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The Crisis of the Masculine
by Robert Moore • Chicago, ILRobert Moore

During a Bill Moyers PBS interview with Robert Bly, a young man asked the question, "Where are the initiated men of power today?" We are facing a crisis in masculine identity of vast proportions. Increasingly, observers of the contemporary scene– sociologists, anthropologists and depth psychologists– are discovering the devastating dimensions of this phenomenon, which affects each of us personally as much as it affects our society as a whole.

We can look at family systems and see the breakdown of the traditional family. More and more families display the sorry fact of the disappearing father. This disappearance, through either emotional or physical abandonment, or both, wreaks psychological devastation on the children of both sexes. The weak or absent father cripples both his daughters’ and his sons’ ability to achieve their own gender identity and to relate in an intimate and positive way with members both of their own sex and the opposite sex.

But it is our belief and experience that we can’t just point in any simple way to the disintegration of modern family systems, important as this is, to explain the crisis in masculinity. We have to look at two other factors that underlie this very disintegration.

First we need to take very seriously the disappearance of ritual processes for initiating boys into manhood. In traditional societies there are standard definitions of what makes up what we call Boy Psychology and Man Psychology. This can be seen clearly in the tribal societies that have come under the careful scrutiny of such noted anthropologists as Arnold van Gennp and Victor Turner. There are rituals for helping the boys of the tribe make the transition to manhood. Over the centuries of civilization in the West, almost all of these ritual processes have been abandoned or have been diverted into narrower and less energized channels– into pheno-mena we can call pseudo-initiations.

We can point to the historic background for the decline of ritual initiation. The Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment were strong movements that shared the theme of the discrediting of ritual process. And once ritual as a sacred and transforming process has been discredited, what we are left with is what Victor Turner has called "mere ceremonial," which does not have the power necessary to achieve genuine transformation of consciousness. By disconnecting from ritual we have done away with the processes by which both men and women achieved their gender identity in a deep, mature and life-enhancing way.

What happens to a society if the ritual processes by which these identities are formed become discredited? In the case of men, there are many who either had no initiation into manhood or who had pseudo-initiations that failed to evoke the needed transition into adulthood. We get the dominance of Boy psychology. Boy psychology is everywhere around us, and its marks are easy to see. Among them are abusive and violent acting-out behaviors against others, both men and women; passivity and weakness, the inability to act effectively and creatively in one’s own life and to engender life and creativity in others (both men and women); and, often, an oscillation between the two– abuse/weakness, abuse/weakness.

Along with the breakdown of meaningful ritual process for masculine initiation, a second factor seems to be contributing to the dissolution of mature masculine identity. This factor, shown to us by one strain of feminist critique, is called patriarchy. Patriarchy is the social and cultural organization that has ruled our Western world, and much of the rest of the globe, from at least the second millennium BCE to the present. Feminists have seen how male dominance in patriarchy has been oppressive and abusive of the feminine– of both the so-called feminine characteristics and virtues and of actual women themselves. In their radical critique of patriarchy, some feminists conclude that masculinity in its roots is essentially abusive, and that connection with "eros"– with love, relatedness and gentleness– comes only from the feminine side of the human equation.

As useful as some of these insights have been to the cause of both feminine and masculine liberation from patriarchal stereotypes, we believe there are serious problems with this perspective. In our view, patriarchy is not the expression of deep and rooted masculinity, for truly deep and rooted masculinity is not abusive. Patriarchy is the expression of the immature masculine. It is the expression of Boy psychology, and in part, the shadow– or crazy– side of masculinity. It expresses the stunted masculine, fixated at immature levels.

Patriarchy, in our view, is an attack on masculinity in its fullness as well as femininity in its fullness. Those caught up in the structures and dynamics of patriarchy seek to dominate not only women but men as well. Patriarchy is based on fear– the boy’s fear, the immature masculine’s fear– of women, to be sure, but also fear of men. Boys fear women. They also fear real men.

The patriarchal male does not welcome the full masculine development of his sons or his male subordinates any more than he welcomes the full development of his daughters, or his female employees. This is the story of the superior at the office who can’t stand it that we are as good as we are. How often we are envied, hated and attacked in direct and passive-aggressive ways even as we seek to unfold who we really are in all our beauty, maturity, creativity and generativity! The more beautiful, competent and creative we become, the more we seem to invite the hostility of our superiors, or even of our peers. What we are really being attacked by is the immaturity in human beings who are terrified of our advances on the road toward masculine or feminine fullness of being.

The drug dealer, the ducking and diving political leader, the wife beater, the chronically "crabby" boss, the unfaithful husband, the indifferent graduate student school advisor, the "holier than thou" minister, the gang member, the father who can never find time to attend his daughter’s school programs, the coach who ridicules his star athletes, the therapist who unconsciously attacks his clients’ "shining" and seeks some 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 of manhood that goes largely undetected by most of us. We are continually mistaking this man’s controlling, threatening and hostile behaviors as strength. In reality, he is showing an underlying extreme vulnerability and weakness, the vulnerability of a 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.

Joseph Campbell, in his last book, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, called for a worldwide awakening to a kind of initiation that would become a rallying point for a deepened human sense of responsibility and maturity. Initiation, as we talk about it, is really a matter of exploring the outer reaches of inner space. We wish to add our voices to those of the many men throughout history who, against enormous odds, through their lives and through their teachings, have called for an end to the reign of the Lord of the Flies– the apocalyptic fantasy of the end of the world in a final display of infantile rage. If contemporary men can take the task of their own initiation from Boyhood to Manhood as seriously as did their tribal forebears, then we may witness the end of the beginning of our species, instead of the beginning of the end. We may pass between the clashing Scylla and Charybdis of our grandiosity and our chauvinistic tribalism and move beyond them into a future as wonderful and generative as any depicted in myth and legend.

Our effectiveness in meeting these challenges is directly related to how we as individual men meet the challenges of our own immaturity. How well we transform ourselves from men living our lives under the power of Boy psychology to real men guided by the archetypes of Man psychology will have a decisive effect on the outcome of our present world situation.

Excerpted with permission from King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, Harper San Francisco, 1990.

Robert Moore, Ph.D., is internationally recognized as one of the foremost psychotherapists specializing in work with men, and is the co-author of a series of books on the mature masculine archetypes as well as
The Archetype of Initiation. He can be reached at (773) 288-7474 or www.robertmoore-phd.com.

Robert will be presenting along with Robert Bly, John Lee, Jeffrey Duvall and others at the 9th Annual Mentone Men’s Conference, Nov. 1-3 in Mentone, AL. Call Tim Schaller for info at (828) 891-3714.