For years, I have carried this topic with me, part totem, part worry stone, taking prominence after the birth of my sons as I watched their Being-ness limited by societal expectations of “boy”.
In the winter of 2017/18, I began facilitating women’s healing circles (more here and here) and immediately recognized that men needed this healing work too – whether they’d show up to a healing circle is a different consideration. Since offering women’s circles, I have been asked by men regularly about the WILD man. I have consumed books on the subject – masculinity, male spirituality, wild women, rising feminine, father hunger. Nothing filled the void or answered my questions fully. I asked family and friends about their definitions of masculinity, when they realized these masculine scripts, what barriers they came up against. Those that were brave enough to answer, I am indebted to, but I read the hesitancy between their written lines.
The Wild man: What about him? Where is he? What is he? Where are his circles? I didn’t know. I am not sure I do at this point either, but I am frustrated by sitting on this topic and no longer wish to remain silent. Below is my perfectly imperfect attempt at resurrecting our whole men.
Dedicated with love to the boys and men in my life.
(Re)Wilding our Men
We know that there is a problem with toxic masculinity worldwide. To go further than that is redundant based on all that has been written on the topic (I’ve even written about it: A Call to Arms ) and problem, rather than solution, oriented. I firmly believe solutions lay in implementing new ways of being for men.
Past works, such as those by Robert Bly, Matthew Fox, Richard Rohr, and James Hollis have attempted mapping out new realities for men using archetypal, spiritual, and mythological frameworks. However, these frameworks remain largely restrictive, separatist, and dominance oriented (i.e. patriarchal rather than partnership oriented)ex. 1,2, for instance through the foci on limiting archetypes such as King, Warrior, as in the work of Robert Moore3 and Robert Bly, or re-framing circumstances from dominating, violent models to “good” but still separate masculine, such as Matthew Fox4. Richard Rohr5 attempts to untangle masculine psychic needs and spirituality and in doing so, retains separateness and expected gender norms, even referencing “gender identity confusion” (whereas I would argue that there is no confusion, rather it is people rebelling against limited either/or, dichotomous societally-imposed thinking). “The men’s movement was often critical of women and feminism while making no sustained critique of patriarchy. Ultimately it did not demand that men challenge patriarchy or envision liberating models of masculinity”1 (pg 113, emphasis mine).
Men need access to their whole selves, to their inner humanity, nobility, and divinity. Men need recognition of the severing of the self - their inner world from their outer expression, and they need support in the reclamation and celebration of parts of themselves that are divergent from patriarchal, societally-imposed norms. Men need to create relationships: intimate personal, professional, spiritual, and social based on partnership rather than dominance. Men that cannot FEEL, know themselves fully, or be known fully by others are cut off from intimacy, love, wholeness, and even their full range of spirituality and sexuality.1,2 Solutions then require self-knowledge, a neoteric ethic of love, blueprints for new ways of being, subcultures where healing men are supported, and a critical consciousness that will permit full, whole ways of being for men.1
THIS is whole work, soul work. “Were all men seeking to uncover greater soulfulness in their lives rather than seeking power through a dominator model, then the world as we know it would be transformed for the better”1 (pg 149). This Work is no different than that of what women are currently doing - relearning their Selves and spirit, rejecting inauthenticity and restrictive socialized norms to develop new ways of being, “re-wilding” (I have written more about the WILD woman here).
The WILD man is the embodied sacred “masculine” – untamed by renouncing limiting patriarchal scripts of dominance, he uses genuine instinct, creativity, and healing to become his whole, holy, wild, Self. He is doing the sacred work of exploring his interiority and spiritual self-care: accessing all the recesses, depths, crevices of his inner being, his potentiality. He can be artistic, intuitive, nurturing, compassionate, expressive, contemplative, slow and savoring, along with any traditional, “masculine” qualities and still be a “man” without subtraction, a person of both/and capacity. He is aware of his inner light, the God self or Buddha self. He is pulling the wool from his eyes as he rediscovers his own inherent worth, outside of economic, production-oriented value, as well as the worth of the natural world. He bleeds blue and green, not sanguine, with bone and muscle carved from soil and star, confirming his belonging to nature and Earth and connection to place. He is the Wise man, recognizing interconnection to other beings, human and non, present, ancestral, and future. The wise, WILD man is committed to transformation and authenticity, personally and by doing so, collectively.
This need for blueprints and subcultures and reworking of gender expectations is not about women doing “mental work” or “emotional work” for men; men are accountable for their own work here. The re-wilding of men is not placing men in the victim’s seat, rather giving them the ability to see the system’s problem of restrictive socialization (patriarchy) and permitting them with different ways of being, rather than dismissing other forms of masculine as limp, weak, or unworthy. Nor is it denying the need for separate female spaces of being, such as the women’s circles I facilitate, as women often cannot open up fully or do necessary healing work after significant gendered trauma in the presence of men. Men, however, need to be inculcated with love, acceptance, authenticity, and who better to learn it from than those of us that are on that journey of self-discovery and reclamation – the wild women. Women in general have been socialized to prioritize relationship and FEELing and are well-versed in navigating these terrains. In contrast, men-only spaces and healing groups suggest that men need to separate from women to find their true selves and, thereby, tend to perpetuate harmful patriarchal patterns.1,2,6 We need safe spaces for men and women to model healing, whole, partnership-oriented ways of being to one another, and co-gendered healing circles are one such space (a professional goal of mine for 2019).
To further address the wilding of men, I challenge the reader to consider other ways to apply both/and, power-with, mutuality techniques in their life besides healing circles. Eisler7 gives actionable items in various realms of being, including our intimate relationships, work environments, educational systems, and political selves to progress partnerships, including challenging socialized gender norms, contemplating relationship with nature (partner rather than dominator), and promoting diversity in policy-making decisions.
Humans: men, women, and all in between, need autonomy, but we also need each other - we are partners and can only move forward holistically with partnership-based, loving models of being. Humans are wired for connection and seek belonging with one another.2,8,9,10 We are interconnected with one another in all matrices of life: intimately, communally, politically, spiritually, web-like rather than isolated entities. Separatist ideology and the polarization of genders are foolishness and busy work, intent on distracting the masses from substantive, fulfilling existences. “My humanity is bound up in yours. For we can only be human together” (Desmond Tutu).
“When men learn to affirm themselves and others, giving this soul care, then they are on the path to wholeness. When men are able to do little acts of mercy, they can be in communion with others without the need to dominate. No longer separate, no longer apart, they bring a wholeness that can be joined to the wholeness of others. This is interbeing”1 (pg 166)
We need acceptance of multifaceted, authentic, instinctual, interdependent WILD ways of being outside of harmful norms for all genders. We need to awaken women AND men for mutual, partnership-oriented healing. We need interbeing. We need our WILD men.
References and Resources:
- Hooks, b. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.
- This book will forever be a favorite of mine: a required reading for life and relationship
- Eisler, R. Sacred Pleasure
- Moore, R and Gillette, D. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine
- Fox, M. The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine
- Rohr, R. From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality
- Roose, J Are men’s movements a new form of terrorism? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-25/incel-alt-right-mens-movement-masculanism-proudboys-milo/10482032?pfmredir=sm
- Eisler, R. The Power of Partnership
- Brown, B. Braving the Wilderness
- Dalai Lama & Tutu, D. The Book of Joy
- Van der Kolk, B. The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
- For more information on partnership models and research, see The Center for Partnership Studies: https://centerforpartnership.org/
- Additional books to consider if you’d like to explore this issue more:
o Blackie, S. If Women Rose Rooted
o Estes, CP. Women Who Run With the Wolves
o Hollis, J. Under Saturn’s Shadow
- Video: The Archetypal Wounding of Men https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9O2bCPy7dw&t=2749s
o Flinders, C. At the Root of this Longing
o Flinders, C. Rebalancing the World: Why Women Belong and Men Compete and How to Return to Ancient Equilibrium
- Part 2 of this blog piece will be out soon - a primer on patriarchy and restrictive gender normatives
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch PT (DPT). Written material is copyright protected, please cite accordingly; picture is from Pexels. To contact me regarding my women’s circles or private client sessions (reiki, yoga, physical therapy), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org