‘Masculinity is not toxic’ — The Guardian and the new Men’s Movement

Rebel Wisdom is a project aimed at catalysing a new movement of men to take responsibility for themselves and inspire other men — running workshops and talks, in addition to making films about these subjects.

We just got our first piece of major media interest in the UK’s Liberal bastion — The Guardian “Men after #MeToo: ‘There’s a narrative that masculinity is fundamentally toxic’” — overall it’s a good piece — and I believe the journalist, Richard Godwin, did an honest job in trying to understand and accurately reflect on the project, and what was a fairly bumpy launch of what we hoped to be a new Men’s Movement 2.0.

Given that he has framed the article as a response to the recent #metoo phenomena — he accurately characterises our perspective as being that the kind of behaviours that #metoo is highlighting are manifestations of immature and unintegrated masculinity — boys pretending to be men. And that the right response to that is not to demonise masculinity or for men to retreat into shame around their gender — but to do the inner work to identify and to work with the masculine energy that can come out as anger, aggression or domination and to integrate it into a healthy, competent and confident personality — the kind of ‘Shadow Work’ that Jordan Peterson describes in his interview with us.

There is always a certain tension between the detachment, observation and skepticism of the role of a journalist — and entering an environment like a workshop where it only works if we fully engage, take a leap of faith and drop the roles and detachment.

Despite this — it is disappointing that he comes to the end of the article and questions the value of men’s work as a concept — although admitting perhaps that is because he hasn’t done enough of it.

Our experience is that this work — men connecting, supporting and challenging each other in a male only environment — is essential for a few different reasons. The first is that men inevitably change their behaviour around women — the second is that finding true brotherhood with other men beyond a place of competition makes all of our relationships better — the third is that there is often far too much pressure placed on intimate relationships to be the sole source of strength — and in our experience most women WANT their men to have deep and close friendships with other men and to bring masculine polarity to relationships.

As relationship expert and psychologist Louise Mazanti says:

“ Men need to do men’s work because they need to know that their masculinity is beautiful and powerful. Men have inherited so many messages about how abusive and distorted masculinity is, but the men who are doing this work and attracted to it are not absusive and distorted. It’s so painful to watch the self-castration that happens when men think their masculinity is wrong, and it’s so important for men get in touch with the healthy masculine — it’s a much needed force in this world.”

Most men say that they come away from a men’s workshop with a renewed appreciation for the women in their lives and — particularly — a boost to their sex life and intimacy in the aftermath — having grounded themselves in their masculine polarity and then meeting their partner from that space.

One question — how are your relationships? In our experience denying the different polarities of men and women in relationship leads to good friendships and bad sex.

The testimonials from the last weekend workshop maybe illustrate what men find useful in these experiences:

“What I found particularly helpful was arriving here and being mostly strangers and by the end of the weekend we’re able to offer each other insights that are deeply powerful, and to feel what it actually feels like to be a man, honouring what it is to be a man and also the love and contribution from women…I think it’s really important this kind of work exists right now.”

“It was incredibly constructive. I am a father. I intend to bring lots of these teachings to my son. I think I’ve learned a lot of stuff that will make me a better man.”

“I believe in spaces like this you really get to feel those masculine energies — the fire, the vulnerability, but in a space of understanding that this is a beautiful gift, something to be trusted and something the world really, really needs.”

“You never knew that you were missing this, but you are. You don’t know that this is what you’ve actually wanted your entire life. But it is.”

Also — no-one is saying that personal growth work should be done EXCLUSIVELY with men — mixed groups provide a very different but equally essential experience — but we should work consciously with both our male and female relationships.

Partly this is a recognition that we are embodied, biological creatures — as we say on our website — “Why Men’s Work”.

“Many of the world’s oldest wisdom traditions, from Buddhism to Taoism to Hinduism, have concluded that the world manifests itself fundamentally as polarities, yin/yang, masculine/feminine.
Taking our lead from the great psychologist C. J. Jung, our experience is that everyone contains both a masculine and feminine side (what he called the anima and animus) — and that it is only by consciously and deliberately developing both of them that we become fully present and embodied.
But this is not the same as gender neutrality, quite the opposite — instead of seeing gender as a ‘spectrum’ — we can see it as two spectrums, an inner masculine and feminine in each of us.
Our experience is that true charisma comes from integrating both of these elements in ourselves, for men that means both to be able to stand in our relaxed confidence as men, and also to access our emotions and express them cleanly.”

And also that one of the main insights of every psychological thinker is that the primary relationships in our lives that form us are with our mother and father.

And that these relationships influence nearly everything we then choose to do in life — our choice of partner and how we relate to them — our relationship to our boss at work — and every other area of our lives.

So if you want to change any of these areas of your life, it’s pretty essential to look at the relationship with each parent in turn. And as Rafia Morgan says in our recent film — very few of us got the necessary support and guidance we needed from our fathers — no matter how well they did or tried to do. As men this role model — or lack of it — is hugely important.

So that’s one of the main reasons for doing work with men — to get that healthy male connection and energy as adults.

That’s why Jordan Peterson has become so staggeringly popular — saying the things that young men should have been told by their fathers and their culture but aren’t.

“Every public appearance that I’ve made that’s related to the sort of topics that we’re discussing is overwhelmingly men. I’ve been talking a lot to the crowds that I’ve been talking to not about rights but about responsibility. You can’t have the conversation about rights without the conversation about responsibility because your rights are my responsibility. We’re only having half that discussion. And then the question is what are you leaving out if you’re leaving no responsibility. And the answer might be well maybe you’re leaving out the meaning of life.”

He also addresses what he says was a lack of political direction in the nascent ‘Men’s Movement 2.0': “When I describe all this to my wife, she seem unsurprised that we lacked direction. “When women get together, we don’t talk about femininity. We talk about rights.” Perhaps with no specific political cause to rally around, men have nothing else to contemplate other than our wounded feelings.”

Godwin is right to point out that, at the time he came to MM2.0, there was a certain lack of direction. In part, the talk he attended was designed to bring together different men’s work practitioners and organisations — from Band of Brothers to Nick Duffell’s ‘Centre for Gender Psychology’ and collectively have a discussion to find a common purpose.

However, the assumption that men’s work is, or should be, based on meeting to discuss our place in society is problematic. Most men aren’t interested in talking about rights. Society’s fixation on rights without a simultaneous conversation about responsibility is something Jordan Peterson has pointed to often as a cause of male disengagement. Men, on the whole, are sick of discussing rights ad infinitum — what’s more enticing, and what really motivates us, is taking responsibility.

We are also not interested in ‘rallying around a cause’ — this points to an overall fixation in the piece around politics and identity, typical of most Guardian articles over the last few years. While these are certainly factors in the mix, men’s work is primarily an embodied, psycho-spiritual experience of masculinity. It’s experienced viscerally in the body, not just the head. It’s challenging and energising — it’s not a place for victimhood where we discuss our wounded feelings for the sake of it.

We take responsibility for the workshop Richard came to not being as deep as it should have been. It is the last one-day workshop we did — and we have stopped doing them altogether in favour of full weekend intensives — as we’ve found that a full weekend allows men to go much deeper and for us to put together a full transformational process that the day-long workshops were lacking.

At the last one in February, pretty much all the men had a very powerful experience, and many of them had something close to a life-changing experience.

I know that Richard is genuinely interested in this work — in addition to the professional interest — so we would invite him to come to our weekend intensive in June, to get the full experience and to hopefully have the experience that many others have reported from our workshops.

Upcoming events — we have a discussion on 27th March in conjunction with the London Philosophy Club — “Strong Men — Masculinity and the Modern World”.

Our workshops for April and June.

And forthcoming — watch this space — we are running our first women’s workshop September 28–30.