Notes from the European Men’s Gathering
I just got back from the European mens gathering somewhere in the wild-lands of northern Denmark. It was a remarkable experience. Not only for its workshops and rituals—which were diverse and interesting—but for the sharing and transmissions that took place. Something happens when you get a bunch of men together. Not only does this kind of sharing heal men, but it has the potential to heal society.
As a result of experiencing men’s work in various places, I’ve come to the conclusion that the actual answer to misogyny (and misandry for that matter)—and to all the gender fixations and culture war madness of the current age— might just be men’s groups and women’s groups. Of course, being a man, I can’t speak to women’s groups; but get a bunch of men together and miracles of transformation and good humour just happen spontaneously.
In men's groups, men are permitted to get a little wild — to shout and beat their chests a bit — but they also develop a fine sensibility. Men lose their fear of social judgment—and of being gay, for instance! Men hug each other a lot, becoming affectionate rather than competitive, and the conversation gets real in a way it never can in the mixed gender soup of the ‘open’ office. Men divulge intimate secrets to each other, confess their visions and fears—get down to business very quickly, without much song and dance.
Surprisingly, in a men’s group, men don’t even need to get drunk! Nor do they need television, internet, or porn. And they forget all about the women, at least for a little while. Men stop being man-children in other words and become men-men—which is a relief for women. And when men come back from intense creative communion with other men, they are far more attractive to women.
In traditional society, sons want to grow up to be like their fathers. But today modern men are so often ashamed of their dads, and want to be anything but that hunched over wage-slave that their fathers have become. Fathers, especially in the upper and middle classes, no longer plow the fields, sail the seas, or fight in wars. Instead, they spend their days indoors, at the office, competing with women. On a biological level this a lamentable situation for both sexes—even if it has great advantages as well. No wonder suicide levels are skyrocketing.
It's good to remember that in the past men (and women too of course) made terrible sacrifices, endured predators, fires, floods, plagues and and died in the carnage of wars — but also created alphabets, built cities, and had visions of a promise land. This recognition helps men to situate themselves in a larger story, and ultimately to see their own fathers in a more forgiving light. Connecting with our deep history helps orient ourselves toward meaning and away from nihilism and despair.
What do men need?
What do men need today? The answer is surprisingly simple: they need other men. They need fathers, brothers, sons. Not to mention grandfathers.
What do women need today? The equally banal answer is: other women. That is: mothers, sisters, daughters. Not to mention grandmothers, and the whole matriarchal lineage.
There is a surprising, primordial, and simple answer to the culture wars that people don’t dare to talk about it. Allow for sex roles. In all their simplicity. Let the men do men stuff and the women do women stuff and the in-betweens do in-between stuff. I’m not suggesting that this should be imposed or that we should go backwards in any way. Only that we can re-discover and valorize polarities.
As the say in Zen: First mountains and rivers are mountains and rivers. Then mountains and rivers and not mountains and rivers. Then mountains and rivers are mountains and rivers again. The metaphor is that we should rediscover a deepened version of ourselves as men and women, after the postmodern loss of polarity. (Of course there are those who are bisexual in one way or another — four to five percent of the population in every culture that ever existed. They are also invited to the party and to whatever role suits them.)
The thing is: we need to stop trying to flatten our differences. Sex matters, sex is deep. Biology matters, biology is deep. Social constructionism has gotten us nowhere — it's only achievement is to show us how terribly lost and depressed we can become, without connecting to our deep biological sex.
The modern man today—let’s be honest here—is a little disappointing to a full bodied woman. There is a reason why radical feminists in Sweden regularly fall in love with traditional middle eastern men, for instance. So often our primordial desires are in conflict with our veneer of ideology.
However, people have the wrong idea about what traditional sex roles represent—they think ‘traditional’ means pre-feminist 1950’s America, with its ad-men, housewives, and nuclear family structures.
Go back a few thousand years and you find something entirely different: bands of men and bands of women living in tribes. The women occupy the centre of everything, the most intimate and protected space. The men live closer to the edges, protecting the tribe from predators and thieves, practicing the games of governance and martial arts. And the ‘inbetweens’, or the shamans, the diplomats, and the artists—the cross-dressers, the holy fools, and the monks—move between the borders.
On some level we are still the same. This is why our efforts to ‘level out the playing field’ in the name of social justice are disastrous. They take the wrong approach: the approach of psychological castration (of both men and women). Why on earth do we believe today that the constant shaming of men (and women too) will do society any good at all?
We should not be levelling but deepening our experience and understanding of the sexes. We should do anthropology, history, and biology and what Alexander Bard calls ‘tribal mapping’, rather than victimology. This means finding our deepest role within the already existing primordial structure, to which our utopian overlay has always been quite superficial.
Put men’s groups (and women’s groups too) back into the mix: in corporate, spiritual, and governmental structures and everybody will start become more creative, happy, and ethical. For the simple reason that we will no longer have to constantly compete, consciously or unconsciously, for sexual attention.
Men of course should be permitted to enjoy and appreciate the mystery and power of women and even to worship them — but should not need them constantly. There is a subtle difference between devotion and childish dependence.
In other words, men and women need time apart, without the usual seductive games. Polarity and separation gives us the spark of eros, help us be more vivid and attractive to each other. Polarity gives us character, independence, strength, and all of those old fashioned values which are so lacking in the usual urban sophisticated man.
This might sound like a ‘conservative message’ but it doesn’t have to be. It’s actually the most progressive thing you can do for our androgynous humanity today: give them back their sex differentiation. Men’s groups and women’s groups are the future. Just as they were the past.
Just observe the giddy joy women feel in each others company; it is something to behold. In Ulysses, there is a scene of women bathing and simply enjoying each others company in the most innocent and sensual way. Imagine a guy in the picture and what happens? The women freeze. The guy begins to act weird.
Modern life is hell in the office for men and women, let’s face it. It’s hell for men because there is no mountain or desert to conquer, no space to flee from maternal figures or objects of sexual desire. It’s also hell for women because there is no hearth, no intimate space for private and deep relationships with other women. The result is the mimetic warfare and all the subsequent culture-war fall-out.
Actually, we can preserve the egalitarian impulse and continue to have male and female friendships of all kinds and degrees, without going back to our violent early past. We could, for instance, separate the men from the women in the morning and allow them to dance and play in the temple or the boardroom in the evening.
We might discover that men don’t need to ‘dominate’ women if they are encouraged to be themselves, and that women don’t need to seduce men in the usual ways if they are celebrated for who they are. In a healthy society men don’t have to be macho idiots, and women don’t have to be manipulative witches. Men can keep their positive bravado and women can be sexually powerful as well, without the reduction.
But don’t stick men and women in an androgynous generic soup all the time. Let them retreat from each other, enjoy the world without being terrorised by sex. They will actually become better lovers that way. Through renunciation of the constant contact.
As I have already suggested, men need physical intimacy without the fear of being secretly gay. Men need to know that they can be very intimate with each other. Just look at traditional societies and observe how men fool around, kiss each other on hairy bearded cheeks. It’s a thing of beauty. But the modern man today is an isolated unit, hunched over a computer screens, avoiding not only physical intimacy but eye contact.
Again, put a bunch of men in the wilderness somewhere and real miracles will occur.
Men have always spent a great deal of time separate from women. They have gone to every ends of the earth to escape the domesticity of women, to find the holy grail.
And when they have proved themselves worthy, through all kinds of tests of strength and cunning, they have come back to the marketplace and home with gifts in hand: with meat, gold, and tools to build and secure the home that women desire.
But even more than a safe home, the women desires a powerful man, who can resist a women’s irresistible sexuality, who uses his libido to create great architecture and art, for instance. That is why men have traditionally been monks, artists, scholars, and warriors.
Neediness is the least attractive quality, and a needy man is one who imitates women, but who doesn’t love women. Such a man becomes a soft tyrant, just as the violent macho type becomes hard tyrant. The soft tyrant spends his whole vital life force negotiating with women for favours, sexual or otherwise. The soft tyrant pillages his inner world — wastes his seed on games of sophistry. The hard tyrant rapes the living world.
The hard tyrant is an egomaniac, who doesn’t make himself accountable to other men, and lives through plunder and pillage. He is a man without a community of men. He has no one he can trust and is typically surrounded by women and children in a big empty mansion, and ‘empire of dirt’ to quote the Trent Reznor song.
But the remedy—and what really kills both types of tyrant—is male friendship, male honesty, and male accountability. That is because, in a real band of brothers, blood and accountability are so thick, that there could never be a place for the tyrant.
The tyrant is the pariah in a healthy group of men.
Note: the feminists have good reason to be really pissed off at boys’ clubs full of tyrants, but what they are criticising is not real men. Weak and boyish men make women furious for good reason, even if this spills over to some men who are more or less innocent.
Women know that men who remain boys are useless to the future—they provide no security. Many of our leaders today are just that: boys with absolutely no control of their bodies, minds, or sex drives. And behind the façade of the boy king is always a scandal, a Jeffery Epstein, a pedophile priest, or the failed artist named Adolph Hitler.
After my dad split when I was thirteen, I changed a lot. I stopped playing competitive sports and started reading 19th Century novels; I grew my hair down to my ass and became a kind of hippy—an overly feminized man who worshiped women.
I used to speak with my mother for hours on end about all the social justice causes of the day and what was terribly wrong with the men in our lives—my absent father and my conservative grandfather—who I saw only through the eyes of my mother. I didn’t speak to my father much after the divorce. It was only later I learned to view these men with eyes of gratitude rather than judgement. I’m grateful to my mother for transmitting a literary interest and qualities of compassion, but I also needed a masculine presence.
When I was young, like a lot of young men today, I identified with women to a great degree. But I noticed that many of the women who I had deadly crushes on would too often consider me a friend, rather than a potential lover. I was the weird quiet guy who wrote poetry, but something was missing. Actually, I was heading toward an abyss, to which I was unprepared.
All this culminated in a crisis of identity and a disastrous first marriage that left me nearly homeless and suicidally depressed. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the kindness of the female social workers that helped me out of this pit, but deep friendships with other men.
Masculinity is something that grows and deepens over time and changes with different stages of life. It’s not a given — it can’t really be defined. To value other men and men’s friendship takes a certain cultivation. Personally, my love and appreciate for men continues to grow in me.
We should value the masculine roar as much as the feminine whisper—not that women can’t also roar and still be very feminine or that men can’t be very tender without losing their manhood. Both polarities exist in every person. Men and women are both the same and very different.
In any case, I’m grateful to have known women so deeply, and have developed the masculine and the feminine in myself to whatever degree. Today I can say I am a happily married man with a ten year old daughter. This November my wife will give birth to our first son.
This is my aspiration for him:
May my future son experience a true rite of passage into manhood. May he find real meaning and joy in his life. May he become strong enough to protect his family and wise enough to choose a good woman. May he become educated but not lose the part of him that is wild.
And finally: may my future son find his band of brothers.
More on the European Men’s Gathering (Maniphesto.com)
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