Island Men's Journal Article

Mens Studies - Healthy Masculinity- The Essential Quest.

Rod Keays -Instructor.

Two Point Four Million Years ago, when early humans still lived in trees, the great plains of Africa began a great expansion. This was due to a drying trend in the worlds climate. The forests that covered much of the world began to die back. In order to survive, a change was required. It just so happened that the human male was two times the size of the human female, soooo... guess who got to climb down from the tree to go and get the bacon? You're absolutely right- the guys!!! Now, not only was it hard work, it was also very dangerous as well. In those days, large cats and other predators roamed the plains. Many males were killed or maimed. Even with their large size, the males were poorly equipped to kill game, as stone points and spears had not been invented yet. All they could get was meat they could steal from other predators, and was the dangerous part.

Ten thousand years ago, with the development of many tools for killing and preparing meat earlier in history, the large mammals had been largely wiped out, and a new era was beginning; this was the Agricultural Revolution. Every major change in history was precipitated by a change in the requirements for survival. So without meat, people were forced to develop agricultural plants, domesticate wild animals, and basically end their nomadic way of life.

These early societies were matriarchal in structure and substance, Goddess religions flourished and men and women lived with equal levels of rights and obligations. This society had no need for "power over" politics, this came later. Slowly, people began to accumulate things and value them as part of their culture. Ownership of land became common, and ranking systems started to develop. As these villages grew into towns, and in turn, into cities, they began to rub shoulders with other cities, or city states. Competition for scarcer resources, such as land, water etc. led to increased conflict.

Eventually, armed fighting occurred, and the development of the warrior class became essential. Not surprising, was the demise of the egalitarian system of doing things, to be replaced by a patriarchal warrior system based on rank and acquisition through war. A central government, or King developed with a huge bureaucracy supported by taxation. Connecting back to the concept of males judging their masculinity on the basis of risk in a given job, the warrior clans would represent a major change in the way males of the day perceived themselves, and I am assuming that this reassessment occurred. As we shall see, this new identity came to be associated with, so called "healthy masculinity", and as far as I am concerned, was the forerunner of the "Individuality Concept" that I will explore in this essay. This structured system came to be known as Feudalism.

People worked for a King or a Noble, who made sure that you had what you needed to survive,including: food, shelter, and protection in case of war. These wars happened often, and many died. This led to great frustration and resentment. Yet people were supposed to know their place, and not question- do your duty and that sort of thing. After all, this system had been ordained by God! So to continue, by the 1500s people were beginning to question the authority of the church and of the old ways. People increasingly used their intellect to interpret the world around them, and the new scientific method began to eat away at the foundations of "Truth". People began to demand changes, and the powers that be responded with force, hoping to put them back in their place. It was too late, the people had had enough.

The first major changes to occur, included the breakaway from the Catholic Church of less orthodox people who formed the new Protestant religion. They believed that people could interpret the Bible for themselves, and translated it into common language from the original latin. This point is important for our studies, in that , a new personality type had begun, and this was the new era of the individual. This individual, now freed from the confines of the Feudal system, began to turn skills once reserved for the King only, into profitable enterprises in the expanding marketplace. Specialists were no longer locked into a set role for life, and work became a means to acquire money, which people hankered after with a real passion.

At the same time, the European expansion created the first global economy which was based on plantation labor in "the colonies". This ever increasing pool of labor, was now producing goods for an increasingly abstract world market. In Feudal times, most goods were produced and consumed in the home,however, as markets expanded, more and more distance was placed between producer and consumer. So as a result people became more and more distant from each other, thus increasing and in some ways, actually endorsing, individualism. At the same time, enormous wealth was flowing into Europe from the colonies, and other world trade.

Nowhere was this more true than in the Netherlands, which after taking their independence from Spain in the 1500s , became a haven for religious disinters, who found a certain tolerance here that encouraged the pursuit of free enquiry. Also, the handsome profits of Dutch traders led to the development of a major institution for the growing capitalist economy, the Bank. Banks existed elsewhere, but they were controlled by the Catholic Church, and were not allowed to charge interest on the basis that it was considered sinful. Banks, none the less, had, by 1609 introduced loans to people that were unknown to depositors, and continued to charge interest against the hostile response from the Church and other Calvinists. Calvinist ministers in Amsterdam actually denounced the most prosperous capitalists from the pulpit, and even expelled them from their congregations. In fact, between 1581 and 1658, bankers were banned from taking communion, their wives however, could, providing they denounced their husbands business interests. There was no way that these people were going to give up their new found wealth.

Individualism, then was increasingly tolerated because it was central to a new way of looking at the world, and one that seemed to bring considerable wealth along with it. The separateness of individuals began to be recognized in small ways; single chairs instead of benches in the home, better mirrors to have a better sense of what people looked like, in art,the self portrait became common. This went hand in hand with the weakening of the ties that bound people together in families, trade guilds and communities. People no longer wanted to help the needy, as they had been taught by Christian mores. The systems motto was "buyer beware", and "there is a sucker born every minute". It was said that, "the hidden hand of the market would regulate the economy". The future looked very promising indeed.

Sixteen hundred years ago, a significant event occurred in western culture: This was a decree by the Catholic church that prohibited love marriages, discouraged adoption, condemned polygamy, concubinage, divorce, and remarriage. [All had been previously accepted in the Old Testament of the Bible]. These changes endorsed only arranged marriages, which became the norm for more than nine hundred years.

Seven hundred years ago, the songs of the Troubadours captured the hearts and minds of people who yearned for romantic love. The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, brings to mind our "modern" expectations of love. Yet this was one of the instrumental events that shaped our concept of free choice. The fact that people wanted to choose who they married challenged the structure of society at the time, and continues to do so in cultures practicing arranged marriages today. We in the west have a tendency to view these cultures as restrictive, yet arranged marriages served as an essential link between families, other tribes, clans and lineages. For many hundreds of generations, these "ties that bind" maintained peace and goodwill between diverse peoples. This is not to say it is the only way, but it comes with a long track record.

One hundred and forty-nine years ago, the Agricultural Revolution had long past its zenith, and the scarcities and back breaking labor created by its success would no longer be tolerated by the masses. At the same time, individualism continues to be embraced, and new methods of production begin to enter the marketplace. This new era was called the Industrial Revolution, and it had a devastating impact on the extended family, and individualism by creating the need for a new type of highly mobile work force. This led to the formation of the nuclear family, the most isolated family grouping ever created by humanity. The consequences were severe to all levels of the family structure. Children were no longer educated at home next to their parents, they were shipped off to public schools in order to become adapted to the needs of an industrial society. Also, the elderly were shipped out too. They went off to nursing homes so as not to be a burden on their children. Women were often isolated at home with young children and the chore of household duties. As well, men were far from home often in dangerous industrial factories, and not seen by their children for hours, days or weeks at a time. Plus, the fact that now many relatives were in other distant cities, the stresses on families were immense.

Forty-seven years ago, all of the productive work that used to be done in the home, was now done outside of it. This would include the making of tools, clothing, household goods and most foods. A major consequence for men and women was that they now had only each other to rely on instead of the much larger extended families people used to enjoy in the past. Again, I am not trying to idealize the extended family, only see its advantages, and the consequences of its destruction.

Major Themes

In Western cultures that embraced the concepts of individualism, the social safety net played the role of the missing extended family. This went so far as to replace the father in cultures where divorce rates reached almost fifty percent of marriages, and where the majority of children lived with the mother.

A very real concern for children being raised in many female headed single-parent families, is what kind of examples of men, or of fathers, or of healthy masculinity do the kids get? Even if the mothers have positive feelings towards men, children need both parents to mature best. If not, my sense suggests that several things can occur: For girls raised in a feminine environment, they would be fine emotionally until exposure to men in the outside world. I would expect this contact could create a self-esteem problem,especially if kept away from men in their youth. For boys, however, the consequences could be much greater: I'll pose the problem with a question. "How would a boy learn to be a man, when there are few men around?", and, "How will the boy feel towards his mother for [in his mind] denying him his father or other male role model?".

A woman cannot teach a boy to be a man, only other men can teach a boy that. Some researchers [Robert Bly, and others.], have suggested these boys will look out to the world for that model, and if they watch a lot of television, they will pick up the roles displayed there. I cannot say much for what I see there... Much teenage gang violence has been attributed to boys growing up in homes without fathers present, or a mother having experienced a lifetime of abuse at the hands of men. Possibly without knowing it, she convinced her son that there was nothing good about being a man, and the boy believed his mom. From what she says of men I can hardly blame the boy for hating himself. Also, to add to his thinking, the larger world also reflects a negative view of men and masculinity. It is ironic, that it is just this kind of man, [ the capitalist, the warrior, the remote husband etc. ], who created this wealth in the first place! The boys integrate this example and live it out for the rest of their lives, and abusing their wives, just as their mothers were. No doubt, their mothers tried to prevent this, but it was probably too late.

In the United States, it could be said that here was the best current example of how far western cultures have taken individualism, its good qualities and painful liabilities. The U.S. system idealizes passion, and is tremendously optimistic about the individuals ability to move ahead and motivate themselves. The opportunity to create immense wealth exists in this kind of culture. The consequences for the ones not motivated or who do not fit within this acquisitive culture can be very hard.

Many western people, like myself, [ until recently], probably have felt that traditional cultures were less likely than ours to be supportive of women's issues. However, for a moment, I would like to explore an example of woman's power in what would normally be considered a male dominated society. I refer to the woman's culture of Taiwan. Girls from an early age build carefully crafted relationships with other older women in order to create a safety net for themselves in case of a crisis. Also these alliances can safeguard her against an abusive husband or his family. The way it works is by the use of gossip over the back yard fence or in the market. The targets ears ring with the shame of it all, and the abusive behavior stops very quickly. This is the power these woman have, to embarrass; no one will directly tell the wrong doer what to do, they just know they are being talked about and cannot stand it.

This public shaming is an example of leveling mechanisms that many so called primitive societies use to control the boundaries of wealth and power, without which huge imbalances would occur, and survival of the tribe would be put at risk. So important is the egalitarian nature of many tribal cultures, elaborate rituals have been developed to ensure their survival, as well as community peace. I will explore a few of these during the course.

Leveling mechanisms in the west are only found in a few places, taxation is one, and goodwill donations are another. It is easier, in the west to just step around the homeless, and tell ourselves, "that only the strong survive"; again we are forced by our enculturation to ignore the strife of others. We believe that we will be exposed to behavior that will overwhelm us, or that we will be "suckered". These fears can occur, although, the real fear may be that "at least its not me".

To continue with individualism then.......

At present, in the late 1990s, the so called "Modernization" of the Third World is occurring. I believe that what is really going on is the exporting of our western individualistic values, using a colonizing process involving the granting of large loans, with the inevitable default on payments, and huge debt restructuring programs. The only country to successfully refuse to repay the outrageous interest payments, was Brazil; and this was no doubt related to the fact that Brazil has a very large economy, and many global corporations had investments there. Also, the World Bank has significant leverage with the small economies of many developing nations. Their fear of being labelled as a "rogue", traps many defaulted countries into doing away with hard fought for environmental laws, ignoring tribal genocide and rain forest depletion, all to pay interest on loans, where the principle has often been repaid. Debt is the weapon of choice used by western countries for colonization of poorer Third World countries......... they will not put up with this for long.

Not only have western countries exported "Individualism", they have successfully encultured developing countries to crave the same material comforts we in the wealthy west take for granted. The great concern I share,along with many others, is best stated by Ghandi,when he said that, "two or three planets" were not available for India to develop the same level of wealth as Britain. However, that is not to say the people of these nations will accept this easily, I would say, they will not like it one bit. Frankly, I cannot think of a global disaster more likely. Then again, maybe it is just my own paranoia, then again, maybe not.

Think about the rising economy of China.......! Personally speaking, I used to be a strong supporter of agencies such as the U.N., the environmental movement, world trade [with appropriate regulations], foreign aid etc. In a relatively short period of time, I have become increasingly skeptical and concerned about the end product that will result from the globalization of that potentially dangerous concept called, "Individualism". In the west, this the only concept! Also, it has been highly attractive to western males. The whole concept of hero worship is an example, ie: superman and batman.

With sincere regards to the readers of this essay, I wish to apologize for imposing so much seemingly unrelated material upon your confused brains. I felt that I could not elaborate on the topic of masculinity without first exploring the historical record. The concerns expressed herein about the future of western/asian relations are my own, as well as any discussion in present time. Also while the world history is not by me, neither is the association of western culture with the growth of the individuality concept.

At this time, I am unaware of anyone suggesting that the individuality concept is the basis for western masculinity, and the real danger to a sustainable future. Also, I wish to balance this equation, by acknowledging that, tribal cultures maintain their communities often at the expense of the individual. Clearly, somewhere in the middle is a balance, and a beginning.

Carl Yung, the psychologist, introduced the term "individuation", which refers to the evolution of the whole person. Individuation is central to the theme of the course, and one of the essential components of a healthy individual, male or female. For our purposes, healthy males are the focus. Much more about individuation will be said during the course and does not need to be discussed here.


Updated on:30/06/00 09:39 PM

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