Robert Bly
Robert Bly; drawing by David Levine


Dorothy Parker is said to have remarked to the authors of Modern Woman, the Lost Sex, “I bet you say that to all the sexes.” Reading these books together is like being locked in the coat closet at a cocktail party to overhear a muffled cacophony of half-truths, partial insights, and entrenched wrongheadedness, from which emerges the general impression of a society foundering in reproachful cries of loster-than-thou from all the sexes (cries which the events surrounding the Clarence Thomas hearings and the William Kennedy Smith trial have intensifed). The male writers, as usual, tend to find women essentially peripheral to their lives, and seem more interested (or more free of practical cares) to address existential questions of individual moral and emotional progress, while for most of the women writers, men are still the problem. Underlying the discussion are the abiding central questions of definition: What ought “real” men to be like? What are women really like? What is “masculinity”? Does a real man “feel”? Are “caring” and “nurturing” the essence of femininity?

While in all of these many books about men and women the reader may object to an absence of historical perspective and an abundance of arguable assertions, oversimplifications, esoteric private vocabularies, global abstractions, and naive prescriptiveness—Sam Keen’s Fire in the Belly has lists and quizzes—it should be said at the outset that something emerges from this profusion of viewpoints that, though not necessarily scientific or even sound, adequately describes what many people feel subjectively to be the state of things about men, or women, or themselves.

One has only to look at magazine photographs of anorexic fashion models wearing chains and decorative bruises to agree that Naomi Wolf is probably right (in The Beauty Myth) to see in the discomforts of fashion some sadistic backlash against women. (This is in fact something people have always said about fashion, designers who “hate” women and so on—but recent fashions for dog collars and penciled-on wounds and other references to torture and masochism make the perception somewhat more explicit.) Most people would instinctively feel that Suzanne Gordon is right to regret (in Prisoners of Men’s Dreams) that people consider nurses lower than doctors, or that an uneducated male janitor is paid more than a woman teacher. The deluge of books, especially on the “men’s movement,” also reminds that according to some unexpressed principle, by the time books about certain social problems come to be published they are already slightly out of date; that is, while Wolf sees an epidemic of victim-anorexics, the federal guidelines on ideal weight have actually been recently increased, and there’s a new fat Barbie doll called “Happy to be me.” And while men proclaim their wish to get back to masculinity, it is probably the emotional values acquired since the Sixties, of cultivating the “feminine side,” that make them aware of the need to do it.

Several new and best-selling books describe the process by which sensitive modern men, having agreed since the Sixties that the effect of what has come to be called “patriarchy” (war, rape, domestic violence, and environmental destruction) is unacceptable, nonetheless rather miss it, and are nostalgically seeking to reconstruct masculinity as a positive quality along traditional lines. The leading figure of this new men’s movement, Robert Bly, contrasts men today with an archetypal “1950s Man,” a boyish and optimistic, responsible, hard-working but domineering male who appreciated women’s bodies but had little sense of women as individuals, and “unless he has an enemy, he isn’t sure that he is alive.” Some of these men may have been or be good guys, but collectively they embody the repugnant “patriarchy” recently caricatured by US senators in the Thomas hearings.

In the Sixties, responding to the Vietnam War as well as to the claims of feminism, younger men became what Bly has called “soft,” by which he means that they rejected many of the values of aggression and dominance so important to their fathers, in favor of lives of richer emotional sensitivity—their so-called “feminine” sides. Today, feeling that they have gone far enough in that direction and, perhaps, in helping with the dishes, men are seeking to recapture “masculinity” without reviving a discredited patriarchy. A “real” man, in this new (or old) view, is not an inarticulate, testosterone-engorged bully, not someone who as Bly says is “a coldhearted survivalist, living in the Idaho of the mind with his dogs and an AK-47,” but a person who incorporates with the modern ability to “feel” and “care” some of the values we remember many men to have had even before the Sixties, of responsibility, protection of the weak, leadership, confidence, and virtue, rather as described in the Boy Scout Handbook or in accounts of ancient Athens. Added is a newfound fashion for crying, as Russell Baker noted recently (“All right, men, we now know you can cry, so could we just turn the manly tear ducts down to a trickle, fellows?”).


To judge from the popularity of these books, men must feel they have lost their way, and they use certain grim statistics to confirm it—that men (however willingly) are nearly 100 percent of the soldiers killed in war and most of the victims of murder, are two thirds of the nation’s alcoholics, 90 percent of the homeless, 90 percent of those arrested, four times as many suicides, overwhelmingly a majority among criminals and the imprisoned. Of course it has always been men who have filled the armies and the prisons, but only now have men come to see themselves as particularly victimized. And rates of all their afflictions are increasing.1

Commentators variously blame the economy, the imperfect social vision of our leaders, and, frequently, feminism for having unmanned the male, though Margaret Mead has observed that “the central problem of every society is to define appropriate roles for the men.” In Robert Bly’s view, manhood is to be recaptured by getting in touch with the “grief” arising from the shame past male behavior has brought upon men, because “so many roles that men have depended on for hundreds of years have dissolved or vanished,” and from men’s loss of connection to their fathers. Part of their reconstruction is to come when the severed ties are knitted up between young men and the elders of their tribes, just as in Africa, so that male lore and values, male cooperation and friendship, can in our society as in others welcome and nurture the young man, and also fit him for happiness and the society of women. In Bly’s view, this may entail rituals as simple as parades (for instance to welcome returning soldiers, helping to ease them back into nonwarrior status), or as amorphous as gaining what used to be called “the tragic sense of life,” perhaps, like the bookish Bly, from reading the great poets of Western culture, from Homer to Rilke.

Bly remarks that “the love unit most damaged by the Industrial Revolution has been the father-son bond.” The role of a resuscitated father is key. Male fears of regression or feminization are epitomized by the unattractive dad of TV commercials who, as one commentator put it, would cough his brains out if some woman didn’t tell him what medicine to take. American popular culture is full of these litthe dramas of male humiliation and female contempt, in contrast with societies where men are serenely unreconstructed. In response, American men have even taken to putting on Indian headdresses and carrying spears in the popular weekend retreats which Bly among others has been successfully sponsoring for a number of years—these retreats are perhaps analogous to the women’s consciousness-raising groups that arose in the Sixties, same-sex camaraderie that does not imply (but may include) dislike of the opposite sex.

Anthropologists have tried to explain the behavior of these modern tribalists. David Gilmore, a comparative anthropologist, was prompted to write his new book, Mankind in the Making, by “the explosion of feminist writing on sex and gender in the past decade [which] has expanded our knowledge of women’s roles,” and when he observed that most societies have some opinion about what “true” manhood is, and that, in most, men are confused or anxious about the same sorts of things. He attempted a “retrospective cross-cultural” study of a number of societies to see what ideas of manhood are pervasive or constant. Attempting to define masculinity and the ways in which it is reinforced in societies as diverse as the phallocentric machismo society of Andalusia and the tribes of hunting cultures of New Guinea, he maintains in his book that, in almost all societies, manhood is not just a matter of biological age and sex, but is a “special-status category of achievement,” an idea he also finds amply supported in earlier studies by other researchers (Erik Erikson, Arnold van Gennep).

Manhood and womanhood, or masculinity and femininity, or machismo, or whatever these constructs are called, are symbolic categories (for which other commentators are using the word gender) whose status must be earned. Though it does seem that a human tribe can be found that exemplifies any social arrangement whatever, in nearly all societies to be a “man” is not just a matter of age but requires trials and learning, and an initiation administered by the male elders, rather as the men’s movement is recommending.

Manhood, then, is a “culturally imposed ideal to which men must conform whether or not they find it psychologically congenial.” Gilmore argues that while one would not wish to defend all cultural definitions of masculinity, and in some cultures the definition may be unpleasantly uncongenial to some men (they may not want to kill bears or seduce women, say), the point is that a young man in each society, whether he is an Indian killing a deer or a young Jewish boy reciting chapters from memory, must stand up and perform a feat his tribe respects; and he believes that individuals who do not go through the process are more apt to be unhappy or marginalized.2 (Indeed, in the group weekends held by members of the men’s movement the participants often perform the rituals which they not only may have missed, but which their own forefathers never dreamed of.)


Tribal variations notwithstanding, according to Gilmore what is held to be manly seems fairly universal: respected males in almost all societies are successful at impregnating females, at providing for and protecting their families, and at mastering the admired skills required to do these things.3 If the incidences of child support defection and female single-parent poverty are an indication, these are exactly the roles and duties many American men have refused or are being denied, which in turn would seem to support at least to some degree the men’s movement contention that modern social malaise is owing partly to the breakdown of the male structures, rituals, and obligations, through which, in Gilmore’s phrase, “narcissistic passivity is changed into selfless agency.” This is rather like Erik Erikson’s idea in Childhood and Society of stages of development from infant dependence to autonomy. The idea of a transition from narcissistic passivity to selfless agency may also be relevant to an issue within the women’s movement, where one faction deplores passivity and the other seems to equate passive narcissism with femininity.

In all societies he studied, Gilmore found that a need to be a bread winner is of great importance in being a man: But why do men have a need to become “men”? (He cites two groups, Tahitians and the Semai tribe of Malaysia, in which men are perfectly happy not being differentiated from women in customs and attitudes.) “Why the trials and testing and seemingly gratuitous agonies of manplaying?” Sometimes, Gilmore acknowledges, it is to mystify, justify, and perpetuate power, usually over women. But male rites exist even in tribes where there is relative sexual equality.

“Manhood imagery can be interpreted…as a defense against the eternal child within, against puerility…” [italics mine]. Like virtually all of the other men’s movement commentators, Gilmore seems more drawn to Jung’s than to Freud’s explanations. He rejects orthodox Freudian theories about dealing with castration anxiety for a “post-Freudian” explanation. This is not unlike that advanced by Jungians in discussing the puer eternis, the adored object of a mother’s care and devotion (the same childish side that many recent, popular self-help commentators4 are recommending be indulged). The argument is that whereas girls do not have to differentiate themselves from their mothers because they are the same, the male child must separate from his mother if he is to develop in the approved “manly” way, and this is the function of the rituals.

Separating from women and getting back together with men are the themes of two wildly popular works about male psychology—Robert Bly’s Iron John and Sam Keen’s Fire in the Belly. The former has been for a year on the best-seller lists, often as number one, and the latter is nearly as successful. (It is a question whether it is men buying these books, or women buying them for men.) Iron John is a retelling of the Grimms’ “Iron Hans,” a fairy tale about a Wild Man who comes out of a pond and imposes a series of tasks on a young prince, who through them gains maturity. Bly’s argument is that young men, isolated since the Industrial Revolution from their fathers, and insufficiently liberated from their mothers, have lost a sense of their manhood. In order to find it they must liberate an inner Wild Man and accomplish eight initiation steps, “serious disciplines suggested by taking the first wound, doing kitchen and ashes work, creating a garden, bringing wild flowers to the Holy Woman,…and receiving the second heart.” This maturation process resembles other popular “step” processes of self-help (used by manifold clones) and here described in sometimes idiosyncratic personal terms:

If the golden boy in our story is an ascender and a flyer after he leaves the spring, then Iron John is quite correct when he says to the boy in essence: “You know a great deal about gold now, but nothing about poverty.”

Bly’s is an erudite, romantic, and oddly prim mythopoetic exegesis exalting “manhood”—getting in touch with the “nourishing dark” Iron Man at the bottom of the male psyche—in terms which at first glance look hairy (“hairy” is an honorific term in this scheme) and retrograde, but in fact have an updated post-Jungian dash of androgyny (plenty of the feminine in every man, and masculine in women) and many unexceptionable observations, for instance that if women have objected to the characterization of God as “he,” men might plausibly object to Earth being “she”: “When our mythology opens again to welcome women into sky-heaven and men into earth-water, then the genders will not seem so far apart.” Bly’s view of human society is one shaped by mythology and poetry: particularly by Jung’s paradigms of the human psyche, with its anima/animus archetypes and the idea of a collective unconscious; depth psychology; and the human potential movement of the Sixties and all of its prominent explicators, to emphasize individual self-realization and personal perfectability:

Our story…holds that human self-esteem is a delicate matter, and not to be dismissed as infantile grandiosity. Our “mirrored greatness” as Heinz Kohut calls it, needs to be carefully honored, neither inflated nor crushed. If a man’s or a woman’s “mirrored greatness” is entirely dismissed, he or she will be crippled, and a candidate for all sorts of invasions by the group mind.

It is an idealized and optimistic view of humanity, especially applicable, perhaps, for the moment, to middle-class American white people,5 with Bly himself in the role of Iron John, to lead them toward the enhanced existence of the fully conscious and financially comfortable. What will happen in a worsening economy remains to be seen.

The Jungian analyst David Tacey, reviewing Bly’s book in the San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal,6 expresses some fears that Bly himself could be misused by the group mind, that what is romantic, even sentimental, in Bly’s defense of masculinity could merely provide justification for a return of the feared destructive forces of patriarchy:

Bly tends to romanticize and idealize this wild, untamed energy, not recognizing enough that the primitivity of the masculine arche-type is what led to patriarchal excess and compulsiveness in the first place.

He comments that some of the rituals performed at Bly’s “New Father” conferences—the drumming and bonding and mystical allegiance to the blond beast in the Aryan psyche—are “not all that dissimilar” to activities in the Nazi youth camps.

One’s own most serious reservation (apart from any general doubt one might feel about the utility of self-help prose, or, for that matter, of literature in general, in effecting social change) might be that Bly gives insufficient attention to the violent, negative side of the passion and exuberance he celebrates, or to the possibility of being misunderstood by men who do not read as much Lawrence and Frost and Fromm as he does. All of the men’s movement books tend to avoid discussion of male violence, just as feminists say little about the violent treatment by mothers of their daughters.7

Like Bly, Sam Keen, in Fire in the Belly, blames men themselves, or society, more than women or feminism, for male unhappiness, and says the remedy lies within men, not with women. Like Bly, he argues that men are too bound to women and cannot be “manly” until they separate from their mothers (difficult in these days of the absent father), go on a journey, find a vocation, and generally become “mature,” in a series of steps.

Keen is an editor at Psychology Today, and his is a sort of popular reduction of Bly, containing rules to be broken, lists of questions to ask the Self, and other helps for “using” the book: “Construct a chart of your emotional landscape,” “sit in a public place where you can observe the passing parade and use your imagination to inhabit other people’s lives,” “trace the history of your penis.” He is less interested in primitive ritual than in expressing a “spirited and careful sense of manhood” through social action and “the practice of virtue.” In short, there is nothing in this book that one would not enthusiastically wish men to take to heart, or that they could not have heard from their Episcopalian ministers in the Fifties. Writing easily and gracefully, as from the pulpit (Keen has a divinity degree), replete with wisdom collected from such contemporary “wise” figures as Fritz Perls, Paul Tillich, Erich Fromm, Joseph Campbell, and, of course, Jung, he enjoins his readers to realism, commitment, passion, strength, intelligence, friendship, loyalty, etc.

Bly’s and Keen’s are simply the most conspicuous of a number of books by people identifying themselves as Jungian interpreters (or “revisionists”) of the male personality. Douglas Gillette and Robert Moore, in King Warrior Magician Lover, offer another densely peopled mythology, whose characters—the Lover, the King, etc.—become, perhaps, as familiar to their followers as did the transformations of Shiva or the whims of Zeus to theirs. Moore and Gillette outline four archetypes, or shadows—their immature or negative sides, called such things as the “Mama’s Boy” or the “High-Chair Tyrant,” all familiar and recognizable descriptions of people we have met, not only in life but in books—the Mama’s Boy paradigm is almost exactly the plot of Portnoy’s Complaint, for example.

Another prominent Jungian, Robert Johnson, uses familiar literary figures (Don Quixote, Hamlet, and Goethe’s Faust) rather as Freud used Oedipus, to explicate stages in the development of a mature masculine personality: childhood, adolescence, where he says most men stay, and the fully integrated man represented by Faust. The connection of many of these works, and of these preachers, to religion suggests that all these ideas have developed from Sixties ideas but, like religions, they emphasize synthesis, tradition, and text instead of rebellion and a break with the past.8

None of these authors, like Gilmore, makes much mention of Freud, perhaps because Freudianism, with its emphasis on individual and private experience, is not concerned with the way “private fantasies find collective expression in such parts of the masculine definition as an ethic of ‘facing’ or a morality of generosity,” as Gilmore puts the question. “The context of Freud’s unconscious is now conscious,” adds Keen complacently, “and therefore his ‘heroic’ journey into the sexual underworld seems passé to us. The repressions of our time are no longer primarily sexual….”9

It was Freud’s genius and historical destiny to call men back to the psyche, to remind us not to lose ourselves in the world of action. He taught us that healing the wound of manhood involves remembering our fathers and mothers and recollecting the family drama within which our childhood was set. Building upon the foundation Freud laid, modern psychology has given men back their inwardness, their subjectivity, their feelings, and the permission to pay attention to the stories of their lives.

But the cost has been considerable. If therapy has reintroduced some men to their feelings, it seems to have encapsulated them in privacy…we seem to be missing the cosmopolitan men, the old Stoic ideal of a man whose psyche was linked at once to political action and the natural world around him.

One is not sure where these writers stand on hormones. They also reject as inadequate the explanations of male behavior by such sociobiologists as E. O. Wilson, who holds that males are programmed by their hunting origins or survival needs.

One is also struck, at least from reading these books, that American men seem to find it easier to imagine themselves as sons rather than as fathers—as the prince in Bly’s text, rather than as Iron John. Their perspective is that of the boy, the pre-initiate, still in need of doing his time at camp. At least, these new masculinists write more about themselves as sons, complaining that they have lost their fathers, but saying very little about the task of being fathers to sons.10 Indeed, during the breakdown of families, many wounded men have tended angrily to blame their children along with their wives, and nothing these writers say suggests that they are ready to forgive. In fact, in all these books, as in society, children have largely been left without advocates.


What about Mother? In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Anne Elliot reproachfully asks her sister Mary how she can bear to go to a party instead of sitting by the bedside of her sick child. “You see his Papa can, and why should not I?” Mary says. If all of these books raise the possibility that there is something biologically determined, perhaps irreducibly active and competitive about men, what is the true nature of women? A question endlessly raised, endlessly debated over the centuries, and still unresolved, Suzanne Gordon’s book Prisoners of Men’s Dreams is written from the perspective of a “transformative” feminist, rather than an “equal-opportunity feminist” (equated with driven, ladder-climbing ulcer victims, whose “ultimate goal is traditional American success”); that is, Gordon is one of the school that believes “caring” (whatever that is) to be an innate female attribute, without answering the question of whether this view of women merely rephrases the same age-old definition of womanliness that has always been used to devalue them.11 She deplores the failure of women’s entrance into the marketplace to make the expected humanizing changes there, and argues that instead women have become co-opted by “male values,” have left the workplace altogether, or have settled back in traditional and lower-paying female work, which is as despised as ever.

Though Gordon exhorts the reader to respect such tasks as child care and nursing, and feels that flight attendants are just as good as pilots, she doesn’t hold out much hope that people will agree, probably, as Thorstein Veblen saw, because such tasks arise from the condition of servant and concern themselves with servile attendance on the persons of other people. Just as to forbid an epithet only invigorates it, respect cannot be legislated or compelled with honorific names, though one does notice a certain new respect for motherhood, retitled “parenting,” now that more men have taken an interest in it. Gordon complains, “If women retreat from caring, how can we possibly expect men to enter the caregiving professions,” failing to see that men will enter them when women stop staking out these mostly thankless jobs as if they were desirable and to be done only by females. And when the pay is raised, of course.

But Bly, Keen, and the other male writers suggest that “caring” is also a manly attribute. Paradoxically, it is the men’s movement people who include women in the human need to achieve “fullness of being,” and hope for them the same “beauty, maturity, creativity and generativity” (Gillette and Moore) they also want for the post-patriarchal man. This individualistic perspective is criticized by some feminist historians. In Feminism Without Illusions, for example, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese questions the whole Western tradition of individualism, in favor of “collectivist” principles, “on the basis of which we can demand respect for women as distinct representatives of our humanity.” This would no doubt be very well were it not so hard to unlearn the lesson every woman knows: that happiness, power, or creative work has only been available for individual women with the cooperation of individual men, while it is the collectivity—the state, religion, or male institutions—that has since time immemorial been the origin of discriminatory laws and treatment.

Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth) in this connection argues that the patriarchy, and its agents the film makers and magazine editors of both sexes, and the marketplace generally, imposes unattainable images of beauty as a way of keeping women in their places, and that women, lacking other forms of power, accede to this form of subjection. Wolf details a dismal catalog of anorexia, bulimia, and job discrimination against the plain or fat. She is witty on the “holy” oils sold them in ads, in which “unseen dangers assault an unprotected female victim” (she quotes a long passage of excerpts from Elizabeth Arden, Estée, Lauder, and a dozen more, identifying the language of “defense” against “attack,” “danger” to the skin “assaulted by age and ultraviolet exposure,” and “external aggressions,” language she suggests is used subliminally to frighten and control).

No doubt women are insecure about their bodies, too much preoccupied with appearance and easily alarmed by such rhetoric. Social change is slow, cyclical, and must be both outward and inward, both “equal opportunity” and “transformative.” Beauty is a useful commodity, and one of the most powerful assets some women have had with which to secure material privileges and “success”; and it takes time to unlearn old ways or be willing to squander proven assets. At present one sees women trying, as a last gasp before taking the real plunge into the man’s world, to compete in the old female way because for many it is easier to be pretty than to go to law school.

Whether the desire for beauty is innate,12 as Plato would have said, or a male plot is less knowable. If it is a plot, there is at least some evidence that it is not succeeding. In a few cases anyway, women are challenging legal issues relating to their appearance and are winning, like the Delta employee who won the right not to wear makeup. In any case, one could also say it is the profit motive, not men, who are at fault. “Going on appearances” is a way we all make judgments, and to take appearance into account is not necessarily evidence of deep social pathology.

Might it not be that women, pressed to give up some of the perquisites of the narcissistic, passive female role in their move toward “selfless agency,” cling to fashion and “beauty” as evidence of a femininity they wish to conserve as anxiously as men wish to conserve masculinity? The resonant little phrase of Gilmore’s to the effect that manhood is marked by a transition from the self-directed mood of childhood to selfless action in the world seems meaningful here, for it could be argued that not only the beauty victims but also the “caregivers” are, like patriarchs, arrested in a state of passive narcissism—in the case of caregivers, the narcissism of powerless moral superiority. It has been noted that today’s anorexic is yesterday’s religious mystic. There have never been many avenues of adventure or opportunities for mastery for girls, and anorexia, like piety, may be at least a form of agency.

Wolf does not appear to have much sympathy for the project of self-perfection in any form; nor does she apparently think much of the pleasures of pursuing beauty—the fun of spas, back rubs, and facials—seeing only sadistic surgeons, bruises, scars, and pain. In fact, she ultimately attributes all social evils, including child abuse and the increase in violence against women, to the frenzied thrashings of threatened manhood, and here it is possible that she has not cast her net wide enough, ascribing to the beauty myth what Susan Faludi in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women finds in many more places besides, and documents with an impressive array of examples taken from popular culture, and more alarmingly from politics, quoting various New Right figures on their unashamedly antifeminist political agenda—which until the Thomas hearings one would have thought was on the fringe, but which those hearings all too aptly confirmed.

Faludi’s extensive documentation of instances in which social science and statistics are distorted or manipulated whether intentionally or not (in film, by government, TV, and the press) to coerce women into docile, conventional roles as wives and mothers is fascinating. Her view, while convincing, might have been more balanced if she had talked to the political center as well as the extreme right and given fewer movie plots. But the picture she gives is broader than even Wolf had thought, and perhaps more subtle—for instance widespread attention in the press to supposedly scientific studies like the 1986 Harvard-Yale study that reported that college-educated career women aged thirty and over had only a 20 percent chance of getting married and the odds went down from there. This study created a furor, but when the same or better data were analyzed by a US Census Bureau analyst, and refuted, the “good” news was barely noted in the press. Ms. Faludi doesn’t go on to make the point that the real news was, in fact, good—that going to college did not ruin women’s marriage chances—but that would contradict her point about their victimization.

Altogether Faludi gives so many examples of reporting skewed to emphasize the adverse effects of independence and nontraditional roles for women, when ample evidence exists that such effects are often transitory, that one is left with no doubt that she is right. Another example is the statistics about women’s income after divorce. One had everywhere read—and Naomi Wolf repeats these numbers in her book—that after divorce women’s standard of living decreases by 73 percent while men’s rises by 42 percent. Faludi shows that these statistics were refuted by more reputable studies, which gave a 33 percent decline in the first two years, but an increase by five years after the divorce, her point being that the first numbers were given currency because they seemed to point to the dangers to women of divorce, and suggested that they were ill-served by feminist reform, while more careful statistical analyses were ignored.

Or there was the quintessential case, perhaps paradigmatic of all the issues under discussion, of Spring Adams, a thirteen-year-old Idaho girl, raped by her father, impregnated, and, when she was about to board the Greyhound bus to Portland for an abortion (the only place she could get one), the father, an abortion opponent, shot her to death with an assault rifle,13 which might remind Bly and the other New Men that besides the Idaho of the mind, there is really an Idaho.


Are men and women enemies? The Jungian men’s movement writers do not think so, or at least do not say so. What, then, is the enemy? Surely all these books find too little fault with the objective conditions of modern American life. Besides such major problems as drugs and poverty, and family disintegration, etc., there is another villain, whose shadowy presence in many of these texts is there but nearly unremarked by the authors who put it there. Each of these commentators illustrates the pace and isolation of modern life by noting the human relationships which are actually conducted with machines, especially the car, which enables and thus compels hours of commuting for fathers (compared with the—by someone’s calculation—eight minutes a day he will spend in direct conversation with his son). While father is exiled to the freeway, a car, that “adolescent equipment…which is most dear to every man’s heart,” is insinuated into the emotional life of every teen-aged boy, with which he is banished to the garage and the mall, as Robert Johnson remarks: “Every car should be named Rocinante.” Keen too finds it an important symptom of puerility, and ridicules the equation of cars and other “toys” as definitions of success: “To the victors belong the marks of status and the repair bills.”

Henry Adams slyly suggested as early as 1906 that American men, being denied the advantages of culture and history, have sacrificed their masculine authority to the internal combustion engine—perhaps specifically the automobile—which has deprived men of their manhood and set women on the path of feminism, and thus began the decline of American civilization:

The typical American man had his hand on a lever and his eye on a curve in his road; his living depended on keeping up an average speed of forty miles an hour, tending always to become sixty, eighty or a hundred, and he could not admit emotions or anxieties or subconscious distractions, more than he could admit whiskey or drugs, without breaking his neck. He could not run his machine and a woman too; he must leave her, even though his wife, to find her own way, and all the world saw her trying to find her way by imitating him.

Perhaps this is all that Bly and Keen are saying out there in the woods with their dads, and their cars and women left behind.

This Issue

January 16, 1992