mythopoesis has to do with change — not getting fixated. There are multiple archetypes, not just a single archetype. If you’re moved by a single metaphor you could be mythological, but not necessarily mythopoetic.
Warrior work is young men’s work. It’s a developmental stage everybody should go through. Some people get stuck there. As you know, I’m not into this warrior stuff. I don’t like the language. Men who are drawn to it need to mature. They need to go on.
Bert: Is expanding into King going in the right direction? For example, generativity, of course, is what we associate with the King archetype.
Shepherd: I don’t associate generativity with the King. What I associate with the King archetype is ruling, commanding, dominating. I associate generativity with someone who’s beyond the King, beyond the Hero. The generativity of the Trickster. The Fool. The crazy old man.
Why talk about Kings? People came to America to get away from Kings. I don’t want Kings. I want peers, equals,democrats. I want strong men. Powerful men. Men who do good for the community. I don’t call that the King. There’s so much darkness to the King. It’s inherent to the King. Let’s go beyond monarchism and feudalism. I want to challenge this language.
Mythopoesis means re-mythologizing. The mythopoetic approach comes at times of cultural chaos, such as we have now. That’s historically been the case. Mythopoetic images arise when you break through and articulate new images. We need to study the old stories in order to go beyond them, to go to new stories and images, not merely to repeat the old stories and get stuck there.
Bert: I’ve been told you coined the word, “mythopoetic?”.
Shepherd: No. What I did was to apply the word to the men’s movement. The men’s movement rehabilitated the word, but it’s been in the literary tradition. People were calling us the Robert Bly Men’s Movement or the New Age Men’s Movement because of Keith Thompson’s interview of Robert Bly, “What Do Men Really Want?” in the New Age Journal. I did an article on the men’s movement about 10 years ago, for Yoga Journal in 1986. I studied and thought for months about language. I came across this archaic word, “mythopoetic,” which is used in literary traditions. It does not mean myth and poetry. It means to re-mythologize. When I applied it, it stuck.
Bert: David Whyte, the poet and author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, recently did an interview that we will publish soon. David talked quite a bit about the mythopoetic. He never talked about it in the context of Men’s Work.
Shepherd: I imagine that someone like David Whyte comes to it from the literary tradition. He does honor Robert Bly in a recent issue of New Dimensions. He is very respectful to Robert and quotes some of his translations of Rilke. I think a lot of people have been fed by the men’s movement, directly or indirectly. I’m glad the word “mythopoetic” is catching on in its wider context as well as this narrow context.
Bert: Here is one of David’s poems, Enough
these few words are enough
if not these words this breath
if not this breath the song here
This opening to the life we have refused again and again until now
David describes the entire mythopoetic tradition as one which tries to get us to open to the inner.
Shepherd: It’s a beautiful poem. In that poem one can see what I’m talking about. It’s about staying in present time and allowing ourselves to be guided by what’s happening in the moment. It’s a deeply spiritual and deeply wounded truth that David gets to there. That is the historic mythopoetic tradition. In its essence it’s re-mythologizing, not just telling the old stories. I think people don’t realize mythopoesis has this forward-moving change component.
The King and the Warrior are immature, partial images. They have dominated men’s work and they are a primary reason, in my opinion, why we have failed. The media picked these images up and ridiculed us. We deserved it. We have contributed to our demise as a mass movement. We never dealt with those images and their limitation s in a clear way.
Bert: There are places in their books where Robert Moore and Doug Gillette seem to say that these are the four that are hardwired. At the Mendocino Men’s Conference and in some of his audiotapes, he said that these are just a model and that these are not the only four archetypes.
Shepherd: I think Robert Moore and Doug Gillette are absolutely wrong. People haven’t questioned them enough. They speak only a partial truth. I don’t blame this problem on them. I blame it on our movement. They reduced the great diverse stream of masculine down to four archetypes — as if there weren’t a hundred. There are a hundred!
The hardwiring stuff is bullshit. It’s biological determinism. It’s hierarchical thinking. They are not polytheistic and polycentric. They’re hierarchical. They’re authoritarian, in their forms of leadership and in their forms of thinking. It’s fine if some people do that kind of thinking, but they aren’t much into serious intellectual dialog. They’re hard to engage.
Bert: I would love to see Alan Chinen and Robert Moore discuss the base archetypes.
Shepherd: I think they should, because Chinen is a much more substantial thinker than Moore, in my opinion. He is forward moving and futuristic whereas Moore is too rooted in the past. Chinen is on much more solid ground as a scholar, in my opinion, than Moore.
Moore obviously spoke to a need that men have. The popularizer. He has a mission. He has a messianic quality to him. Chinen, as you know from your interview with him (fall 1993), is a reserved, receptive man who comes from a different place. He doesn’t have an ideology. He’s out there story telling. In the future Alan Chinen’s work is going to appear in this period of time to have a particular importance.
I would turn the tables on Moore’s thesis. Moore says that the Trickster is immature. There is an immature Trickster. But the Hero can also be is immature. The Hero comes at an early stage in human development. And it comes early in a man’s life. The teenage years, the early twenties, thirties.
We need to be, both individually and in the culture, in a post-heroic time. The mature Trickster is very interesting because he works on behalf of the community as a whole. He trips up authoritarian figures, the hierarchical types who would like to be King, who have something in them that wants to rule and control. I don’t consider that a mature feeling. It’s something many of us have, and it can be life enhancing. It can have many positive aspects to it. But ultimately there is something, when you move beyond this, which has to do with genuine equality. The genuine Elder. The genuine Crone for a woman. But this Elder isn’t into commanding. The King commands. The elder has mastery but he tends to evoke it in a different way.
Bert: As I talk with you I see another dimension I hadn’t seen before. I’m not so sure that if the Magician means the master of high technology, rather than the shaman, that the Magician is the mature role and the Trickster is the immature role.
Shepherd: Science and technology are primary problems in the world today. When people criticize men for what we have done to the Earth, often what they are seeing is the effect of industrialism, with pesticides, herbicides, agribusiness, and the denigration of the Earth when we moved from being hunter/gatherer societies to agrarian-based societies and, eventually, industrial agriculture.
Three recent books document what I’m saying here – Chellis Glendinning’s My Name is Chellis, and I’m Recovering from Western Civilization, Jed Diamond’s The Warrior’s Journey Home, and Jerry Mander’s In the Absence of the Sacred. All three of these writers have a strong criticism of technology.
It’s not a question of good versus bad technology. It’s a question of technology versus indigenous wisdom, the kind of wisdom which is nature based. I don’t think we can take away technology. What happens, though, is that technology creates problems. It then promises that it will solve these problems with more advanced and higher technology. But in fact what happens is the Earth gets further polluted, further damaged. We are on a collision course right now. We are threatening to destroy the Earth. The most important single thing that the men’s work can do now, as far as I’m concerned, is to make alliances with environmental work and ecological work. Father/son work and other personal work is important and must continue, but we also need to mature beyond this work.
At the Redwood Men’s Center we’re refocusing work to support the environment, to engage in activity on behalf of the Earth. It isn’t as popular, and we won’t necessarily have the cathartic kinds of response for men that earlier work on the fathers had, but it’s important work.
Bert: Where do you see Men’s Work going?
Shepherd: Our movement has the chance to deepen and mature, now that we have been defeated by the mass media. John Stewart Mill says that every successful mass movement has three stages: The first stage is ridicule. The second is discussion. The third is acceptance. That happened with the anti-slavery movement, and slavery was ended. It happened with the suffragettes, and women got the right to vote.
The men’s movement is stalled in the stage of ridicule. We deserve it. With all this talk about warriors and kings, we have contributed to our fall as a mass movement. The powers that be have basically liquidated the mass quality of our movement.
But individual men and groups and geographical areas which are strong – like Portland, Seattle, and the Bay Area – continue as men meet in regular face-to-face relationships. It might even be that this demise as a mass movement can strengthen us in our capacity to do our work. It does mean that the cultural change part of our work is impeded. But it can also make us look inside – to look at what we did wrong. What did we do that contributed to our downfall? How could we not make those mistakes again?
Bert: What, in your opinion, are some of the major things that went wrong?
Shepherd: Robert Bly, Michael Meade and James Hillman, wonderful men that they are, represent traditional masculinity.
Bert: A traditional masculinity?
Shepherd: They tell basically traditional stories. They represent old values.There’s a lot of beauty, dignity, and strength in those values, but they’re all tough. I’ve seen all three of them mature in the midst of not only how they contributed to the men’s movement but in how the men’s movement contributed to them. They’re all more tender than they used to be.
We need a new story, which emerges from the old story. I’m not offering an answer to you. It needs to be part of our teaching to men. I don’t know what the next step is.One of the things I really like about Michael Meade is his important multi-cultural work these days.
The men’s movement is hierarchically based. We’re too based on stars. I don’t blame it on Robert Bly. I blame it on us. Robert is an exceptionally skilled and talented man. I go to hear him read poetry every chance I get. But we gave him too much authority and power. This contrasts to the women’s movement, which is polytheistic, polycentric, many centered. The mythopoetic men’s movement was too organized around Robert and his chosen elite, the people he was drawn to.
Our society runs on the Great Man theory rather than on a more egalitarian, democratic way. But we’ve failed as a movement. We really didn’t get to an Elder’s Council, or a democratic movement. Robert Bly’s personality stamps it too much. Bly’s particular strengths and weaknesses over-influenced the movement. Now I want to be very clear. I’m not blaming him for this. I think the problem has been in us as Americans. We lack a certain tribal quality — the kind of indigenous quality of community empowerment.
We need new voices in Men’s Work. We were just talking about David Whyte. I like his kind of understatement. I’ve only done one workshop with him a few years ago. I love his voice, but he’s not a super charismatic performer like Angeles Arien was when they recently did something together. But I like the voices of Alan Chinen, David Whyte, Jean Shinoda Bolen. They have a reflective, sure quality to it. Is that your experience with David?
Bert: He’s not that quiet. When he begins to speak he’s rather forceful and commanding with his words. He does not put his words out with hesitancy. It’s low key and low energy, his way of conveying those forceful words. And he doesn’t have charisma in that fiery sense. But when he begins to speak the audience generally becomes very quiet so that they hear all of his words. He’s captivating in that sense. He weaves a spell for the audience. It’s not charismatic. It’s a different kind of spell that he weaves. He weaves a poet’s spell even in his prose.
Shepherd: I like what you’re saying. That’s the kind of leadership that I respond to – that I’m comfortable with – right now. I think we need it at this time. I think the men’s movement can benefit from people like him who are on the periphery.
One of the things that’s really good about the men’s movement is these ongoing little groups of 6 to 8 men. I know some that have been meeting for twenty years. That’s the essence of Men’s Work. That’s the heart of men’s work.
Bert: There are gatherings, big events, and there are wisdom councils like we have up here, with 200 men gathering once a month. These are the showcase. Hopefully those are vehicles by which people will become involved in a small intimate group on the grass roots level.
Shepherd: To me, events like the Mendocino Men’s Conference are not what’s most important. It’s those little groups, most of which we never hear about. But what gets the attention and the publicity is the Mendocino conference. Mendocino gets overrated by those of us who went.
I think it’s important to stay local and not to turn to national people. That doesn’t mean important things can’t be done by bringing people in from outside and listening to them. But there needs to be local metaphors, local issues. There is a distinctly Boston character, a distinctly West Coast character. Every group must have its regional quality, its particular spice, particular soul. It’s important to be responsive to the historical moment and to be in present time and as much as possible to be diverse. To recognize the pains of others. To listen to them.
Bert: What about the inner work/outer work focus. So much of the mythopoetic is in doing the inner work of men getting in touch with their feelings and what’s going on with them. I was just reading the introduction to Sam Keen, in his new book on spirituality, Hymms to an Unknown God, quotes Bill Moyers to the effect that every journalist now says the question of the day is where are we on our spiritual journey?
Shepherd: I think you’re right, Bert. The men’s movement is a religious movement. “Religious” rather than just “spiritual” because it has an organized quality. It’s the inner life in community with others, which is religion – as you know, the word comes from “binding together”. So it has a community element to it. That has drawn me to the men’s movement.
I’d also like to talk about the “backlash.” So far, I’ve been speaking from a mythopoetic viewpoint. I think feminist men have made another set of mistakes by being so angry at men — and the men’s rights people by being so angry at women.
One of the many good things that Michael Meade did was to talk about men’s movements – plural rather than singular. There are, in my opinion, at least three distinct movements: the mythopoetic, men’s rights, and the feminist men. We should have dialog with all of these movements. There has been too much infighting. There hasn’t been enough looking at each other and working together.
Bert: Sometimes there does not seen any way to dialog with the men’s rights side. They are so adamant. They’re so political. Frequently this attack on women is connected with right wing politics. A lot of their rhetoric is bombastic. So I don’t see either Men’s Work or healing between the genders coming out of the men’s rights side.
Shepherd: I agree. Let me talk to the two groups that I see as dangerous: Warren Farrell’s work and the Promise Keepers.
Bert: In what respect do you think that Warren Farrell’s work is dangerous?
Shepherd: Farrell really was hurt by women, by being in the National Organization of Women. He has been fighting back ever since. I don’t trust him. He does represent a certain constituency. But it’s not a constituency which wants to listen or work with other men. It wants to control. Warren is a charismatic leader. He’s handsome, articulate. But I really see the dangers in these charismatic leaders. They’re not really group-based. It’s a leader/follower relationship.
Let me get to the Promise Keepers, because of the things that Susan Faludi and others have criticized us for. The mythopoetic movement is not a backlash. It is not a reaction to the women’s movement. It responds more to economic reality – men’s lives in sexist society in terms of how we are disadvantaged by dying seven years younger than women. Men’s movements are authentic and genuine attempts to deal with this issue. They are not a backlash.
The Promise Keepers is the group, started by a football coach, who have been gathering 50,000 at a time in a stadium in Boulder, Colorado, and now in other parts of the country.They stand for a return to family values, Christian fundamentalism, and homophobia. This is the real backlash. These Promise Keepers and the right wing Christians are a serious threat to the men’s movement and to democracy today. The Republicans had a massive landslide victory which I think is very dangerous in this country. Newt Gingrich is a potentially fascist man. I use that word carefully, because I lived in a fascist country, Chile. Even here in Sonoma County, which is relatively progressive and liberal, we have major victories at the school board, the board of supervisors, and in city councils, by right wing Christians who really do not believe in toleration. They do not believe in diversity. One of the elements of Men’s Work can be a call for diversity of sexual orientation, races, of creeds. A poly-centric view that I think is so important. Not monotheistic. We don’t all have to believe in a Christian god, the same Bible, the same fundamentals. We can be in a time in the twenty first century of expanding rather than shrinking our toleration of differences.
There’s a dangerous, angry mood in the country today. The people who brought to power these right wingers were white males. The largest gender gap ever in history occurred in this election. Women were much more progressive in their voting. There does seem to be a backlash of white males who are reacting to some of the gains of women. Some men are feeling a lot of fear today, in terms of work, in terms of changing family structures. But these are not the mythopoetic men.
I don’t fall in line behind all these so-called “family values.” They’re often homophobic. They’re often a way of putting down single men. I don’t think because a man is a father that he’s any better than any other man. The Republicans are thinking of giving a big tax break to children. I think we should give a tax break to people who don’t have children. The biggest problem in the world today is over-population. We don’t need more incentives to have children.
America consumes by far the greatest percentage of unrenewable resources in the Earth, particularly fossil fuels. We’re very dominating, very controlling of nature. Humans have become thieves. I live in the Cunningham Marsh. Developers want to come in here and take the homes of salamanders, fresh water shrimp, and owls and put six human homes in what today is thousands of homes for wildlife. This march of technology, of development into the marsh which provides habitat for wildlife, is messing this whole beautiful place up.
We need to return to the cooperative masculinity that men used to harvest food, raise barns, and volunteer to fight fires together. We lost that and replaced it with a competitive technological masculinity. The problem is not masculinity; it’s technological masculinity. We as men need to take our economic and political privilege, admit that we have it, and use it to do good.
Now let me talk about another issue, that is very much on my soul these days: the mother in South Carolina who killed her two babies. It was very upsetting to me. I was very angry with her. What made me angry was that some people tried to blame her boyfriend because he wrote her a letter saying that he didn’t want to be with her. People can’t get it straight, can’t accept that the majority of infanticide is done by women, not men. 55% of the parents who kill children are female. The majority of child abuse is not done by men, it’s done by women. Now, I’m not blaming women for that. In a sexist society women are at home with the children more often, so they get angrier. But what backs me up against the wall is the self-righteousness of women who blame men for all the abuse. Women who kill their husbands use the defense that they are battered, therefore they have a right to kill their husband. But it’s not right. I was in a discussion recently with some ultra-feminist women in a public panel in a book reading. I got this victim stuff, that we should have compassion for this mother who killed her children. But there was no compassion in this woman for men who are battered. This society systematically batters men. When anybody kills we need to protect society from those people – be they male or female. We need to understand why men and women do this, but we need not to defend the behavior. It’s unethical, morally incorrect behavior. We should speak out against any kind of violence – be it against men, women, children, plants, animals, or the Earth itself.
Men need to unite with women. I want allies among women who will come out and admit the violence that exists in women, the scapegoating of the masculine that occurs, the projecting of women’s violence onto men. What bothers me is that men are the activists on the front line doing the work that kills us seven years younger. Fighting in the wars.And we get blamed for it. But it’s really a collusion between men and women in this sexist system — that keeps the whole thing going.
Bert: Did you see Carolyn Baker’s article, “Confessions of a Recovering Feminist”? We ran her article on the shadow side of feminism. (December, 1994 issue.) What she says is that women and feminists need to get in touch with the shadow side of feminism first.
Shepherd: Yes.Carolyn is an ally to men. There needs to be a priority upon gender reconciliation. Part of the women’s movement is very receptive towards men. You see it in the work of Aaron Kipnis and Liz Herron, for example. (authors of Gender War, Gender Peace. A three-part interview with them is in our July, August and September, 1994 issues.) Gender reconciliation is very important work. Carolyn and I have spent the last few years in a gender reconciliation group. She understands men’s pain, and is part of this new wave of women. Too often we get into a good woman/bad man dualism; we need to see the dark side of women and the light side of men. Being in dialog with women such as Carolyn is important.
I was very disturbed after reading in your last issue the excellent article by James Smethurst on Naomi Wolf. When asked if she would have her baby circumsized, she joked, “No, I’ll have him castrated.” It was important that he pointed out the contradictions in what she writes, which is more advanced than what she said in person. The joking about castration was inexcusable. It is important that he call her to task on that and that he stand up for us as men.
Circumcision is a key issue. Men need to address it. I’m glad he’s doing that. And I’m glad you’re publishing articles on it. I remember my circumcision as an infant. It was the most painful thing that ever happened in my life. I’ve been hit. I’ve been shot at. All kinds of stuff. But nothing hurt me as much as that. So I think we do need to speak up on these issues.
Bert: In an editorial for the December, 1994 issue I cited you as raising the question whether the mythopoetic men’s movement is dead. The vision that I’m having is grow or die. And I don’t know how we’re going to get more cultural diversity or more outreach — outfocus into the community. But we have to.
Shepherd: Well, I have some ideas on that. Next weekend we’re showing a film called The Color of Fear (ed. – reviewed in our last issue), made by an Asian American. It’s a video about a men’s group that actually shows an anglo man change his ideas about race. It’s a very emotional film which we’re using to stimulate dialog around racism and multi-cultural work.
There is a part of me that is embarrassed and shamed to be a Californian given proposition 187. It is a racist anti-human proposition. The so-called illegal aliens are human beings who work very hard, and help hold up the agriculture of this state and of the nation. They work for four or five dollars an hour. I can assure you that they give more than they take.
We’re watching a rise in racism now. My partner is Japanese American. There is a tremendous rise in anti-Japanese sentiment. There’s a lot of anti-Arab sentiment. This can be mobilized by right wing Christians.
I also think that it is important that men continue to work on homophobia, that we continue to advance a biodiverse human community. Anybody who does not have close gay men friends is impoverished. Any man who does not have close lesbian friends is limited. Humans seem to be made by the Creator in various heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, racial components.
Any system, we know from ecology, is strong if it’s diverse. It’s weak when the gene pool becomes restricted, when there’s inbreeding. When a man is courageous enough to speak up about the need for diversity, he deserves all the support that we can give him.
Bert: I’ve heard it said that if men of color don’t think there are enough men of color at Wisdom Councils and monthly gatherings, that these men of color should go out and bring in people of diversity.
Shepherd: I think it’s the role of the dominating group to do that. You don’t throw it back to the minority. It’s incumbent upon anglos to bring in people of diversity. It’s done partly through friendship. If there are not men of color at a men’s gathering, the men need to look at their racism. In my opinion it is strongly our responsibility, those of us who benefit from this white skin privilege, to be open to men of color. In this way, Alan Chinen is important because he is a Japanese American man.
Bert: Some might question whether he has suffered from it. It’s possible to see him as someone who has played the game by society’s rules and become a very successful psychotherapist and a leading edge scholar.
Shepherd: Well, let me tell you how he suffered. It really struck me because when you look at Alan, he does appear to be a very successful man.His name, Chinen, is not obviously an Asian name. He’s told stories of clients coming to him and discovering that he’s Japanese American and being surprised and disappointed. He said no anglo has ever come to him, found that he is Japanese, and honored and appreciated that. It strikes me as very racist for people to to come in and not get the white person that they expected, and to walk away, to act in a way that is disrespectful.
Even though Asian Americans do not have the financial poverty that African Americans do there is definitely racism against them. It contributed in part to the crime of Hiroshima-Nagasaki, which were irresponsible, unnecessary taking of life. The atomic bomb would never have been used by America against an anglo people, even though obviously Hitler and Germany were the real threats.Japanese Americans on the West Coast lost their land with 48 hours notice even though they were AmericansThey’re just as American as anybody with a white face. Alan is as fully American as anybody. One of the strengths of America is its diversity.
This last election should make us all do some soul searching now about this mood of anger and resentment in America today. And how to deal with it in a healthy way. The men’s movement needs to be responsive because of these Promise Keepers, these right wing Christian men who believe in the family and don’t believe in gayness as natural.
You ask about where is the men’s movement going? It does need to mature from the inner work to the outer work while continuing to do the inner work. But we need, in part, to be protectors. The male role of protecting can be a good role. I recently saw a film about Hitler’s Czechoslovakia where there were the so-called “White Jews” who helped protect Jews. Christian monks would hide them. We need to be responsive to the people of our society who are oppressed because of sexual orientation or race. Here in California the Mexican people need to be supported by anglo people.
This historic male role of the Protector, which when taken in excess could be a problem, is a positive image. The Protector, the Husbandman. The men who till the Earth, take care of the Earth, not as nurturers but as generators. There’s that regenerating quality. I make a distinction between the nurturing that women do and generating that men do.
We need to think about biodiversity in human-kind. We think about it mainly in terms of wildlife and nature. But humans are a part of nature. We need to apply some of the thinking in the environmental circles to Men’s Work and some of the thinking in Men’s Work to environmental circles. For example, some of us here from the Redwood Men’s Center are thinking of going to an environmental meeting in masks. We would take on speaking for the whales, the salmon, the oak, and the douglas fir, and the redwoods. There’s something positive about the zany quality of our men’s gatherings up in Mendocino that really goes to the edge. I’d like us to bring that more into the mass culture and environmental awareness. We as men both individually and in our movement have a lot to offer to our society as a whole.
Have you noticed everyone attempting to nail down the one true definition of masculinity? Its a bit like arguing which is the One True God. Likewise, with every earnestly researched and precisely crafted definition of masculinity, a broad acceptance of any single definition seems out of reach.
If you have an hour to waste on the internet you can discover hundreds of competing definitions of masculinity, each one vastly different, which raises the question of why we can’t agree on a singular, universal statement. Why the ongoing lack of agreement, even within the men’s movement which sets out to champion that very topic of “men” and “masculinity”?
There’s no doubting that underlying physiological structures are shared among all males, the base unity of masculine potentials: a Y chromosome, androgens, muscles and penises. But this tells us little about how individual men will behave in the real world – and behave individually, and variably, they certainly do.
Defining masculinity appears doomed because we tend to rely on singular expressions of it – and singular definitions likewise follow; “masculinity is to be interested in things, not faces” “masculinity is striving for status,” “masculinity is to be more rational and less emotional” (etc.). Are some men like this? sure. Are all men like that? Hell no – far from it. And, naturally, in response to such monocentric definitions the disagreements come lightening fast, with detractors claiming that masculinity is something far more, or something other, than the reductive definition offered.
When we seek singular stereotypes (whether they be based on some example of a traditional male social role, or on some author’s view such as “the way of men,” on singular evopsyche fantasies, or on singular fixations on testosterone as the whole picture) – in such mono-models we will never feel settled on the question of masculinity because there are too many outliers from whatever singular definition we’ve chosen.
Obviously masculinity is more than one thing – more than testosterone, more than intelligence, more than muscle mass, more than status-seeking, and more than a powerful urge to have sex and reproduce. Its more than the sum total of these things, and individual men’s expression of them will widely vary. On that basis a plural understanding of masculinity appears to be the only way to save the concept, though I don’t for a second subscribe to feminist ideas of ‘masculinities’ with their convoluted and unscientific hierarchies of “good” and “bad” instances of masculinity.
Viewing masculinity as plural can be as simple as returning to ancient Greek culture, or to any other classical culture, or even Bible-based cultures for that matter in which varieties of masculine styles are showcased. The Greeks for example had many gods, each expressing a different archetypal face of masculinity. Those expressions ranged from effeminate Dionysus to macho Ares, from instinctual Pan to the ordered and intellectual God Apollo. There is Zeus and his concerns for leadership and hierarchy, and Hephaestus with his labor consciousness, and so on and so forth.
Instances of masculinity, never all seen together in one character, each god or man tending to specialise in one way or another.
It might be argued that because feminists have seized the term masculinities and subsequently twisted the concept into perverted, misandric typologies, that we should shy away from plurality and stick instead with the traditional idea of a masculine singularity – a kind of Vitruvian man who displays all masculine behaviours at once. That’ll teach those femmos!
But this defensive retreat from feminist dominance over the gender discussion is a needless one that throws out the baby with the bathwater. That retreat avoids forthright celebration of male plurality and leads not to better understanding of various masculine dimensions of behaviour, but rather to singular and often reductive definitions that few men can relate to. Furthermore, insisting (as some have) that many expressions of masculinity can be accounted for within a singular definition of masculinity hasn’t helped to provide an agreed definition thus far, so why would we believe it can do so in future? Fighting over the One True Definition rages on.
Nailing down a singular definition of masculinity that everyone will agree with reminds increasingly of Sisyphus rolling his boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom before he starts rolling a new definition up the hill – over and over ad infinitum. Isn’t the definition of insanity that of repeating the same process over and over but expecting a different outcome?
This is why personally I’m an advocate of classical models over modern monocentric ones – people relate to them, and tend to agree with them.
Feminists can never own the concept of masculine variety, even if they have seized on the plural masculinities. Ironically, their attacks on masculinity tend to be one-dimensional caricatures, and when they do get around to exploring plurality of male expression, they tend to make value hierarchies out of the different masculinities, dividing them into good and evil according to arbitrary misandric criteria. For example the more typically effeminate male = good, and the less typically effeminate = bad. This is why their attempt at a plurality of masculinities is junk science and why we men are turned off from celebrating our very real diversity – ie. even though its a fact of life, it has been poisoned with needless ideology.
The word masculinities has been around for at least a few hundred years, referring in the 1800s to any behaviors deemed a departure from the narrowly assigned gender roles of the day, or alternatively to any male behaviors considered inappropriate for polite society. Feminist activists from the gender studies world revived the word during the 1980s and 1990s, basically reaffirming the practice of deeming some masculinities toxic (eg. “hegemonic masculinities” – R. Connell)1 and others as non-toxic.
One academic, Eric Anderson, who was embedded in the scene during that period of “problematizing” masculinity, broke ranks with the obsessive pathologizing narratives and emphasised rather that men of different styles can and are forming what he calls “inclusive masculinities.”2 This approach admits that men are more accepting, or at minimum more tolerant of differences than we were led to believe by the misandric character assassins Robert Connell, Michael Messner or Michael Kimmel et.al who portrayed the vast majority of men as ruthlessly intolerant.
This approach, celebrating masculine variety, is not new to readers here. In fact A Voice for Men has honoured the very plurality I’m describing, and it has done so consistently for over a decade. Men, strong and weak, stoic or sensitive, physical or intellectual, gay, straight or transgender….. we’ve demonstrated inclusive masculinity from the outset. This article serves as a reminder of the importance of those values, while introducing the concept of masculine variety to new readers.
When it comes to terminology, we need not rest only on the loaded term masculinities. Well before Connell and his henchpersons began to discriminate and denigrate so many examples of masculinity, the Jungian and archetypal psychologists already viewed men in terms of masculine variety, and they didn’t apply any of the familiar pathologizing narratives – they simply referred to them as male archetypes. For example, the Archetypal Psychologist Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig wrote the following statement in the year 1976, which is long before sociology got onboard with its plurality of masculinities:
“It should be clear that there is not only one masculine archetype and one feminine archetype. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of feminine and masculine archetypes. Certainly there are many more of them than we usually imagine. But not all archetypes are dominant at a particular period in the life of an individual. Moreover, every historical epoch has its dominant masculine and feminine archetypes. Women and men are determined in their sexual identities and behavior by only a select number of archetypes.
Behavior is determined only by those patterns that are momentarily dominant in the collective psyche. This leads to a grotesque but understandable error: the archetypes that dominate masculine and feminine behavior in a particular time come to be understood as the masculine and feminine archetypes. And from this limited number of archetypes it is decided what “masculinity” and “femininity” are. This misunderstanding has led, for example, to the assumption in Jungian psychology that masculinity is identical with Logos, and femininity with Eros. It is assumed that the essence of femininity is personal, related to one’s fellow man, passive, masochistic, and that the essence of masculinity is abstract, intellectual, aggressive, sadistic, active, etc. This naïve assertion could have been made only because the masculine and feminine archetypes that were dominant at that time and in that culture were understood as the only valid ones.”3
A contrast between feminist and archetypalist views is that the latter admits that archetypal styles arise from biology even if they are socially manipulated; that they are not socially conferred onto ‘blank slates’ by society, as some sociologists might view it. Our biology-based archetypes may lay dormant if not facilitated by culture, or they may arise at certain stages and phases of life, and of course we are each born with our peculiar masculine predilections, or style, that may not be the lot of the next man. Despite that complexity, biology remains a fundamental factor in the theory of archetypes – and yes, environment remains important too.
While the mythopoetry movement of the 1980-90s emphasised singular masculine archetypes, such as Robert Bly’s Wild Man,4 the movement also tended to follow the Jungian tradition of honouring a variety of male archetypes and expressions. For those who are new to the men’s movement, it might be worth studying this aspect of the mythopoetic tradition to help you avoid the pitfalls of an overly singular view of masculinity.
So to finish this article, let me leave you with a playful overview of male archetypes in Greek Myth, compiled by archetypalist Greta Aurora. While her descriptions of various male archetypes are not the last word on any of the characters mentioned, they do provide an example of seeing males in their individuality.
Ultimately its a personal choice whether to see masculinity as one or many, or as both, but in my experience an overemphasis on ‘the one’ tends always to swallow the many, and in the process we lose too much.
 Connell, R., Hegemonic masculinities (Wikipedia)  Anderson, E., Inclusive Masculinities (2009)  Guggenbühl-Craig, A., Marriage Is Dead – Long Live Marriage! (1976)  Bly, R., Iron John: A Book About Men (1990)
*The following by Joseph Campbell is a short account of the classic romance tale of Tristan and Iseult
The great tale of Amor is the tale of Tristan and Iseult. Though we know that Chrétien wrote a version of this tale, it has not come down to us, and so the greatest of the existing versions was written by Gottfried von Strassburg in the very early thirteenth century.
Tristan was a young orphan who was born in Brittany, the place from which this whole tradition emerges. An enormously talented youth, he could speak no end of languages, play no end of musical instruments, and he knew how to butcher game— he knew everything. Tristan goes to serve his uncle King Mark in Cornwall.
There is an interesting aspect to these Arthurian stories: it is always the nephew and the uncle, the mother’s brother: the matrilineal line. You’ve got Tristan and Mark, Arthur and Mordred, and so forth.
When Tristan arrives he learns that a warrior has arrived from Ireland to collect tribute from the Cornish people because the Irish king had conquered Cornwall. The tribute consisted of youths and maidens to be brought to Ireland to serve in the Irish court, and the people didn’t want their children to go. Tristan said to his uncle Mark, “Let me take care of this. I’ll go and meet him in single combat, defeat him, and then there will no more tribute.” This is a deliberate echo of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, an intentional restating of ancient Classical motifs.
Morholt, the Irish champion, has a sword that has been anointed with poison by the queen of Ireland, who is named Iseult— and whose daughter is also named Iseult. This is a common trope in courtly love: poison on the sword. The combat takes place and Morholt’s sword comes down on Tristan’s thigh and cuts it, and the poison is introduced. Tristan’s sword comes down on Morholt’s helmet, cuts right through, and smashes Morholt’s skull, killing him, but a little chink of Tristan’s sword is left in Morholt’s head.
The tribute is finished, and Morholt is brought back to Ireland. Now, his little niece Iseult, the daughter of Queen Iseult, loved her uncle and when the chink was extracted from Morholt’s head she kept it as a memorial in her little treasure box.
Back in Cornwall Tristan’s poisoned wound begins to stink and nobody can bear it, and he says to Mark, “Put me in a little boat, and the boat will carry me by magic to the very place where the healing will be attended to”— the healing has to be accomplished by the one who injured him.
In Amor, the love wound— the sickness no doctors can cure— can be cured only by the one who issued the wound: namely, the one you fell in love with. This is a replay of the poison-in-the-sword motif.
So Tristan sails off in the boat and it carries him indeed to Ireland, to the court of the very person whose poison is killing him. He is playing the harp out in the little boat, feeling very sick, as he sails into Dublin Harbor. The people ashore go out and hear this youth play— this is Orpheus. They bring him ashore and lo and behold, they carry him to be cured by the very queen who poisoned him.
For some reason the queen doesn’t know that this man is the one who killed her brother Morholt. Of course, our hero had changed his name and called himself Tantrist (French: “too sad”) instead of Tristan, so how could she know who he was? So she works to cure him, as she is a compassionate woman. When the wound no longer stinks, she invites her daughter, Iseult, in to hear this wonderful harpist, and when the daughter enters, Tristan plays more marvelously than he’s ever played in his life. In other words, he’s fallen in love— only he doesn’t know it yet. This is the mystery of this whole tale: he doesn’t know it.
Finally Tristan is cured, and he goes back to Cornwall. He’s so excited about this wonderful girl that he talks her up to his uncle and says, “You ought to marry her!” Can you beat it? He’s so innocent of his own emotions that he thinks his uncle should marry this girl.
Well, everybody thinks his uncle should get married anyhow because they need a queen, so they send Tristan back— with his name still twisted around— to fetch this girl. Well, he arrives back in Ireland to find that there is a dragon making it tough for people. And the king has said, “Whosoever kills this dragon shall have Iseult in marriage.”
Well, of course, Tristan rides out to kill the dragon. There is also, however, a seneschal, a sort of courtier who isn’t capable of killing dragons, but he wants very much to marry Iseult. So whenever he gets a notion of somebody going out to kill that dragon, he trails along.
When Tristan has slain the dragon, he opens its mouth, cuts out its tongue as proof of his deed, sticks the tongue in his shirt, and walks away.
The seneschal comes afterward and cuts off the dragon’s head, then brings the head to court to claim Iseult.
Poor Tristan. One thing you should never do with a dragon’s tongue is stick it in your shirt— because it’s poisonous. So while he is walking away with the dragon’s tongue in his shirt, Tristan faints and falls into a pool, and the only part of him sticking out is his nose, so he’s breathing all right.
Iseult and her mother happen to be out for a stroll along the pool, and as they stroll along, they look and say, “There’s somebody down there!” So they pull Tristan out— for some reason they don’t even recognize that he is Tantrist, the one who was there before— and take him to court once again to heal him.
They put him in the bathtub to heal him. In the meanwhile, Iseult is fooling around with Tristan’s equipment in his room when she pulls his sword out of its sheath, and lo and behold, “My gosh, there’s a nick in this sword!” So she goes to her little treasure box and there is this missing piece. She sees that it fits, and oh, she loved her uncle! So she takes this heavy sword and goes in to kill Tristan in the bathtub.
He looks up and says, “Hold on. You knock me out and that seneschal dope gets you.”
Iseult has to admit that this is a good point. In the meantime, the sword is getting kind of heavy, so that is the end of that.
Once Tristan has once again been healed, he is brought to court with the big question: Who gets Iseult? The first claim is made by this chap the seneschal, who comes in with the dragon’s head, which looks very conclusive.
Tristan, however, has only to say, “Open its mouth and let’s see what’s missing there.” No tongue. And where is the missing part? “It’s here!” says Tristan, holding out the tongue, and so he got Iseult.
This stupid little boy, he still wants to bring her back to uncle Mark. So her mother, the one who prepared the poison that brought this whole thing about, prepares a love potion for Iseult to deliver to Mark so that the two will have a love marriage.
Now, this is a great problem theologically and in every other way. In any case, the queen puts the potion and her daughter into the keeping of young Iseult’s faithful nursemaid, Brangaene.
Well, Brangaene doesn’t pay very close attention. On the way back, Tristan and Iseult, both about fifteen years old, each take a sip of the love draught, thinking it is wine. Suddenly the couple becomes aware of the love that has been gradually growing in their hearts.
When Brangaene learns what happened, she is appalled. This is a wonderful moment: she goes to Tristan and says, “You have drunk your death!”
And Tristan answers, “I don’t know what you mean. If by death you mean this pain of love, that is my life.”
This is the essential idea of Amor, experiencing the pain. The essence of life is pain, all life is suffering. In Japan in almost the same period Lady Murasaki writes The Tale of Genji, and you have this love play of the cloud gallants and the flower maidens— they’re experiencing in a very sensitive way the Buddha’s wisdom, that all life is suffering, and the suffering of love is the suffering of life and where your pain is, there is your life.
Tristan continues, “If by this love, this agony of love, you mean my death, that is my life. If by my death you mean the punishment that will be ours when discovered in adultery, I accept that.” This is pushing right through the pair of opposites of life and death, and this is where love is: the pain pushed through. And then he finishes, “And if by death you mean eternal death in Hell, eternally I accept that too.”
Now, that’s a big, big statement, and this is the spirit of Amor in the Middle Ages. You can’t call it just an aristocratic game, and it wasn’t just a love affair. It was a mission transcendent of all the values of this world and a pitch into eternity.
◙VM: Hey Peter, thanks for agreeing to the interview.
◙VM: You are well known, as far as I can see, within the MRM for your advocacy against gynocentrism. You point out the aspects of society and the cultures of the world, historically and in the present day, that enable and promote gynocentrism in one way or another, and you run Gynocentrism.com which talks extensively on the subject and is basically the go-to source of content exposing gynocentrism. While you may not be the only one that talks critically of gynocentrism, you are among the very few that I can see that calls out that out on the traditionalist as well as the SJW side with the same vigor, and for the right reasons. Can you reflect on your experiences having confronted gynocentrism on both those fronts, and how have you have been received in the MRM for it?
►PW: In some ways confronting the feminist version of gynocentrism is easier than confronting its traditional counterpart, because feminists are more likely to admit to their plan of increasing the power of women — female empowerment as they like to call it.
Many traditionalists on the other hand tend to disguise their desire to grant women inflated status, but they work toward securing forms of gynocentric power no less than do feminists. In the traditionalist language that power is referred to as men ‘putting her on a pedestal’ – a phrase known by all, and an aim widely aspired to by traditionalists.
Both progressive and traditional gynocentrism aims to privilege women over men. Both are reliant on the damsel-in-distress narrative to harness chivalric supply, and the only thing that separates them is the typical list of privileges they aim to institute – ie. typically a pampered housewife for the traditionalist, or have-it-all lifestyle for the progressive feminist.
These two gynocentrisms are essentially at war with each other over who deserves priority access to male chivalry, that magic ingredient needed for realizing gynocentric power. To that end, traditional and progressive gynocentrists have cultivated different dog-whistles to provoke chivalric behaviour from males: the traditional woman plays the demure, weak damsel in need of saving by a knight in shining armour, while the feminist plays the same victim role but is far more aggressive in her demand for chivalric redress. We could say that the same ‘white knight’ caters to these two variants of damsel – the demure damsel, and the aggressive damsel respectively.
These two gynocentrisms have their taproots in the codified gender roles of medieval Europe, in which, to quote philosopher Julia Kristeva, “Roles were assigned to woman and man: suzerain and vassal, with the lady offering up a ‘distress’ and the man offering a ‘service.’ “
So despite feminism positioning itself as a progressive new movement, its motive is remarkably traditional.
My rejection of gynocentrism as a default path has been met with resentment from both feminists and traditionalists, both of whom have counselled men to embrace more chivalry for the benefit of women. Fortunately, there’s a segment of the men’s movement that reasonably doubts, or outright rejects gynocentrism as a healthy basis for relationships between men and women, and likewise any appeals to chivalry are met with a reasonable scepticism by the same segment of men.
►PW: Paul and I first exchanged in around 2007 while he was working at Men’s News Daily, a popular news site for men, and I was working on expanding International Men’s Day to reach a more global audience. We were discussing collaboration of some kind, but due to our busy schedules we let it slide.
A few years later, I think it was around the beginning of 2010, I joined as a contributor at A Voice for Men and soon after became an editor at the site. During the early years we had many discussions about men’s issues and about the future of the men’s movement, and it was clear then that Paul and I held similar perspectives on many issues – like chivalry, the problem of gynocentrism, and the need to create a new psychology for men. Our first collaborative articles explored those themes and seemed to come effortlessly, so much so that we continued co-writing and proof reading each other’s articles until recent times when we’ve both taken a hiatus from writing generally. This has been a personal highlight in my men’s advocacy work, and I’m pleased to see many of these collaborative pieces now collected in the two volumes you cited, which are proving popular with the red-pill audience.
◙VM: You and I are non-feminist, or anti-feminist, because we know feminism for what it is – a female supremacy ideology that is but one symptom of gynocentrism, not the be-all end-all of it. There have been some anti-feminists, however, that argue against it for blatantly gynocentric motives of their own that they aren’t even trying to hide, such as something along the lines of: “Before feminism, we had it all and men provided for us like servants, and now we women have to work like men do, woe is me! Let’s go back to the good old days and make things easy for us women!” What do you make of this variety of antifeminists? Is it traditionalism, or is it something different and possibly worse?
►PW: It is one kind of traditionalism, yes, but not the only kind. More specifically we might call this one ‘gynocentric traditionalism’ – a designation that acknowledges the existence of a non-gynocentric traditionalism.
The gynocentric traditionalist is at war with feminists because she realizes that chivalry is a finite resource, and if men are pouring out their assistance, protection, finances, pampering, and general deference to feminists, then the traditional gynocentric woman is likely to receive a far smaller serving of the available resource. It’s a jealousy with a valid rationale.
Unlike traditionally unemployed and pedestalized “home-maker” wives, who appeared en-masse after the industrial revolution, I think it’s important to acknowledge there were less gynocentric, or non-gynocentric women in pre-industrial societies throughout global history. Such women were more likely to be family-centered than self-centered, and they would labour alongside men as field workers, brewers, butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers, along with sharing a great deal of the care of children with other family members, including fathers, as contrasted to the more modern practice of mothers keeping children all to themselves, like chattel or bargaining chips, as post-industrial society has succeeded in establishing.
This last point of women’s exaggerated control over children is blamed on contemporary feminist policies, whereas it was, in fact, equally the case for traditional families a century ago in both America and Britain, as we read in the writings of Ernest B. Bax… and I’d like to quote him on this point:
“It has always in England been laid down as a fundamental law based on public policy, that the custody of children and their education is a duty incumbent on the father. It is said to be so fundamental that he is not permitted to waive his exercise of the right by pre-nuptial contract.
Nevertheless, fundamental and necessary as the rule may be, the pro-feminist magistrates and judges of England are bent apparently on ignoring it with a light heart. They have not merely retained the old rule that the custody of infants of tender years remains with the mother until the child attains the age of seven. But they go much further than that. As a matter of course, and without considering in the least the interests of the child, or of society at large, they hand over the custody and education of all the children to the litigant wife, whenever she establishes –an easy thing to do– a flimsy and often farcical case of technical “cruelty.”
The victim husband has the privilege of maintaining the children as well as herself out of his property or earnings, and has the added consolation of knowing that they will brought up to detest him.
Even in the extreme case where a deserting wife takes with her the children of the marriage, there is practically no redress for the husband. The police courts will not interfere. The divorce court, as already stated, is expensive to the point of prohibition. In any case the husband has to face a tribunal already prejudiced in favour of the female, and the attendant scandal of a process will probably have no other result than to injure his children and their future prospects in life. [The Legal Subjection of Men – published 1896].
This quote provides an example of what I mean by gynocentric traditionalism, the widespread practice of the privileging of women and disadvantaging men, which was taking place well before the popular rise of feminism. Advocates of traditionalism, of course, remain silent on these ‘traditional’ abuses of men.
◙VM: On a similar note, another argument for men’s issues that I see a little too often for my taste is “men’s issues affect women, too!” That’s irked me – as if women and their dear white knights are supposed to respond, “Oh! I haven’t cared about men’s issues before but it affects women?? Now I ought to care!” To me that sounds every bit as gynocentric as anything else out there in the world – do you have any thoughts on that?
►PW: I think you hit the nail on the head, this is nothing more than a He-For-She reflex by people unlikely to ever care about the concept of He-For-He. If helping men is not somehow exploitable for the benefit of women, then these same people generally don’t care.
People are more likely to care about men becoming disabled, getting cancer, losing a job, or getting killed at war because these things will affect women – as Hillary Clinton famously quipped when she said that women were “the primary casualties of war.” But if a single, unmarried man becomes disabled, gets cancer, becomes unemployed or dies – then who gives a damn? No one.
Addressing the gender empathy gap is the big issue of our time and it requires all hands on deck, all genuine advocates of human decency, to bring attention to the problem.
◙VM: MGTOW is a varied umbrella with men whom I’d like to think come from various walks of life and different perspectives on why they are going their own way and what it means to them. Among those permutations, is there a precedent for a man going his own way to have an intimate relationship with a woman (or a man, if they are so inclined)? Also, is there a precedent for a woman going her own way as distinct from the feminist idea of the “independent woman who don’t need no man”, and if yes, what might that look like?
►PW: This is a good question, one that gets silenced in some MGTOW communities. I’ve never been good at conformity to orthodoxies however, and prefer to make up my own mind about what MGTOW stands for and to whom it might apply.
In its most basic definition MGTOW means male self-determination, nothing more, and nothing less. I, as a man going his own way, choose what I want to do with my life in preference to having my goals conferred or dictated by others, whether by the State, by women, or anyone else. In this sense MGTOW overlaps with libertarian principles.
Can a man in an intimate relationship with a woman ‘go his own way’? I say yes, he certainly can, and I know many men who have been in relationships with the same woman for decades who’ve consistently done their ‘own thing,’ while being mindful that a relationship is by necessity a dynamic requiring some reasonable compromises on both sides – which these men choose to accept based on their own freewill and on their desire to be in a relationship. These same men would not hesitate to abandon the relationship if their partner’s respect for his self-determination were lacking.
Married and single men can and often do have their self-determination thwarted in a number of ways. For example the married man might have his life upended in divorce court, and the single man might have his life legally upended by a false rape charge. In both cases, self-determination is stolen. So I tend to place some emphasis on the beliefs and convictions of the man in question to determine if he is striving to go his own way, and not only on his relationship status…. though I hasten to add that marriage in the modern age is an extremely risky undertaking.
Can a woman go her own way? Yes of course she can, though it would look different to the phoney “feminist” version you alluded to in your question. Some years ago I researched the phrases “go his own way” and “go her own way” through the last 200 years of literature. There were many instances of men going their own way, and likewise there were many descriptions of women who went their own way without undue reliance on men to make it happen for her. I know some women who fit that picture today, including (for example) Elizabeth Hobson of Justice for Men and Boys, who validly refers to herself as a woman going her own way.
Some MGTOW are possessive of the concept of ‘going your own way,’ claiming that women are trying to usurp a concept created by men. While I completely understand their fear of male initiatives being co-opted, they fail to realize this phrase has been in use for hundreds of years and belongs rather to the English language as a designation referring to anyone displaying self-determined behaviour.
Feminist overtures about women living self-determined lives doesn’t pass the litmus test. Their pretentious displays of independence are too strongly reliant on the support of male labour, male deference and male servitude to provide the agency they crave, whereas true self-determination is more self-reliant in my reading of it.
◙VM: You are the one who directly introduced to me with the concept of the Puer archetype in describing my idea of the “inner boy” in a man, that which serves as the core and essence of what makes a man as well as his source of youthful energy and optimism. You’ve helped me distinguish that concept from the “inner child” concept in which one partner assumes the role of the helpless and often petulant child and the other assumes the parent role that becomes self-sacrificial. So, on the Puer – what is your take on the importance of the concept for men (and perhaps the equivalent Puella for women)?
►PW: Your own essay on this topic, titled ‘Attitudes Towards the Puer: From Jody Miller to Tomi Lahren,’ provided an excellent analysis of these archetypes, perhaps the best I’ve seen in the manosphere in terms of teasing apart the many definitions and misunderstandings. As you point out, the child archetype is that part of our nature that represents helplessness, vulnerability, innocence and dependency, whereas the puer archetype represents the part of our nature that is youthful, spontaneous, inquisitive, and playful.
That youthful, spontaneous potential is an essential ingredient of human happiness that we carry from cradle to grave, yes even in old men and old women. So it pains me to see this it disparaged in men as “Peter Pan Syndrome” or as a “failure to launch” just because men might like sport, or to play video games or other fun pastimes instead of being chained to the serious business of “growing up” ie. that path of ordered responsibility and of being in service to women and society. If you are not enslaved to serious responsibilities six-and-a-half days per week, say those critics of fun, with perhaps a half day allotted on Saturdays to watching sports on a TV screen, then you are little more than a “pathetic man baby” who needs to “man up” and start providing a lifestyle for a deserving female partner.
If I had the choice to get rid of just one phrase from the discourse about men, even from the most famous men’s advocates, it would be ‘failure to launch.’ Launch into what, into slavery to others? Loss of self, and misery? No thanks. My advice for men and women is to enjoy some youthful spontaneity and playfulness till your dying day, and don’t let wagging fingers and shaming language throw you off. Even in its more extreme forms, a failure to launch might represent a healthy response to an increasingly toxic world.
There are plenty of women showcasing the puella trait, the female-equivalent for the male puer. These are women, flirtatious and playful, who can laugh at themselves and at others, and who generally walk lightly through life with an air of ‘Don’t fence me in.’
But going back to the other archetype, that of the child – the needy, dependent, vulnerable child – I would say that unlike the puer impulse, it deserves to be constrained within adult relationships because it tends to become a drain on the other partner. Who wants to be in an adult relationship with a needy, petulant child? It’s no secret that in marriages one partner often tends to play the needy child, and the other partner plays the responsible parent. And its women who have traditionally been encouraged to play the vulnerable, pampered child more than men – though I hasten to add some men get caught by this archetype too.
Esther Vilar writes masterfully about women’s gravitation toward enacting the child archetype within marriage, a truth for which she became persecuted after daring to articulate it. Her book is titled ‘The Manipulated Man’ – written I think in 1971, and it remains as relevant today as when it was written.
◙VM: Narcissism is a big subject that comes when one critiques gynocentrism, and rightly so because of the vampiric, parasitic behaviour that is enabled and encouraged by any given gynocentric mindset. You are also strong in defense of the individual, celebrating the differences of masculine expression as well as praising the individualism of men and women. Do you have an idea of what are the key differences between individualism and narcissism?
►PW: This is a big subject and I’m no expert on the numerous variations of individualist philosophy. What I have noticed is that critics of the individualist path – whether it’s based for example in libertarian thinking, Objectivism or Nietzschean philosophy – make the charge that individualism is synonymous with narcissism. That’s a false equivalence, but they are correct in the sense that there’s a potential for individualism to degrade into pathological narcissism, or alternatively for pathological narcissism to disguise itself behind an ethic of reasonable individualism.
Gynocentrism is one example pretending to represent individualism. It’s a gendered version of narcissism that lacks respect for the individual sovereignty of others, particularly male others, and sets up its own individualism as exclusive – and it does so by actively excluding the individualism of others.
Narcissism of any kind operates as a social monologue, not a social dialogue. Narcissism lacks empathy for others, its inherently exploitative, and is demonstrated by an unrealistic sense of grandiosity that isn’t based on commensurate achievements or merit. Individualism isn’t necessarily any of those things.
So we can’t claim that individualism and narcissism are equivalent. At best someone might mount an argument that narcissism is a pathological variantof individualism, a claim worthy of exploring. But it will never be correct to represent as ‘narcissists’ the majority of those who follow individualist philosophies.
◙VM: To what extent can we see gynocentrism mitigated in our human history to come? What would that look like, and is it something we have to constantly be vigilant about lest gynocentrism comes back around again?
►PW: There’s obviously a biological component to gynocentrism, but I’ve always maintained that the gynocentric impulse has been wildly exaggerated, supersized by cultural forces that have exploited our biological tendencies. The cultural gynocentrism we have today has vastly overrun whatever evolutionary purposes it may once have had – it’s now a runaway freight train leaving human destruction in its path.
On that basis I think there will be a correction. It has already begun. Based on the extreme gynocentrism we currently see at play, I expect to see an increase in bachelor movements such as those of Japan’s Herbivore men, and more recently in the rise of ‘men going their own way.’ But while these movements ensure men’s safety away from toxic human entanglements, which is an absolutely necessary short-term response, such bachelor and celibacy movements solve little in terms how to enjoy relationships that we humans are hardwired to participate in. What we need are some new ‘maps of meaning,’ as Jordan Peterson would phrase it, at least in the area of forming viable, long-term relationships.
Rather than appeals to traditionalism with its goal to pedestalise women, or on the other hand calls to embrace progressive feminism which also pedestalises women, we might in future discover new relationship models (or perhaps much older, pre-industrial revolution ones) that can lead us out of the impasse.
The certainty is that men and women will continue to form relationships, but they might gravitate more toward equitable relationships as contrasted with the faux equality proposed by feminists. This move would involve equality of value between men and women, based on libertarian-style principles. Those principles emphasize individual choice for each person of the relationship, relative autonomy, voluntary association, individual judgement, free will, self-determination, and negotiated labour-sharing arrangements & agreements between partners. In a nutshell; freedom to choose, instead of conferred roles or duties.
This is precisely what Warren Farrell proposed when he talked of moving away from survival roles of the past, which he referred to as ‘Stage 1’ relationships, and moving instead toward what he called ‘Stage 2’ relationships which entail men and women sharing equal responsibility to earn money, clean house, enjoy time with children and so on, instead of being imprisoned in socially prescribed or conferred roles. It goes without saying that such roles are completely voluntary and the details negotiable. I agree with Farrell on this proposition, which offers a way out of the impasse and out of the destructive gender war that has raged on for too long unchecked.
Human societies are like fragile ecosystems where if one animal or plant becomes too dominant it can send the entire system into chaos and disintegration. Imbalances will always appear in human societies and we can only hope that if the current imbalance of extreme gynocentrism is downsized in the near future, perhaps as a result from men’s withdrawal of chivalry, our vigilance will ensure that it takes a long rest. Humans however are great at forgetting prior lessons, which allows any number of past maladies to come back and terrorise us.