Yesterday’s rant in opposition to the seemingly endless perpetration of violence by men against women must not be allowed to stand alone, without follow-up. In an earlier piece, we referenced Liz Plank’s “love letter” to men, in advocacy of what she claims is poisonous testosterone.
Another work that appeared in 2004 is bell hook’s “The Will to change: Men, Masculinity and Love” and rather than “excoriating the worst behaviour of men, hooks analyses masculinity as a kind of regime that oppresses everybody, including men. She sees child abuse, sexual abuse, and shaming as rampant conditions that predispose psychologically damaged boys to violence.” (From The New Yorker Radio Hour, November 17, 2017.)
In the goodreads review of bell hook’s book, we find this:
“Everyone needs to love and be loved—even men. But to know love, men must be able to look at the ways that patriarchal culture keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving. In “The Will to Change,” bell hooks gets to the heart of the matter and shows men how to express the emotions that are a fundamental part of who they are—whatever their age, marital status, ethnicity or sexual orientation. With trademark candor and fierce intelligence, hooks addresses the most common concerns of men, such as fear of intimacy and loss of their patriarchal place in society, in new and challenging ways. She believes men can find the way to spiritual unity by getting back in touch with the emotionally open part of themselves—and lay claim to the rich and rewarding inner lives that have historically been the exclusive province of women. A brave and astonishing work, “The Will to Change” is designed to help men reclaim the best part of themselves.”
In this space we have been peeling the onion of masculinities, including the constrictions of patriarchy, and the ease with which men accept the peer pressure to conform. Resisting the social, family, educational, political, economic and even religious pressures to “conform” to a culture whose basis includes and is dependent upon a monotheism, an empiricism, a literalism, and nominalism, and the legalisms and medical regimes built on these pillars, however, amounts to more than simply getting in touch with our “feelings”.
A conflation of psychology and religion, for example, compounds the psychic framework of many men, attendant as we are to a “system” of thought, a metaphysic and especially an ethic that is clear, eminently digestible, easily transmitted to children, and also transmitted as well as sanctioned in teams and organizations. “Task” -directed, -focused, and -delivered, in the literal, and thereby rewarded manner, is like a heading on a tablet delivered by whichever ‘moses’ came down from the mountain top with a tablet on which these words were inscribed. From a theological perspective, the book of James exhorts readers, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2: 26) In a culture whose foundations were poured by the hands and the blood and sweat of ‘puritan’ religious in Great Britain, reared in a faith in a male God and His male Son Jesus, so earnest it sparked a Civil War in England and a revolution in the American colonies, and then such discipline and effort and endeavour were transferred to a pioneer and capitalist people, there can be little wonder that “works” come to define the men and women whose heritage and legacy centred on their concept of faith and religion.
Let’s resist any attempt to simplify what has come to be known as the patriarchy today, in a culture swimming in the words, protests, hashtags and litigations authored by more than one generation of women intent upon their own revolution. Even the notion of social, familial, corporate, military and health care structure is based on a power pyramid, a moral code for which men bore much of the duty to sanction (“Wait until your father comes home!”) The Pope, the military Generals, the Kings and Emperors, all of them embody the concept of singular, male, even in some theoretical instances, a “divine right of kings” kind of legitimacy. And in that vein, both of thought and of cultural and political development, with power ‘starting” at the top, with God metaphysically, metaphorically, and then imitated by humans,
· whose documentation was scribbled primarily by other men,
· debated in the streets by primarily men,
· executed in the courts, primarily by men,
· policed on the streets and alleys, primarily by men,
· delivered in the nurseries and
· operated in the operating rooms primarily by men
· preached from the pulpits, primarily by men
· and whose intellectual, academic and professional definitions, parameters, expectations, standards and rewards were determined primarily by men
The sheer, unequivocal, undisputed and perhaps even undisputable force and power that engineered the culture flowed from the brains, the muscles and the ethics of men. (This is not to acknowledge that women had no significance, merely that the division of labour was, for all practical purposes, exclusive.)
And in that light, the pursuit of anything looking like stability in the face of illness, poverty, hunger, separation, alienation and death itself, seemed to many to depend on a minimal, if any, recognition, and concentration on one’s emotions. Even literature, for the most part, was confined to male writers, with an occasional woman writing and publishing under a male name (George Elliot, for example). The stories of women, through such luminaries as Jane Austin and The Bronte Sisters, shone through the vale of male-inked fiction and non-fiction, as a beacon of both anxiety and hope, depending on one’s perspective.
The slide from a puritan idealism, and the cultural concentration on the individual (the single and sole recipient of the words and spirit of God!) supported and enhanced the divide between the human and nature, as did the invention of the printing press accentuate the divide between the ‘schooled’ and the illiterate, both literally and metaphorically. Power and authority over what the culture considered “right and wrong” rested with the church, which in England was twinned so deeply, and so intricately, with monarch as “head of the church of England.” And in this ethos and from this cultural soil came another divide, not only between the upper and lower classes, but also between the “righteous” and the “heathen.”
Colonialism, even among the same people living in the same villages, towns counties and cities exercised control by some (few) over others (many) who, by their very impoverished condition (hungry, uneducated, frightened to disobey or even to speak up against abuse, frightened of punishment, incarceration, and additional destitution), before such dominance was exported to the colonies themselves.
In a sociological development fueled by the rise of a middle class of increasing affluence, labour rights and protection and political access to power through the ballot, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, focused on the crown of self-actualization, “dreams” both of the individual and the nation rose to prominence. And, the most obviously denied aspect in the private lives of both men and women, in that pursuit, were the human emotions, additional evidence of the “superiority” of the human species over nature and the animals.
Control of emotions, then, came to rival control of the family budget, accompanied and supported both by the pharmaceutical industries and the therapy segment. As feminine sensibilities already “knew” more and appreciated the importance ofc feelings far more than their male counterparts, women readily opened to the adventure of self-exploration of how they might express themselves, especially with other women. And the trend, feminine by numbers, dollars and stereotyping by men as somewhat frivolous and exclusive to women, excluded men, partly if not primarily authored and executed by men themselves (ourselves). The entertainment sector triumphed with and through movies and television shows that teased, tickled, aroused and depressed the emotions of the audience. The literary values, including the traditional literary criticisms so vaulted and valued in classical and academic and traditional theatre, tended to be somewhat obscured by ratings, ticket sales, and box-office revenues.
More “masculine” flicks did not disappear, while remaining tightly within the circumference of conventional, cultural, parameters of “hard-nosed” masculinity. Their perspectives and subjects diverged from those of their female counterparts, tending to political, detective, explorative, and even historic subjects and persons.
One American male writer, Ernest Hemingway, for example, put his heroes face-to-face with serious conflict as a way of demonstrating the strength, the courage and the resiliency of those characters, as if to imply that one’s emotions were unable to be extracted from one’s attempts at the heroic. His own suicide, tragically, attests to some dark demons that may have driven much of his life and writing.
The plea among those advocating that men “claim” our emotions, learn the multiple words and nuances that express those nuances and join the conversation about emotions is one to which I have been dedicated for more than two decades. However, through reading such “people” as James Hillman, (The Soul’s Code, Revisioning Psychology) I agree with Hillman in two respects. First, with the river of therapy flooding its banks, we appear to be no more psychically and emotionally healthy than we were prior to the deluge. Second, emotions are somewhat fickle, somewhat unpredictable, while illuminating in the sense of trigger intuitions that can point us in a direction that might need further investigation. We men and women, are much more complicated than evidence derived primarily from our emotions. We are each engaged, with or without our consciousness, in patterns of events, relationships, dramas, that may not be under our control, even if we think and believe that we are writing the script and then enacting it.
So, to bell hooks, and her authentic love and care for and of men, I gently urge a re-consideration of the masculine perspective on the need for men to “claim” our emotions. Our inner life, for example, comprises all that is going on in our imaginations, not only our feelings. And while our feelings may surface long before we have thought through what might be happening in our lives, and which god or goddess might at any moment “have us” in his/her grip, we are, through a lens Hillman introduces as “archetypal psychology”.
Let’s review one of Hemingway’s more renowned quotes, through the lens of Hillman’s archetypal psychology’s questions, speculations, interpretations and imaginings. Here is the quote:
The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.
Surely, we can all agree that this is a portrait of Hemingway’s hero.
Now let’s review Hillman’s portrait of the hero:
The archetypal perspective offers a host of events from different areas of life, The archetype of the hero, for example, appears first in behaviour, the drive to activity, outward exploration, response to challenge, seizing and grasping and extending. It appears second in the images of Hercules, Achilles, Samson (or their cinema counterparts) doing their specific tasks; and third, it a style of consciousness, in feelings of independence, strength, and achievement, in ideas of decisive action, coping planning, virtue, conquest (over animality), and in psychopathologies of battle, overpowering masculinity and single-mindedness.
The example limps, of course, because the hero archetype appears not so much in a list of contents as it does in maintaining the heroic attitude toward events, an attitude now so habitual that we have come to call it the “ego,” forgetting that it is but another archetypal style.(James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p xx)
Hillman posits a rich compendium of archetypes, gods and goddesses, whose imprints and constellations continue to offer enriched perspectives of variety, diversity, based on a polytheistic vision from the Greeks, rather than on a monotheistic perspective. He is not offering a lens to or for a new religion. He is rather de-conflating the contemporary Siamese of religion and psychology, leaving to religion the absolutes, while retaining for psychology, the option of multiple perspectives, multiple interpretations, multiple voices that continue to live and breathe in our lives.
Ascribing angels to words, and gods and goddesses to our lives, shifting from situation to circumstance, yet holding fast to an imaginal, rather than a literal, nominalistic, reductionistic perspective of what it is to be a human. Pushing back against the classification of aberrant behaviour as either “sick” (abnormal psychology) or “criminal” (needing the judiciary systems’ reckoning), without retaining either denial or ignorance of psychopathic behaviour, Hillman seems to seek a more inclusive, broader more sensitive and more sensible view of the complexity of every human being.
And, as Hillman disdains our culture’s embeddedness in the heroic archetype, at the expense of a plethora of others, we, perhaps unconsciously, sabotage the process of self-discovery. And while that process includes our emotions, it does not stop there, but extends further into a more complex appreciation of the voices playing our in our imaginations, as a minefield rich in both the exploration and in the discovery…even if those discoveries prove somewhat partial, ambiguous and teasing of further reflection.
Men need to let go not only of our vaulted hearts, but our equally walled and dry imaginations, only to swim in new waters, of our own souls.