[In this six-part feature, Jed Diamond examines his male experience through fatherhood, mental illness, and the Men’s Movement to explore what it means to be a more whole, mindful Man. | Part I: Fatherhood | Part II: My Female and Male Mentors | Part IV: Gender Specific Medicine]
Like most men I know, I never had a strong, loving relationship with my father and I never had a proper “rite of passage” growing up. As I result I was overly dependent on my mother, feared being engulfed by her feminine energy, and alternated between adoration and aggression. I transferred that ambivalence to the women I fell in love with and married and never understood what was happening until I met Sam Keen and read Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man.
“It was slow in dawning on me that Woman had an overwhelming influence on my life and on the lives of all the men I knew,” said Keen. “I am not talking about women, the actual flesh and blood creatures, but about Women, those larger-than-life shadowy female figures who inhabit our imagination, inform our emotions, and indirectly give shape to many of our actions.”
Keen could have been describing my own life. “From all outward appearances, I was a successfully individuated man. I had set my career course early, doggedly stuck to the discipline of graduate school through many years and degrees, and by my mid-thirties was vigorously pursuing the life of a professor and writer. Like most men I was devoting most of my energy and attention to work and profession.”
He also nailed my inner reality, the truth I was too terrified to share with anyone, even with myself. “But if the text of my life was ‘successful independent man,’ the subtext was ‘engulfed by Woman.’ She is the mysterious ground of our being that we cannot penetrate. She is the audience before whom the dramas of our lives are played out. She is the judge who pronounces us guilty or innocent. She is the Garden of Eden from which we are exiled and the paradise for which our bodies long.”
If we can let in the reality of Keen’s words, we can begin to understand the two destructive aspects of the male psyche in the modern world. On the one hand many of us have become “soft males,” as Robert Bly describes us, trying to get our power from women, without strong life energy of our own. On the other hand we’ve become angry and enraged at women, blaming them for all that is wrong in our lives. One often leads us into depression and suicide. The other into anger and aggression.
In this iconic interview with Keith Thompson in 1982, Bly describes many of the males of my generation. “Sometimes when I look out at my audiences, perhaps half the young males are what I’d call soft. They’re lovely, valuable people–I like them–and they’re not interested in harming the earth, or starting wars, or working for corporations. There’s something favorable toward life in their whole general mood and style of living. But something’s wrong. Many of these men are unhappy. There’s not much energy in them. They are life preserving, but not exactly life-giving. And why is it you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy? Here we have a finely tuned young man, ecologically superior to his father, sympathetic to the whole harmony of the universe, yet he himself has no energy to offer.”
We see the rage expressed publicly by people like Rush Limbaugh who called women “Feminazis.” Though the term is out of favor, there are still many men who feel that “feminism” and the Women’s Movement are to blame for the problems that many men face today. They are not aware of the degree that they are engulfed by the Woman.
Although those who share Limbaugh’s view of women are in the minority, many men feel “engulfed by Woman” and react with irritability, anger and rage. David C. Gilmore, Ph.D is a professor of cultural anthropology at New York’s Stony Brook University. He has studied masculinity in cultures throughout the world and has written two exceptional books, Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity and Misogyny: The Male Malady. He describes “misogyny” as an unreasonable fear or hatred of women and finds that it is widespread in cultures throughout the world. “These deep and abiding male anxieties stem from unresolved conflicts between men’s intense need for and dependence upon women and their equally intense fear of that dependence.”
Rites of Passage Are Essential for Males
I’ve found that one of the most important things men can do in our lives is to break free of our dependence on WOMAN and heal our fear and anger towards the women in our lives. Rites of passage have been used by cultures throughout the world to guide our transition from childhood to adulthood. Michael Gurian, author of A Fine Young Man: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Adolescent Boys into Exceptional Men says, “Every culture has a traditional rite of passage for their youth, except ours.”
Sam Keen and many others recognize the importance of rites of passage in helping boys to become good men. One of the most important things I’ve ever learned about life and love came from Sam Keen who learned it from his mentor, Howard Thurman. When I heard this from Sam I was going through a difficult divorce and struggling with many of the same problems Sam was dealing with when Thurman shared these sage words: “There are two questions a man must ask himself: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order you are in trouble.” I heard these words at a time of turmoil. I realized I had gotten things in the wrong order. I was wrapped up with anger and grief with the woman in my life, not realizing that I had lost track of the direction in my own life. Once I got back on track, I was able to let go of a lot of rage and anger I was feeling towards women and find the love I so deeply longed to have.
To do that I found I needed the rites of passage I found in the Mankind Project and with my men’s group. Many people don’t understand or are suspicious of these kinds of experiences, fearing that they will lead to more separation between males and females. Not all rites of passage are well-crafted, but the ones that are offer boys and men important and essential support.
“Pre-modern societies knew the overwhelming power of Woman,” says Keen, “and boys could only emerge into manhood if they separated from her and entered for a time into an all-male world. Males rites of passage were designed to allow boys to escape from Woman’s world long enough to discover the shape of man’s world. They knew that men must resist the danger of being defined by Woman (and vice versa). The sexes were pried apart and isolated to explore their separate truths before they could come together.”
The women’s movement recognized this reality and women found support and strength in women’s support groups. Now it’s equally important for boys and men to have initiatory experiences where they are separated from the world of Woman so that they can return as loving equals.
Jed Diamond, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is Founder and Director of MenAlive, a health program that helps men, and the people who love them, to live well throughout their lives. He is a pioneer in the field of male-gender medicine, integrative mental health, and complementary medicine. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network. He is also a member of the International Society of Men’s Health and a founding member of the American Society of Men’s Health.
His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe,Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS.
Diamond has been a licensed psychotherapist for over 40 years and is the author of ten books including the international best-selling Male Menopause that has thus far been translated into 17 foreign languages.