One cannot discuss men without also discussing women. We are all born of woman, and mother is the first and in many ways the central relationship of childhood. Many men, having an idealized but ambivalent view of women, go directly from a mother centred childhood to pursuing girls in adolescence. And this pursuit often never stops. Even as a married man his life revolves around the constant need for his wife’s approval. Psychologically, he never leaves the world of women.
Leaving the world of women is not meant as a negative statement. Rather, he must establish an independent identity as a man if he is to be a woman’s equal partner. And his identity as a man comes from learning to love men. It’s a challenging task in a culture where such statements often, but mistakenly, have a sexual connotation; and in a culture that routinely portrays men as idiots and psychopaths such that many boys either view their eventual manhood with trepidation, or to go the opposite extreme of hyper-masculinity.
Men’s idealization of women, at once one of awe, fear, love, and contempt, is often conceptual rather than pertaining to one particular woman. It’s an archetype.
Carl Jung’s belief in the collective unconscious is psycho-spiritual, not scientific. Perhaps it’s simpler to say that humans naturally acquire certain basic roles throughout life, such as becoming a mother or being an old man with life lessons to impart to the young, which is why these images or archetypes are ubiquitous in human culture.
I’ve been rereading Sam Keen’s Fire In the Belly, which he wrote in 1991. Some parts are a bit too New Age and politically correct for my tastes, but much of what he writes is insightful. He starts with what all men know, that women have enormous power over men: “Like sandy atolls in a monsoon-swept ocean, the male psyche is in continual danger of being inundated by the feminine sea” (p. 15). Keen claims the archetypal woman “must be exorcised from our minds and hearts before we can learn to love women” (p. 16). Avoidance will not do – a man must allow himself to feel women’s power over him.
It’s a man’s quest for his own identity. Keen elaborates that early in life a man is “sunk deep in an unconscious relationship with a falsely mystified figure who is composed of unreal opposites: virgin-whore, nurturer-devouring mother, goddess-demon”. He writes of the need to “take leave of WOMAN and wander for a long time in the wild and sweet world of men” (emphasis his). Only when a man “has learned to love his own manhood” can he “love an ordinary woman” (p. 16).
Leaving the world of women for the world of men to learn to love your manhood is at once a traditional and a radical notion. Historically, in most cultures women raised the children, but once the children reached puberty the men took charge of raising the boys. This transition often is marked with an elaborate ceremony, perhaps with a challenge the boy must face. But the boy does not marry immediately – it may be years before he’s ready for that.
Modern industrialized societies don’t do this. Many boys are raised without fathers. And many people in Western society today, rather than believe that masculinity can become toxic, instead believe that masculinity is inherently toxic. This false notion sends boys the wrong message.
For a man to say openly that he wishes to leave the world of women for the world of men is to risk charges of misogyny. I’m not saying misogyny doesn’t exist, but I am saying that unapologetic masculinity and not putting women on a pedestal are not misogyny.
Failing to leave the world of women results in reactive approaches to manhood:
- The sensitive man/nice guy, who tries to please women by being subservient. But this comes out in the wash through passive-aggressiveness.
- The misogynist/abuser, who tries to overpower women’s power over men. These men are all about controlling women.
- The ladies man/Don Juan, who seeks female validation through his sexual prowess. But typically he is shallow and superficial, incapable of truly relating to others emotionally.
Balance is found somewhere between realizing that women are not goddesses, but neither are they demons. But this balance can only be found by putting aside women’s expectations of men, fully embracing one’s masculinity, and learning to love men.