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March 14, 2006



OK Hugo. You've hit a nerve.

A most interesting post. It makes me wish I could fly out to take your "Men and Masculinity" class.

Good show Brother.

The Gonzman

Yeah, that whole "storytelling" thing appeals to the bard in me. Bastard.

It's been so long since I have been in a classroom, though, and it's been since high school that I was a problem student - and I am willing to bet next month's receipts that is just what I'd be.

Hmmm - maybe I could break my leather jacket and concert t-shirts out and have a second adolescence.



As you explore the tacit assumptions of masculinity I'm wondering how much of your material is empirically derived. If you offer up alternative behaviors or assumptions are they simply philosophically derived alternatives or can you point to some research which shows that men who, for instance, decreased their competitive inpulses and became more cooperative showed career improvement, more satisfied intimate relationships, better bonding with peers, lowered stress levels, etc. Is the implicit assumption that gender behavior is arbitrary and can be rewritten so as to be true to a "different view"? Is there anything innate to gender behavior? If so, how do you discriminate between innate and learned?

If gender behavior in not innate, then how is it different from sexual orientation, which is innate? Sexual impulses are not derived, they are acted upon after going through only a few socialization filters. Are gender behaviors, which originate with similar impulses, any different? I can see how we can change the filters we put in place, but if we accept that there are innate qualities to masculinity, I don't see how the impulses can be changed, nor why they should be.

The real reason I feel so evangelically passionate about men's work is that I want to help my brothers become more fully and passionately human.

I don't understand the implicit assumptions you're making here. Is there a universal human nature? Do men and women feel the same things, to the same degree, and express themselves in the same fashion? How do we know this?

Too many men my age (late thirties) are leading the lives of "quiet desperation" that Thoreau wrote of a century and a half ago.

As you're workshopping these men through their introspection and away from who they are and towards a new vision of themselves, can you point to an end state and show that that end state of "reformed man" is better, worse, or different in some substantive way. What are the benefits and consequences of the journey and transformation? Or is the point that change, no matter where it leads, is better simply because it's change? Is the change a road into the unknown?


I'm not a social scientist, Tangoman -- I'm a historian, so I'm not the man to ask about studies.

But as far as the benefits of transformation are concerned, they are quite tangible: a greater sense of purpose, a greater sense of well-being, and a sense of belonging to a community. Ask the men who've worked in the pro-feminist community for a while, or the ones who've gone through Mankind Project, or even the Promise Keepers. As different as these groups are, their members all report a greater sense of comfort in their skin as men. The pro-feminist men also experience a deep sense of satisfaction that they are creating and modeling a very different way of relating to women.


a greater sense of purpose, a greater sense of well-being, and a sense of belonging to a community.

Do you think that this results from the process of discussion and analysis that these men participated in or from changes in their behavior after the workshops?




Regarding the changes - are you able to determine whether the positive outcomes result from the specific behaviors and attitudes that have changed or are a result of there simply being a change of some sorts in the lives of these men? To elaborate on the latter case, is it simply a release from the bonds that held them in the past, and if so, then couldn't change in any direction or of any philosophy, have done the same? We often see this as people change through religious conversion. It's hard to argue that one religion is better than another religion. The reason the converts report higher life satisfaction is really due to the change itself, not some objectively measured variable that is uniformly applicable to everyone so as to create a better world filled with more satisfied people who all went through the same change process.

I'm also curious as to how long these positive feelings last.


Well, again, it's both. And pro-feminist transformation isn't just about making men happier -- it's about making them better husbands, brothers, sons, lovers, fathers, co-workers, and so forth. The success of the pro-feminist project isn't just judged by the impact on one man's life, but on those around him as well.

But Tangoman, I'm not going to be able to provide the kind of verifiable research you seem to want. ENFPs tend to be far less interested in research than they are in the unmeasurable world of personal connections and inspiration.


it's about making them better husbands, brothers, sons, lovers, fathers, co-workers, and so forth

Sure. But to make such a claim you need to be able to support it. To support it you need to disentangle the change event from the actual issues inherent to the change.

Why is it that we now frown upon efforts to change the sexual orientation of homosexuals? Those who feel the need to change can go through a seminar, the process of which will free them from the bonds that held them in their life, they'll have a support group of people who went through the seminar with them, the people in their lives will also report improvement (mainly because the homosexual is riding on the bouyant effect of the process) but at the end of the day, the seminar is window dressing and the person underneath is still who they were.

For the feminist claim of changing male nature to have any merit it needs to demonstrate, empirically, that the effects are permanent and result from the adoption of philosophically derived behavior and not simply change for the sake of change.

To do any less is to engage in a process that is simply ideologically reaffirming, just as we see with the counsellors out there who offer to change homosexuals into heterosexuals.

So what I'm trying to find out is whether you're presenting these efforts as leading to an objectively "better" outcome, or are they more like religious conversion, where if you believe in X (but there is no scientific support for X), then your life will be better, more enriched, and you'll be a happier person and you'll improve the lives of those around you to boot. I get the sense that advocates of feminism don't like having their worldview equated to religion and if so then isn't it encumbent upon them to empirically demonstrate the results that occur when men adopt a feminist lifestyle? Otherwise it's no more than preaching, and preaching is notorious for the subjectivity of benefits that fall to the adherents.


Tangoman, I'm not speaking for all feminists. This is not a post making an argument for anything -- it's a post about why Hugo does what he does. I'm not interested in a dry and academic debate about the usefulness of it all.


TangoMan says "It's hard to argue that one religion is better than another religion. The reason the converts report higher life satisfaction is really due to the change itself, not some objectively measured variable that is uniformly applicable to everyone so as to create a better world filled with more satisfied people who all went through the same change process."

I doubt many people who have experienced a religious conversion would agree that it was the "change" rather than the religion that made them happier. Why assume that if there isn't one (or some other finite number) "objectively measured variable" then there were no substantive reasons for their preference or change?

Hugo's objection to "traditional American masculinity," is, as far as I can tell, the way that these traditions suggest they should be "uniformly applicable."When we tell stories of our lives and begin to sort out the ways people and standards like "traditional masculinity/femininity" have guided our choices, we may find that we've been reacting against or reaching for a "not entirely unattainable ideal" even if we weren't aware of it.

You could argue that it's an outdated enlightenment value to think that self-awareness brings more choices, but Hugo is speaking of people who have found it valuable. Gonzman and Hugo have obviously come to different conclusions about their responses to traditional masculinity, but they don't seem to feel the need to judge each other's inherent masculinity by the difference in their reactions.

You seem to want to appeal to some objective standard of "male nature" - how would you begin to determine what such a thing is? Do you think that you can do such a thing without using stories?



Let's see if we agree on a few points. Would you say that the religion you chose as being right for you may not be right for others? I would think most people would recognize the subjectivity of the choice and only those deeply committed to their faith would opine that their religion is the true path for everyone to follow.

Next, can you change someone's sexual nature? I would think that most people would hold that that is hardwired.

Does feminism, any school of it, allow for men to be comfortable with an application of masculinity which works against the ideals of feminism? I'm not aware of feminism being that flexible, but am certainly quite open to correction. So, where religious conversion will mean different things to different people and they'll have all sorts of different paths open to them, I don't see the same choices available with respect to changing the definitions of masculinity to be more aligned with feminist ideals. Feminism holds that all choices are not equal, all choices are not decided upon by what is deemed best, or most rewarding, by the man who is seeking to question his vision of masculinity, rather the feminist ideal is held up to be objectively better than the existing models or alternatives.

If feminism has an interest in changing the nature of men, then it needs to understand the flexibility of masculinity (and femininity) and how much of what it means to be a man is hardwired, like sexuality, and how much is a veneer, like religion. I certainly don't get the sense that there is much empahsis on the innate natures of gender roles and I do get the sense that feminist ideals of masculinity are held up as being objectively better, for all men, than any of the alternatives.

Hugo's been kind enough to address my questions by telling me that these questions which matter to me aren't as important to him, while the personal interactions involved in his work are what he is focusing on, so I don't want this question to come across as my badgering him after he's made his position clear - this response is directed to you and to others who might be able to clear up these questions of mine.



I don't want to go off on a religion tangent too much, but I do believe the Christian God is universally, objectively, true. I also believe humanity is finite and selfishly attempts to universalize their own ideas rather than reflect the infinite virtues and diversity of their creator. Like Hugo, I value Christianity and feminism because I see both seeking to balance the diversity of our "individual personalities" with our responsibility to our social context or "community."

You talk about the "ideals of feminism" changing "the nature of men" - I'm not particulary clear how you come to know what either of those two things is.

Take your sexuality example: we may assume our attraction to people of one gender (or race or height or whatever) is entirely biologically determined, but what does that mean? Do you assume there is some "homosexual nature" that determines how they should dress and act and talk? Or do you assume that the stereotypes of homosexuals are created out of specific historical and cultural settings, where they may or may not represent most homosexuals?

If you really want to boil everything down to "nature" and discount most "nurture" arguments, you may find it much easier to "prove" feminism is irrelevant. But I think you also lose most of your base for any other social/theoretical framework.

Dr E

Hugo said: With my students in my gender studies classes, I can directly address issues of masculinity, privilege, and patriarchy.

This made me shudder.

I worry that you are "addressing the issues of masculinity" through the lens of feminism rather than through the lens of the masculine. Maybe you can reassure me. Do you use feminist texts and or ideas in your course on masculinity? Are you familiar with the work of Robert Moore or any other non-feminist male theorist who has delved into masculinity from the perspective of the mature masculine?


I taught a men's studies class, and you can relax - it's not possible to reprogram a man into a feminist talking head in the scope of a single course. Getting men to look critically at the construction of their gender role is a challenge in itself. (a most rewarding challenge) I can't speak for Hugo, but in my experience, the "lens" was that of each individual - each of us internalizes our gender in a specific way - not of "feminism" or "masculine."

A lot of men are hurt by their own internalization of their gender role, so even if you reject the value of feminism, there's value in helping men deconstruct their gender role for their sakes.

Plus it's academically fascinating.

Dr E

My concern centers around the worry that Hugo is identified as a feminist and loves the world of feminism. When he goes to teach a course on masculinity will he simply try to apply his feminist ideas to the masculine or will he get as excited about the uniqueness of the masculine as he does over the uniqueness of the feminine. This is why I asked the question about the theorists he uses and who they might be. I have yet to see any evidence from Hugo that he has much enthusiasm for the masculine. What I have noted is his tendency to favor the feminine over the masculine. My own bias is that a course the centers on masculinity needs a prof who is excited about that topic and has a love for the uniqueness of masculinity. I just don't see that with Hugo. I hope I am wrong.

Hugo Schwyzer

Dr. E, read this post.  And this one.

They explain a bit about the course.


Regarding the post on Male Numbness, we know that "feelings" are what we call chemical interactions taking place in the brain, and we know that male and female brain chemistry differs, so why should we expect that men and women should have the same range of feelings? Consider:

While it's long been known that antidepressants can interfere with a person's sex life, the latest research questions whether tinkering with brain chemicals can take an additional toll, blunting emotions and interfering with intense romantic love and long-term attachment.

See here for more information.

Dr E

Hey you use Bly?! Good. That's a good start. Bly is no theoretician but he does a fair job in beginning to look a the unique qualities of the masculine. You do know he is married to a staunch feminist though right? ;>)

I love the Iron John book. I actually read it prior to its publication since I found his booklets that comprised much of the book. So what do you tell your students about the "male mode of feeling" that Bly refers to but never really describes in detail? He was very clear in stating that men and women have very different responses to emotions, right?

I would urge you to seek out the work of Robert Moore as being "more" helpful to men in forming a theoretical understanding of their difference from women. His work with the masculine archetypes is simple but elegant.


I think it's problematic to use theories based on biological essentialism. Not much point in deconstructing a gender identity if you're just going to dismiss it anyway. Not much point in liberal arts academics either.

The problem with Bly and the mythopoetic mens movement is that it starts with an imperfect premise and builds a house of cards on top of it. It's much more instructive to start with student's own reactions to diverse readings than to base a course on a contrivance. Good students reject dogma no matter its intent.


Under the new policy of banning thread drift, folks, please feel free to add comments to my old posts (referenced above) on Bly or other aspects of my men's history course.

The new policy is that every comment needs to relate directly to the post, and debating the mythopoetic movement is too tangential.

Dr E

Ryan - Bly is a poet not a theorist.

Now Hugo how about that question about your course and how you deal with the male mode of feeling?


it's that traditional American masculinity leaves little room for men to become full and complete human beings.

I disagee. In fact I find many fo the attributes of "taditional American asculinity" allow those who posess them to live more full and complete lives than many of those I see who don't have them. In essence, they boil down to:

* Defend what you believe in
* Don't whine and cry when faced with adversity, toughen up and deal with it
* Be loyal
* Keep your word

Those are good qualities. I see way too many people who are so busy venting their emotions all over their environment they never get much done. One of my girls works in a large financial institution and rarely does a week go by that she isn't mentioning someone or other who broke down in tears during a work conflict.

Breaking down into sobs at work is supposed to be progress? That's an indication of a full human life? I'll pass.

My relationships with my significant others is stronger because I don't vent all over them every moment. My relationships with my male friends are incredibly strong. We don't need to talka bout our emotions endlessly... we are always there if we are needed. If a friend calls me up and says "what are you up to? I need to get out for a little while" I always say "I'll be right there". We don;t need a 4 hour group discussion... he asks, I answer with my friendship. Thats not stunted or incomplete in any way. That feeling of profound support and loyalty is a constant source of good feelings for all of us.

I am not realy sure what attributes of being a "full and complete" human being I am supposed to b e lacking by thinking traditional masculinity isn't a bad thing.

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