Men's Power, Men's Pain


Men & Liberation
Author David Tacey

Author, academic and commentator David Tacey says the therapy and academic cultures within the men's movement must come together if there is to be a radicalising discourse that will lead to fundamental and widespread change. He cites the understanding of men's power and men's pain as paradox rather than contradiction as being key to breaking this new ground.
The wetness of contemporary men's experience is repugnant to many dry intellectuals, who do not like crying, moist feelings, bleeding hearts, confessionals, or soul-searching. Academic men's studies and the popular men's movement, however, have more in common than either would perhaps care to realise.

Both groups inhabit a post-partiarchal world, and while therapy culture feels the legacy of an outworn partriarchy in the empty heart and suffering soul, academic culture thinks about how to overthrow the remaining structures of political patriarchy. Both cultures will have to come together in a future radicalising discourse.

Although they look at each other with some alarm and disdain, therapy and academic cultures have grasped opposite ends of the same historical situation. Therapy culture assumes that patriarchy as an identity support structure is dead, and it sets about to inculcate a "survival mentality" that will help individual men in the task of rebuilding their lives. However, therapy culture fails to see that political patriarchy is still very much alive, and that although men may feel themselves to be disenfranchised and emotionally adrift, they are still in charge of social authority. There is a dangerous split here between the internal psychic reality (where we are all made to feel "inferior" and powerless) and the external reality (where archetypal Chronos-Saturn continues to rule).

Academic culture grasps very well the continued hegemonic power of men, but is blind to the fact that many men are already suffering, as it were in advance (and ahead of the feminist schedule), the emotional fallout of the disintegration of patriarchy as a psychological and identity-forming reality. Academic culture cannot see what the crying men are getting at: their tears are viewed as crocodile tears, indulgent sensitive new age tears, which have no validity and merely mask the reality that men still hold the power. "Oh dear," said one feminist commentator (Eva Cox) to Warren Farrell, "are the power-boys having a bit of a cry?" 

We live in a complex time where we have to come to terms with the paradox of men's power and men's pain. In my life as an academic, I talk the language of men's power on a daily basis. In my second life as a public speaker and participant in therapy culture, I see men's pain everywhere and feel a great deal of it myself. Both sides of contemporary men's experience are real, and both have to be taken into account. We are not dealing here with a contradiction, but with a paradox, and only if the paradox is not understood is the link between pain and power lost. I would say that the ability to sustain this paradox, and the tension between power and pain, is what constitutes full psychological health in a post-patriarchal world.

The problem with the popular emphasis on "men's healing" is that it forgets why men are wounded in the first place. As a participant in some therapeutic forums, I found myself leaning more and more toward the academic perspective, asking critical questions about male identity, feeling stifled by the "good vibes" approach, and wanting to present arguments for the necessary destructuring of masculine identity. I began to realise that although the popular forums purportedly stood for "men's pain", they actually wanted to outwit the pain, get around it, transcend or get rid of it. The leader of a men's forum told me the primary objective was to make men feel happy again about being men. "Isn't that what we're all aiming for?", he asked, wondering why I would not join forces with him in a united movement. I made it clear that such sunny cliches were not what inspired me to become involved in contemporary men's experience. 

The popular healing or therapy discourses urgently need an injection of the academic perspective, for this alone brings the feminist, cultural, and social perspectives, the "big picture" in which individual experiences acquire larger meaning and historical significance. Before we remake masculinity we must unmake it, and understand why it had to fall apart. In our remaking efforts, we must become self-critical and be careful to distinguish between old and new masculinities, to differentiate the new self-esteem from the old masculinist arrogance, to separate the new happiness from the old complacency, to tell the difference between human rights and partriarchal privileges. These lessons are far from being learned, and that is why every leader of popular men's forums owes it to himself and to his followers to become acquainted with academic, profeminist men's studies, and to read seriously in these areas. Instead of using Robert Bly's Iron John as a textbook, or Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly, team leaders should look at Lynne Segal's Slow Motion or Kenneth Clatterbaugh's Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity

I think if men knew more about why they are suffering, if they understood better the cultural, political and historical reasons for their disorientation, the effects of this increase in knowledge could only be positive. The personal mess is not then so terribly personal, and creative insight, rather than guilt feelings, could be better mobilised. Jung puts it very well: "If the connection between the personal problem and the larger contemporary events is discerned and understood, it brings release from the loneliness of the purely personal, and the subjective problem is magnified into a general question of society. In this way the personal problem acquires a dignity it lacked hitherto". Ironically, for contemporary men to gain the larger, contextual view that Jung recommends, they need to read feminist and feminist-inspired writings, and not the popular Jungian material that wards off the social-political world. 

What has alarmed me over the last ten years is the deep splitting that turns the power-pain paradox into an overt warring contradiction. Dogmatism and extremism tend to attach to those who see one side of the paradox and not the other. Those who see only men's pain rapidly become sanctimonious, nostalgic, "wet" and fundamentalist. Those who see only men's power become intolerant, moralistic, punishing and guilt-ridden. It is fairly typical to see one perspective at a time, but when a single perspective hardens into an ideology then I believe we have lost touch with the truth. 

We must, I believe, muddle away at getting both perspectives in our minds at the one time. Men's pain and men's power, spirituality and politics, feeling and reason: the claims of both sides must always be examined, balanced, and placed against each other. This is the "dialectical" mode used in my writing. At one moment, I will emphasise mythopoetics and archetypes, at another moment I will be concerned with politics and social process. I realise that this Janus-faced approach can appear confusing. In my academic course on "Remaking Men" some of my Jungian students wondered why I was spending so much time on the sociology and politics of masculinity. On the other hand, some sociologists place me in the same camp as Robert Bly and the Jungian conservatives, simply because I am fascinated by the archetypal background to the problem of masculinity.  

These problems with typing and categorising are bound to emerge as we struggle to break new ground, to develop a spirituality of men's experience that is politically aware, and a gender politics that is alert to psychodynamics and the spiritual dimension.

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