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Where Are All The Men?

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Part One of a Two Part Discussion focusing on a question that is asked a lot in casual conversation, but doesn't really get a lot of serious debate time or definitive answers.  Something we're all sort of figuring out as we go, but for two late twenty something's, John and Jenny, this question holds a lot more at stake than might first meet the eye.  Does the future of our world and societies really rest on…

Where Are All the Men?

Jenny: Okay John,  Where are all the men?
 
John: That's a great question. Let's make sure we're clear about exactly what "type" of men seem to be missing.

Jenny: As a woman asking this question, I believe it's the same type of men that young children are looking for in their fathers, the men that boys search for in mentors and teachers as well as the type women are looking for in partners. At the risk of sounding like we're all looking for that cowboy cliche, I think all of those groups above are searching for strong, silent, almost primal male to an extent, but who aren't not domineering or macho of course. Men who aren't afraid of being sensitive, but are still men. 

John: I think you're on to something there, especially with the traits of strength you described, as they seem to be less apparent in men today. Growing up, and even to this day, I've definitely struggled with this issue. There are very few images in our culture of men who are both sensitive and strong. The traditional archetypes for men just don't function for young males (or females for that matter, as I think the John Wayne archetype equals a misogynist for many women) today. Most of the men in our culture right now are all products of the changes brought about in the 1960's, and understanding this has been crucial for me.

Jenny: So it's apparent that the roles of men and women in our society have changed (and in many ways, that's a really good thing), but in some ways, it seems like we're missing something. Do you think the 1960's is when a certain "switch" happened, or when the roles and behavior of men in our culture changed? And we should note that we're primarily talking about Western and industrialized culture here.

John: Yes, I think the switch can be seen most pronounced from the 60's on. When that culture began to move away from patriarchy on somewhat of a cultural level, we began to move towards the 1970's sensitive male. All of this was in an effort to work out a new relationship between feminine and masculine energy. Feminine energy learning how to hold its ground, masculine energy learning how to be open sensitive and relate-able. Men embracing their feminine elements, being sensitive and nurturing is great of course, but we do seem to be missing something, and I think it can be categorized as will. Younger men today are missing this direct and strong quality, both in terms of making decisions clearly and also in their overall energy fields.

Jenny: I know you and I have discussed who exactly are the majority of men we see today, but can you give a picture of what we're seeing?

John: I don't think we have a lot of models for what masculinity looks like right now, as that seems to have been several generations ago for the most part, and it seems we're still working it out. What we do have and can feel, is the lack of a strong balanced masculine presence. We see lots of young men with hunched shoulders, unable to make decisions clearly, and lacking the ability to structure things. We have this new phenomenon of 35 year old males who still are not really adults.
 
Jenny: What we might call the "Michael Cera Generation" to give people a vivid picture of what this "man" looks like, and for those unfamiliar with that name, he's the actor in Superbad, Juno, and Arrested Development.

John: Exactly. Add to that a culture that values relativism and multiculturalism, where it is difficult to say a strong opinion for fear of being politically incorrect. It's pretty tough to be a strong balanced male today without being reduced to a misogynist. I know a lot of men feel this way. That if they utilize their strength in a way that is not about openness and relating, they get slammed for being "pigs."

Jenny: I fully agree, and it's wonderful to hear a male say that. I'll also step forward and say (as a very independent and strong female who has never thought she needed a "man to take care of her") that it would be a welcome change in many ways to actually hear men have strong opinions that were just that; a strong voice. Not domineering, destructive, or smothering voices, but also not going in the opposite direction and becoming overly diplomatic or worrying about being politically correct so as not to risk coming across as anything hinting of an anti-feminist.

I also wonder with women taking on more and more of what were traditionally masculine roles in society, if men are becoming more and more lost or confused in some way.  Wondering exactly where they fit, or feeling like they weren't needed quite as much anymore, if at all? I wonder if this has to do with the extreme mid-life crises men seem to be experiencing, and the fact that they are happening younger and younger these days.

John: I don't know if men feel like they are less useful, but I do think you're right that women have accented their masculine energy in order to gain power and respect in society, and we are now seeing that there are problems with this too. Here's the difficulty: We have moved in a kind of non-gender specific age, post feminist and this has brought huge benefits: intimacy and openness, ability to speak about deep issues, etc., but the idea of dealing with masculinity today has the risk of being seen as a conservative gesture (i.e. more John Waynes!). In fact, as we work it out together as a culture I do think there will be some backlash if men are going to find out how to utilize their masculine presence. This can too easily become misogamy if taken out of context or to extremes.

Jenny: Exactly. Embracing masculinity isn't always viewed in a positive light these days (for many reasons), but seeing all these men with more feminine energy and women with more masculine energy is creating imbalance. I feel like women aren't really finding strong male counterparts, which is an essential part of finding balance, as apparent in every aspect of life; Shiva/Shakti, Sun and Moon, opening and contracting, ying and yang, cool and warm, etc. Just as detrimental is that kids aren't always getting a clear picture or example in today's society of how to function as a man or woman in the world.

What are your thoughts on the role of ritual in reclaiming the masculinity that seems to be vanishing?  Specifically in a coming of age scenario maybe?

John:  I was just going to bring that up!  I definitely think you're on to something, and I know we have spoken at length about the loss of ritual, and what it means for contemporary Western culture. I noticed this in myself, without a strong presence of elders in the culture I was raised in.  Where are the uncles, grandfathers (mentors who are not one's parents) who take a child away from their parents and help them through an initiatory experience? And what does this do for young men that they aren't getting it in today's world? It addresses the issues around weak men who have very little will.

Jenny: It gives us other options than the Michael Cera's! 

John: It forces these young men/boys to grow up and learn how to structure things in the world. That's not meant to be vague. It just means, being able to take responsibility for what one is doing, make choices, make strong decisions, and have a healthy sense of confidence. This confidence issue is big because young men today are not. Our culture, especially in conscious circles, I think is too critical of healthy ego formation.

Jenny: I heard recently that American children fall way behind the rest of the world in every subject in school, except confidence, which apparently they have in spades. I don't think it's a healthy confidence, it's almost a sense of misguided entitlement, not an egotistical or brash/foolish confidence, but a real inner serene confidence.

John: So many young men, without the strength of elders become over intellectual, they rationalize everything and in fact short circuit the necessary phase of ego formation.

Jenny: Do you think it's helpful to look at other cultures, ancient and even present day in what we might call more  "underdeveloped" nations (although i hesitate to use that word, because in what sense exactly are those nations underdeveloped) to take clues and follow their example, like a walkabout for aboriginals? And in that rite of passage they learn how to be self sufficient, tap their inner knowledge, gain strength and purpose. Also, how to be still, quiet, sensitive to their surroundings, feeling a sense of responsibility to the earth and their fellow humans, and gaining the confidence we've been discussing?

John: Yes. Many of the initiatory rituals had to do with men going through the "red" phase: the phase of fighting, anger, power which is all first and second chakra work. Most men don't go through this now, so they end up going nuts when they get to their 40's. Studies have shown that midlife crises are far more severe today then in the past.

Jenny: I fully agree with this, I've seen it in so many older men that I know, and in younger men as well.  Along with anger for the father figure.

John: Yeah, so 40's-50's men end up going through the red phase eventually, and i think this is necessary. The problem is that it occurs generally at a time when it is important for the male to be an "adult" and take responsibility, something the red phase is not so good at.

Jenny: So do we think it might be a good idea to figure out ways to either revisit those kinds of rites of passage or somehow adapt them to newer and more integrated into our current society rites? Or is the purpose of those primal initiation experiences is that they are primal?  (I see a strong interest in "bringing back" or returning to the simplicity and organic quality of several of those "ancient" things like paleo diets for example or natural movement as a form of exercise.)

John: Absolutely. I don't think we know what they will look like because culture on a whole is not going to go back to those older rituals necessarily. But we can take what is important from them, and use it which I think means two things:

  1. Re-establishing an "elder culture" where older men recognize how important their support for younger men is.
  2. Creating ritual spaces which to me, means a space that has a heightened energy where transformation can occur. This could be all male group bonding, etc.
John: Robert Moore over in Chicago is trying to bring back elder culture. He's a Jungian Psychologist who has written a lot about this issue and has developed a group of elders who mentor young men. The interesting thing is that we are becoming conscious of what mentor work means. And for Robert Moore, it is the act of taking a young person into one's heart. Its soul work. Its letting the young man know that the older man cares for his whole self. This is why military leaders and CEO's are not good substitutes for elder culture.

Jenny: "Taking a young person into one's heart," I love that.  Why not bring back initiation rites with elders?  I don't feel that it should necessarily be viewed as going backwards in experiencing those things again, it's more of a stripping down and going to our inner core knowledge and what feels primally "right", like something you feel in your marrow. We need rites of passage (both sexes) like we need local, seasonal, pesticide free food and non-toxic cleaning supplies, sustainable and natural housing materials, unplugging every so often from technology and therefore we will be building a generation that will actually have confidence to contribute to their world in a true and meaningful way.

What we have now is women/mothers searching for role models for their sons and sometimes trying to be that role model which ultimately and honestly causes confusion for young boys. John, as a male in our society who actually lived this reality in many ways, you might have more specific thoughts?

John: Absolutely. I know this well. My family is full of wonderfully strong woman, but very few men (if any).

Jenny:  Mine as well, and I've seen this played out over and over for the men in my life, where the mother is actually both the mother and father.

John: Or a father who plays both mother and father. And I think how this gets beyond sexism for me, is that we all have masculine and feminine energy but most of us are predominately more of one than the other. This allows us to speak about what each energy is good at without falling into the traps of sexism and patriarchy from the past.

And this lack has taken a toll. Many men describe this as feeling like a "shell" of themselves, not filled out fully.

Jenny: Yes! And you even see it in how they physically carry themselves. Or sometimes it's the reverse, puffing themselves up too much with unregulated and unhealthy ego behind it.

John: Yes! And it is happening for feminine energy as well.

Jenny: The "shell" like quality or inability to surrender (both for men and women)... addressing this is where the healing of society as a whole begins I think.

John: I actually think listing the traits of masculine and feminine energy is quite useful in helping people see where they're at:

  • Masculine: Direct, forthright, logical, structured, systems, solid like a tree (this is why in Tantric traditions the male is seated in meditation).
  • Feminine: flowing, indirect, wild, chaotic, emotional, relating, open, care-giving.

Jenny: And some more:

  • Masculine: rooted, straightforward, strength, analytical
  • Feminine: chaotic, sensory, healing, warmth, passion
John: This is a partial list but what is helpful to me is that the masculine is fully himself when he develops his strength of will to be unmoved. The feminine develops its highest powers when she develops her ability to surrender. This is why the spiraling together of masculine and feminine is so powerful. The masculine holds space for the surrendering of the feminine.

Jenny: Which to be perfectly frank is best epitomized in sex. Men actually enter and "possess," and women are literally entered and "possessed. That can lead to many misinterpretations, where it can get dangerous when men take that and use it for their own power and such, which is quite possibly why we're here in this place in today's culture, to some extent.

John: Absolutely! Why this is exciting today is that it's not necessarily gender-specific (although I think 9 times out of 10 it is). But yeah, and there we come back to the history of patriarchy and the change in the 60's where they were dealing with all the misinterpretations. And the question "where are all the men?" needs this background work we just went through, otherwise we could fall simply into a "yeah lets be men and do men only things!" mindset which ends up falling back into a superficial male chin-wagging culture.

Jenny:  Right. Because it's fathoms and depths more than chugging beer or shooting guns with a bunch of male friends, or a father taking his son out to a strip club and calling it his rite of passage into "manhood." 

Jenny: So before all the elders and mentors disappear from the earth, would you agree that we should be making the preservation of their teachings and mentor-ship a priority in our lives, and future generation's lives, almost as if we were working to preserve an endangered culture? Like for example, how we work to preserve the endangered teachings of Tibet?

John: Yes, valuing the underlying lessons of elder culture is important. and a good way to do this is by learning about what they did, and which rites of passage they used. We will have to modify them because we are more self-aware of what is happening.

John: The thing that is tough today is that because our parents were of the 60's they are similar to us in a lot of ways, which means we don't have male figures to look to. Talking about the issue is a big first step.

Jenny: And it will also come from the men of your generation John, taking it upon themselves to create in themselves that male that embodies the things we talked about. Also fully able to take "a young person into their heart" and lead by example. In being present and conscious to the current situation as it is and being committed to change, you all are already embodying that strong male and therefore becoming the next wave of mentors, which will help literally change the world.  I think our next discussion should be the role of women and the rites for girls in our culture! Only then we'll have utopia, so what will be left to discuss?

John: I agree with you fully. It is something that means a lot to me. Because of what I went through, I recognize the importance of mentoring younger men. In fact, just that act alone, the desire to mentor younger men, shows that someone has begun to become a "man." A mentor always has to structure things for the younger man and thus helps his own life.

Jenny: To me a mentor is definitely not someone who has "all the answers" but someone who is still going on his own path and journey and asking questions of himself and others as well, always seeking answers and always learning.

John: I have one last question for you. Do you feel that woman today having had to emphasize their masculine essence (because men have not) have a difficult time surrendering?

Jenny: Absolutely. I have definitely and without a doubt experienced that personally.

John: I asked a friend the other day about this and she got especially angry at me for using the word "surrender." I get it; "surrender" in terms of patriarchal culture does not work, but I definitely saw a strong knee-jerk response to that word.

Jenny: That's definitely part of it as well, learning to let go of those stereotypes and words that have been misused for decades. Women who realize that we claim our power when we do learn to soften and surrender, not necessarily to a man, but to another human being and within ourselves.

So often I hear women ask where all the men are. It's not an unjustified question at all, it really does feel like that "ideal" partner, someone we trust, and respect, someone we want to help raise our children, someone we want to go through this adventure of life with. . . doesn't exist!

When faced with a sea of "Michael Ceras"  it can be seriously un-fufilling and feel as though something incredibly large and important is missing, as if everything is out of balance.

John: I think it is going to take men who can push through the harder shell of feminine essence and help re-establish a dynamic between masculine and feminine. In terms of sex, some people think that the more difference between masculine and feminine energy, the more stable, and long- term it can be, and I agree with that. Neutralizing these energies in sex for example, tends to create a limpid and lackluster experience.

Jenny: I agree. And men who realize that when they honor women and not try to dominate them, their own confidence and power is actually heightened and restored in a very organic and quietly beautiful way.

John: Yes! And I'd like to add a few resources for men out there who feel like they are "shells", Iron John by Robert Bly, the work of Robert Moore, The way of the superior man by David Deida, The multiorgasimic man by Mantuk Chia. These are good resources to start.

So to answer the question now: Where are all the men?

We're on our way... hold tight.

Writers Bio's

Jenny Nelson is a veritable "jack of all trades", working primarily as a Holistic Wellness Counselor for Dr. Junger's Clean Program, but also is a Thai Yoga Massage Therapist, freelance writer and photographer, yoga, literature, Ayurvedic and herbal studies junkie, vegan baker, local activist and metalsmith.  She lives in New York City.

John Rosania is a student of acting, in charge of video content for the Clean Wellness Community, an avid reader and what some might call philosopher (but he would probably shun the label), as well as a damn talented musician and dabbler in many holistic fields dealing with food, cleansing and Tantric teachings.  He lives in Brooklyn.

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