Servant, Slave and Scapegoat

By Paul Elam

“The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified mis-understanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzsche says, ‘as though the day were here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal––carries the cross of the redeemer––not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”  

Joseph Campbell ~ The Hero with a Thousand Faces

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Anyone suggesting that they have ideas that will actually help men, psychologically speaking, has an obligation to place their philosophy, their rationale, front and center for men to see. I also understand that most practitioners don’t really do that, especially in what I loosely define as the “mental health” industry.

Usually what you get is a short and sputtering list of platitudes about “wholeness,” finding your “inner this” or “inner that,” accompanied by an obscure definition of the practitioner’s approach. It is either that or you get nothing but the bill.

Sometimes, often actually, they will inform you that they subscribe to feminist theory, which is an admission of their philosophy, except to the extent that it should be viewed cautiously, regardless of your sex.

This writing is intended to explain what I do in regards to assisting men, specifically in their more modern struggle for identity and an understanding of where they fit in the world. This is particularly important as the lack of those things may well result in some serious problems. Among them are family dysfunction, substance abuse, suicide, violence, anxiety, depression, shame and a lack of self-respect that often crosses the line into self-hatred.

It is not that the current crisis of male identity is the sole cause of these problems. It certainly isn’t. For example, family dysfunction is a self-perpetuating malady passed down from parents to children. In and of itself it has little to do with modern masculinity. Alcoholism is not a “male problem,” nor is violence or other forms of abuse, though those practicing under a feminist shingle may send that very message.

When assessing problems, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between cause and symptom, between a problem and its source. Does family dysfunction cause substance abuse or is substance abuse the cause of the dysfunction? Is violence at the root of relationship problems or do relationship problems fuel and promote the violence? Do communication problems cause hostility or does hostility cause communication problems?

Are all these problems symbiotic, just a teeter-totter interaction of various pathologies feeding each other? If so, can we ameliorate one problem by successfully intervening on another?

I suggest that there may be some truth answering those last two questions in the affirmative. There are, however, workarounds, back doors if you will, to what may well form part of the root structure of an array of problems with no readily visible connection. The good news about that is that you don’t need to see the connection initially in order to do something about it.

The philosophy here is that solutions begin with a recognition that there is indeed a crisis in male identity and male self-respect. It affects all of us, gay or straight, black or white or other race, regardless of religion or socioeconomic status.

Fifty years of gender politics have thrust all men into a new paradigm of sexual politics with no rule book. We are now three generations of men who have been pummeled with messages of who we are, almost all of them wrong, and who we are supposed to be, almost all of them destructive in one way or another. Our mental health industry is one of the prime proponents of these misguided ideas. They are espoused, for profit, at the expense of our men and boys.

The Old School Archetypes

The classic, historical masculine archetypes of Hero, Villain, Ruler, Warrior, Creator, Sage, Rebel and Explorer, all of which either defined what men chose or what they were driven to be. They provided men a model of what they chose not to be as well. They gifted men with a sense of identity and purpose, a rudder for their navigation of life. To a great degree (with some downsides) they worked. Jungian analysts, in the days before the ideological corruption of the field of psychology would likely tell you that these archetypes are rooted in our biology.[1]

It is also important to note that all these archetypes are anthropomorphic projections of the human male experience. They took root in our earliest mythologies because they were already in play in human life. Strangely, “mythology” told the real story of our lives. Every epic battle, great journey, tragedy and triumph of mythical figures mirrored the internal and external experience of real human beings in some way or another.

And so it went from epoch to epoch.

All that has been supplanted with a new and toxic narrative. To simplify it, we now live in a Zeitgeist where all male archetypes have been reduced to that of Villain, with the expectation that they will assume the role of Hero when needed…and directed.  The ongoing expectations of men to protect, provide, sacrifice and endure have not changed. The change in narrative, however, demands that recognition and honoring of those things ceases in favor of persistent demonization.

Similar changes have happened in the lives of women. The Manipulator, the Bitch, the Saboteur, the Queen and the Damsel in Distress have usurped the timeless archetypes of mother (Demeter), daughter (Persephone), lover (Aphrodite), civic life and learning (Athena), etc.. While all these and other female archetypes are on full social display, the spectrum of those archetypes has begun to degrade into a vacillation between two roles based on immediate perception. Women are universally seen as the Queen, unless they are in distress or claim to be in distress. Once the perception of female distress registers, social consciousness reverts them to being the original Damsel in Distress. It is as though they live in a perpetual state of flux between empowered and helpless, depending on which is more advantageous, just as we see play out today across the geopolitical landscape.

That, too, is ultimately heading for a crisis of identity in women, though for the purpose of this discussion we need not explore that further.

The denial of all this, and the assumption that it has not had a tremendous impact on the psyches of men, has left them in an emotional and social wasteland that produces more of the psychosocial problems already identified in this writing.

This leads to an inescapable conclusion. While men do need assistance with specific problems, they are also suffering in a famine of functional archetypes. Failing to recognize this, even if we seek in earnest to help them with problems symptomatic of that deficit, is putting a Band-Aid on potentially mortal wounds.

If we are to help men, it requires us to enable them to nurture a new narrative of themselves and their lives. They need new archetypes that foster a new sense of identity if they are going to thrive in a new age.

So what exactly is an archetype?

The Greek root words are archein, meaning “original or old,” and typos, meaning “Model or type.” Archetype: Original Model. Archetypes are the old, original models on which men, in the unconscious recesses of their biology, shape and mold their lives.

Perhaps in the days when there were payoffs, e.g. honor, appreciation, respect and status, men’s unconscious movement toward one archetype or another made more sense.

We do not live in those times any more, and we haven’t for most or all of your lifetime. What remains for most men in modern life is a world of expectation without reward, burden without honor and service without self.

Most men know on some level that this is true, but many have a very hard time facing it out of fear. Fear of the loss of social approval, the loss of love and the loss of what they imagine is the only space the world grants them.

Some of the fear is at least superficially warranted. Facing these issues means reaching a level of consciousness sufficient to make you a bad fit in the world of the walking blind. It means a new mythology with new archetypes born of a newer and more accurate picture of the world.

The daunting challenge is that men can no longer afford the luxury of allowing biology alone to write their story. Technology and ideology have rendered that too dangerous. The old model makes men far too easy to manipulate and far too willing to comply with the manipulation to their own detriment. You can find this same story throughout classic mythology so it is nothing new. Those, however, were cautionary tales, the moral lesson from which has been erased from the cultural consciousness. Most dare not speak honestly of Hera and Medea in the modern age.

The results of that resembles a modern genocide of the male soul.

Fortunately, that which has been forgotten can be learned again. And that which has been learned in error can be corrected. The fruits of that effort are the restoration and “wholeness” so easily promised and seldom delivered.

The risks of embracing this on a personal level is actually an illusion. Once you walk the newer path you will most probably find you don’t particularly want to return to the old one. The feigned approval of others loses its luster when the vision clears.

Despite appearances, all of this is really not so arcane. It is actually quite simple. You can start with most any problem in life; relationship and family issues are a good start. Map the mythology that got you there, that determined your actions and reactions. Were you playing the role of the Hero? The Warrior? Were you surrendering to the Siren’s Song? Was the Damsel in Distress a façade with something more sinister behind the surface impression?

Did a faulty narrative of your place and worth in this world lead you directly into a painful wall? And if that is true, do you have the fortitude to face it and change the story?

Imagine the consciously constructed mythology that would lead you to a better place with better people. Imagine the story of you being written by your own hand.

The solutions are not always easy, but they are made much more accessible when you make the decision to clear your own path; when you are at the helm, navigating your own way, when the stars in the sky are arranged according to your own dreams and desires.

How many miserable professional men out there can remember a time when they aspired to be artisans, writers or artists, only to watch those dreams buckle beneath the oppressive weight of a story that they did not write?

How many desperate men are clinging to the role of provider and protector, having become automatons in loveless, abusive marriages that have ground their self-respect into the dust?

How many men have stories that end with a bottle of scotch and a handgun because they cannot breathe and do not know where to find free air?

Men need an alternative to the new mythology’s archetypes of Servant, Slave and Scapegoat. The only thing preventing that from happening is being trapped in or clinging to a narrative they did not produce and which has never served them.

We have seen the results of men living in a world that is devoid of any honoring of men’s roles or even of men’s being. How can men cope in this sort of world?  How can therapists or anyone else facilitate a man moving from this restrictive, prison-like consciousness into a more truly masculine path that embraces his well-being, self-interest and happiness?

That is what my work is about. Not just a place for men to tell their stories, but to author and own them with support and encouragement from other men.

[1]Andrew Samuels, Jung and the Post-Jungians ISBN 0415059046, Routledge (1986)

James Hillman: Gender and Individuality

The space devoted in Utne Reader and The Nation to Katha Pollitt’s well-written piece on gender issues represents the continued disproportionate attention given to this contemporary symptom in our national psychological debate–the virtues of feminism and of the men’s movement notwithstanding. Is gender worth the trees felled for bringing it so often to print?

I have three main objections to discussions of gender and would like to make one recommendation. First, I follow old Alfred Adler in considering all oppositional thinking to be a neurotic mental activity. The male-female opposition was for him the most basic of the polar pairs, and hence the most neurotic. This explains why it is so crazy-making trying to step aside from gender arguments once they are broached in friendly conversations, public forums, or academic articles. You get immediately entwined, for/against, better/worse, and reduced to opposing arguments, which bears witness to Adler’s thesis that one is trapped inside an insoluble neurotic loop once gender enters a discussion.

Second, gender is a class concept, dividing the populace of the world into some three billion folks amassed on either side of a barbed conceptual fence. A class concept does fundamental injustice to the complexities and idiosyncrasies of individuals, who are by definition distinct from one another, and only alike in the most vague and gross ways. To know any individual, you do worst by starting off with the widest category she or he belongs to and do best by being most precise. I cannot ever know myself “as a man,” and can never find my “true manhood,” “essential masculinity,” etc.

The class concept exists only as an abstraction, apart from actual human beings, each one different, none exactly fitting any class definition, unless that definition is to be diluted beyond significance, Even if the idea “man” is raised to a universal archetype, it is knowable only as it presents itself in a particular person. I cannot know “the masculine” or “the feminine,” but l can know myself and you in terms of specific traits, features, behaviors, and quirks. And it is just so that I wish to be known and to know others.

Third, this obsession with the hurt child of the past and with gender by the psychologically interested citizenry continues two massive diversions from the issues at the core of our national malaise, issues such as racism; violence; inability to grieve, repent, and hold accountable; worship of The Economy; retreat to security; our addiction to innocence (denial); and that prime event of the ’90s — our sinking ship. The whole bloody planet—its species, primordial peoples, biosphere, differentiated languages, gene pools—is sliding fast into extinction. As the ship goes down, does it matter whether it’s men or women who are the first to drown? Even Victims can pull an oar.

Oh yes, the recommendation: a ban on gender articles for anyone over 16 years of age.

James Hillman
Thompson, CT
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Source: Utne Reader, 1993 edition.

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Addendum: Further remarks by James Hillman on the gender question, from alternative sources:

“Another one of the fake issues is gender. We pit men against women and all the bookstores are filled with talk of men against women. It’s irrelevant! — this gender-war. It’s bullshit! It should be men and women against the oppressors.” [Discussion with Stephen Capen – 1996]

And finally, I boast this triumph: a book with a passionate psychological intent whose passion was not diverted into the indulgences of the gender war. As civilization subsides into its own waste deposits, it doesn’t matter whether you are feminine or masculine or any composite of them. We all dissolve together. Far more urgent matters than gender call out to the passion of psychology.” [Introduction to The Soul’s Code – 1996]

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JH: when intellectuals spend their time on the gender conflict without realizing that we’re all gonna die together, and that the environmental disasters affect men and women equally, and that gender discussions are irrelevant to the major questions of the time. They’re not a matter of breaking through the glass ceiling. They’re a matter of the planet, a matter of the distortion of economics that keeps the thing the way it is. We’ve been taught that big government is a horror in the last five years. It’s not big government, it’s big corporations. If you wipe out big government, there’s nothing that can oppose the big corporations. Nothing. The rape of the planet is not done by big governments, mainly. It’s done by helpless governments in the face of big corporations. Brazil, for example. And the gender thing distracts us, because it’s personalized, it’s immediate, it’s my own personal battle with my woman, or her personal battle with me. They become magnified by this. And then the resentments of years of oppression.

CP: It’s not just at the level of political exigency, either. I recall your writing at one point that there’s no respect for gender at the deepest levels of the psyche.

JH: Fate isn’t a gender matter. Death isn’t a gender matter.

[CP interview with JH]
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Feelings Don’t Care About Your facts

By Elizabeth Hobson

Stories frequently succeed in arousing strong feelings, like when we read a novel and become moved to tears or anger, or when we see scenes in a movie which make our skin crawl, give goose bumps, or make our hair stand on its proverbial end. Such strong feelings, and the stories that generate them, seem to put a lie to the popular phrase “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings”. The reverse seems more likely in evidence, even when we know that a fantasy novel or movie is not factually real – our feelings remain dominant.

This is why old-world mythologies, complete with kooky beliefs, have flourished and sustained large civilizations – civilizations which thrived and expanded under the guiding influence of those same unfactual stories. Even when the stories promote a geocentric universe with a flat earth, or mythical gods requiring human sacrifices, deadly wars or violence over the divinely mandated length of men’s beards, or whether a woman’s mandated head covering is pleasing to the divine powers. You would think these things would cause a civilization to collapse and die out, however it appears that those more rational civilizations who deconstruct myths have birth rates plummeting whilst cultures based in fanciful stories enjoy explosive birth rates.

Perhaps it’s time to consider the painful possibility that feelings don’t always care about our facts. That’s certainly the case in many cultures, and it may indeed be a default setting of human beings generally – we are story creatures, and facts are often seen as an affront that offends both the stories we believe in and feelings associated with them.

Writing in the year 1984,3 professor emeritus of communication Walter R. Fisher explored these two approaches to reality – the approaches of both story and rationality – and named them 1. ‘the narrative paradigm’ and 2. ‘the rational world paradigm.’

Fisher describes the narrative paradigm in much the same way as I am in this talk; as a reflection of the fact that we use stories to communicate with each other, and to provide a shared map of meaning among a group of people.

Stories help by gathering the scattered bric-a-brac of everyday existence and combining it into a coherent whole, or what we might refer to as a template, that we use to orient ourselves and our goals in harmony with the shared orientation and goals of others. In short stories provide us with a shareable world.

As we have seen, religious stories and folk tales, can be both benevolent by way of organizing the masses into a harmonious moral unit, or they can be destructive as we see in stories promoting warfare against innocent nations, and even those stories which, today, promote gender wars.

What Fisher refers to alternatively as the ‘rational world paradigm’ consists in five presuppositions, which I can paraphrase as: 1. That humans are essentially rational beings, 2. That human decision-making and communication is a form of argument depending on clear-cut inferential and implicative structure, 3. That the conduct of such argument is ruled by legal, scientific and legislative dictates (etc), 4. That rationality is determined by subject matter knowledge, argumentative ability, and skill in employing the rules of advocacy in given fields, and finally, 5. The world is a set of logical puzzles which can be resolved through logical analysis and application of reason conceived as an argumentative construct.

Fisher notes the frequent failure of the rational world paradigm in the modern context, and goes on to conclude that:

This failure suggests to me that the problem in restoring rationality to everyday argument may be the assumption that the reaffirmation of the rational world paradigm is the only solution. The position I am taking is that another paradigm may offer a better solution, one that will provide substance not only for public moral argument, but also all other forms of argument, for human communication in general. My answer to the second question then, is: “Yes I think so.”

Adoption of the narrative paradigm, I hasten to repeat, does not mean rejection of all the good work that has been done; it means a rethinking of it and investigating new moves that can be made to enrich our understanding of communicative interaction.1

The narrative communication paradigm, or more simply the use of stories, has been criticised from a rational perspective when applied to scientific or legal issues, with the charge being that there is no way to make a choice between two equally coherent narratives. This is a valid complaint, but not one that practitioners of the rational world paradigm completely escape – this due to their frequent preferencing of one set of data over another, of placing the accent on one set of findings while neglecting others – a tendency that renders “rationalist” conclusions more subjective than they might like to admit – just like those of the story tellers.

Ultimately the rational and narrative approaches need to work in tandem if we wish to provide strong results, but at present the men’s movement has been wary of narrative approaches due to their tendency to subjectivity and corruption. Unfortunately, storytelling remains the preferred mode of communication and decision-making of the human species, therefore we can’t simply wish it away as irrelevant because that would be to deny the fact that humans have evolved to be narrative creatures – Homo Narrans – who preference communication via stories. It is a biological and evolutionary fact, so it isn’t going away, and hating it will do little to change its biological necessity.

If story is here to stay, then we need to enter the fray. We need to get down into the alphabet soup and wrestle with those destructive narratives perpetuated by feminists and others who would reduce men and boys to a tiny fraction of their lived experience. This can be done by challenging any element of the dominant gender narratives currently circulating – by amending the stories to conclude the male hero is “good” rather than “toxic,” or by crafting new stories altogether that incorporate the positive experiences of men and boys.

That is my challenge to you all today: not to do away with rational or data-based approaches, but to broaden them by offering new endings to the destructive stories currently on offer, re-narrating them, or by telling new stories in ways so compelling and emotionally moving that they displace the destructive ones currently on offer.

Source:

[1] Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. Communications Monographs, 51(1), 1-22.

Masculinity & Femininity are Plural

By Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig

“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.”

SOURCE: Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, A., Marriage Is Dead – Long Live Marriage! (1976)

The Dogma of Gender – by Patricia Berry

 

The Dogma of Gender was first delivered as a public lecture in the autumn of 1977 at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, England, under the sponsorship of the Guild of Pastoral Psychology. The article was first published by Spring Publications, in Spring Journal 1982, and later in the volume of compiled essays Echo’s Subtle Body.

Written by one of the founders of Archetypal Psychology, the article has proven itself timeless over the 45 years since it was first penned, becoming even more relevant today for understanding the fantasies that might be at work in the ‘gender debates’ that rage on unchecked. 

The essay is republished at gynocentrism.com with permission of the rights holder and author, Patricia Berry

The Religion of Romantic Love

EROS, AGAPĒ, AMOR

By Joseph Campbell

In theological sermons we are used to hearing of a great distinction between fleshly and spiritual love, eros and agapē. The contrast and conflict were already recognized and argued by the early Christian Fathers and have been argued ever since. An important point to be recognized, however, is that the ideal of love, amor, of the lovers and poets of the Middle Ages corresponded to neither of these.

In the words, for example, of the troubadour Giraut de Borneil, “Love is born of the eyes and the heart” (Tam cum los oills el cor ama parvenza): the eyes recommend a specific image to the heart, and the heart, “the noble heart,” responds. That is to say, this love is specific, discriminative, personal, and elite. Eros, on the other hand, is indiscriminate, biological: the urge, one might say, of the organs. And agapē, too, is indiscriminate: Love thy neighbor (whoever he may be) as thyself. Whereas, here, in the sentiment and experience of amor, we have something altogether new—European—individual. And I know of nothing like it, earlier, anywhere in the world.

The aim in the European “cult” (if we may call it that) of amor was not in any sense ego extinction in a realization of nonduality, but the opposite: ego-ennoblement and -enrichment through an altogether personal experience of love’s poignant pain—“love’s sweet bitterness and bitter sweetness,” to quote Gottfried—in willing affirmation of the irremediable yearning that animates all relationships in this passing world of ephemeral individuation.

It is true that in the doctrine of love represented by the Troubadours marriage was not only of no interest but actually contrary to the whole feeling, and that likewise in India, the highest type of love, from the point of view of the Sahajiya cult, was not of husband and wife, but (to quote one authority), “the love that exists most privately between couples, who are absolutely free in their love from any consideration of loss and gain, who defy society and transgress the law and make love the be-all of life.”

It is almost certainly not by mere coincidence that the greatest Indian poetic celebration of this ideal of adulterous (parakīya) love—namely the Gītā Govinda (“Song of the Cowherd”) of the young poet Jayadeva—is of a date exactly contemporary with the flowering in Europe of the Tristan romance (c. A.D. 1175). A moment’s comparison of the two romances, however, immediately sets apart the two worlds of spiritual life. The Indian lover, Kṛṣṇa, is a god; the European, Tristan, a man.

The Indian work is allegorical of the yearning of flesh (symbolized in Radha) for the spirit and of spirit (symbolized in Kṛṣṇa) for the flesh, or, in Coomaraswamy’s terms, symbolic of “the ‘mystic union’ of the finite with its infinite ambient”; whereas the European poets, Thomas of Britain (c. 1185), Eilhart von Oberge (c. 1190), Béroul (c. 1200), and Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210), the four leading masters of the Tristan cycle, have represented the lovers as human, all too human—overwhelmed by a daemonic power greater than themselves.

In the poems of the first three, the power of the potion, the releaser of the passion, is treated simply as of magic. In Gottfried’s work, on the other hand, a religious dimension opens—heretical and dangerous—when he states, and states again, that the power is of the goddess Minne (Love). And then, moreover, to ensure his point, when the lovers flee to the forest, he brings them to a secret grotto of the goddess, described explicitly as an ancient heathen chapel of love’s purity, and with a bed—a wondrous crystalline bed— in the place of the Christian altar.

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Excerpt from: Campbell, Joseph., The Flight Of The Wild Gander – 1969

The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling

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.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s accusers have reproduced the standard victim script with word perfect fidelity, claiming that relatively benign, or certainly minor, actions such as kissing on the cheek, suggestive remarks, and too-long hugging left them “confused and shocked and embarrassed” or, as one stated, feeling reduced to being “just a skirt.” One accuser has related how Cuomo put his hand on her back and asked to kiss her at a wedding two years ago. The now formulaic expressions of woundedness reminded me of Atlantic magazine writer Tina Dupuy, who alleged in a 2017 article that Senator Al Franken had once, years before, squeezed her waist during a photo op at a Media Matters party, and that the squeeze had left her feeling “no longer a person.”

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.

What other than in-group empathy and chivalry can explain a phenomenon like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s stubborn insistence on the implausible trauma she suffered during the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol building?

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.

Links

The Power Of Stories

*The following speech was delivered by Elizabeth Hobson at the 2020 digital International Conference on Men’s Issues (ICMI) (shortened version).

We inhabit a world of things – literally observable objects and facts, and, for the MRA, literally measurable evidence of male disadvantage. And we MRAs collectively do a good and necessary job of measuring and cataloguing such disadvantages. It escapes none of us however, though our evidence is required (and should be), that feminists are not held to the same standards.

That feminists can assert the most outrageous untruths, without challenge. That baseless feminist conspiracy theories, fantasies, lies, delusions and myths are simply believed. The reason for this is simple: as much as a world of things, we live in a world of stories (Peterson, 2018).

Mythologies, archetypes and expectations help us to organise information. We can’t expect to be able to rationally sift through each piece of data that we’re exposed to, so we categorise constantly: of interest/not of interest, in line with what we would expect/anomalous (Sowell, 1987).1 And feminism has been uniquely deft at creating compelling stories that people can internalise, which act as shields against further investigation of their claims.

If this sounds malevolent: that’s because it is. Feminists misuse the power of stories to circumvent the logical appraisal that should accompany policy lobbying and establishment. Feminists misuse the power of stories to breed resentment instead of love between men and women. Feminists misuse the power of stories to justify hate-filled and supremacist intentions as recompense for centuries of “sex-based oppression”.

And the fact is that feminism has advantages in the story-weaving game. Our species’ innate gynocentrism, our gender empathy gap and our evolutionary perceptions of men (the genetic filter, to be policed) and women (the limiting factor in reproduction, to be protected) allows us to zero-in on female disadvantage and to ignore male disadvantage, to view the world through blinkered eyes through the lens of the female experience, to believe in an innate badness in men!

But we MRAs have advantages also… We can share stories that enrich the psyches of our audiences with gratitude and love for men, and respect for women. We can share stories that are exponentially closer to the truth than those sordid webs that feminists create. Stories backed by facts, but stories that can be internalised by a significant proportion of the public; and weaponised so that no longer will feminist rhetoric be taken at face value. So that the playing field will be levelled and the standards of evidence that we accept as the bare minimum required for MRAs to advocate – will also apply to feminists.

This is why I believe in the power of stories to deliver justice for men and boys (and the women who love them).

Feelings don’t care about your facts

Stories frequently succeed in arousing strong feelings, like when we read a novel and become moved to tears or anger, or when we see scenes in a movie which make our skin crawl, give goose bumps, or make our hair stand on its proverbial end. Such strong feelings, and the stories that generate them, seem to put a lie to the popular phrase “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings”. The reverse seems more likely in evidence, even when we know that a fantasy novel or movie is not factually real – our feelings remain dominant.

This is why old-world mythologies, complete with kooky beliefs, have flourished and sustained large civilizations – civilizations which thrived and expanded under the guiding influence of those same unfactual stories. Even when the stories promote a geocentric universe with a flat earth, or mythical gods requiring human sacrifices, deadly wars or violence over the divinely mandated length of men’s beards, or whether a woman’s mandated head covering is pleasing to the divine powers. You would think these things would cause a civilization to collapse and die out, however it appears that those more rational civilizations who deconstruct myths have birth rates plummeting whilst cultures based in fanciful stories enjoy explosive birth rates.

Perhaps it’s time to consider the painful possibility that feelings don’t always care about our facts. That’s certainly the case in many cultures, and it may indeed be a default setting of human beings generally – we are story creatures, and facts are often seen as an affront that offends both the stories we believe in and feelings associated with them.

Writing in the year 1984,2 professor emeritus of communication Walter R. Fisher explored these two approaches to reality – the approaches of both story and rationality – and named them 1. ‘the narrative paradigm’ and 2. ‘the rational world paradigm.’

Fisher describes the narrative paradigm in much the same way as I am in this talk; as a reflection of the fact that we use stories to communicate with each other, and to provide a shared map of meaning among a group of people.

Stories help by gathering the scattered bric-a-brac of everyday existence and combining it into a coherent whole, or what we might refer to as a template, that we use to orient ourselves and our goals in harmony with the shared orientation and goals of others. In short stories provide us with a shareable world.

As we have seen, religious stories and folk tales, can be both benevolent by way of organizing the masses into a harmonious moral unit, or they can be destructive as we see in stories promoting warfare against innocent nations, and even those stories which, today, promote gender wars.

What Fisher refers to alternatively as the ‘rational world paradigm’ consists in five presuppositions, which I can paraphrase as: 1. That humans are essentially rational beings, 2. That human decision-making and communication is a form of argument depending on clear-cut inferential and implicative structure, 3. That the conduct of such argument is ruled by legal, scientific and legislative dictates (etc), 4. That rationality is determined by subject matter knowledge, argumentative ability, and skill in employing the rules of advocacy in given fields, and finally, 5. The world is a set of logical puzzles which can be resolved through logical analysis and application of reason conceived as an argumentative construct.

Fisher notes the frequent failure of the rational world paradigm in the modern context, and goes on to conclude that:

This failure suggests to me that the problem in restoring rationality to everyday argument may be the assumption that the reaffirmation of the rational world paradigm is the only solution. The position I am taking is that another paradigm may offer a better solution, one that will provide substance not only for public moral argument, but also all other forms of argument, for human communication in general. My answer to the second question then, is: “Yes I think so.”

Adoption of the narrative paradigm, I hasten to repeat, does not mean rejection of all the good work that has been done; it means a rethinking of it and investigating new moves that can be made to enrich our understanding of communicative interaction. 2

What Fisher refers to as “Investigating new moves” is something the men’s issues community might also take on board – specifically that stories and the feelings they evoke can be used as a form of communication to address the wrongs of gynocentrism and misandry we have been working so hard on, with limited successes, via the rational mode of argumentation and data recitations.

The narrative communication paradigm, or more simply the use of stories, has been criticised from a rational perspective when applied to scientific or legal issues, with the charge being that there is no way to make a choice between two equally coherent narratives. This is a valid complaint, but not one that practitioners of the rational world paradigm completely escape – this due to their frequent preferencing of one set of data over another, of placing the accent on one set of findings while neglecting others – a tendency that renders “rationalist” conclusions more subjective than they might like to admit – just like those of the story tellers.

Ultimately the rational and narrative approaches need to work in tandem if we wish to provide strong results, but at present the men’s movement has been wary of narrative approaches due to their tendency to subjectivity and corruption. Unfortunately, storytelling remains the preferred mode of communication and decision-making of the human species, therefore we can’t simply wish it away as irrelevant because that would be to deny the fact that humans have evolved to be narrative creatures – Homo Narrans – who preference communication via stories. It is a biological and evolutionary fact, so it isn’t going away, and hating it will do little to change its biological necessity.

If story is here to stay, then we need to enter the fray. We need to get down into the alphabet soup and wrestle with those destructive narratives perpetuated by feminists and others who would reduce men and boys to a tiny fraction of their lived experience. This can be done by challenging any element of the dominant gender narratives currently circulating – by amending the stories to conclude the male hero is “good” rather than “toxic,” or by crafting new stories altogether that incorporate the positive experiences of men and boys.

That is my challenge to you all today: not to do away with rational or data-based approaches, but to broaden them by offering new endings to the destructive stories currently on offer, re-narrating them, or by telling new stories in ways so compelling and emotionally moving that they displace the destructive ones currently on offer.

Sources:

[1] Sowell, T. (2002). A conflict of visions: Ideological origins of political struggles. Basic Books (AZ).

[2] Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. Communications Monographs51(1), 1-22.

Two Modes of Damseling

E.B. Bax outlined two forms of damseling, one appearing as “simple weakness,” and the other as “aggressive weakness.” In his view simple weakness deserves consideration on its merits, whereas aggressive weakness deserves no assistance.

“For modern Feminists of the sentimental school, the distinction is altogether lost sight of between weakness as such and aggressive weakness. Now I submit there is a very considerable difference between what is due to weakness that is harmless and unprovocative, and weakness that is aggressive, still more when this aggressive weakness presumes on itself as weakness, and on the consideration that might be extended to it, in order to become tyrannical and oppressive. Weakness as such assuredly deserves all consideration, but aggressive weakness deserves none save to be crushed beneath the iron heel of strength. Woman at the present day has been encouraged by a Feminist public opinion to become meanly aggressive under the protection of her weakness. She has been encouraged to forge her gift of weakness into a weapon of tyranny against man, unwitting that in so doing she has deprived her weakness of all just claim to consideration or even to toleration.” Chapter 5: The “Chivalry” Fake, in The Fraud of Feminism (1913)

Whether real or purely fabricated, these displays of vulnerability represent the two main faces or modes of enacting the damsel-in-distress archetype. Both begin their display with an announcement of vulnerability and powerlessness, but their ways of enlisting assistance differ considerably. The simple damsel invites assistance by displaying utter helplessness, imparting a sense of inadequacy, impotence and a complete lack of agency to deal with the situation responsible for her distress. The aggressive damsel, on the other hand, angrily denounces the forces assailing her, and demands redress with bitter and vindictive calls for the world to exact revenge on her behalf.

Unlike the simple damsel, the aggressive damsel feels unable to attract chivalric reinforcements via the simple act of broadcasting her helplessness. Thus, she loudly seeks the attention of men and governments, demanding they provide chivalric redress for whatever ‘distress’ is assailing her. This kind of damsel relies particularly on governments to address her grievances, and she is likely the kind of woman that John Stuart Mill, an advocate of feminism, had in mind when he wrote the following;

“From the moral influence exercised by women arose the spirit of chivalry … a special submission and worship directed towards women, who were distinguished from the other defenceless classes by the high rewards which they had it in their power voluntarily to bestow on those who endeavoured to earn their favour, instead of extorting their subjection.

Chivalry left without legal check all those forms of wrong which reigned unpunished throughout society; it only encouraged a few to do right in preference to wrong, by the direction it gave to the instruments of praise and admiration. But the real dependence of morality must always be upon its penal sanctions – its power to deter from evil… The beauties and graces of the chivalrous character are still what they were, but the rights of the weak, and the general comfort of human life, now rest on a far surer and steadier support.” [John Stuart MillThe Subjection of Women 1869]

Many readers will recognise Bax’s simple weakness in the behaviour of traditional gynocentric women, and likewise will recognize aggressive weakness in the behaviours of feminist women. However, contrary to Bax’s trusting view of non-aggressive displays of weakness, readers might recognize that these too can amount to manufactured displays of weakness every bit as manipulative and undeserving of assistance as that of aggressive weakness.

To labor this theme a little further, we also find these two modes of enacting the damsel within classical mythology, long before our modern world learned to exploit the victim routine for personal advancement. The two goddesses who best represent these positions are Persephone, the simple damsel who was abducted and victimised by Hades without ever showing personal agency of her own, and yet her helplessness alone provoked widespread efforts to save her, and secondly the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus who was forever seething in a sense of victimhood and grievance, while seeking cosmic vengeance toward those who wronged her. For more on these classical archetypes I recommend the YouTube channel of Greta Aurora who has made many videos exploring the victim complexes of these goddesses, along with explorations of many other archetypal figures.