by Wahhab Baldwin
In the November issue of M.E.N. Magazine, Mike Dash attempted to start a dialog between the mythopoetic and pro-feminist arms of the men's movement. I would like to accept his offer and further that dialog by responding to his article. In the process I hope to shed more light than heat on the issues involved.
First, let me summarize briefly Mike's position as I understand it. He feels there is a role for mythopoetry in helping with our inner work, but "we also need outer work", and "mythopoetry can't even >>see<< the work right now, much less do it" because "it is so occupied with defending itself from blame." He acknowledges that "it is not a bad thing to be a man--though there is at times a harshness in pro-feminism that makes it sound as if there is. This harshness, however, is only skin-deep." He then goes on to decry domestic violence as primarily man-perpetrated, says that mythopoetry is sensibly avoiding guilt but is choosing denial rather than action, and suggests that we undertake action on personal, social and community lines.
It seems clear to me that despite his implicit denial, Mike has taken the stance of guilt. He sees women as victims and men as oppressors. He uses the metaphor of men as freeborn Americans and women as slaves in the time of slavery (did the slaves have most of the votes? did slave heads of household have a net worth on average 141% that of free people? (1)). He has fallen into the trap of blaming men for our social situation rather than seeing both men and women as caught in a social pattern which no longer feels supportive to any of us. It is the social and family >>system<< which is broken, and projecting the guilt onto men simply keeps the feminine participation in creating and maintaining that system in the shadow.
From his place of guilt, Mike is trying to expiate himself by protecting women. I feel this demonstrates the risk of not pursuing inner work sufficiently, since unconscious action may do more harm than good. I have never met Mike, but on the basis of his article, I believe that Mike is furthering the male-female split, by adding his voice of blame and supporting the fallacy of women as victims. To me, this is more damaging than healing.
Mike Dash would like to live out the hero's myth by donning his suit of armor and fighting the dragon to protect the fair damsel. I am familiar with this impulse from my own life. Unable to protect myself logically against the arguments of feminists, I became identified with the "victims." This led to my becoming one of the "soft men" whom Bly discusses in Iron John. My experience was that the harshness of those feminists was not just "skin deep", but that my crying "yes, shoot another arrow into my heart" helped perpetuate an unhealthy situation for all of us. This became so imbalanced that at one time I actually referred to myself as a "radical feminist lesbian (!)"
Studying psychology and mythopoetry shows me that the true hero's journey consists in separation from the mother. It is the dark mother who is the fire-breathing dragon, and our paradoxical task as men is to separate from this internalized mother whom our psyche feels totally dependent on as the provider of all nourishment and warmth, but whose smothering embrace prevents us from entering our true masculinity and adult generativity, and locks us into dependent, needy boyishness.
Mike's participation in identifying with the feminine is clear, for example, in his statement that "if violence is the flaw in today's mythology of manhood, then violence against women is the center of that flaw." This is precisely wrong. The truth is that the vast majority of violence is perpetrated against men. Men are three times as likely to be murdered as women. With the exception of rape, which makes up about 6% of violent crime, males are the primary victims of all violent crimes. (2)
Mike speaks out against domestic violence, which he sees as against women, but is silent about war, which overwhelmingly sacrifices men. He points out that sexual assault is many times more likely here than in Europe, but not that murders (three-fourths being of men) are also many times more likely here than in Europe.
I certainly support addressing the problem of violence against men and women in this culture, a problem whose symptom displays primarily in violent men. But if we wish to deal with the underlying causes of violence, we must enter into its psychology and its myth in order to have any hope of real transformation. Otherwise, we project our own shadow onto the violent ones, as is happening in the current political climate of calling for longer and longer prison sentences (95% of prisoners being men). I found no such insight in Mike's article. Instead he asks us to "publicly stand for an end to violence against women." Taking such action might briefly assuage my guilt by giving me a self-satisfied sense of righteousness, but it does nothing to deal with the foundational issues.
I believe that the real problem in our culture has been that neither men nor women honor the feminine. Paradoxically, this has also led to a dishonoring of the masculine. In the =9150's, men were so cut off from their feminine side that they became strangers to their children, slaves to their jobs, and isolated from their feelings, which were expressed through ulcers and heart attacks.
My perception is that in the '70s, most self-proclaimed feminists did not themselves honor or encourage men to honor feminine qualities such as nurturing, harmony, acceptance, and receptivity. Instead, for the most part they tried to compete with men, in many cases taking on the worst aspects of masculine qualities such as control, fighting, rigidity, etc. This was a natural and understandable initial reaction, and I certainly support the right of women to equal pay for equal work, equal access to traditionally male jobs, and other forms of equality of opportunity, not to mention family leave and other benefits women's energy have brought us all. But after twenty years of strident and hostile continuous blaming of men, combined with failing to acknowlege the ways in which women are better off than men and that our society is oppressive to men, these pseudo-feminists have become so tiresome I feel they have largely isolated themselves and become irrelevant to our society.
Still, the sad news is that this generation of men and women seems so driven to material well-being (so that most mothers of three-year olds have full-time jobs), and so little concerned with bringing beauty, hearth, heart and culture into the lives of their children, that many of these children have grown up isolated, abusive, addicted, violent, and self-centered.
I have a vision of women who honor the feminine, who would be happy to work with and support those of us men who are working to honor the masculine. Creating this harmonious polarity would strengthen us all and bypass the isolating antagonisms of self-victimizing, blame, and guilt. Together we could create families and workplaces which nurture their members and slowly heal our culture. I am encouraged that in the last couple of years I have felt movement towards this vision in the mixed-gender groups in which I have participated. For myself, while I still carry anger towards those women whom I experienced as trying to control me through blame twenty years ago, I am convinced that developing my authentic masculine voice is the most effective healing action which I can take at this time, both for myself and for my society.
(1) Based on the Census Bureau's Statistical Abstracts of the US, 1989. Also, most of the wealth of Americans worth more than $500,000 is held by women. Data for both footnotes is quoted in Warren Farrell's The Myth of Male Power.
(2) In 1988, 74.6% of murder victims were male, according to FBI statistics. Excluding murder but including rape, males were 1.7 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime in 1987, according the the U.S. Department of Justice.