By Stephen Johnson, PH.D.
As Printed in Whole Life Times, August 1995, p.27
A few years ago one would have thought that the wave that was building under what had been touted as “the new men’s movement” would continue to grow and crest in some revolutionary form. The media had picked up on the phenomena and a variety of references to it could be read almost daily for a year in Newsweek, Time and countless other magazines. It could be viewed on primetime shows such as 60 minutes and 20/20, in addition to a plethora of sitcoms from Murphy Brown to Seinfield.
Men were flocking in droves to Bly, Meade, and Hillman-led conferences taking place around the country and abroad. There was a momentum that resembled frenzied passengers running to board a train that was pulling out of the station. One could easily assume from all the hoopla that the 15-year old men’s movement had come of age and had finally begun to catch up with the 30-year old women’s movement.
So what happened? Why have we not heard so much about the men’s movement lately? Was it just another flash in the pan? Has it succumbed, like so many other New Age fads, to being characterized as hype with little substance? Like a flat tire, has it simply run out of air now that the media coverage has moved on to the next best spectacle?
There have been many notions bandied about and a fair share of death knells have made their rounds. I’ve heard the criticism that the movement was not a real movement at all but little more than just men finding an excuse to complain about their lives or beat on drums or dance bare-chested around a campfire in the forest.
It’s been my experience, however, that men needed to bare their souls with dignity in a safe environment. There’s a longing within men, a desire to go inside as well as to reach out to one another. They may not fully comprehend the need but they quickly discover that when they come together in the presence of other men, it feels good. When they leave, they walk away with something that that they’ve been able to touch that perhaps they didn’t even realize existed before.
Men tend to carry a tremendous amount of anger and rage, sadness and grief inside. This often causes them to go numb or act out. It’s not that men don’t feel, but they’re having to learn to identify their feelings and that it’s safe to express their emotions.
As hunters and protectors, men have been schooled in remaining stoic and unmoved in the face of challenge or threat. They’re learning now that there’s a kind of dignity, even a nobility of spirit in being in touch with and expressing how they truly feel. I have seen countless numbers of men get more grounded and become more authentic when they gather for “men’s work.” In fact, I feel that the opportunities afforded men to heal their hearts and minds have been very beneficial to society.
I’ve also heard claims that if the movement had any real relevance it would have a political power base. In fact, the National Men’s Health Alliance was founded in Washington, D.C. and is concerned with disseminating information to men about pertinent, if not crucial, health issues, as well as lobbying to legislate measures to protect and support men’s health. Vice-president Al Gore and other politically minded advocates are creating initiatives to support single fathers. After so many years of legislation toward equal rights for women, it is recognized that men have been underinformed and underprotected regarding many of their own rights. If you would like more information about this, I recommend Warren Farrel’s book, The Myth of Male Power.
In addition to the psychodynamic and political work that men are doing, there is some very powerful soul searching taking place. Perhaps one of the more salient aspects of the men’s movement is expressed through the efforts of spiritual and religion-based organizations intent on reversing the high divorce rate.
Across the country men have been meeting en masse for weekend retreats to take up the issue of the breakdown of marriages and the dismantling of nuclear families. Whether it be a group of 25 or a gathering 75,000 men in a coliseum, there is focused attention and intention to bring the soaring divorce rate down and to stabilize the American family.
In just two years a Christian, non-denominational organization called the Promise Keepers has already convened an estimated 750,000 men to join in a crusade to renew their vows and keep the promises they made when they married. Their plan is to bring together a million men to march on Washington in 1997.
Another important aspect of the men’s movement is the focus on gender reconciliation. Whereas initially men had to go away with other men to explore what it means to be a man, now men and women need to come together to explore the nature of the male/female dynamic. Many women have been very encouraging of their men in their search for the masculine soul. They have witnessed the benefits of men’s work for their relationships and families. It’s time for men and women to work together co-creatively to confront the challenges that lie ahead as we enter the 21st century.
Though it may have seemed like the men’s movement has died out, I am convinced that it has transformed to a quieter, yet more empowered place. It has spread out and taken on a more mature demeanor toward the problems facing our communities. Having worked intimately with men and their families for more than 20 years, I have been able to observe the changes in men and the strength that has been gained through the initiatory journey into conscious manhood. I feel a tremendous sense of hope for the world when I am in the company of men who are intent on making a positive difference in their lives and the lives of those around them.