Monday, September 6, 2010

Boys to Men: In Search of the Fairy Tale Ending, Part 2

In my first post on the book Iron John: A Book About Men, I said that it's the author's "attempt to explain the importance of traditional rites of initiation into manhood and how those things were expressed in the fairy tale of the same name." Well, that is true, but the book also gives fantastic insight into the problems that have been created by their loss. Strangely, Bly is openly critical and often plain wrong about Christianity, and in my initial reading I waded through much that I considered pure drivel. I definitely do not agree with everything he says, nor does my appreciation for the parts I find to be true imply support for the "men's rights" movement (or anything else for that matter). In fact, the truth I found in this book I understood in terms of traditional Catholicism. I'm sure Bly would be baffled by that!

So I am in the process of re-reading the book with a highlighter because every time I did find an amazing pearl of truth in my first reading, fireworks exploded in my head as my brain blazed with new and interesting connections. I am more than willing to pry open a lot of barren oyster shells in order to discover a few pearls.

Here's one from the preface to the 2004 DaCapo edition:

"The imposition of globalization was an act performed by the Destructive King of the Corporate World--Clinton was a part of that. Now we are experiencing the principles of disorder. Since Iron John was published in 1990, we have seen an extraordinary consolidation of the powers of disorder. The corporate scandals, summed up by the Enron collapse, have become vivid examples of the Dark Father or the Destructive Father. The retirement accounts of his 'children' were destroyed while the father escaped with millions. He draws energy out of his children and pulls it into some black hole that he shelters in himself. The presence of disorder is becoming deeper. George Bush is the Dark Son of a Dark Father.

The great sadness we can feel in the country, the lack of study, the absence of any brilliant new popular music--all of these are characteristic traits of life under the Dark Father. One good quality of the Iron John story, and the amplification of it, is that the story gives us a way to understand this lethargy and this grief without actively blaming ourselves for it."

"A dark father" makes more sense to me that anything I've read by political experts. I no longer actively read about politics, but when I did, I didn't see one party as better than the other. My conclusion was that neither of them had the best interests of the country at heart.

The lethargy Bly speaks of particularly intrigues me. He talks about contemporary men embracing their "feminine" side and how that has not made them more free. Instead, he describes this new gentle male as "a nice boy who pleases not only his mother but also the young woman he is living with."

Now I would not have understood this as well if I hadn't just read, Stop Living for the Approval of Women on the Art of Manliness site. I think it's good to be a pleaser in general. However, the author, Wayne M. Levine, M.A., explains the problem this way:

"First, let’s define approval as it relates to our relationships with women. Approval is her permission for you to take an action. Approval is her acknowledgment that she won’t take you to task for your choice…maybe. Approval is giving away your power to do as you see fit. In other words, needing the approval of women makes you a pleaser."

I can easily see how being a pleaser according to Levine's definition can be bad. If the man has given up his power to do as he sees fit, he can't be the true leader of the family. Bly also uses the term "soft male" to describe these men and says that you "quickly notice the lack of energy in them." Then he says something that really got my attention:

"They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy."

My own interpretation is that the "life-preserving" male preserves his own life, maybe even to the point of avoiding defending things he should, like the Church, hearth and home, women and children. His not being "life-giving" reminds me of the widespread use of birth control. He no longer sees a wife and many children as blessings, rejecting "Thy wife as a fruitful vine, on the sides of thy house; thy children as olive plants, round about thy table." Psalm 127:3 Douay-Rheims.

As I've been writing this, I've been overhearing a "news" show promoting a segment on how women love to watch television shows that feature tough women characters or, as Bly describes, "strong women who radiate energy". These are the women that he says accompany "soft males". It reminded me of something Fr. Zendejas said in a women's conference about the importance of being feminine, that the woman cannot rise above the man, so when a woman is masculine, the man goes below her. In other words, he becomes a soft male.

In this context, it's clear how women have contributed to the destruction of our culture by rejecting femininity. I find that immensely encouraging, because if it is true, we women can begin to turn things around just by wearing pretty dresses. I can do that.

Artwork: My Lady is a Widow by Marcus Stone

From Victorian/Edwardian Paintings:

"This picture, one of Stone's largest, is conceived as a celebration of the joys of family life. A humble labourer, employed in digging a trench beside a wall, is interrupted in his task by the arrival of his family who bring him lunch. A proud and loving father, he tenderly lifts his youngest child into his arms, while his daughter offers him a sheaf of corn. The picnic brought by his wife in the wicker basket promises to be abundant, and each member of the family bears a smile. Though 'lowly born', as the attendant quotation from one of Shakespeare's more obscure plays implies, they are happy, united in their love, and 'content'. The contrast with the widow, observing them from behind the garden wall which forms a barrier between them, is marked. Her gabled mansion can be seen behind her, but the emotional barrenness of her life is emphasised by the dead tree above her head, and the unkempt nature of her garden. She appears stranded, Miss Havisham-like, disengaged from the simple pleasures around her. The quotation from Shakespeare is an injunction to her, and to us, not to shut herself away in a world of books and riches, but to embrace life, marry, have children, and live in community with others. Stone has depicted her young enough to make this still a possibility."

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