When the Men's Movement most closely associated with Robert Bly was
beginning to have an impact, one of the leaders warned that once the
"spirit" motivating the activities began to wear off, it was likely
to be a movement more identified by Men's Studies courses and political
activist groups than by men inspired to deepen their understanding of
and authentic relationships with other men. The rationale for that prediction
twelve year ago was that every movement from organized religions to
the Boy Scouts was started with spiritual fervor, and that each had
been overtaken by a deadening bureaucracy. That, it was explained to
me, was the way of the world.
The argument made sense to me, and I made a mental note to do what
I could to keep the men's activities in which I was involved as free
of bureaucracy as possible. Looking back, I don't believe that it was
bureaucracy that caused the precipitous drop in public Men's Movement
activities. Bert Hoff, editor of Men's Voices, one of the few surviving
publications linked to the Mythopoetic Movement, suggests that the decline
was due to a gender thing: namely, that men are prone to depositing
our prolific seed and moving on; whereas, women are more prone to nurturing
their limited eggs through pregnancy and beyond.
It's been the women in mixed groups I have been in that have had more
energy around keeping the group together and moving forward. The pop
writers who write about gender differences seem pretty well united in
pushing the notion that women are more interested in building relationships,
whereas men are more interested in getting a task done and then moving
on. This seems to support Bert's ideas.
I've read in management texts that men are good starters and entrepreneurs,
but we're not very good at the maintenance side of keeping businesses
going. We like to start things and then just leave them after a short
period of time and move on to start something else. That argument too
certainly seems to be in line with Hoff's observations. His argument
likely does have merit, although I'm sure he'd be the first to admit
that his theory is not the whole story behind the rise and near-disappearance
of a movement with enough visibility to make the pages of nearly all
the leading news magazines.
In a recent conversation with Robert Bly, I asked him what he thought
of Hoff's hypothesis. He stated quite simply that he thought that the
decline in the Men's Movement occurred because "Men are lazy. Too many
men just don't want to take the responsibility to guide their own development."
That seemed just too pat an answer. Too easy to lay on other men. Over-worn
as an ethnic slur. I couldn't refute it, but had trouble buying it.
Such a pronouncement in gender conversations would generally be expected
to mean: "Men are lazy. Women are industrious." I simply haven't observed
that kind of difference between the genders.
I have previously reported that there is still a great amount of energy
going into what was termed a movement by the press, but what is in reality
a movement of men into small, private men's groups. Many of the groups
that used the impetus of the activities in the 80's to form and begin
meeting regularly are continuing to get together. Some report a significant
deepening of their groups and the intimacy with which they are able
to address significant issues. I don't need to be convinced that men's
groups are alive and well and contributing more to social issues than
What I am still trying to understand is why the public activities that
served as "gateways" for men into smaller groups have almost disappeared
locally and on a national scale. Hoff and Bly may have part of the answer.
I'm certain there is more, so I'll throw a few more thoughts into the
First-off, many movements become identified with an individual, and
lose momentum when the charasmatic leader moves on. The Mythopoetic
Men's Movement became over-identified with Bly, and seemed to move into
decline when he decided to spend more time writing poetry than participating
in Men's weekends.
In addition, the men I worked with were dealing with a multitude of
issues from grieving about their mostly absentee non-relationships with
their fathers, to learning that we could trust other men (and women),
to better serving environmental issues. The activities in which we engaged
tended to deal with some issues very well, and not so well with others.
I constantly felt more energy to have smaller groups split off to deal
with their specific issues than energy to try to stay together. It was
easier to be critical of what was missing than to be tolerant of making
the needed mistakes to build the road we were all traveling on.
I also saw an increasing focus on turning a buck. It seemed to me that
a primary motivator, i.e., "how to help each other," shifted toward
"how to make some money doing what I can do for other men." I don't
suppose I can fault the second motivator. It's built into the fabric
of how we are raised in this society. I can only report that it was
a turnoff for me watching men publish their books and then dramatically
raise their fees to conduct weekend activities. It was hard not to be
suspicious of the motives of The Promise Keepers, when they came along
charging 60,000 men $60 apiece to attend events in large stadiums.
In a more positive light, I also think that the large public front
also declined in part because those of us who had been involved in the
mask-making, myth-interpretation, talking circle, and drum-beating types
of activities came to understand that they were simply 100 level activities,
to use a college studies analogy. They only went so far. I believe at
some level we knew that what we were looking for could only be found
in smaller, more private groupings. There was no planned, continuous
path through 400 level or even 200 level activities.
To move beyond continually sharing opinions to developing true intimacy
and long-lasting community undoubtedly takes work, as seekers of these
goals will likely attest. If Bly is right, we simply weren't willing
to put the energy, vulnerability, and self-revelatory work needed into
continuing the process he helped to initiate. Or, maybe, as I suggested,
we simply didn't have the right forum -- too big and too public. Or
likely both and a lot more.
Or maybe our lives are so full that too many of us are looking for
a quick fix. Women in the Women's Movement surely held no expectations
that their goals could be achieved overnight. Is it possible that too
many men said to themselves, "I'll give this a shot, but if I don't
see immediate results I'll try something else?" Our "take a pill and
it will go away" society also works against patience with longer-term
processes. I do not doubt for a minute that most of us are caught up
in the quick fix web."
One other thought comes to mind. I believe that social change often
must go through a predictable cycle, namely: 1) a change (or more likely
pseudo-change) is introduced and gains momentum; 2) the change produces
some positive gains which threaten the status quo; 3) those protecting
the status quo (including the media) bring about a backlash; 4) the
backlash has an effect, and the change loses momentum; 5) following
a period of time, real change in a somewhat different form, backed by
convictions stronger than those that supported the backlash, reemerge,
and the change begins to become truly institutionalized.
I suspect that we're somewhere in between 4) and 5) with small groups
meeting regularly and consistently for a long period of time providing
evidence of some of the elements needed to realize our true evolvement.
What do you think? I know that many men simply don't care about the
men's movement and see it as mostly irrelevant. I don't have a whole
lot of energy on the topic, per sť, myself, despite this article. I
am, on the other hand very interested in what men are doing to bring
about evolvement, particularly as we work in small groups. As the Mentor
Page Editor, I welcome information about what you've got going, and
how it's going for you. Is real change and growth occurring? How can
other men get involved?
Send your information to Dick Gilkeson, Mentor Page Editor, 16448
NW McNamee Road, Portland, OR 97231.