The Stages of Men’s Phallic Transformation
The author aims his opening salvo directly at where men are most vulnerable — right below the belt. And he invites women in as witness.
“Read on, men, and hold your groin if the spirit moves you. Women, read on, and understand that your men are vulnerable and frightened and hell-bent on protecting themselves.”
Perhaps this was the most the late author and Jungian psychologist Eugene Monick could do in his introduction to “Castration and Male Rage: The Phallic Wound.” As Dr. Monick shows in this still timely book, the terms castration, male rage and psychic wound accurately describe psychological conditions that seem to increase with modernity, technological advances and the growth of feminism, in all its guises.
The author’s opening salvo is couched in a rhetorical question: “Why are men so angry?” He asks: “How can men, long on the top of our cultural pyramid of power, be infantilized, often by small imputations of inadequacy?”
The author writes that phallus is the governing symbol of masculinity and that the phallic archetype permeates male development and behavior and has deep mythological roots. He reminds us that masculinity is different and distinct from patriarchy. (The author uses the Greek word phallos. I use the more conventional spelling.)
From a psychological point of view, in Western and other cultures, the feminine has been associated with the unconscious, the masculine with the conscious. We can see this thread in Aristotle and Plato and later in theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas. Monick points out that with the feminine emerging, culturally, as a force in the power structure, men have been pushed to better understand the unconscious side of masculinity. There is an inherent and usually unconscious fear here; the loss of the phallus, the loss of power. Here lies the root of castration anxiety. And this can become the source of rage.
The author goes to great length to differentiate between physical masculinity and psychological masculinity but adds that the two states are always conjoined. One cannot really speak about one without the other. Either way, loss of physical and/or symbolic masculinity represents a loss of essential manhood. Phallus, as an energized penis, is the source of life and libido, though rarely talked about among men, other than in jokes and locker room banter. The phallus represents his creative power and the way he enters the body and psychic space of another. This entering, joining and completion represents the mythic and symbolic power of the phallus.
To explain psychological masculinity, the author refers to a woman who, after a failed married, met a woodsman who was older than her and they began “a long and delicious love-affair: She ripened into “full sexuality.” The author adds that the man was essentially impotent. In his lovemaking, he used his “soft and gentle paw.” So, if the phallic nature of the man is intact, his nature and body become phallic. The author notes that “Celibate men who are constitutionally phallic are genuinely masculine.” This is about psychic energy, the libido and not just an erection.
Eugene Monick outlines the various stages of male transformation within an archetypal grid. How man handles these various transformations throughout his life will dictate strong masculine evolution or weakness in this masculine grid. As we learned from Freud, man will feel an anxiety with the implication of unachieved masculinity if these stages are missed or not met.
Monick suggests that more males are lost during the oedipal stage occurring between the third and sixth year, than at any other stage of transformation. At this point, the boy is already aware of his penis and that it gives him pleasure. He is also becoming aware of his father’s connection to the mother. The key to this transformation is the boy’s dissociation from the mother and an understanding that he is a separate and distinct creature from his mother. Both mother and father can help or impede this phase of development. Monick writes that “The mother might have invited the symbiosis, a quite natural impulse, but it’s the father’s responsibility to put a stop to it. Failure on the part of one parent spells difficulty; failure on the part of both is a sign of impending disaster.” If the process goes well, the boy moves into the latency period and sexual desire goes underground to be worked out in subliminal ways. His budding masculinity plays out in games with the boys, avoiding girls and disobeying his mother. He will move into the adolescent stage full of sexual curiosity and unencumbered by the incest taboo.
The author notes that these transformations have monumental ramifications. A man’s physiology puts him in a position of having to continuously prove his manhood, suggesting measurement, performance, and efficiency, elements that become part of the masculine ideal with an emphasis on action. Monick writes that the psychological implications of this biological reality are enormous.
By age 35 or so, men enter a non-erotic, non-instinctual phase, a work rather than love transformation. Accomplishment can become another way for genital phallic energy to be expressed. Men’s sexuality broadens out in what might be considered “allegorical phallic activity” which Freud called sublimation. Vocation, family, leadership can all be phallic activities. Erotic energy does not disappear but more often is rechanneled.
If there is no transformation, a man might remain in an earlier stage of puberty. His instinct is not developed. He might drift between jobs and relationships, his adolescence on full display.
Monick sees early manhood with its physical and psychological erections as preparation for the tasks of later life, “both actual and metaphorical.” And there are always opportunities for course corrections. The mid-life crisis stage might be remedial, an opportunity to address unfinished work in earlier stages of development. This might be the hangover effects of too much dependence on the mother, a common occurrence. This infantile attitude in adult men is often projected on wives, children and business associates with disastrous results.
The author observes that “When the mid-life crisis attacks, the baby part of man is unmasked as a factor in the adult personality, often with striking clarity.” Then the stock market gains, professional success and beautiful children are seen as substitutes for maternal nurturing. This false-self could be called a pseudo-phallus and can be as devastating as castration or impotence.
Jung called the mid-life transformation, “individuation,” a time when man differentiates himself from the collective and embarks on an inner journey of self-understanding. As Monick notes, this is about wholeness rather than phallic attainment and can be an unsettling time for the male because it involves embracing his subjective sense of the feminine. And in previous stages of transformation “subjective femininity inhibits phallus. But in the stage of individuation, what was heretofore a danger becomes a psychological necessity, even a blessing.” The integration of the feminine in the second half of life requires a functioning male grid and a phallic inner presence.
This man doesn’t need patriarchy because he has an inner structure. This to some might seem like weakness, even a kind of castration but that is not an accurate psychological or mythological description. It is merely recognition that the male god is not the only god in the universe and the phallus doesn’t run the whole show. The whole man will find psychological completeness in combining phallic energy with a receptive interior, his soulfulness.