Mens Work – Changing the world, one man at a time (ManKind Project)
From “The New Manhood” by Steve Biddulph:
“…who can say it isn’t time for a new kind of man? That with the planet in ecological collapse, greed and rapaciousness everywhere, it isn’t time for good men to find their feet? To stand at their full height and do what’s needed to put the world to rights?
“…we are made to be unified and whole, happy and full of life. What is good for your soul is also what is best for your loved ones, and your world. So let’s begin.” (2010)
What is Mens Work?
Mens work refers to the activities undertaken by men in the mythopoetic arm of the mens movement. The Men’s Movement includes self help, lobbying and activism. The rituals and practices in mens work have a self help focus which stem from Jungian psychoanalysis and include indigenous mythology and knowledge. The movement seeks to use mentoring, rites of passage, ritual, support groups and education to restore the “authentic, healthy masculine” to men who have lost touch with these deep unconscious patterns and archetypes.
There used to be a “river” of healthy masculinity that flowed from one generation to the next. For a number of reasons, including the industrial revolution taking men away from their child rearing role, this river has run dry. Under-fathered boys aren’t given enough affection, teaching and example from either their dad or other male figures to help them grow into mature men. Affection to let them know they matter, teaching to help them understand their lives and example so they can learn by observation how a good man feels, things and acts.
While women can do a very good job of raising men, we all need people of our own gender to reach our full potential. To be kind and generous, a young man has to see that, lived out, in someone that could be an older version of himself. Men haven’t been spending enough time with boys to enable positive traits to be passed on, which has led to generations of deeply flawed men. Even though men are starting to spend more time with their sons, the knowledge of healthy masculinity has been lost. The chain broken. The river dry.
Without close and healthy role models available to them, young men unconsciously put on a ‘mask’ (be that – cool dude, hard worker, good bloke, tough guy or sensitive new man). The mask goes on in their teens and it stays put, often hiding a confused, scared figure pretending he’s fine when he’s not. The purpose of the mask is to prevent vulnerability and exposure. If they can’t see the real you, they can’t reject or judge you. The cost of this is loneliness and isolation. The mask becomes a lifelong obstacle to healing and love.
Maintaining a facade is hard work. Eventually problems arise. Years of denying his own feelings can leave a man isolated, volatile and susceptible to breakdown and self-harm. Suicide, premature death, accidents and addictions are more prevalent in men than in women. The strong predominance of men involved in violence, sexual assault, child abuse, mass shootings and serial killings points to a serious problem across the board.
Other prisons from which men need to escape are loneliness and compulsive competition. Our loneliness is self created – when we are always putting on a front, people sense this and never quite trust us. Our relationships with other men are often distant because, they too are behind their mask. Major problems can seemingly arise out of the blue because they develop in secret.
The constant mistrust leads to competition – a desperate lifelong effort to win approval (look at corporations). The ability to trust another man is learned at a very young age. If a father shows his child that love, relaxation, care and patience can all be male qualities, this can be an early and positive example of male friendship.
Question: how have you been personally affected by ‘unhealthy’ masculinity?
Now that we are aware of the cause, we can see the solution. Healthy masculinity exists like DNA ready to be resurrected in the well fathered men among us. We need to change the way we raise our boys, the way we nurture teenagers and the way we support the lives of young men. Step one is to acknowledge and grieve the rift between father and son. Sharing and talking about trauma goes a long way to dealing with it. Grieving is a way of opening to the things that men may have tried to pretend they didn’t need – closeness, trust, friendship and love. Often, anger is a way of hiding grief. But when a man can speak comfortably about his emotions without a disproportionate response, peace ensues.
Boys need to be guided into manhood by their elders. A rite of passage is a celebration of an individual leaving one group and entering another. There are three ritualised and supported stages, separation (decent), transition (ordeal) and re-incorporation (return).
Without formal rites of passage from boyhood to manhood, many young men look to public figures and fictional characters as their elders and innately go into isolation via depression and substance abuse instead of ritual.
There are some ritualistic events that happen in our culture such as graduation, debutant ball, moving out of home, getting married etc, but they often lack some of the aspects that help the individual feel a new place in society.
Question – How might men individually work on their self development?
Exploring masculine archetypes has been a great way for me to understand and strive for a healthy, balanced masculinity within myself. They are primordial behaviour blueprints based on principles of Jungian psychology and there is a book called, “King Warrior Magician Lover” that unpacks them and applies them to masculinity. They have been a great tool to know myself better and see which areas I might like to cultivate further and gives me guidance on how to do that in a healthy way. Magician, Peacemaker, Warrior, Trickster, Lover, Wild Man, King.
International organisation, The ManKind project runs “New Warrior Training Adventure” initiation weekends for men. “The process of self examination is designed to catalyse the development of a healthy and mature masculine self” (from their website).
Here in South Australia, The Kangaroo Island Men’s Weekend of Manhood and Initiation is for all men and boys to attend to reflect on the man you are and choose to be.
There are other formal programs for men interstate and around the world too. I attended Man’s Inner Journey weekend retreat in Healesville, Victoria in May and am booked in to MKP’s New Warrior Training Adventure in August this year. I’m considering the inaugural “Spiritual Wellbeing Men’s Retreat”, south of Adelaide in September.
“Men’s Rites of Passage” is run by The Centre For Men in Queensland. “Mens Rites of Passage (MROP) is a unique five-day/four night profound experience that builds on the classic patterns of male initiation through simple and moving rituals and teaching. Each day includes group prayer, major teachings on central masculine spirituality themes, quiet time for reflection and sharing in the context of a small group.”
School based programs are attempting to help young men transition to authentic manhood. Adelaide based educator, Andrew Lines coordinates “The Rite Journey” which is a year long school based program which uses principles of rites of passage processes and is designed to support the development of self-aware, vital, responsible and resilient adults.
White Ribbon has an accreditation program where schools are supported in teaching and modelling respectful relationships and gender equality. I share my passion for men’s work with students when I do relief teaching and will be developing a workshop to take around schools in the future.
Finally, a major way that the men’s movement seeks to help is with support groups for men – mens groups. A support group is a group of five to ten men committed to sharing events of their daily lives, the feelings stirred by those events, and the history behind those feelings. Support groups are not a substitute for therapy, but a place where men can be themselves. All groups are expected to follow a set of Guidelines established by the Council. The only requirement for joining a support group is a genuine desire to join with other men in supporting each other’s life journeys.
Circles follow the Way of Council which is a confidential space where people speak succinctly and spontaneously from the heart and from their own perspective and everyone else holds space and listens from their hearts.
There is a monthly men’s group associated with Man’s Inner Journey that meets at the Caledonian Hotel in North Adelaide on the Second Tuesday of each month from 630 for dinner and 730 for the circle.
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments. I’ll keep updating this post as I discover more.