A Note On Men's Experience


Men & Liberation
Author David Tacey

Author, lecturer and commentator David Tacey calls for the men's movement to deal squarely and honestly with the reality of the psyche and all that it contains. He calls for men to ensure that any newly released anger emanating from thereapy or “awareness groups” is integrated and properly understood. If it's not, he warns, men are likely to direct their rage against women, feminism and social progress. David's forthcoming book Remaking Men: Jung, Spirituality and Social Change, Routledge, will be released early next year.
The contemporary men's movement is in part a much-belated eruption of feeling and emotion into the psychic lives of ordinary men. For generations, men have been taught, or conditioned, to repress their feelings and to behave according to a stoical patriarchal model of behaviour. Therefore, it is good to see the development of a so-called “expressive” men's movement, which aims to lift conventional bans and repressions, and to construct new, more affirmative and fully human, models of masculinity.

However, according to my own experience in the men's movement, there is a real and dangerous tendency for men to switch from one extreme to another. We are sometimes compelled to change from All Dry to All Wet, and we begin to espouse a cult of feeling that seems strangely inappropriate and insupportable.

Especially at midlife, men who suddenly discover the feeling heart are liable to decide that the head is Saturnian, static, bad, and that the fluid life of the heart must be the only source of truth. Men who set out on a spiritual path frequently become anti-intellectual, aggressively opposed to “theory” and committed to a cult of “experience”. The intellect and life of the mind are sometimes felt to be part of the “false self” that the male quester is leaving behind in order to achieve “authenticity”.

Perhaps there is not much we can do about this at the moment, because this undifferentiated feeling is where many of us are “at”. Nevertheless, we can hardly expect others to wholly swallow these large doses of sentiment, and men must not expect that all audiences will be receptive to their cathartic expression. Unfortunately, in a society in which many men are over-educated and caught up in the head, “men's liberation” has an annoying habit of representing itself as the throwing out or “transcendence” of the mind.

The intoxicated feeling that often arises from men in therapy and awareness groups is difficult to direct or educate, and attempts to test this feeling against reality can result in bitter recrimination and hurt. However, the initial euphoria is self-limiting, because after the ecstatic release come feelings of resentment and aggression. Men suddenly feel angered by a patriarchal system that has taught them to repress their feelings, and that represented feeling and emotion as feminine weakness. Men suddenly feel cheated by life, angered by their fathers who provided the repressive model, distraught by the awareness that no affective or feeling ties bind them to their fathers, and anxious to seek reparation and redress. Real or surrogate fathers are sought out, and feelings pour forth in a way that no-one could have anticipated. The rigidly controlled male is suddenly a bleeding heart, which alternately produces ecstasy, depression and rage.

Very quickly, this male rage can be marshalled into backlash political activities against women, feminism, and social progress. Men's so-called “awareness groups” can readily turn into misogynist cliques if this newly released anger is not integrated and properly understood. When energy and emotion are released in repressive males, what emerges from the unconscious is by no means goodness and light. There is a great upwelling of what Jung calls the shadow, and what religions call evil, and if this darkness is not accepted, recognised for what it is, and transformed by a cosmology or religion large enough to contain it, the darkness will simply spill over into the world, and all sorts of external figures and forces, especially women, will be blamed for misery and anguish.

Men who conduct very superficial journeys of self-discovery, or who cannot be bothered facing the darkness inside them, will be particularly prone to negative projections and a “paranoid” view of the external social world. Some of the popular philosophies and new age therapies readily available today have no room for darkness or evil. Instead, they have a completely delusional “light-and-positive” view of human nature, and the men who get caught up in these systems have very little chance of dealing with the shadow or of integrating their own darkness. Men's liberation is going to have to deal squarely and honestly with the reality of the psyche, and in demanding individuation and personal growth, many men are going to get far more than they bargained for. If individuation, or confrontation with the unconscious, is courted, men will have to face whatever actually does emerge from the unconscious whether or not it fits with fashionable ideology or popular expectations.


Response to David Tacey's article

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