Men's Movement Keeps Moving
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jun. 1 (WFS) -- Several years ago, large numbers of American men took to the woods to beat drums, sweat, and try to recover their primal, masculine selves. The rituals were inspired by Iron John, a book by poet Robert Bly. He delved into ancient myths to rediscover what he considered the lost essence of masculinity. Bly also called for the re-creation of initiations, grueling ordeals that separate boys from their mothers and put them under the guidance of older men. Bly said such initiations were critical in the transformation from boy to man. Since Bly's book first hit the stands a few years ago, the number of organized male affirmations of manhood has expanded tremendously. But many social critics say the burgeoning "men's movement" is not as innocuous as it once seemed. In a book called Man's World, published this month, author Ellis Cose argues that American men are experiencing heightened anxiety and anger as they try to define masculinity in a society where women have increased their own economic and social power. "The rules have changed," Cose says. Women have made tremendous inroads in the American job market over the last two decades. According to United Nations statistics, the number of working women in 1970 was just 60 percent of the number of working men. But by 1991, women accounted for 45 percent of the workforce and filled nearly 40 percent of all administrative and managerial positions. On average, women are also better educated, and there are nearly 10 percent more women than men enrolled in American universities. American feminists argue that much of the new pro-men hype is simply a reaction against these advances, and an attempt to reassert male dominance. They say the talk about male identity is just well-worn anti-women rhetoric. "For most of our history, men didn't have to worry about getting their fair share," says Wendy Kaminer, a social critic who write on politics, law and culture. Now that men compete with women for jobs, she says, "We hear an awful lot of anger and a certain amount of backlash." Cose, a contributing editor at Newsweek, refuses to label the increasing number of male activities a movement. He prefers to say that American men are groping their way through a series of "men's issues" that include the search for a male identity, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. "For women, there was a clear `enemy' and clear inequities," he says. "For men, it is much more subtle." Whether their distress stems from political frustration or a deeper identity crisis, anxious men are expressing their agony in a variety of different forums. The New Warrior Network, a nation-wide for-profit group, offers a weekend of initiation and self-examination, which its brochure describes as "crucial to the development of a healthy and mature male self." For a fee of $550, each New Warrior is led through strenuous physical, mental and emotional re-enactments of past events and experiences. He is encouraged to leave behind his old social identity and "tell the truth about who he is and where he's going," says Joe Laur, executive director of the organization. Afterwards, the warriors join small "integration groups" where they meet regularly to share emotions and discuss issues from a male perspective. Since the program began in 1985, more than 5,000 men have experienced "the classic initiation elements of separation, ordeal and reintegration" to become New Warriors. About 20 percent remain active in the follow-up groups. Hal Larsen, a 60-year-old artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, says attending weekly warrior group meetings allows him "to be authentic at least once a week with a group of men I trust, and to work on personal issues." Larsen battles demons that include a recent divorce, his daughter's suicide, and a childhood of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. For many years, he blurred his pain with alcohol. But as a New Warrior, he tries to heal the deep emotional wounds. Other members of his group include psychiatrists, business people, lawyers, teachers and artists and other generally successful members of the community. "Men are able to put their act together on the outside pretty well," Larsen says. "But that facade can hide a lot of pain." Laur says the warrior groups have an important role to play in men's overall well-being. Women have "more opportunity to get together naturally and share their emotions," Laur said. Men must try harder "to get their hearts connected with their head and their gut." While the New Warriors emphasize the inner quest of the modern American man, other men's groups have more overtly political goals that stand in direct opposition to women's demands for equal treatment under the law. In the view of such men's rights advocates, males are now the underdogs, who have had their rights trampled by rabid women. "Millions of men are feeling this anger and anxiety," says Mel Feit, executive director of the Long Island, New York-based National Center for Men. The center's goal is "to educate people about the way men are being hurt by sexual discrimination." As one example of the way men have lost control over their lives, Feit cites the case of a man who got his wife pregnant by accident. The wife refused to have the abortion that her husband wanted, Feit complains. Instead, she has insisted on having the child, forcing the man into fatherhood against his wishes. To increase male control over such situations, Feit is an active advocate for men's rights in reproductive choice. He also seeks to put an end to what he says are numerous false accusations of rape, especially "date rape." He says his center receives numerous requests for help from young men who have been accused of rape, when in fact the women were willing partners at the time of the sexual encounter. Feit says that these callers, unjustly accused, are victims of a social climate that accepts women's accusations as truth, and ignores the male defense. Feit sees himself as a civil rights activist, fighting against the erroneous perception that "it's a man's world." Angry men with a Christian bent have been drawn to Promise Keepers, a national organization that defines "real men" as men who love their wives and Jesus. Last year, more than 278,000 men attended Promise Keeper conferences in seven cities, where they sang and prayed for God to save their souls. But women's groups say Promise Keepers gives men more than just spiritual fulfillment. It also promotes the misogynistic message that men have a God-given right to exercise control over their wives and children. Whether pursing their political agendas, battling their inner demons or both, Laur says today's men have come a long way since the early days, when devotees of Robert Bly beat drums to get in touch with their primal selves. They are now focused and actively trying to further their cause. "There's a lot less whining and a lot more commitment," he says. "Beating drums had important symbolism for men -- like burning bras did for women -- but it had nothing to do with what they really wanted to gain."