Masculinity: A Psychological Journey

The unconscious perfection of childhood

The unconscious perfection of childhood

“The archetypal pattern is that one goes from the unconscious perfection of childhood, to the conscious imperfection of middle life, to the conscious perfection of old age. One moves from an innocent wholeness, in which the inner world and the outer world are united, to a separation and differentiation between the inner and outer worlds with an accompanying sense of life’s duality, and then, at last, to enlightenment – a conscious reconciliation of the inner and outer in harmonious wholeness.” (Johnson, HE, p. 6)

This is the “normal” route for psychological development for both men and women. But somehow, that “normal” process got twisted and bent out of shape, often never progressing very far along the journey of becoming fully mature, aware and balanced. Something has interfered with this archetypal pattern.  Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette call it “boy psychology,” a product of living in a patriarchal society.

“Patriarchy, in our view, is an attack on masculinity in its fullness as well as femininity in its fullness. Those caught up in the structures and dynamics of patriarchy seek to dominate not only women but men as well. Patriarchy is based on fear – of women to be sure, but also fear of men. Boys fear women. They also fear real men.” (Moore & Gillette, King Warrior, Magician, Lover, p. xvii)

 

Women in a patriarchal society

Women in a patriarchal society

In hearing these words, it begins to make some sense when one considers how our patriarchal societies deal with our adult sexuality. Women are to be covered and denied sexuality, even to the point of having a mother cover up when breast feeding her infant child, even going so far as to encourage women to bypass nature and have the child given a prepared formula. If women are allowed to “expose” their bodies, it is almost always for perverted “boy psychology” pleasure, which we know as pornography, an industry that places both the masculine and the feminine in bondage, creating victims of both men and women. Women are enslaved, in spite of appearances, to the immature masculine impulse that has dominated the modern world.

Hidden penis

Hidden penis

It isn’t just the women who are told to cover up. If anything, men are even more oppressed. The mere sight of an exposed penis causes all sorts of problems, psychological as well as legal. The penis, especially one that is visibly aroused, is threatening. Consider the public reaction to a nude male walking past a playground versus a nude woman walking past a playground – the anger, fear and demands for punishment would be much harsher for the man.

Yet, there is a real need for both male and female sexuality to be accepted as natural, rather than something to be feared. When we teach our children to fear their bodies, we set in place a reappearance of the sexuality of their bodies in the personal and collective shadow. It becomes exceedingly difficult for both men and women to grow into mature conscious beings.

Hero's Journey in Search of Identity

He – Robert A. Johnson

Robert A. Johnson is a Jungian analyst and a prolific author of books that are well worth reading. This book is a very small book of 82 pages that approaches the task of trying to understand the masculine psyche through the myth of the Fisher King and the quest for the Holy Grail. Here is what Johnson has to say about the Grail Myth:

“The Grail myth speaks of masculine psychology. This is not to say that it is confined to the male, for a woman participates in her own inner masculinity . . .  ” (Johnson, HE, p. x)

Grail Quest

Grail Quest

The Grail myth takes as its central figure, the Fisher King who is wounded and through the wounding, becomes impotent. In a way it is not so different from the wounding to one’s soul with the dawn of consciousness.

Adam, the father of all humans according to Christian beliefs, lost his Garden of Eden where he had no need of clothing, a good education, or a well-paying job when he became conscious of himself as a unique being, different from Eve. Consciousness wounds and it seems the more one becomes conscious, the harder it is to be comfortable in one’s body. The more one begins to understand, the more that needs understanding. It would be much easier if we just kept it simple. But, we all must grow up, mature and become responsible. In our contemporary world, it is not deemed manly to be too preoccupied with male sexuality.

“Most western men are Fisher Kings. Every boy has naively blundered into something that is too big for him. He proceeds halfway through his masculine development and then drops it as being too hot. Often a certain bitterness arises, because, like the Fisher King, he can neither live with the new consciousness he has touched nor can he entirely drop it.” (page 4)

Rather than continue the journey of becoming a conscious man, once wounded, we retreat from our bodies and focus on finding our masculine energy somewhere out there, an unconscious act in which we project onto others and onto things, that which we unconsciously deny about our own nature. As a result of our wounding, we wound others around us and our world. The need is to join in the quest for the holy grail, a goal of psychological wholeness, a hero’s quest in which we are forced to come to grips with ourselves as men.

Hero's Journey in Search of Identity

He – Robert A. Johnson

Robert A. Johnson is a Jungian analyst and a prolific author of books that are well worth reading. This book is a very small book of 82 pages that approaches the task of trying to understand the masculine psyche through the myth of the Fisher King and the quest for the Holy Grail. Here is what Johnson has to say about the Grail Myth:

“The Grail myth speaks of masculine psychology. This is not to say that it is confined to the male, for a woman participates in her own inner masculinity . . .  ” (Johnson, HE, p. x)

Grail Quest

Grail Quest

The Grail myth takes as its central figure, the Fisher King who is wounded and through the wounding, becomes impotent. In a way it is not so different from the wounding to one’s soul with the dawn of consciousness.

Adam, the father of all humans according to Christian beliefs, lost his Garden of Eden where he had no need of clothing, a good education, or a well-paying job when he became conscious of himself as a unique being, different from Eve. Consciousness wounds and it seems the more one becomes conscious, the harder it is to be comfortable in one’s body. The more one begins to understand, the more that needs understanding. It would be much easier if we just kept it simple. But, we all must grow up, mature and become responsible. In our contemporary world, it is not deemed manly to be too preoccupied with male sexuality.

“Most western men are Fisher Kings. Every boy has naively blundered into something that is too big for him. He proceeds halfway through his masculine development and then drops it as being too hot. Often a certain bitterness arises, because, like the Fisher King, he can neither live with the new consciousness he has touched nor can he entirely drop it.” (page 4)

Rather than continue the journey of becoming a conscious man, once wounded, we retreat from our bodies and focus on finding our masculine energy somewhere out there, an unconscious act in which we project onto others and onto things, that which we unconsciously deny about our own nature. As a result of our wounding, we wound others around us and our world. The need is to join in the quest for the holy grail, a goal of psychological wholeness, a hero’s quest in which we are forced to come to grips with ourselves as men.

Hero’s Journey in Search of Identity

He – Robert A. Johnson

Robert A. Johnson is a Jungian analyst and a prolific author of books that are well worth reading. This book is a very small book of 82 pages that approaches the task of trying to understand the masculine psyche through the myth of the Fisher King and the quest for the Holy Grail. Here is what Johnson has to say about the Grail Myth:

“The Grail myth speaks of masculine psychology. This is not to say that it is confined to the male, for a woman participates in her own inner masculinity . . .  ” (Johnson, HE, p. x)

Grail Quest

Grail Quest

The Grail myth takes as its central figure, the Fisher King who is wounded and through the wounding, becomes impotent. In a way it is not so different from the wounding to one’s soul with the dawn of consciousness.

Adam, the father of all humans according to Christian beliefs, lost his Garden of Eden where he had no need of clothing, a good education, or a well-paying job when he became conscious of himself as a unique being, different from Eve. Consciousness wounds and it seems the more one becomes conscious, the harder it is to be comfortable in one’s body. The more one begins to understand, the more that needs understanding. It would be much easier if we just kept it simple. But, we all must grow up, mature and become responsible. In our contemporary world, it is not deemed manly to be too preoccupied with male sexuality.

“Most western men are Fisher Kings. Every boy has naively blundered into something that is too big for him. He proceeds halfway through his masculine development and then drops it as being too hot. Often a certain bitterness arises, because, like the Fisher King, he can neither live with the new consciousness he has touched nor can he entirely drop it.” (page 4)

Rather than continue the journey of becoming a conscious man, once wounded, we retreat from our bodies and focus on finding our masculine energy somewhere out there, an unconscious act in which we project onto others and onto things, that which we unconsciously deny about our own nature. As a result of our wounding, we wound others around us and our world. The need is to join in the quest for the holy grail, a goal of psychological wholeness, a hero’s quest in which we are forced to come to grips with ourselves as men.

A Real Man and Persona

A real man

A real man

I am returning with my second post on masculinity with reference to Warren Steinberg’s book, Masculinity: Identity Conflict and Transformation:

“Critical to the personality is the relationship between the individual and society. In adapting to society conformity is necessary. Society demands that people develop a persona, that is, appear and act according to certain roles. While the characteristics that define roles vary from culture to culture, that people adopt such roles is universal.” (Steinberg, Masculinity, p. 1)

These words correctly describe the situation that everyone finds himself or herself in society. As I watched my children and my students grow, I saw how they worked hard to adapt to their peer groups. Sometimes I would grit my teeth as I saw them doing and saying things that they didn’t believe, but doing them and saying them anyway so that they could feel part of the group. But, I knew that I had done the same as a youth. The urge to belong somehow seemed more important than being a unique individual. To tell the truth, even though I am a retired person, there is still an urge to belong. But the cost in the second half of life seems to be too much.

Media both teaches and reinforces what it is to be a man in our world. One is told what kind of truck a real, tough man would drive “is it built Ford Tough” or what is a real man’s drink:

“Gentlemen, it’s time to man up. We’re all sick and tired of watching grown men elbow their way to the front of the bar, only to order some fruit-infused drink with a sexually suggestive name. It’s not funny, and it sure as hell isn’t what a man should be ordering at a bar. If you are content to down sorority house swill in neon colors for the rest of your life, read no further. If however, you want to take off your little boy clothes and don the sophisticated suit of manhood, follow our lead as we explore the intimidating, yet rewarding world of manly drinks! ” (advertisement that goes with the photo above)

Of course as a mature adult, I don’t have to buy into these depictions of what it is to be a real man. Yet, at an unconscious level, any deviation from the collective norm leaves one a bit confused and questioning oneself. One’s belief doesn’t seem to be enough, one needs some sort of confirmation from others when it comes to identity, including gender and sexual identity. And I am no different, I also learn about who I am through the eyes of others.

I know I am a man. I have a penis and testicles and the proper X and Y chromosomes that define what it is to be a male. I have fathered children. I have owned a pickup truck and guns, drank beer, scotch and other alcoholic beverages, and worn a beard. I have tried smoking, ridden horses, hunted with a rifle (and killed for meat); and I enjoy making love to a woman.  By all rights, there should be no confusion in myself or others regarding my “manly” status, my masculinity. But it isn’t that simple either for me or for others who know me casually or intimately.

I am an introvert. I am sensitive. I don’t like wearing clothing and shed them when I feel it is safe and appropriate for me. Like many men, I find myself searching for answers to questions I have yet to ask as I find myself in conflict with the “persona” of being a “real man.”

A Real Man and Persona

A real man

A real man

I am returning with my second post on masculinity with reference to Warren Steinberg’s book, Masculinity: Identity Conflict and Transformation:

“Critical to the personality is the relationship between the individual and society. In adapting to society conformity is necessary. Society demands that people develop a persona, that is, appear and act according to certain roles. While the characteristics that define roles vary from culture to culture, that people adopt such roles is universal.” (Steinberg, Masculinity, p. 1)

These words correctly describe the situation that everyone finds himself or herself in society. As I watched my children and my students grow, I saw how they worked hard to adapt to their peer groups. Sometimes I would grit my teeth as I saw them doing and saying things that they didn’t believe, but doing them and saying them anyway so that they could feel part of the group. But, I knew that I had done the same as a youth. The urge to belong somehow seemed more important than being a unique individual. To tell the truth, even though I am a retired person, there is still an urge to belong. But the cost in the second half of life seems to be too much.

Media both teaches and reinforces what it is to be a man in our world. One is told what kind of truck a real, tough man would drive “is it built Ford Tough” or what is a real man’s drink:

“Gentlemen, it’s time to man up. We’re all sick and tired of watching grown men elbow their way to the front of the bar, only to order some fruit-infused drink with a sexually suggestive name. It’s not funny, and it sure as hell isn’t what a man should be ordering at a bar. If you are content to down sorority house swill in neon colors for the rest of your life, read no further. If however, you want to take off your little boy clothes and don the sophisticated suit of manhood, follow our lead as we explore the intimidating, yet rewarding world of manly drinks! ” (advertisement that goes with the photo above)

Of course as a mature adult, I don’t have to buy into these depictions of what it is to be a real man. Yet, at an unconscious level, any deviation from the collective norm leaves one a bit confused and questioning oneself. One’s belief doesn’t seem to be enough, one needs some sort of confirmation from others when it comes to identity, including gender and sexual identity. And I am no different, I also learn about who I am through the eyes of others.

I know I am a man. I have a penis and testicles and the proper X and Y chromosomes that define what it is to be a male. I have fathered children. I have owned a pickup truck and guns, drank beer, scotch and other alcoholic beverages, and worn a beard. I have tried smoking, ridden horses, hunted with a rifle (and killed for meat); and I enjoy making love to a woman.  By all rights, there should be no confusion in myself or others regarding my “manly” status, my masculinity. But it isn’t that simple either for me or for others who know me casually or intimately.

I am an introvert. I am sensitive. I don’t like wearing clothing and shed them when I feel it is safe and appropriate for me. Like many men, I find myself searching for answers to questions I have yet to ask as I find myself in conflict with the “persona” of being a “real man.”

A Man and a Woman

A man and a woman

A man and a woman

I’ve been married for more than forty years to the same woman and I have to admit that she is still a mysterious person, someone who is unfathomable as far as I can tell. To listen to her, I am as much of a mystery to her as she is to me. If anything we still see each other as strangers with whom we can’t seem to be attracted to in our differences. I am a man, she is a woman – opposites attract. But that is only the biological fact.

As soon as I think I have a handle on her likes, her preferences, her habits, something new emerges from somewhere deep within her making all previous knowledge almost null and void. She is my magical other, a woman who defies any container that she tries to construct in terms of self-definition. Since I find myself constantly changing, we continually surprise each other. But all of that said, she does wonder about my masculinity, thinking I should know better how to relate as a man to her as a woman.

“Because sexual proficiency is a core tenet of masculinity we are expected to already know how to have sex well, and there is stigma around asking our partners if there are ways we can improve our performance. We neglect to ask if there are specific things that we may be doing wrong or that our partner may prefer differently.” (Robert Reece, Good Men Project, December 20, 2012)

It is vital to ask, but answers aren’t always available. If it was simply a matter of physical engineering, the task would be made so much simpler. Where does all the confusion, the fear come from? If one does overcome the fear to ask a question, it often is a question that is more about the person asking the question rather than about the partner which just adds to the confusion. We sabotage each other assuming that the other knows or should know if he/she really did love.

The root of the problem lies in what really lies beneath the skin of the magical other who invariably disappoints us in real, day to day life. But that is a story for another day.