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The Mythopoetic Men's Movement:
Does it Need Political Underpinnings?

A Response to "Evolving Menís Work"

Copyright © 1999 by James Shelley, Director, Men's Resource Center, Lakeland Community College, Kirtland OH



Dear Bert,

I felt compelled to respond to your article, "Evolving Men's Work". I don't disagree with anything you said--if anyone has an insider's view of the movement you do. I just thought I'd send along some observations I have on the Mythopoetic Movement.

Historically, for a movement to be sustaining it must either seek a political or quasi-religious outlet. A third option is that it be financially profitable for a large portion of its adherents. I think anyone of these alone will sustain a movement. The women's movement has woven all three--political, quasi-religious, and financial. Women's organizations such as NOW have significant political clout backed by a moral/spiritual "us versus them" mentality. Women are better off economically. Essentially, the women's movement moved from internal (i.e. the personal level, the "Feminine Mystique") toward external power.

The mythopoetic movement, in contrast, has reversed that process and striven for "internal" empowerment for its members, moving from the external power that men have to the internal. A worthy end. But the spiritual ends were too diffuse; there was never a binding "credo". This was never intended, of course. There also were no political goals to sustain it. Part of the success of the New Warriors is their quasi-credo-religiousness. Ditto, of course, for Promise Keepers. The mythopoetic movement had nothing to push up against, or nothing to push toward except a better self and occasional communion with other, better selves. Worthy, yes, but perhaps the collective tinder of male psyches just wasnt' dry enough for a spreading conflagration.

I have always had a sense that some of the mythopoetic leaders, especially Robert Bly, have lost their "fierceness". I have never met or spoken with Bly, but I think it was too difficult for him to be so misunderstood and loathed by the feminists. It was never his intention to be the Father of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement; but I do think he lost some of the fierceness which, ironically, he bemoaned the loss of in the 1982 interview. He has bent over backwards to not appear as adversarial to women, but I think some of that is needed (and certainly warranted). The movement needs more constructive, thoughtful, collective anger to float upon. (You do this expertly, by the way, in many or your articles)

In a conversation I had with Warren Farrell, he stated that a sustained men's movement needed political underpinings. In his view, child custody issues and the desire of fathers to challenge the undisputed dominance of mothers was the most viable vehicle. I would agree with this in part, although the "Fathers Rights" movement has had difficulty achieving any kind of unity. And whereas the Mythopoetic hasn't enough anger or fierceness, this has too much.

A more mundane factor is that the mythopoetic movement simply stopped garnering publicity. As I know from my work here, it takes a lot to roust men to stop channel surfing and sign up for a program that will benefit them personally (as opposed to professionally). Men seem to need the "third-party endorsement" of the media. I've talked to leaders (or former leaders) of other men's programs who talk of riding the wave of publicity in the early 90s. When the novelty wore off for the media, coverage ceased and so did new recruits. In contrast, women's issues/organizations are always in the headlines.

The Men's Movement is also so much more fragmented than the Women's, but I will stop here....

Please continue to do what you are doing with Men's Voices. In a way, you've become like a monastery in the dark ages--preserving and disseminating the flame of Mythopoetic culture.


James Shelley
Men's Resource Center
Lakeland Community College
Kirtland OH

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