Every person on the planet is affected by masculinity in some shape or form. This is why getting masculinity right is so important. If we get it wrong, everything falls apart. You might have noticed that everything seems to be falling apart... But the debate about masculinity rarely seems to progress.
On one side (I'll put my cards on the table here and say my side), progressive academic types mostly take a feminist position and talk about patriarchy and power, and how this marginalises women (and atypical men). Increasingly, these types also refer to queer theory, which is not solely about gay and lesbian people, rather resisting ways of pigeon-holing the identities of all people.
On the other side, are those who (often quite rightly) identify the many problems suffered by men in society, and simply do not see claims about patriarchy and power as valid any more, chiefly because they are looking at individual men who appear not to be enjoying the privileges of power, rather than the systemic and institutional nature of power. The very words 'systemic and institutional nature of power' will often make these types wince.
This debate has been going on for years: one side claiming they cannot state their watertight case about patriarchy any clearer, the other finding that case unrepresentative of the truth. We have to start finding different ways to frame this debate to make any progress. This is not about finding a middle ground; it as about finding a different ground. It is about finding a different lens through which to view the 'problem' of masculinity. Recently I have been using the lens of conspiracy logic.
The popular definition of conspiracy can be found in the idea of a cover-up, and to a large degree this is certainly the case. However, there are various aspects to conspiracy that are worth unpacking. In his book, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, political scientist Michael Barkun claims conspiracy is a method through which people explain the presence of evil in the world. They do this by viewing 'history as controlled by massive, demonic forces'. Conspiracies can therefore be seen as simultaneously frightening and reassuring: the demonic forces are at work, but at least they can be identified as the source of everything around us that is bad, as opposed to the true terror of random evil.
Barkun identifies three key aspects to conspiracy theories, which are worth spelling out. First, nothing happens by accident: there is always intent behind actions; the willed nature of reality is paramount. Second, nothing is as it seems: the source of a conspiracy tends to conceal its activities through the appearance of innocence or misinformation. Third, everything is connected: patterns abound in conspiracy; exposing conspiracy is about unveiling these hidden connections. Barkun sees this type of thinking as ultimately resulting in paranoia: a closed system of ideas that 'defeat any attempt at testing' due to the assumption that all the evidence countering the conspiracy must be part of The Conspiracy, and therefore rejected.
To be fair, Barkun is highly critical of conspiracy belief, and when you look at the examples he provides such as the Illuminati and extraterrestrial reptilian masters, it is tempting to agree with him. But because conspiracy theories can often be a bit flaky, it doesn't mean that they are always flaky, or that at the very least there aren't some reasonable things that resemble conspiracies, inasmuch as there being a widespread assumption that needs to be exposed as false.
And this is what I'm getting at with The Masculinity Conspiracy. Gender theorists have been claiming for some time that there is no such thing as a singular 'masculinity'. Instead, there is a vast spectrum of different masculinities, some of which look familiar, some of which do not. The problem, in this worldview, is that those different masculinities (and women) are oppressed and denied by that chief masculinity. Further still, this type of masculinity is responsible for a lot of the problems the world faces today: this type of masculinity needs to be exposed as 'false', inasmuch as it is not the natural and only option available to men.
Instead of thinking about this chief masculinity solely in terms of power and identity, let's try conspiracy. Let's assume there are certain people who are being oppressed (men and women alike, for various reasons). It appears that the way we define masculinity has not happened by accident. It appears that nothing about masculinity is as it commonly seems. It appears that a number of key themes in society are connected to form a legitimising framework for The Masculinity Conspiracy. I'm not, however, suggesting that The Masculinity Conspiracy is 'controlled by massive, demonic forces'. I use the term 'conspiracy' fully aware of its limitations, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It is about acknowledging that there is something going on with masculinity beyond the awareness of most people.
Can those who find the language of patriarchy and power too problematic adopt the language of conspiracy? I think it's worth finding out. Perhaps the language of conspiracy is more familiar and less judgmental? Perhaps it is simply more compelling (heroic, even) to expose a conspiracy than overturn patriarchy? This isn't a cynical attempt to lure innocent men's rights advocates into a feminist trap, rather a genuine attempt to consider the problems of masculinity in a different way. Perhaps in doing so we all might discover different insights.
In The Masculinity Conspiracy there is a clear challenge on the table when statements about masculinity are made which appear counter-intuitive: is that your intuition talking, or is it The Conspiracy? Following conspiracy logic, the fact that you don't believe me is proof itself that The Masculinity Conspiracy has you successfully conditioned. I say it only half-jokingly.
In the end, once The Conspiracy and its method of misinformation have been revealed, it is the choice of the individual whether or not to be misinformed. Either be spoon-fed the lies, or not. It has become a cliché of conspiracy culture, but the 'red pill, blue pill' scenario of The Matrix movie holds true here: 'You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes'.
So, what's it going to be: red pill, or blue?
PART 6: ARCHETYPES
So far we have looked at how several key themes—history, sexuality, relationships, and fatherhood—are mobilized by The Conspiracy in society at large to promote a specific and prescriptive vision of masculinity that bears little witness to the diversity of men's experiences. In this chapter we will look at how archetypes have been used as a way of understanding masculinity within the context of men's movement literature that began gaining momentum in the early 1990s, and which has continuing influence today.
An archetype is a template that can be used to describe various universal themes and motifs, most commonly employed in myths. The psychologist Carl Jung used archetypes as a way of understanding particular models of human behavior and characteristics, the basis of which can be discovered deep in the human psyche, and is shared across people and cultures. To be sure, this is a very simplistic description of Jung's understanding of archetypes, which was both complex and dependent on the stages of his own conceptual development. However, the way the men's movement uses Jungian archetypes is equally simplistic, so it will suffice for our discussion, at least as we allow The Conspiracy to talk in its own voice in the first section, The Conspiracy. We'll tentatively scratch the surface of what else resides behind the concept of archetypes in the following sections, the analytical The Problem, and the more visionary The Solution.
The two books examined in this chapter are themselves archetypal of men's movement literature, or a particular type of men's movement called the mythopoetic men's movement, which made use of myth, metaphor and story to understand models for masculinity. The mythopoetic men's movement is most notably connected with the poet Robert Bly, and we will look at his 1990 book Iron John: A book about men. Bly's book started a movement that garnered significant media attention at the time with stories about men's groups taking place in the woods, where partially-clothed and bearded men would get in touch with their "inner," "mature," or "deep" masculinity. Shortly after this came our second book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. These two books catalyzed a large volume of literature that, while less read today within the context of the men's movement, is still influential in the way various forms of personal development coaches, popular psychologists and spiritual gurus describe masculinity.
Bly's book, Iron John, recreates a Grimm Brothers tale about a young boy who meets a wild hairy man—Iron John—who becomes the boy's mentor and leads him through various stages of development via initiation into maturity. Bly's main point is that contemporary men have become "soft" and disconnected from their inner wildness. Men have been disempowered in culture, television, literature, and are too often presented as bumbling fools: "When we walk into a contemporary house," writes Bly, "it is often the mother who comes forward confidently. The father is somewhere else in the back, being inarticulate."
A significant part of the problem identified by Bly is the nature of modern work, which since the Industrial Revolution has removed men ever further from their families, in particular their sons. This has prevented them from bonding with their sons and initiating them into manhood: as such, we have a whole society that has never entered full initiated maturity. The result is what Bly describes as the "sibling society," in which immature men are suspicious of older men and authority, while at the same time being naïve about men their own age and women in general. The absence of sufficient father-son relationships is also described by Bly as the "father wound," which we touched upon briefly in the previous chapter about fatherhood.
Bly claims that contemporary men can counter this problem by rediscovering the Wild Man (Iron John) within. While the Wild Man is a psychological archetype, Bly also extends the metaphor to include wildness in nature, where he believes masculinity most naturally resides: "to receive initiation truly means to expand sideways into the glory of oaks, mountains, glaciers, horses, lions, grasses, waterfalls, deer. We need wilderness and extravagance. Whatever shuts a human being away from the waterfall and the tiger will kill him," writes Bly, citing Francis of Assisi and Henry David Thoreau as two "nature mystics" who appropriately communed with the land and exuded wildness. Bly believes there is a uniqueness to masculinity which, while also accessible to women, is rendered most eloquently in men: "in the man's heart there is a low string that makes his whole chest tremble when the qualities of the masculine are spoken of in the right way."
It is important to remember that while the mythopoetic men's movement was often perceived as the "spiritual men's movement," it is chiefly psychological: Bly claims archetypes dwell "at the bottom of [the] psyche," among "other interior beings," which runs counter to a commonly-held assumption that archetypes are spiritual in character. We will explore the nature of masculine spirituality in the next chapter, but it's useful to note that Bly is curiously hostile to the spiritual in Iron John, basing much of his critique on re-asserting the masculine (in the stereotypical understand of the word). Bly prefers Old Testament Christianity, paganism and indigenous spirituality to contemporary or orthodox religious observance, which he perceives as being insufficiently masculine and wild.
The psychological and even biological basis for archetypes is more explicitly articulated by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. They describe archetypes as being "hard wired" in the reptilian brain. While Bly focuses on the Wild Man archetype, Moore and Gillette focus on the King and Warrior (all four archetypes referred to in their book title are explored, but it is notable that the Magician and Lover—which resonate far less with stereotypical and combative models of masculinity—have gained far less attention in the men's movement).
Moore and Gillette claim the King archetype "is primal in all men" and "comes first in importance." The King is based on creative principles, inasmuch as he literally creates the world (his kingdom) around him. To the individuals who reject the King's world he says, "you are chaos, demonic," and more than this, "you are noncreation, nonworld." The King, then, is a reality-defining entity who Moore and Gillette intend to be of a generative or benign nature: his leadership principles are similar to the model of servant leadership discussed in the previous Fatherhood chapter (the father, if you like, is a domestic King archetype). There is a definite majesty behind the King archetype—and thus in masculinity—in every sense of the word: Moore and Gillette describe its return in our barren contemporary culture as an, "intuition of holiness … both dreadful and wonderful by virtue of its power … It drops us to our knees with the force of its holiness." Should readers require music to help evoke this Kingly drama, Moore and Gillette direct them towards, "soundtracks from ‘sword and sandals' movies like Spartacus or Ben Hur."
Just as the King is inherent in the male psyche (indeed, of primary importance within it), so too the Warrior archetype, which Moore and Gillette identify in numerous domains, both natural and fictitious. Moore and Gillette appeal to the great apes to explain what they perceive to be the natural basis for the Warrior archetype. They cite Jane Goodall's study of chimpanzees, who initially were thought to be peaceful but ended up being Warrior-like (brutal), the suggestion being if the chimpanzees cannot remain peaceful, how can men? (You may remember how the appeal to the animal kingdom was discussed back in the History chapter.) They go on to argue, "What accounts for the popularity of Rambo, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, of war movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and many, many more? We can deplore the violence in these movies, as well as on our television screens, but, obviously, the Warrior still remains very much alive in us." The prevalence of violence, both in the human and animal kingdom, is seen as evidence for the natural and rightful role of the Warrior as a defining characteristic of masculinity.
Further positively-framed examples of the Warrior include the shifting tactics of fencers and guerrilla soldiers, and the split-second decision making of "a good Marine." Just as readers seeking to evoke the King archetype are directed towards "swords and sandals" cinematic references, for the Warrior Moore and Gillette suggest inspiration can be found with the exemplar of Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven who, "says little, moves with the physical control of a predator, attacks only the enemy and has absolute mastery over the technology of his trade." Moore and Gillette even co-opt religiosity into their search for the universal Warrior, citing Jesus and Buddha (as they both had to endure temptation) and Islam which, "as a whole is built on Warrior energy" (one wonders if this would have been so enthusiastically employed in a post-9/11 world).
There is a stylistic and structural element to Moore and Gillette's presentation of archetypes that also appeals to a commonly accepted (in other words, conspiratorial) model of masculinity. Their introduction states, "our purpose in writing this book … has been to offer men a simplified and readable outline of an ‘operator's manual for the male psyche.' Reading this book should help you understand your strengths and weaknesses as a man and provide you with a map to the territories of masculine selfhood which you still need to explore." The Mars-like masculine characteristics suggested by John Gray in the Relationships chapter are evident here: the "operator's manual," and the "map to the territories." Moore and Gillette divide their archetypal map up into four quadrants, which offers a model suggesting some kind of systematic or scientific rigor, and which shares a commonality with Ken Wilber's map of the human psyche, as referred to in the History chapter.
The four quadrants do not just map out different types of archetypes, but balance elements both within and between archetypes. Moore and Gillette aim to be cautious, reminding us that archetypes need to be offset by other archetypes to produce full and rich personalities. For example, the Warrior might be offset with the lover to produce depth and nobility to what might otherwise be a rather mono-dimensional "real" person (Winston Churchill, Yukio Mishima and General Patton are referred to in regard to this particular combination: make of that what you will). The balancing element is also addressed with the notion of the "shadow," which is when an individual over-identifies with an archetype, or has mobilized archetypal energies in negative ways due to insufficiently addressed neuroses or character flaws.
In sum, there are very clear messages to be had about masculinity and archetypes from Bly, Moore and Gillette:
Archetypes are inescapable character templates that are rooted either in the depths of the human psyche or the reptilian brain.
Masculinity is defined by a particular set of archetypes: namely the Wild Man, King and Warrior (echoing those repeated themes of masculinity being about aggression, assertiveness, leadership and the public domain).
Modern society is out of touch with these archetypal energies and must re-connect with them via a process of initiation to solve our social ills.
Masculine archetypes must be combined or balanced with other archetypes in order not to manifest the "shadow" or negative character traits.
I've written about the problem with archetypes in a detailed (read academic) fashion in my earlier book, Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy. A good deal from this section (and in some other chapters) is drawn from that book: I'm telling you this so if you happen to have read it you won't feel deceived about repeated content, and also so that you don't have to go and read it, or know where to look for greater depth on the subject.
The mythopoetic men's movement made a great deal about its use of "Jungian" archetypes, suggesting it was drawing upon a deep and sophisticated psychological and analytical heritage. The reality is somewhat different, which has resulted in the movement more accurately being described as "neo-Jungian," which in more everyday language might be translated as "Jung lite." There isn't the space here to outline how the mythopoetic men's movement misread Jung, but suffice to say Jungian scholar David Tacey has charged it with "conservative and simplistic appropriation of Jungian theory." The archetypes the movement aspires to are, in short, simply reflections of the way masculinity is modeled within the conspiracy or, as masculinities researcher and counselor Philip Culbertson has described them, such archetypes are "calcifications of a patriarchal world view." What I'm more interested in are the types of masculinity such archetypes promote and some of the more general problems with identifying with archetypes (in a neo-Jungian, if not genuinely Jungian sense).
Take, for example, the Wild Man. Let us put aside the problematic issue about initiation around which the Iron John story revolves, as I have shown how this is a conformist strategy on behalf of the conspiracy in the previous Fatherhood chapter. It is a simple fact that Bly claims wildness is the essence of masculinity: it is a clear and prescriptive statement. If you have no inclinations to wildness, in all its earthiness and hairiness, Bly believes you are missing the essence of masculinity and are presumably one of the "soft males" he identifies on numerous occasions in Iron John.
Bly suggests, with his allusion to "the glory of oaks, mountains, glaciers, horses, lions, grasses, waterfalls, deer," that there is something inherently beautiful about wildness, as if the psychic wildness of masculinity is the same thing as the majestic wildness of nature. But this is not so: the psychic wildness that Bly refers to is subject to all the pathologies and neuroses instilled by the conspiracy, whereas nature is not (although nature is massively impacted by the dominating mindset of the conspiracy, but that's another story).
Folklorist Jack Zipes does a great job of teasing out some of the inherent messages of Iron John and the Grimm Brothers tale, Iron Hans, on which it is based. In its original form, the Wild Man folklore archetype was a demonic figure, not a mentor. Further still, the tale was used not to encourage some "natural" masculine wildness, but to initiate young aristocrats into the role of warrior or king. Zipes concludes that, "both Iron Hans and Iron John are warrior tales, and both celebrate violence and killing as the means to establish male identity." Is that the kind of masculinity we really want? Certainly not, but it's the kind of masculinity the conspiracy promotes, as we have seen specifically in the History chapter.
And of course, one does not need to look to the pre-history of mythopoetic men's movement literature to see this pre-occupation with violence, as Moore and Gillette's book indicates. As I mentioned before, Moore and Gillette deal equally with the four archetypes of King, Warrior, Magician and Lover. However, when the book was first written, far more attention was given to the conspiratorially-flavored King and Warrior archetypes than to the Magician and Lover. Two decades later, mobilization of the Warrior archetype by far outstrips all other archetypes and can be found in a range of men's movement contexts such as The ManKind Project, counseling and group work, and a range of alternative spiritualities, whether of an earthy nature (such as Paganism) or corporate nature (such as Integral Spirituality).
Moore and Gillette's presentation of the warrior archetype would be funny were it not intended so seriously, and it is no surprise that such literature was lampooned at the time by satirists such as Alfred Gingold and his book Fire in the John: The Manly Man in the Age of Sissification. The appeal to swords and sandals movie soundtracks and Yul Brynner genuinely make it appear as if they are playing for laughs, but it is a tragedy rather than a comedy, because so many men continue to take them seriously by appealing to the "warrior within."
I find it deeply disturbing that questions such as, "What accounts for the popularity of Rambo, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, of war movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and many, many more?" can be answered with the assumption that the warrior archetype is natural in all of us. At the very least, equal consideration must be given to the answer that we have been systemically conditioned into violence by the conspiracy. Indeed, it seems like something of a conspiratorial cover-up that such a question is not given adequate consideration by writers with otherwise serious and clever backgrounds.
This is the way the conspiracy works: the blindingly obvious is routinely overlooked and replaced with what, on examination, are quite absurd suggestions that are commonly accepted as true. As I reiterate repeatedly throughout this text, when something appears to be natural, we are often witnessing the conspiracy conditioning our understanding of how masculinity is defined. In the current context, there is plenty of awareness that the warrior is a problematic model to follow, as demonstrated by the need to routinely qualify it by such terms as "peaceful warrior" or "noble warrior." But warriors are what warriors do, and that is facilitating violence and death. But such is the effective conditioning of the conspiracy, that even those who identify a problem would rather soften or sanitize the concept of the warrior than reject it out of hand, which is by far the most sensible thing to do.
What this qualification also suggests is that the task at hand for an individual is to identify with the "spirit" or "essence" of an archetype rather than fully embodying it, which can lead to problems, or what is referred to as the "shadow" of the archetype. However, there are no effective strategies provided for how to achieve this, and knowing when enough is enough: it relies on individuals knowing what is "wrong" and what sensibly resides in the "shadow." However, given that everyone has different values, and even smart writers such as Moore and Gillette do not ask necessary and blindingly obvious questions about why things are the way they are, such "knowing" is rife with danger.
Let's have a look in a bit of detail at how such a process is insufficiently addressed. The following example from Moore and Gillette discusses the Shadow King, which should be the ideal opportunity to nail down the problematic nature of both Kingship and navigating the shadow:
"In the story of King David and Bathsheba, Bathsheba was the wife of another man, Uriah the Hittite. One day David was walking on the roof of his palace when he spotted Bathsheba bathing. He was so aroused by this sight that he sent for her and forced her to have sex with him. In theory, remember, all the women of the realm were the king's. But they belonged to the archetype of the king, not to the mortal king. David unconsciously identified himself with the King energy and not only took Bathsheba but also had her husband, Uriah, killed. Fortunately for the kingdom, David had a conscience in the form of Nathan the prophet, who came to him and indicted him. David, much to his credit, accepted the truth of the indictment and repented."
Moore and Gillette's point is that if a man identifies with the shadow aspect of the King archetype he will become tyrannical. They state that, "as is the case with all archetypes, the King displays an active-passive bipolar shadow structure," yet their example of such shows David identifying not with the shadow but the archetype itself: "David unconsciously identified himself with the King energy." The shadow is the net effect of the identification, not part of "an active-passive bipolar shadow structure." This represents one of the least practical elements in the whole mythopoetic call to archetypes: identify with the archetype to find your wholeness, but do not identify too much. One must wonder that if King David found this process tricky, with all his experience navigating kingly energy, what hope is there for the average man? Let us give Moore and Gillette the benefit of the doubt on this confusion.
Moore and Gillette say, "In theory, remember, all the women of the realm were the king's." "But," say Moore and Gillette, anticipating the feminist outcry, "they belonged to the archetype of the king, not to the mortal king." One must therefore assume that belonging to an archetypal dominating structure is considered less oppressive than a real one. "David unconsciously identified himself with the King energy and not only took Bathsheba but also had her husband, Uriah, killed." In short, by being a rapist and a murderer David bears witness to King energy, not just in its shadow form, but its full archetypal form. "Fortunately for the kingdom, David had a conscience in the form of Nathan the prophet, who came to him and indicted him." In other words, David did not have a personal conscience, rather an external conscience which was enforced upon him in the same way that fairness must be enforced upon all conspiratorial models of power, for it does not eventuate of its own accord. Even then, David is removed from the equation, as the indictment is not fortunate for David personally (though one assumes he had some desire to redeem himself before God) but "the kingdom." "David, much to his credit, accepted the truth of the indictment and repented." So, King David is an archetypal-delusional murdering rapist who requires external pressure to awaken his conscience for the sake of the supposed greater good, but "much to his credit" he repents. It is as if Moore and Gillette have unconsciously identified themselves with David and are in need of their own prophet Nathan to point out the deeply disturbing nature of the King. At best the King is a benevolent dictator, at worst a despot.
So the conspiracy mobilizes archetypes in a very specific way: it suggests there is a narrow range of characteristics that are "natural" to masculinity: it allows very little diversity, suggesting anything which falls outside these characteristics is insufficiently masculine or, in Bly's words, "soft." Note another strategy here: the lip service to a broader range or archetypes and balance. Certainly, both Bly and Moore and Gillette refer to a broader range of archetypes than those that are overtly dominating and combative. Certainly, both Bly and Moore and Gillette refer to the danger of identifying with the shadow aspect of archetypes and the pathologies that can result. This allows them to have their cake and eat it. When people like me come along and point out the problematic nature of pathological kings and warriors, they point to the other archetypes as evidence that the criticism is selective, yet their massive weighting towards kings and warriors is itself selective, and it is deceptive to suggest that alternative archetypes are given equal consideration.
At the end of the day, these writers know that if they want to sell books and get bums on seats at workshops they have to appeal to a populist understanding of masculinity, which until the conspiracy is overturned at a systemic level can only ever mirror the conspiracy. I suspect that a lot of writers who appear to support the conspiracy do so not because they firmly believe in what they are writing, but because they know there is a market for what they are writing, and because they enjoy the privileged position of being a thought leader within that market. Speaking out against the conspiracy is, after all, a lonely place to be, and certainly does not pay the rent (we'll explore the financial motivation behind the conspiracy in more depth in the concluding chapter).
So to recap, there are various problems with the way the mythopoetic men's movement uses archetypes as models for masculinity:
The archetypes used have none of the subtlety or nuance intended by Jung, rather reflecting commonly held, conspiratorial perceptions of masculinity.
Those perceptions of masculinity are largely pathological: the violence of being a Wild Man or Warrior, or the domination of being a King.
There is no adequate system in place to explain how men should identify with the archetype, but not so much that they inhabit its "shadow" aspect.
References to a broader range or archetypes and the "shadow" give the impression of balance, but this is at best lip service to balance or at worse deception.
There are three key strategies for mitigating the problems caused by the men's movement and their use of archetypes. The first strategy, and one that I find most compelling, is to simply reject them out of hand. I can appreciate that Jung may have had subtler intentions about archetypes, and that today it is also possible to imagine different types of archetypes. However, my feeling is the common understanding of archetypes is ingrained in such a problematic way in popular culture that those more useful levels of meaning will forever be eclipsed, and it is best to redeploy that meaning in an altogether different type of language. the problem, though, is that because archetypes—as a metaphor for understanding reality, rather than a psychic reality in themselves—are so deeply ingrained in society, it seems almost impossible for people to shake free of them. As such, we are left with strategies two and three: creating different types of archetypes and thinking differently about the nature of archetypes.
As I mentioned above, while greatest attention was given to Moore and Gillette's King and Warrior archetypes, they also wrote about the Magician and Lover. In a similar way, while Bly wrote chiefly of the Wild Man, he also referred to other archetypes (albeit not in any productive manner) such as the Mythologist or Cook and Grief Man. Back at the height of the mythopoetic years, some effort was made to redress this balance. For example, Glenn Mazis wrote a book called, The Trickster, Magician and Grieving Man, but it sank largely without trace because its rejection of the hero motif ran counter to the kind of conspiratorial masculine fantasies found elsewhere in the movement.
In a similar way, Aaron Kipnis wrote approvingly of the Green Man as an archetype, a largely pagan understanding of masculinity that combined it with the more nurturing and organic characteristics of what is commonly perceived of as the Earth Mother. Kipnis' Green Man—described as "a creative, fecund, nurturing, protective, and compassionate male, existing in harmony with the earth and the feminine, yet also erotic, free, wild, playful, energetic, and fierce"—is useful in trying to offer different archetypes, but also shows how difficult it is to erase conspiratorial themes. For example, these counter-conspiratorial characteristics are muted when Kipnis goes on to remind readers that Green Man energy also envelopes carving a phallic staff, copulating on the 30-foot-long penis of the Cerne Giant and having the power of massive erect trees. The reader is stirred in the knowledge that he can be simultaneously nurturing and hard, in every way: with the Green Man, just as with the rest of the conspiracy, the cock is always central.
But there remains, nonetheless, some benefit to this line of thought. The Trickster archetype is, I believe, particularly useful. It has the potential to offer a framework for masculine characteristics that may or may not be stereotypical. Importantly, too, its values range from playful through to malicious. The Trickster always resides in shades of gray—rather than being black or white—which, as an analogy, is more representative of the truth when looking for models for masculinities. For those who find the Trickster too akin to a medieval joker or Castaneda-like, I would suggest a more contemporary version of the Hacker. The Hacker archetype again may or may not be stereotypically masculine: he may be imagined as an epic battler with his acts of online transgression, but equally can be a scrawny loser living with his parents. A spectrum of values is also apparent: white hat hackers who are there to transparently highlight flaws in data security; black hat hackers who are overtly villainous and out for personal gain; and that vast section in the middle, the gray hat hacker who, like most real people, comprises a bit of everything. I certainly see myself as a gray hat type.
One other useful archetype that may be worth considering is drawn from gay literature, the Androgyne. Toby Johnson writes of the Androgyne, "a potent blending of male strength and competence and of female sensitivity and feeling makes for a more interesting human being with a more complex and fascinating personality." It's interesting to note that while the Androgyne is discussed here within the context of gayness, there is nothing about it that requires same-sex attraction: any straight man should be able to embody the Androgyne without compromising even his commonly-understood sexuality (let a lone a more fluid version of the same, as suggested in the Sexuality chapter).
There is, however, a word of caution in regard to the Androgyne, which is useful to remember whenever the idea of "balance" is tabled. Johnson's reference to "male strength and competence" and "female sensitivity and feeling" might initially look like a good idea, but those images of male and female are drawn directly from the conspiracy. A more useful way of thinking about the Androgyne would be to unhook "male" from "strength and competence" and "female" from "sensitivity and feeling" and allow those characteristics to reside side-by-side without any connection to biological sex. The Androgyne is then not a combination of conspiratorial masculine and feminine, but a separate category altogether, and one which itself is not a fixed, prescribed archetype, rather a broad spectrum of positions. We are not looking for a "third gender" here: we are looking for multiple alternatives to the conspiratorial binary understanding of gender.
This separate category altogether, one which itself is not a fixed, prescribed archetype, rather a broad spectrum of positions, is an ideal segue from our two strategies of thinking about different types of archetypes to thinking differently about archetypes. To begin with, as I have already noted, the mythopoetic understanding of archetypes is a greatly simplified version of Jung's presentation of archetypes. A vast volume of words could be consumed discussing what Jung did and did not mean, but suffice to say he was a product of his time and cannot be taken as an exemplar for how people should be thinking about gender in the present day.
Of significant interest is the 2009 publication of Jung's visionary journal The Red Book, the editor of which—Sonu Shamdasani—claims is "nothing less than the central book in his oeuvre," and that his other work cannot really be understood without reading this in tandem. There is little in The Red Book that resonates with a mythopoetic understanding of masculinity, and it would be interesting to speculate how the mythopoetic movement would have been different if it had this source at its disposal. Remember, too, that Jung was at heart a mythologist: he constructed ways of understanding reality through and as myth. The mythopoetic movement repeatedly referred to story and myth, and repeatedly conflated it with reality: for archetypes to be useful they must genuinely be considered mythical, with all the caveats that implies.
Further still, however much we unpack what Jung may or may not have understood by archetypes, his is not the only view on the matter. As one commenter (Butters) on the first online chapter of The Masculinity Conspiracy writes:
I hope your definition of archetypes do not rest on one definition of them only—the classical Jungian definition. The Archetypal Psychology school of thought, which branched from Jung in the work of James Hillman, and was popularized by Thomas Moore (e.g. Care of the Soul) is at least as popular as the classical definition of archetypes. Difference being that the classical school perpetuates stereotypes under the name archetypes, whereas the movement launched by Hillman and co has philosophically corrected the limitations of the former. The Archetypal Psychology branch of Jung's Analytical psychology is almost completely compatible with the notion of a plurality of masculinities and indeed promotes the cause very strongly among the masses! For instance, Hillman and co state that both sexes have equal access to roles of nurturer (Geb/Gaia), the Warrior (Athena/Ares), the lover of beauty (Adonis/Aphrodite), the power/status seekers (Zeus/Hera).
I don't cite Butters here to agree with him (I'm not sufficiently informed on archetypal psychology to have a useful opinion), rather to demonstrate that there are always different takes on such things, many of which get overlooked by the popular discourse on the subject at hand.
I believe the simplest way to usefully mobilize archetypes is to think of them not as models for (in our case) masculinity, rather as elements of self (which may or may not be gendered). For example, I'll list some elements that first spring to mind when I describe myself (in no specific order): writer, thinker, father, husband, loner, son, neurotic, visionary, polemicist, contrarian. All these words describe elements that go towards the construction of my complete sense of self, but no single one gets anywhere near that complete sense of self. Indeed, to pick any single word almost immediately suggests a narrow perception of self that borders on pathological.
Thinking archetypically in a useful way would therefore involve identifying a range of individual elements and fashioning from them a sufficiently nuanced sense of self. Some of these elements (such as father, husband, son) may have a clear connection with biological sex; most will not. Any archetypal element that is not based in biological sex is socially constructed and therefore open to all people, male or female. The conspiracy works by reducing the number of elements available to a person to a very low number (say, one to four elements), and then—in practice—assigning those elements exclusively to either men or women. To counter the conspiracy we make any number of elements available to the individual and allow them to be assigned to any individual, in any way the individual sees fit (this is not about prescribing values, after all, rather enabling possibilities, which may not always be pleasant).
The result is an "elemental suite" or an "archetypal suite" that is bound by nothing other than the individual's values, characteristics and desires. It is unlikely that a sufficiently nuanced suite could be described as either masculine or feminine. But, importantly, this does not reduce the suite to being "gender-neutral" (as Mansfield would have argued in the History chapter). Instead, the suite is "gender unique," each one bearing witness to the specific way the individual navigates their complex journey between biological sex, the expectations of a prescriptive conspiratorial model of gender, and aspirations for freedom from that conspiratorial model.
Importantly, some of those suites may look identical to a conspiratorial understanding of gender, as genuine freedom must allow for any particular combination. The big difference is that in the model I am suggesting, the suite that resembles the conspiracy is achieved via a proactive choice to construct that suite, not because it is "natural" or "appropriate." This is the fundamental difference between my message and the message you will read in most popular books about masculinity. When I critique conspiratorial models of masculinity, I am not denying those models (although I am showing how they are problematic); rather, I am denying the conspiratorial claim about what masculinity should be, and offering not a specific alternative but the freedom to choose.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the Part 6 of the series on The Masculinity Conspiracy by Joseph Gelfer. Chapters 1 to 5 of the book were reprinted in the October 2011, November 2011, December 2011, January 2012, and February 2012 issues, respectively. Chapter 7 will be reprinted in the April issue and Chapter 8 in the May issue. The list of references (below) will be included with each chapter. To visit the book's web site and access the original online version, click here.
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Joseph Gelfer is a masculinities researcher in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University, Australia. He is author of Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the problem of Patriarchy, and editor of the Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality. His latest book is 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse.