Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kurt Cobain's Interrogation of Hegemonic Masculinity

Over at Feminism/Popular Culture, Cortney wrote a post/paper on Kurt Cobain's deconstruction of masculinity in his songs and journals. While only a surface look, I think this is a useful and worthwhile avenue of inquiry. Cobain looked at masculinity from an outsider's perspective, from a stance of marginality, never feeling a part of the mainstream, which is why he was able to offer such striking insights into its dysfunctions.

I'm not sure I agree with her assessment, but I want to share it anyway.

Kurt Cobain's Interrogation of Hegemonic Masculinity

I am taking a course about construction of celebrity in America this quarter and one of the things we were assigned to read was Kurt Cobain's Journals. I had never really thought about Kurt in an academic way but I felt as though I had an intimate relationship with his music in high school. Reading his writing and listening to his music in the context of this course really made me think about the way that he did gender or rather the way that he queered gender and pop music. It is a topic I didn't even realize I was interested in until this course. I wrote a paper about these things and my professor suggested that I think about this as a topic for my thesis especially considering there is so little work to this effect out there. It would be very cutting edge. Or something. Anyway, I thought I'd put the ideas out there and see what others think. Here is a chunk of the paper:

“Yeah, all Isms (sic) feed off one another but at the top of the food chain is still the white, corporate, macho, strong ox male. Not redeemable as far as I’m concerned. I mean, classism is determined by sexism because the male decides whether all other isms still exists (sic). Its up to men. I’m just saying that people can’t deny any ism or think that some are more or less subordinate except for sexism… I still think that in order to expand on all other isms, sexism has to be blown wide open…but there are thousands of green minds, young gullable (sic) 15 year old boys out there just starting to fall into the grain of what they’ve been told of what a man is supposed to be and there are plenty of tools to use. The most effective tool is entertainment” (Cobain, 117).

I am not sure if I started listening to Nirvana when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school but it was somewhere in there. 1999 and 2000 proved to be formative years for me as I had just entered the public school system from a very sheltered home and tiny Catholic school. My body was changing, my friends were changing, I discovered feminism and my relationship with my parents transformed. It seemed that overnight I had gone from their overachieving perfect daughter to an angsty and rebellious teenager. Kurt Cobain’s angst-filled voice, nihilistic lyrics, and grungy guitar appealed to me immediately. To make it even better his appearance and lyrics made my parents and teachers writhe. When I listened to Nirvana in high school it was a purely pleasurable experience. I would drive around my small town with my friends with Nevermind cranked all the way up on the stereo. I had posters of Cobain all over my locker and my bedroom. I thought he was so dreamy…

When I saw that we were studying Nirvana for class this week, I pulled out all of my old albums and listened to them all again. I even found my old posters! Reading Nirvana in a critical academic environment felt like a kind of violation. Listening to this music has been so intensely personal and intimately tied to my budding high school sexuality. Experiencing that music again after so long brought out many of those emotions. I feel that it is important to foreground my own personal experience with Nirvana before attempting an analysis of their work. I am a particular person with a particular experience in a particular time and space.

One thing I certainly never noticed as a teenager that I noticed immediately as a graduate student in Women’s and Gender Studies is that Kurt Cobain had a knack for challenging notions of hegemonic gender. His performance of gender is at least non-normative but I would argue that it is also queer. Cobain’s body was small and not hegemonicly masculine. His ripped up old clothes and occasional ironic cross-dressing posed a challenge to the authoritative heteropatriarchy that rules American culture.

Through his angst-filled, corporeal and occasionally disgusting lyrics and non-normative attire he queered gender and popular music. In his Journals and lyrics, Cobain seems to have an obsession with the physical body and with the disgusting, the unpleasant and the painful. Particularly he writes about gastrointestinal functions and dysfunctions. I remember being very troubled by the lyrics to “Heart Shaped Box.”

“Meat-eating orchids forgive no-one just yet
cut myself on angel hair and babies breath
broken hymen of your highness I’m left black
throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back.”
Meat, being a representation of a dead body is juxtaposed with the very genteel and feminine images of orchids, angel’s and babies breath (being both a flower and symbol of femininity and a representation of innocence and beginnings of life). Cobain weaves high culture, transcendental religious spirits (as opposed to bodies) traditional beauty and femininity with the so-called low brow culture, the profane, the guttural, the corporeal. In connecting these seemingly opposite things he poses a challenge to Victorian social order that values masculinity, rationality, objectivity and denial of the body over femininity and being present in one’s body with all of its grossness and potential for failure.

What do you think?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Crying Men

Sam Taylor-Wood, a well-known photographer, asked some actors to produce real tears for a series of images which she hopes capture the vulnerable sides of the movie stars. Taylor-Wood explains, “Some of the men cried before I even finished loading the camera, but others found it really difficult. People can decide for themselves which they think are the authentic tears and which they think are fake. It’s about the idea of taking these big, masculine men and showing a different side."

I blogged on this previously over at IOC, but I found some more images. This is what I said over there: Most of the men I know, including me, were taught never to show weakness when we were growing up, and especially never to let "them" see you cry. What a load of shit. Because of that, most of us carry a ton of unexpressed grief, sadness, and pain locked away inside us, which contributes to disease, depression, and anxiety.

Crying, as any good therapist or spiritual teacher will tell you, is good for the soul. It helps clean out the debris that keeps us from fully enjoying life. Whenever I am able to have a good cry, I feel much space within me, and much more spacious in my life. That's good enough for me.

Crying Men

by Sam Taylor-Wood

Steidl & Partners

Crying Men is a series of photographic portraits of famous film actors. Taylor-Wood makes portraits of her subjects as actors; she shoots them in role, asking each to perform and cry for the camera and demands the actor’s investment in the process. These are no passive sitters.

Each of the resulting images is distinct; one actor recalls the hieratic clarity of a Byzantine saint whose tears appear decorative. Other images are of heroic crying where stoic restraint has broken down, there are some that display the voluptuous crying of medieval saints, there are images of cathartic crying, quiet tears of regret and grief, and yet whilst being moved by these intimate revelatory images we simultaneously know that the emotional display is being play-acted. Sam Taylor-Wood’s film and photographic works are distinguished by their subversive creation of enigmatic situations full of latent but explosive energy.

The portraits include Tim Roth, Gabriel Byrne, Laurence Fishburne, Woody Harrelson, Michael Gambon, Jude Law, Hayden Christiansen, Ryan Gosling, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Newman, Ed Harris, Benicio Del Toro, Willem Dafoe, and Kris Kristofferson.
Currently sold out (US price, $75).

Benicio del Toro

Willem Dafoe

Daniel Craig

Ed Harris

Hayden Christiansen

Michael Pitt

Robin Williams

Sean Penn

Ezra Klein - The Politics of Masculinity

Do we want a politics that demands old school, tough guy masculinity? And do we want women to have to measure up to that out-dated standard to run for national office, as Hillary seems to think she must?

Ezra Klein, writing at The American Prospect, looks at The Politics of Masculinity. It seems to me that Obama has tried to create a more balanced masculine politician, but that he has succumbed to the traditional crap of national politics. Will he be able to redefine masculinity in politics if he gets the Democratic nomination? I'm losing hope for this, but not completely, not yet.
I've been sort of struggling with whether to write this post, but after Daniel Larison and Matt Stoller both toed around the point while offering their takes on Webb, I guess it's worth doing. Let me start by saying that this isn't really about James Webb. He is who he is, and this post has nothing to do with his positions on the issues. But then, nor does most of the excitement around his candidacy. Rather, Webb represents something of almost transcendent importance to some post-Bush liberals: The opportunity to out-tough the GOP. A candidate who's not only a liberal, but in no way a sissy. He is the daywalker, combining a progressive's positions with a southern militarist's affectations.

But this is not a sustainable approach to politics. Democrats can't out-tough the GOP. It's possible that James Webb can do it. But he's sui generis; a Democrat who can win at politics when played under Republican rules. Democrats love those candidates, because they think of presidential elections as an away game, and they're endlessly hunting for the candidate who plays best under those conditions.

But Democrats can't win at politics when played under Republican rules. Progressivism can't prosper when politics is played under Republican rules. It needs to make its own rules.

Barack Obama's effort to do exactly that has been, by far, the most exciting element of his campaign. His policies -- particularly his domestic policies -- have not been half as innovative as his politics. But his willingness to double down on opposition to the gas tax holiday, to battle back on negotiating with dictators, to respond to attacks by pressing the point, has been genuinely exciting. And though he has been confident and even aggressive in all of this, he has not been "tough." He has not pretended to go shooting, or driven on to Jay Leno's show on Harley. He's essentially been making his own rules.

Meanwhile, the sexism of our politics was far less present in Clinton's loss than the fact that she was the single woman on a stage of nine Democratic presidential candidates, and in a field, including the Republicans, of 20. Now, studies show that women do not, in fact, perform worse in primaries than men. In fact, in Democratic primaries, the evidence since 1990 is that they do better (see my article in the forthcoming American Prospect for more on this). But they run less often -- for a host of reasons, but one of which is that they think they're more likely to lose. And that idea is inextricably intertwined with a political culture in which progressives and conservatives alike get very excited over hypermasculine candidates. That's not a fight women can win, and nor, according to the election results, is it one they need to win. But perception matters when women are deciding whether to run for office, and the perception that the dudelier you are, the more likely you are to win, is a dangerous one.

To be clear, this isn't a commentary on Webb. But the argument for his elevation to the national ticket -- which is to say, to become one of the faces of the party -- is about the electoral benefit of a hyper masculine, effortlessly tough, culturally conservative (seeming) candidate who can win back those Reagan Democrats and white males. As I wrote the other day, I don't think the Democratic Party should be orienting itself towards reknitting that particular coalition. I think there are other, more plausible, paths to a majority coalition; paths that are more durable because they aren't so candidate-specific, and that could create a political model better for progressivism and for broad participation in electoral politics.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rob McNamara - Following Your Heart

Rob McNamara posted this on his Gaia blog, a nice meditation on following one's heart. Rob has a Masters in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University. He's been lecturing on Integral Psychology and Human Development at Naropa University over the past 5 years for both graduate and undergraduate students in a number of academic and professional programs including the Transpersonal and Contemplative Psychology programs. He also operates an Integral Performance Consulting practice, working with elite coaches and athletes.

This is another, slightly different look at the warrior's heart.

Following Your Heart

Posted on May 28th, 2008 by Rob : Philosopher of Strength Rob

The center of your heart does not make distinctions.

The heart at it's core simply is open, radically vulnerable, intimately receptive.

There's no, "I'll take this, but not that."

There's no conflicted stance, no I'll be "sort of" open...but only to the things I want.

Openness as it quietly rests at the center of your heart is in many ways an either or phenomena. Either your heart is Open and Alive in the moment or it's not. Your heart either feels intimately this very moment or it severs itself from the very life that animates it's vitality.

When Open, the heart knows no obstacle. The heart feels obstacles, but unconditionally remains open, receptive, spacious and intimate with every subtle nuance of this moment's presence, this moment's configuration, this moment's articulation of itself.

The problem is the part of you that does make distinctions, does take sides, does stake claims in preferences. When you do this, the basic nature of the heart is severed from how you function in the world. The alive unmediated lovingness of your heart is severed and your life becomes a rote expression of your slavery to the preferences, opinions, likes and dislikes of your conditioned history.

When the cool open spaciousness of the heart is lost within your direct moment to moment experience, you stop feeling with the fullness of your being. As a result, you live your life in accordance to your conditioning. Contracted into your preferences, distinctions and sides you guide your life from a lesser place. You feel less because you're less alive. You are less skillful because you lead your life from a more self-centered perspective. You're less kind in the world because you don't feel deeply into this radiant moment.

As days slip by you continue onward semi-consciously amidst your life. Days turn into weeks and weeks to months. Suddenly years start slipping by as you slumber through each moment contracted around "you." As each moment beautifully flowers into an exquisite dance and dissolves away but your heart's truest most authentic articulation of life remains largely dormant as long as you live a life enslaved to your small self and it's conditioned preferences.

The heart remains ever present, waiting, the authentic articulation of yourself is brought into its fullest life as you release your attachments. As you stop contracting around you, your heart's immense sensitivity and delicate responsive aliveness comes to life. You die, your little box of a self dissolves and something much more precious than you can possibly image takes life right here, right now.

Here's a bow to the Heart.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Italian Mama's Boys

I find this strange . . . . from Psychology Today.

Global Psyche: Forever Mamma's Boy
Home cooking and a tough economy keep Italian men in the nest.

By: Raeleen D'Agostino

New York graphic designer Danielle Oteri recalls meeting a striking 28-year-old adonis at an eatery in Sicily and lingering over a romantic glass of wine. But just when sweet poetry began to flow from his lips, a cell phone erupted into song. "Ehm... just a minute," he whispered. "It's Mamma. She wants to know when I'll be home." For Oteri, the Italian stereotype of mammismo—the exaggerated bond between Italian men and their mothers—was confirmed.

A whopping 37 percent of Italian men aged 30 to 34 still live with their parents—twice as many as women of the same ages—and Italy's economic minister is losing patience. Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa's latest proposal to stimulate the economy is to lure men toward autonomy with a tax break: "Let's get those big babies out of the house," he declared in October of 2007.

The public reacted with outrage. "Staying with family at least assures a roof over your head," says attorney Beppe Serelli. "While it's true Italy has a problem with sons never growing up in their mothers' eyes," says Giuliana Proietti, a psychologist in Ancona, "never have our young adults been faced with such economic difficulty."

To Italians, with their history of strong family ties, there is nothing pathological about staying put until marriage, especially if one is unemployed. "The traditional family unit was historically the only guarantee of survival in uncertain times," says Roberto Vincenzi, a professor of psychotherapy in Genoa. Vincenzi says the key factor that keeps Italy's "figli per sempre" (sons forever) home in greater numbers than daughters is the sons' stronger attachments to their mothers. Proietti believes that mammismo has its roots in the traditional role of the Italian (and Latin) woman, who often felt unfulfilled before career and divorce were options. "She thus poured her love into her children. Over time, the son became a sort of husband to his mother, without the sexual component," she says. Vincenzi says the mother-son bond becomes pathological only when it impedes the son from growing up.

Economists Enrico Moretti and Marco Manacorda say Italian parents may be trying to impede the autonomy of their offspring. According to their research, Italian parents directly and indirectly financially bribe their children to remain home. "Italians, unlike parents from most other countries," Moretti says, "like living with their grown children." —Raeleen D'Agostino

Homemade Men
  • A survey of 100 powerful men in all career sectors, conducted for the luxury-lifestyle monthly Class, found that 7 in 10 attributed their success to their mothers. Among the men highly loyal to their moms are George W. Bush and Prince Charles.
  • Italians with openly proud relationships with their mammas include former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, journalist Paolo Brosio, art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, author Aldo Busi, comedian Gene Gnocchi, and TV host and showman Piero Chiambretti.
Psychology Today Magazine, Mar/Apr 2008.
Can it really just be a weak economy, or there is something else going on here? Maybe it's truly cultural as suggested in the last paragraph.

The bottom line should be, are these well-adjusted men? And are their parents happy to have them at home?

Are You Masculine or Feminine?

I'm a girlie-man!

You Are 62% Feminine, 38% Masculine

You are in touch with your feminine side.

Sensitive, intuitive, and caring are all words that describe you.

And you're just masculine enough to relate to both men and women.

I think I'm actually a little more balanced than that, but this is a rather vague and limited test.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sexism, Strength, and Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Films

A great look at boy psychology in Disney films.

Shame, Anger, and the Hero Myth in Teen Boys

Here's a clip from a British TV show - The Inbetweeners - that is a bit funny, but not so much when you think about it.


If you are a guy, you no doubt have memories of having to go to the blackboard or stand up in class at the most inopportune time. Most of us weren't shamed by our peers -- our supposed friends -- the way Simon was in this clip. But there still was some sense of shame involved, especially for those of us who lacked good fathers who normalized such events as part of growing up.

As adults we now know that it was all about hormones, and that it didn't take a blond knockout flirting with us to create an erection -- our own natural levels of testosterone took care of things without any effort on our part.

It's easy to laugh at the events in the clip. Boys will be boys. And surely, many people believe that living through such teasing builds the thick skin needed to survive in the adult world. I'm sure that is partially true. And I am also sure that such shaming is damaging to a boy's self esteem. Let me explain, by taking a detour into myth.

The Parcival Myth of the Hero

I mentioned in a recent post that I was reading Moore and Gillette's (1990), King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine. They list four archetypes that boys move through (I'll blog more on this later), with the final stage being the Hero archetype. Teen boys need to see themselves as a hero of sorts, but the underlying process is the separation from the mother.

Joseph Campbell described the hero's journey as the monomyth. It is the essential initiation from boy psychology to mature masculinity.

Campbell held that numerous myths, from disparate times and regions seem to share a fundamental structure. This fundamental structure contains a number of stages, which include:

  1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
  2. A road of trials, which the hero must fail or overcome
  3. Achieving the goal or "boon", which often results in important self-knowledge
  4. A return to the ordinary world, again which the hero can succeed or fail in achieving
  5. Applying the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world

In a well-known quote from the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell wrote:[4]

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The classic examples of the monomyth relied upon by Campbell and other scholars include the Buddha, Moses, and Christ stories, although Campbell cites many other classic myths from many cultures which rely upon this basic structure.

One of the classic examples of the monomyth is Parcival. Following his father's death, the boy is raised by his mother. So already we have the hint of his quest, a search for the masculine within his psyche that the absent father was not there to mentor in him. Many of us have grown up with absent fathers, either literally (mine died) or figuratively in that they worked so much they were seldom present.

As he becomes an adult, Parcival kills the Red Knight and takes the knight's woman as his own. But adventure calls and he leaves her to chase down the Holy Grail. This is a form of immature masculinity. It is not until much later, in King Arthur's Court that he receives the mentoring he needs to enter into mature masculinity.

In an older version of the myth, Parcival is unable to heal the wound of The Fisher King because he was still under the influence of his mother, and he lacked the power of his own masculine assertiveness.

Many teen boys are struggling with similar issues at an unconscious level. They are at a pivotal point in their development. They need to break free from the realm of the mother so that they can enter into their own manhood, but many lack the father figure to help them make that transition. Without that mentoring, there is shame about those things we don't understand, fear about who we are, and doubts about our own powers as men.

This lack of guidance has immediate and long-term impacts on young men.

Angry Young Men

What we are seeing a lot more of these days is what Time Magazine calls Angry Young Men.
[Psychologist] Michael Currie has worked with adolescent boys and their families for 20 years. Much of his attention has centered on the anger that can consume boys during their high school years. Manifesting in the home as sullenness, disobedience and fierce assertions of independence, teen rage confuses and distresses parents, who often make matters worse with their clumsy, if well-meaning, attempts to address it.
Currie explains a little about how he defines adolescent anger.
Anger is made of two components: one is an idea that there's something wrong, two is that someone else is to blame. The difference in adolescence is the struggle behind the anger. The teenager is trying to grasp the responsibilities and freedoms that come with entering the second epoch of life — that between childhood and adulthood. His identity is fragile, and it can be inevitable that anger comes with that.
Without the crucial and difficult container that a strong masculine father can create, boys end up feeling lost and that sense of fear becomes anger. I don't blame men for being bad fathers. Most men with kids these days lacked adequate fathering themselves, so they did not have the needed model to learn from.

If we can view the teen years in boys as a kind of heroic quest (for mature masculinity), it becomes a little easier to see how we need to assist them in this quest. They need mentoring; they need permission to make mistakes; and they need boundaries that cannot be violated. While it may be difficult to watch a son pull away and become more independent, the important thing to realize is that when his quest is completed he will return, as a man.

If our boys lack the father-figure they need, there will be shame that damages self-esteem and there will be anger that covers over their sense of being lost and afraid. I went through a lot of this in my own life, and I acted out in every way imaginable.

I think I may have rambled here a bit, but I hope I made a little bit of sense.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is the Mankind Project Right for You?

[This is in no way an endorsement or advertisement for The Mankind Project. I have never attended a meeting or a workshop.]

One of my clients has been actively involved in the Mankind Project for several years. He has been through several trainings and leads a group here in Tucson. He has invited me in the past to attend a meeting of his group, but I have so far chosen not to do so.

Since starting this blog, however, I have become a little more curious again. So I decided to check out their site on the web. I've always been drawn to the Jungian archetypal approaches to some elements of masculinity, as anyone who has read this blog will no doubt notice. I like the idea of the New Warrior (see below), but my concern is the New Age feel of it all.

Here is their statement of values:
Accountability & Integrity
The New Warrior Training AdventureTM is about taking a look at our lives as men - how they work and how they don't work. Here a man learns how to be fully accountable for his actions and their consequences; how to begin integrating the dark and soulful qualities of his masculine nature; how to stand up and take full responsibility for his life. He learns to find courage in the face of his deepest fears, and to understand the he has the opportunity to live a life of integrity and congruence. He learns to transcend the momentum of toxic masculinity, finding within himself the sacred masculine energy that is capable of discernment and protection that seeds life with passion, zeal, and creativity. He learns to step forward as a man without apologizing for who he is, stewarding that energy with an open heart and compassionate mindfulness.

A mature man is one who knows himself well enough to understand why he is here and what he is committed to. A man spends his energy on what he values. We have been conditioned to value things outside us. Sooner or later, the material life gives way to the interior life, and we have only one place left to go to discover the real richness of our lives - inside our own hearts and souls.

Connection To Feelings
Many men have been taught to value thinking and to distrust feelings. They have been desensitized, taught to endure pain without complaint, and told that it is an honor to sacrifice our bodies for society. As a result, many men suffer from isolation and are prone to addictions and to acting out their feelings in dysfunctional ways. Many are afraid of intimacy, both with men and with women. They hide behind masks that are brittle and in need of repair.

Many men are sad, lonely, frightened, angry, and ashamed, and don't even know it. And with the loss of their feelings, they also lose what is most precious to them: Their ability to value their world and to hold life dear.

Other men know their feelings perhaps too well. They have learned to indulge in their feelings and use them to manipulate others, often the ones they love most. They lack the ability to stand in their own authenticity. Lost in their feelings, they too lose what is most precious to them: Their ability to be trusted and loved.

There is another way. On the New Warrior Training AdventureTM men re-discover their feelings with their feet on the ground. They begin to learn to clarify what they're feeling and to express those feelings directly and authentically. They begin to learn to balance the depth of the heart with the wisdom of the mind.

"Closing down in the midst of pain is a denial of a man's true nature. A superior man is free in feeling and action, even amidst great pain and hurt. If necessary, a man should live with a hurting heart rather than a closed one."

David Deida

Stepping up to lead or mentor takes courage. It means putting oneself on the line, taking a risk, becoming vulnerable.

It means confronting the fear within that wants to keep us small and safe. But sooner or later, we run out of places to hide. The only way out of our fear is to move through it. Real courage only has meaning in the face of our deepest terrors. Once we find the courage to stop running away from ourselves, we finally step into our lives as men. We become fully alive and present, able to give our gifts to the world with a sense of purpose and clarity, with neither apology nor arrogance.

We step into our relationships more fully:
  • able to commit
  • able to be intimate
  • able to listen with our hearts
  • able to speak our deepest truth
We discover a man who can be open and vulnerable, grounded and powerful. We discover how to live in the paradox of being tender and fierce, compassionate and wild. We learn the meaning of real warriorship.

Our culture is beginning to awaken to the reality that we are collectively suffering from a lack of healthy fathering. More attention is being focused on the importance of fathers, "not just as economic providers, but as nurturers, disciplinarians, role models, mentors, moral instructors, and skill coaches" says Dr. Wade Horn of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

Many of us grew up either without fathers or with fathers who rarely gave us the attention that we deeply and secretly yearned for. Every young boy needs the clear and loving reflection of an older man, one who sees him not only for who he is, but for who he might become.

A young man ventures out into the world along the path that his father has prepared for him. If he has been blessed, admired, and fed by his father, he will step out into the world with a strong sense of who he is. If he has been abandoned by his father, or told that he is not enough, his steps will be tentative and cautious. He will remain hungry and empty, and will continually look for validation for what he has done.

Our training creates an opportunity for each man to be honored and blessed, not for what he has done, but rather for who he is. When a man finally accepts and believes that he is enough, he can offer his gifts freely, rather than selling them for recognition.

Our training will not necessarily make a man a better father. But it will certainly put him in touch with the theme of fatherhood that he carries within himself. We often father our children in precisely the same ways that we were fathered, and if we are to turn the tide, it is essential that we examine the legacy we've received from our own fathers.

The Blessing of Elders
In traditional cultures, elder men have been valued as repositories of wisdom, strength and unconditional love. This is much less the case in a world that worships youth and the acquisition of material objects. There is a hunger in younger men for the "grandfather energy" that only an elder can provide. Within the ManKind Project the elders are a powerful circle of men that bless, counsel and gift younger men with the experience and learning they have gathered though the years. If you are 50 years old or older we invite you to join the ManKind Project's Council of Elders after you have completed the New Warrior Training Adventure™.
I've deleted some of the blatant advertising, but there was very little.

These all sound like good qualities to pursue in a group. It has a bit of a New Age, beating drums in the woods feel to it, which I'm sure is part of the attraction for many men (though, not me), but I also know they have looked at incorporating integral values and Spiral Dynamics into the program, though I don't know how extensive and/or widespread this has been.

Their vision of the New Warrior is in line with both David Deida and the Jungains:
Men have been warriors since the beginning of time and every man has his warrior side. But social forces pressure many to repress this part of themselves. They unconsciously substitute a distorted shadow for the healthy warrior energy so essential to sustaining individual and communal balance.

The New Warrior is a man who has confronted this destructive "shadow" and has achieved hard-won ownership of the highly focused, aggressive energy that empowers and shapes the inner masculine self. Sustained by this new energy, the New Warrior is at once tough and loving, wild and gentle, fierce and tolerant. He lives passionately and compassionately, because he has learned to face his own shadow and to live his mission with integrity and without apology.
This sounds suitably Jungian to me, which is good. Shadow-work is crucial for men and women alike to face and transform the worlds within.

Chogyam Trungpa called this the tender heart of the warrior -- not an external thing, but an internal quality of the warrior that we can access through surrender to our tender hearts, not through battle and confrontation with the shadow.
For the Shambhala warrior, the actual, basic notion of victory is not so much that you have one-upped your enemy and therefore you are victorious. Rather, no enemy exists at all; therefore, there is victory. This is the idea of unconditional warriorship and unconditional victory. In connection with this, the concept of sacredness is that fearlessness is carried into everyday life situations, even brushing your teeth. So fearlessness occurs all over the place, all the time. Fearlessness here is also unconditional. In this way, fearlessness becomes cheerful and very light. There's no need for cowardice or fear at all, or any moments of doubt. Actually what we're talking about is doubtlessness, we could say, rather than fearlessness. There's no doubt. There are no second thoughts. Everything is a complete warrior's world. So here victory is not having to deal with an enemy at all. It is the notion of no enemy. The whole world is a friend.

From OCEAN OF DHARMA: The Everyday Wisdom of Chogyam Trungpa. 365 Teachings on Living Life with Courage and Compassion. Number 119.

[Unpublished excerpt from Talk Five of Warriorship in the Three Yanas. August 1978, Rocky Mountain Dharma Center.]
This is the vision of warriorship that resonates with me. Yet I think both approaches are true but partial. We need to confront the shadow if for no other reason than it is sly and will trick us if we let it. But we must do so with compassion and gentleness, or it will fight back angrily. The warrior's approach is through a fierce compassionate heart.

Is the Mankind Project right for me, or for you? I don't know yet for myself. Some of it feels attractive, but I tend to be a hermit in my approach to healing and growth. But I'll sit with it for a few days and see what I think.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Boy Psychology

A good quote worth pondering from Moore and Gillette (1990), King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine.
The drug dealer, the ducking and diving political leader, the wife beater, the chronically "crabby" boss, the "hot shot" junior executive, the unfaithful husband, the company "yes man," the indifferent graduate school adviser, the "holier than thou" minister, the gang member, the father who can never find the time to his daughter's school programs, the coach who ridicules his star athletes, the therapist who unconsciously attacks his clients' "shining" and seeks a kind of gray normalcy for them, the yuppie -- all these men have something in common. They are all boys pretending to be men. They got that way honestly, because nobody showed them what a mature man is like. Their kind of "manhood" is a pretense to manhood that goes largely undetected as such by most of us. We are continually mistaking this man's controlling, threatening, and hostile behaviors for strength. In reality, he is showing an underlying extreme vulnerability and weakness, the vulnerability of the wounded boy.

The devastating fact is that most men are fixated at an immature level of development. These early developmental levels are governed by the inner blueprints appropriate to boyhood. When they are allowed to rule what should be adulthood, when the archetypes of boyhood are not built upon and transcended by the Ego's appropriate accessing of the archetypes of mature masculinity, they cause us to act out of our hidden (to us, but seldom to others) boyishness (p. 13).
The authors aren't against having healthy access to the boy inside of us, but they are seeking to help men grow into the mature forms of masculine relating.

I first read this book not long after it came out, while I was still in college. Back then I wasn't reading any of the integral work, so I didn't notice that the authors actually have a developmental model of boyhood archetypes (which makes me wonder if anyone has done similar work for women -- if anyone knows, please drop me a note).

Ken Wilber has been especially hard on the Jungians (Moore and Gillette build on and expand Jung's work) for confusing pre-rational archetypes with trans-rational archetypes, but the authors don't seem to make that mistake (more on this in another post). They see four distinct boyhood archetypes, each of which -- when successfully navigated -- becomes one of the four mature archetypes in the title of the book.

In a later post, I'll outline the four boyhood archetypes. For now, I think it is worth meditating on whether or not, or to what extent, we manifest boy psychology instead of mature masculinity. And, further, how does this impact our relationships?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Masculine and Feminine in Relationships - Sexual Polarity

When I first saw this article (Coach Rori Tells You How To Help Your Boyfriend Be More Masculine) come up in my reader, I thought to myself, "Self, this is going to be a big pile of steaming horse shit." Well, yes and no.

First the complaint. Any time a woman feels she needs to "fix" her man, things are eventually going to end badly (same is true if a man needs to "fix" his woman, or any other combination of genders one wants to use). If one partner is truly in need of some personal growth, and s/he is not going there without prompting, no amount of wanting him or her to change is going to matter. Eventually it will become a divisive issue. People have to want to change.

Most women have visions of the ideal man – a masculine, affectionate, intelligent guy who will sweep you off your feet – being not only a knight in shining armor, but sensitive and romantic. Which is all great – mouth watering in fact!

But then your flash fire attraction turns to a relationship, and your knight in shining armor can sometimes…well…seem like a real wimp! This happened to me a while back, so I went seeking some relationship advice for women from a really cool person I found, have the relationship you want gives relationship advice for women , specifically, and I love hearing it from the female perspective versus Dr. Phil. Don’t get me wrong, Dr. P is great, but he is not exactly…a woman.

Oh yeah, my other complaint -- Dr. Phil is a bonehead on a good day.

After this opening I thought this was really going to suck. But it does get better.

In this, relationship expert Rori Raye seems to believe that men end up NOT in control of a relationship because women, having to be much more masculine and savvy themselves these days, actually take the roll FROM the man sometimes, leaving him with nothing.

So, in this light, a sage piece of relationship advice for women would be to lean back a little bit and start a process that will allow your man to regain the control of your relationship that HE needs in order to feel masculine and in charge. After all – that is what you want – right?

Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to make all the decisions? To allow someone else to handle where you are going for dinner , the details of the big things, the decisions that couples need to make so that YOU can relax and become the feminine, beautiful woman you are yearning to be. Now – I am not saying to let your man CONTROL you – by any means. What I am saying though is that if you relinquish some of that POWER back to him – he will step into the shoes of the man you want him to be.

Allowing your man to become the leader that you BOTH want him to be will truly charge your relationship. You will BOTH feel more attracted and comfortable in the positions of the man in the masculine and the woman in the feminine.

I'm sure this might sound sexist and old-fashioned to both men and women, but I think this is pretty good advice. Men need to be able to feel like men, which doesn't mean they can't be sensitive and in-touch with their emotions. But the old ideas of chivalry, which don't seem very politically correct, are still highly useful. Men can open doors for women, seat them first in a restaurant, and on and on, and this allows him to feel more masculine and the woman to feel more feminine. In the end, these types of simple behaviors create more sexual polarity -- and that's a good thing, especially if you enjoy passion in the bedroom.

In fact, this is not much different than what "integral relationship" guru David Deida advocates. He's a big fan of sexual polarity, of one partner being more masculine (assertive not aggressive, powerful not controlling) and one partner being more feminine (loving not submissive, communal not selfless). Without this, there is no passion, and that seems what the post above is seeking.

Each of us, man or woman, possesses both inner masculine and inner feminine qualities. Men can wear earrings, hug each other tenderly, and dance ecstatically in the woods. Women can change the oil in the car, accumulate political and financial power, and box in the ring. Men can take care of their children. Women can fight for their country. We have proven these things. Just about anyone can animate either masculine or feminine energy in any particular moment. (They might still have a strong preference to do one or the other, which we will get to in a moment.)

The bottom line of today’s emerging 50/50, or “second stage,” relationship is this: If men and women are clinging to a politically correct sameness, even in moments of intimacy, then sexual attraction disappears. I don’t mean just the desire for intercourse: the juice of the entire relationship begins to dry up. The love may still be strong, the friendship may still be strong, but the sexual polarity fades, unless in moments of intimacy one partner is willing to play the masculine pole and one partner is willing to play the feminine. You have to animate the masculine and feminine differences if you want to play in the field of sexual passion.

It is up to you: you can have a loving friendship between two similars. But in the moments when you want strong sexual polarity, you need a more masculine and a more feminine partner.

It doesn’t matter if both partners are men or both are women. It doesn’t matter if, in a heterosexual relationship, the man plays the feminine pole and the woman plays the masculine pole. It doesn’t matter if every day you change who plays the masculine pole and who plays the feminine pole. For sexual polarity, you need an energetic polarity, an attractive difference between masculine and feminine. You don’t need this difference for love, but you do need it for sexual passion.

I like this polarity idea, but I also want the male to be able to take the feminine role sometimes and the female to take the more masculine role. I believe that we need to have access to both our essential sexuality and our gender subpersonality (anima and animus) in order to be balanced and whole.

But as Deida points out, this balance needs to be authentic -- when it's not, things don't go well.
Trying to squeeze your masculine or feminine essence into a falsely balanced persona affects virtually every part of you. Many people with a true feminine essence manifest a range of disturbed physiological symptoms as their feminine energy “dries up” through running excess masculine energy through their body, year after year, in order to fit into a masculine style of work. And many people with a masculine essence, seeking to fit in with a feminine style of cooperation and energy flow, disconnect from their sense of life purpose and inhibit their deep truth, afraid of the consequences of being authentic to their own masculine core. Hence, the frequent complaints about too many ballbusters and too many wimps.
OK, again this sounds sexist, and his language is not very subtle, but it's a valid point. We do need to honor our essence as people, no mater what that looks like. Doing so might impact how we make a living, but we are more likely to have happy and successful lives if we are aligned with our true nature.

A friend of mine is strongly considering becoming a personal trainer rather than a software engineer, and my guess is that part of his decision is based on aligning with his true nature. Software might make him more money, but helping other people might be about who is as a person, and doing so is bound to make him happier. And the reality is, at least in my experience, that if we are doing something we love to do, a little less money isn't as big of an issue.

Deida talks about three stages of psych-sexual development -- what I am seeking and advocating is the third stage. This is from an interview he gave that was posted back in July of 2007.

You know, I sometimes talk about three stages. In the first stage I talk about, men only identified with the masculine, whom we could caricaturize as the “macho jerk” archetype, and women only identified with the feminine, a kind of “submissive housewife” image from the 1950s. That’s the image of first-stage relationships.

A lot of people are moving into a second stage where they are balancing their internal masculine and feminine and I think that is where the majority of people are still going. Women as a whole are becoming more balanced, more masculine, and men are becoming more balanced, more feminine, which these days is called the metrosexual approach.

Women are ahead of men in general. So as a group women are more evolved than men. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any evolved men. At the edges of the bell curve there are plenty of both men and women. But as a group, women are a little ahead, so women became balanced first, and that was shown during the first wave of the feminist movement or women’s liberation in the ’60s and ’70s. Men followed that with “the men’s movement”: learning to access emotions, singing, banging on drums, communing with nature, and dancing in the woods. It helped feminize men, put them in touch with their feelings, with the power of nature, and especially with the power of relationship with other men and women.

My work is really for people who have already achieved this masculine/feminine balance to some degree and want to take the next step. And that step is complete fluidity in masculine and feminine depending on the needs of the situation and the expression of the individual. So sometimes you would be extremely masculine or extremely feminine, sometimes a more balanced expression. So the middle of the curve is going towards androgyny and the people who have already achieved that are taking the next step towards true freedom in sexual expression and enjoyment.

The article above (the advice for women) seems focused on the second stage -- and moving into the third. I would like to see more men able to achieve that fluidity -- it's certainly what I am working on in my own life. And if you are reading this blog, I suspect you are too.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Metrosexuals Versus Manly Men: Obama vs. McCain?

[Is Obama more feminine than Clinton?]

An interesting article over the Moderate Voice raises the issue of whether or not Obama is too metrosexual (read: girlie) to be Commander in Chief.

Metrosexuals versus manly men: a reason voters will prefer McCain to Obama?

May 23rd, 2008 by JILL MILLER ZIMON

Types like she laughs: I never thought about it this way before, but John Ettorre just left a very interesting and unique (because I’d yet to see the argument made nor had it ever occurred to me before now) comment on this thread with Ellen Bravo’s ten reasons why women should vote for Obama if he is the candidate.

Writes John:

And reason #11: he’s a metrosexual, with all the effeminate qualities that entails. They’re off-putting to many males (me included), and I predict it will be among the leading reasons for sinking his chances in the general election. [emphasis added]

This kind of idea is very far afield to me because I really don’t view people in those terms, or at least, I don’t think about metrosexuals at all.

I can’t remember seeing a microtargeting category of metrosexuals but here’s what you can find on Google if you put in “metrosexual Obama.” Results in the “news” search are here. I don’t have time to go through many of them, so let me just link to a couple:

This letter to the editor, in Maine, goes right to the military comparison and is not complimentary to Obama.

But this article in U.S. News & World Report takes the position that Obama is more of a woman than Clinton and that that implies that women will not lose if Obama is the nominee (fun note: that article was written on 2/13/08 and says that the race was Obama’s to lose, then).

This just gets too wrapped up in genderizing the qualities that go with being a leader and again, being short on time, I’ll leave the comments as a place for people to explore whether we are evolved enough to realize that we should be selecting our leaders based on those qualities, and not by saying things like “he’s more a woman than Clinton” or “McCain is more of a manly man.” What is that supposed to do for us? Some people identify women’s qualities as not being ones akin to leadership, others go the opposite direction. And manly men in the way people refer to someone like McCain totally turn me off. Feh.

Anyway - manly men or metrosexuals? What do people think?

Let's just assume for the sake of argument that Obama is a metrosexual, meaning ....
a neologism generally applied to heterosexual men with a strong concern for their appearance, or whose lifestyles display attributes stereotypically seen among gay men. The metro- (city) prefix indicates this man's purely urban lifestyle, while the -sexual suffix comes from "heterosexual," meaning that this man, although he is usually straight, embodies the heightened aesthetic sense often associated with certain types of gay men.
Doesn't that describe all politicians to some degree? Isn't that why these men (and women) have stylists, to make them look good?

Putting aside the issue of appearance and grooming, which is only a surface issue anyway, there is something else at work here.

By metrosexual, many people mean effeminate. In Obama's case, there might be some psychological truth to that assertion. He was raised without a strong and present father figure, a situation that often leaves men more "feminine" than those raised with fathers who could guide them into some form of mature masculinity.

This is of special interest to me and I'll be blogging more about it over time. I navigated my teen years without a father, which left me struggling for years to develop a mature masculinity that is both sensitive and strong. I suspect Obama did the same thing.

Is Obama a metrosexual? I don't know. But I do suspect that he is more balanced in his psychology than is McCain (the archetypal masculine image, ala John Wayne). Is it a bad thing that Obama has more access to his feminine subpersonality? I don't think so -- to me it seems a positive trait that can make him a more effective leader (this may account for his skills at coalition building in the Senate).

I'm sure we will be hearing more about this in the coming months. I will also be blogging here more about "father loss" and "absent fathers" and how this impacts masculinity.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Beyond Masculinity - Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics

Perhaps no other group of men has more to say about how we construct masculinity than gay men. Because they are born with a biological preference for same-gender love, they have often been excluded from traditional definitions of being masculine, either willingly (the femme gay or the butch gay) or by the culture that fears them (calling them faggot, queer, etc.).

Because they have been marginalized, gay men (and women) have been much more aware of gender politics than the rest of us. We can learn a lot from them about what it means (or doesn't mean) to be identified as a specific gender.

Here is the home page information for Beyond Masculinity - Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics, an online anthology of articles.

Welcome to the NEW!
Beyond Masculinity is a groundbreaking collection of 22 provocative essays on sexuality, gender, and politics -- all written by gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer men. Part audiobook, part-blog, and part-anthology, brings together a smart, diverse group of queer male writers all critically examining maleness and the construction of masculinity and gender norms for men. Contributions focus on five key areas: Desire, Sex and Sexuality; Negotiating Identities; Queer Feminist Politics; Beyond Binary Gender; and Transforming Masculinity.

Did we mention that it's free?
That's right - you don't need to pay a dime. With the click of a button, you have at your fingertips not only the 22 essays included in this project, but also audio recordings of most authors reading their essays! And, on top of all that, we've provided PDF versions that more closely resemble traditional book publications for educators to use in the classroom. You're welcome! And, yea, we accept donations.

Putting the Internet to work.
Beyond Masculinity was originally conceived in 2005 as a traditional published anthology featuring essays from queer male writers, activists, and scholars. But we realized that by publishing online, we could reach a much wider audience at a lower cost - all without knocking down any trees! Even better, new technology allows users to interact with online material like never before. You like that essay? Comment on it! Built on the back of MovableType's powerful blogging software, this site makes space for your voice as readers, too. It's called Web 2.0 - make the most of it!

Some of these essays are quite interesting, for example this one, On Being a Queer Man: Feminism and the Need to be an Ally, by Michael Faris. Here is a bit from the introduction.
Now, at 27 and as a queer-identified teacher, writer, and academic living 2000 miles from my parents’ Iowan farm, I am someone that third-grade me wouldn’t recognize himself in. In particular, it is my ambivalence towards identifying as a man that may be hardest for the younger me to identify with.

This ambivalence arises every time I am asked to mark my sex or gender on a form. This ambivalence quickly turns to frustration when I am asked for my "gender" but must mark either "male" or "female." Too often, questionnaires and surveys conflate sex and gender, and even when they don't, they limit us to binaries: male or female, man or woman. This may not seem like that big of a deal. After all, I’m perceived as male-bodied and I identify as a man. However, I am struggling with identifying as a man, largely because of my politics and the influences of feminist scholars whom I’ve read – such as Andrea Dworkin, John Stoltenberg, and Catharine MacKinnon. I’d like to chronicle here my growth from someone who saw the world in strict categories of man and woman into the queer man allied with feminism that I am today.

I believe that as a culture we are often confused about what it means to be a man or to be a woman. In short, we’re generally unsure what gender means. Growing up as a man in our culture, I think, is about struggling with what it means to be a man: how tough to be, how to relate to women, how to bond with other men, how men are supposed to express emotion — and this list is just a start. Gender, it has long been understood, is a social construction, based on the values we have ascribed to sex. It has been these values that we’ve ascribed to manhood that I’ve constantly wrestled with.[1]

It wasn't until I started studying gender as a social system, as a codified set of rules and expectations embedded with domination, that I began to understand what it means to be a man. Or, rather, it wasn't until I started applying what I was learning in classes and in my reading to my own life that I began to understand what it meant to be a man. I owe much of my understanding of myself to feminist scholarship and to gender theory. Gender activist Riki Wilchins writes that "gender is primarily a system of symbols and meanings—and the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use—for power and sexuality: masculinity and femininity, strength and vulnerability, action and passivity, dominance and weakness" (14, emphasis original). As Wilchins stresses here, gender in our society is enforced through rules and punishments; these rules and punishments not only limit us to rigid definitions of who we can be, but also privilege men (as active, strong, and dominant) over women (as vulnerable, passive, and weak).

I think that straight and/or bisexual men also need to be thinking about these same issues in defining for ourselves what it means to be a man. We are born into the male sex, but we grow into the masculine gender, however that is defined by our families of origin, our community, our culture, and our society.

While there are distinct biological differences between male and female brains, there are even more culturally-based differences that define our gender roles. How we relate to these roles (do we accept them without question, or do we look beneath them to see what we really feel in our own hearts) can be an important part of our spiritual growth as men.

In Jungian psychology, we have a both a masculine self and feminine self, (the anima is feminine in men, and the animus is masculine in women). How these opposite-gender parts of ourselves develop is still being worked out (origins vary depending on which school of psychology one adheres to), but their existence has been widely agreed upon in the field of therapy.

When we work to transcend these gendered elements of our psyches, the union is sometimes referred to as the Hieros Gamos (literally, sacred union), or the alchemical wedding (conjunctio). In performing this work, we can move beyond the binary definitions of masculine and feminine. But what this looks like, in any integral sense, remains to be seen since so few people have done the work in an authentic way.

Anyway, go check out the anthology of articles -- many of them are quite enlightening, representing a level of thinking and questioning few straight men ever undertake.

Male Binge Eating

When asked about binge eating, or eating disorders in general, my guess is that most people think this is a female issue. But men binge eat as well, and for many of the same reasons, foremost of which is to bury feelings.

While women might want to bury anger, anxiety, or depression beneath a couple of pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, men pretty much want to bury any feeling that isn't anger, the only feeling most of us were allowed to have as we grew up. We aren't comfortable with feelings and were never taught how to sit with our feelings and not become overwhelmed.

This documentary helps us to understand one man's struggle with the disorder.

I found this post at What the Health?

A man named Paul Murphy from Thunder Bay called to share his story. He has male binge eating disorder, and has been receiving treatment at a medical centre there.

He has helped create a short documentary about the disorder.

Part One:

Part Two:

The featured therapist, John A. Esposti, says that binge eating is a symptom of larger issues. With men, he says, it’s often a struggle with expressing their emotions. They can’t cope with the expectations placed on them so they eat in excess the same way that alcoholics hit the booze.

Last year, Harvard published the first national study of people with eating disorders and discovered that 40 per cent of American binge eaters are men. This disorder is apparently more common than bulimia or anorexia.

A book called The Good Eater: The True Story of One Man’s Struggle with Binge Eating Disorder was published 2007. It’s written by Ron Saxen, a former male model, who had the disorder too.

This is especially interesting since usually women are subject of discussions about eating disorders.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Steve Pavlina - How to Be a Man

I like this post from Steve Pavilina. It outlines a useful model for what I want to explore in this blog.

How to Be a Man

May 9th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

What does it mean to be a man today? How can men consciously express their masculinity without becoming cold or closed-hearted on the one hand… or wimpy and emasculated on the other? What’s the most loving way for a conscious man to express himself?

Here are 10 ways to live more consciously as a man:

1. Make real decisions.
2. Put your relationships second.
3. Be willing to fail.
4. Be confident.
5. Express love actively.
6. Re-channel sex energy.
7. Face your fears.
8. Honor the masculinity of other men.
9. Accept responsibility for your relationships.
10. Die well.
You'll have to go to Steve's blog to get the details on each item.