One need only turn on the television, read the news or watch the latest Hollywood movies to realise a war is being waged against masculinity. The ideologically loaded term “toxic masculinity”, with its shaming and demonising inferences about the male propensity to display aggression and dominance and the characterisation of male biological nature as an “illness”, is the latest line of attack.
Gillette’s advertisement, We Believe: The Best A Man Can Be, and The American Psychological Association’s manifesto, Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, confirm the idea that masculinity is “toxic” is fast becoming accepted wisdom in popular culture.
In this essay, I refute the notion of male displays of aggression and dominance to be inherently “toxic”. I propose such behaviours not to be symptoms of “illness” but often mischannelled representations of an interrupted maturation process. I discuss key sociopolitical concerns that, although not necessarily always causal factors, help perpetuate a state of adolescence in men.
Drawing on lessons from the book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine (KWML), I offer prescriptions for how men can achieve greater maturity by evoking the spirits of the masculine archetypes and suggest concrete steps men might take to integrate the spirits into their lives.
I propose we should phase out of public discourse the term “toxic masculinity” and, instead, refer to mischannelled behaviours as expressions of “immature masculinity”. I state we should also develop a notion of “mature masculinity”, which framed within the maturation process, promotes conscious growth toward purposeful, competent and confident masculinity. I conclude with some thoughts about gender conflict.
The crisis of mature masculinity
Charting all the relations and threads that inform a cultural phenomenon is a huge task, particularly when the subject in different circumstances includes an infinite number of separate subjective factors. However, it is my contention, that the loss of male ritual passage into manhood and the decline of male-exclusive spaces, the breakdown of traditional family structures and absence of positive male role models, and the increasing influence of gender-focused feminist ideology in popular culture, are key sociopolitical factors which perpetuate a cycle of unrealised masculine maturity.
The loss of male ritual passage and the decline of male-exclusive spaces
Historically, young men would participate in ceremonies or rituals that presented them with challenges to overcome to gain the privilege of progressing into manhood. These events are known as a rite of passage. Very few such methods of initiation now exist in the Western world. Where they do exist they tend to be pseudo-rituals like joining or being conscripted to the army, religious ceremonies, experiences with drugs, or gang initiation trials.
The purpose of a rite of passage is to signal to a man himself and prove to his community he is ready to take on the responsibilities of full manhood. In the absence of a rite of passage, young men are thrust into the world without a barometer other than societal expectations to gauge where they are in the process of masculine maturation. They are expected, nonetheless, to take on the adult responsibilities of work, relationships and fatherhood and manage sufficiently the pressures posed by each.
Turning attention to male space, separate social and cultural spaces with roles and norms available exclusively to men have declined in the last 100 years almost to the point of extinction. Where once men would gather in public spaces to let off steam in same-sex groups, evolving attitudes toward gender and anti-discrimination laws have contributed to the near eradication of exclusively male spaces in public life.
Likewise, male space in the domestic sphere has also declined. Before The Industrial Revolution men mostly worked from home as artisans or self-sufficient small farmers. New manufacturing processes forced men out of the house and into the city to work in factories, which left women to take greater control over the home. The decline of male influence in the domestic sphere increased further through the Victorian Era and continues today in modern suburban culture with male-exclusive space in the home often reduced only to the so-called “man-cave”.
Organisations such as ManKind Project in the US and Rebel Wisdom in the UK now run regular men’s groups, which although not rites of passages in the traditional sense, the weekend-long retreats provide opportunities for groups of men to gather together in male-exclusive environments.
The retreats offer secure spaces for men to partake in transformation, brotherhood and expansion exercises, encouraging them to take greater responsibility for themselves and to become more present and purposeful in the world.
The breakdown of traditional family structures and the absence of positive male role models
Gender roles in the west are evolving at an unprecedented rate. In the last fifty years, sociopolitical changes have significantly broken down conventional distinctions between men and women.
Statistics published by Catalyst states more women have joined the workforce than ever before. Today, over 70% of women aged 16–64 are employed, representing just under half (46.5% in 2017) of the total labour force in the UK.
In line with the growing numbers of women in the workplace during the last decade, the number of stay-at-home dads has also risen steadily. Statistics produced by Aviva show about 1.4 million men are now the primary carers in their households.
Accordingly, in the UK attitudes have shifted considerably in line with these changes. A survey last year entitled, British Social Attitudes 35, shows nearly three-quarters of the British public disagree with the attitude women should look after the home while men go out and earn a living.
As the number of women joining the labour force grows so too does the number of mothers. Again, according to Catalyst, in 2014, almost as many women with children (74.1%) participated in the labour force as women with no children (75%). When a mother works long hours (often necessitated by financial concerns) during her child’s formative years, data suggests it can be hugely detrimental to the child’s emotional and physical development.
Psychoanalyst and parenting expert, Erica Komisar, in her 2017 book, Being There: Why Prioritising Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, explains during a child’s first three years, although both the father and the mother are needed, children at this point during the maturation process require most the sensitive and empathetic nurturing provided by the mother. The greater the mother’s absence both physically and emotionally during these formative years the higher the stress levels felt by the child.
On the subject of divorce, statistics produced by The Office for National Statistics demonstrates nearly half (42%) of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce, the majority of which (61%) are instigated by women.
Research referenced from various sources by YourDivorceQuestions.org suggests parental divorce at a young age increases the tendency toward aggression and delinquent behaviour in boys. Divorce also significantly impacts boys’ psychological growth, well-being and self-esteem and the loss of a father may complicate or delay boys’ adjustment and development.
Data produced by The Men and Boys Coalition demonstrates in the UK 43% of boys are raised by single mothers and 78% of teachers are female. In this scenario, then, nearly 50% of boys have a 100% female influence at home and an 8/10 chance of 100% female influence at school.
For boys from homes with absent fathers, the likelihood they will underachieve at school, struggle with mental health, be excluded from school or end up in the criminal justice system increases significantly, according to Lads Need Dads.
Statistics published by The Centre for Social Justice in 2011 show 62% of families in Camden, London, had no father, and a further 236 areas across England and Wales had at least 50% of households consisting of families where there was no father present, producing regions in the UK that become fertile breeding grounds for gang violence. Fathers 4 Justice says the absence of positive male role models from families creates lost generations of angry, resentful young men, vulnerable to destructive alpha male father figures like the local gang leader or drug dealer.
Figures from the Metropolitan Police show in 2017/18, there were 14,769 recorded knife crimes in London alone, mostly committed by males. The increase in knife crime in the UK capital has occurred alongside a general rise in violent crime in London, including a rise in acid attacks. In the year ending March 2018, around 40,100 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument were committed across the whole of England and Wales. The Prison Reform Trust states 76% of male prisoners in England and Wales have absent fathers.
The Men & Boys Coalition is “a network of organisations, academics, journalists, professionals and leaders committed to highlighting and taking action on the gender-specific issues that affect men and boys.”
Lads Need Dads raises the awareness and understanding of the important role fathers play in the emotional, mental and educational development and well-being of boys. Their stated mission is “to empower and enable boys age 11–15 with absent fathers or limited access to a male role model, to be motivated, responsible, capable, resilient and emotionally competent to PREVENT them becoming at risk of underachieving, offending, exclusion or dropping out of school.”
Waves of feminism
There is debate over the number of so-called waves feminism has passed through in the last 150 years or so. For this article, I divide feminism into three distinct waves based on the movement’s demands and focus at the time.
First, there is the “Suffrage Period”, spanning the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Increasing equality of opportunity was the aim. The movement focused its attention mainly on suffrage alongside campaigns for other legal rights and differing legal status between men and women was considered to be the root cause of inequality. The movement was most active in the UK, Canada and the United States and succeeded in gaining women the right to vote and other legal liberties.
The next wave, from the middle 20th century to the 1960s is the “Reproductive Rights & Equal Pay Period”. Again, gaining equality of opportunity was the aim. This wave began in the US and spread to the UK and Asia and focused mainly on sexuality, reproductive rights and the wage gap. The defined cause of inequality broadens to include societal subjugation alongside legal rights. The movement succeeded in gaining women reproductive rights and securing career options for women.
The third and present wave is the “Gender Feminism Period”. The movement at this stage continues to evolve but feminism’s primary concerns include cultural and sexual diversity and gay rights. The attention here shifts to gaining equality of outcomes for the collective and unlike the previous two waves, the definition of gender shifts from one based on biological determinism to a social constructivist position. Feminist rhetoric becomes distinctly combative and uncompromising, particularly so following the birth of the #MeToo movement. All men are cast as abusers or complicit in abuse, women as victims, and the patriarchy (as defined by feminists) and capitalism are blamed for all social ills.
By now heavily influenced by post-modernist philosophy and having adopted an intersectionalist framework through which to view society, feminism in the “Gender Feminism Period” categorises people into identity groups, making the assumption each group is engaged in a constant battle for power with other groups, and defines a hierarchy where one group can hold power only at the expense of others. Slogans such as the “Future is Female” and “Girl Power” betray the movement’s supremacist aspirations in this period. The historical battles fought by both men and women together to establish order over the chaos of nature and grinding poverty is wholly ignored. Masculinity is cast as an “illness”, and traditional masculine values like self-sacrifice, responsibility and protection are condemned as exercises in men gaining power and privilege over women. The only acceptable response for men, supposedly, is to recognise and atone for their eternal “subjugation” of women by deconstructing their “toxic masculinity”, realign their nature by developing their feminine spirits, and by becoming allies in the dismantling of the patriarchy and in smashing capitalism.
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine
KWML was initially published back in 1990 but is timeless in content. The book provides an introduction to the psychological foundations of authentic and vitalised masculinity, based on the concept of the archetypes, as proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Jung believed the archetypes to be models of people, behaviours, or personalities in the collective consciousness that play a role in influencing human behaviour.
The authors, Jungian Robert Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette, outline the stages of a man’s evolution toward the establishment of a fully-rounded and mature masculine personality.
Exhaustive accounts of each archetype at every stage of the maturation process is beyond the scope of this article, so for full details, I encourage the reader to purchase a copy of the book. What follows is a summary of the process.
Boy psychology and man psychology
Moore and Gillette explain the process of male maturation within the framework of a man’s journey from the immature archetypes of what they call “Boy Psychology” toward the mature archetypes of “Man Psychology” known as the King, the Warrior, the Magician, and the Lover.
Each male archetype consists of three parts: the full and highest expression of the archetype and two bi-polar dysfunctional shadows of the archetype. Each archetype is presented as a triangle, as shown in Figure 1.
The bottom corners of the triangle represent the bi-polar shadow-split in the archetypal “Self”. To attain full maturity, each man needs to reconcile and integrate these two bi-polar shadows to attain the fullest expression of the archetype as represented at the top of the triangle.
The immature, boyhood archetypes are the Divine Child, the Hero, the Precocious Child, and the Oedipal Child. Each of these immature archetypes has the same configuration as the mature archetypes, all with the highest and fullest expression along with two bi-polar dysfunctional shadows.
Before a boy reaches the Lover archetype, for instance, he must first attain the Oedipal Child; before he reaches the Warrior archetype, he must achieve the Hero archetype, etc. Developing each of the four archetypes from immaturity to maturity as he goes.
If a man on his journey gets stuck at any of the boyhood stages, he develops immature traits which likely stretch into adulthood and can manifest in unhealthy behaviours. Take Donald Trump as an example; I suspect Moore and Gillette would probably diagnose the US president as possessed by the High Chair Tyrant — the shadow form of the immature King.
The King is the source of order in his kingdom. He is dominant but benevolent. When wise and just, his kingdom prospers, citizens have what they need to live a decent life, and they are kept out of harm’s way. In the kingdom of the wise and just King, joyful celebrations are frequent and much laughter can be heard, nature produces supreme beauty, crops are bountiful, and the markets bustle. The King is a harmonising principle, traversing perfectly the yin and yang of life. Selflessly he puts his people’s needs above his own needs. When the King grows weak, darkness encroaches, the sun does not shine, and dysfunction increases around him. The King is the central, organising, authoritative archetype around which the rest of a man’s psyche is organised. When the King’s energy weakens, so too does his psyche, and chaos threatens his kingdom. Disorder reigns supreme for the man with a weak King energy.
An immature King is one who is overly dominant, does what he wants at all times without a single thought given to the needs of other people and belligerently orders them to do his bidding.
Energy for the Warrior is bountiful, sourced from his commitment to his vision. The Warrior is honourable and fiercely loyal to his code and the King, the mythological representation of his purpose. The Warrior diligently pursues his purpose, even at times when threatened by danger or even death, not concerning himself with comfort and security. The Warrior channels his natural aggression in battle, whether in war, spiritually, or morally. Purposefully destructive, the Warrior is the supreme enemy to that which is negative and harmful in the world. A master tactician, the Warrior knows at all times his limitations, and can creatively navigate around them. The Warrior is a doer. Overthinking inhibits his need to act swiftly and forcefully in the world. He trusts his instincts and is the master of his mind and body. Detached from life, the Warrior has an infinite ability to withstand psychological and physical pain and sublimates and channels them towards his goal. Although selfless, the Warrior’s mission comes before everything and everybody.
The immature Warrior is one who bullies and cajoles or thinks anger and displays of aggression is what makes him tough and through rage is how to communicate and deal with conflict.
The Magician is the wise man. He is an artist, effortlessly able to navigate his inner universe; he understands how energy flows through the world. Whether technology, engineering, mathematics, mysticism, or logic the Magician has the skill mastered. The Magician can read the stars, navigate the soul, and he is the writer of law. Mythologically speaking, the Magician is the King’s close advisor, his consiglieri who tempers the King’s anger rationally before he acts rashly or harshly and channels to him knowledge from mysterious sources. If the Warrior is the doer, then, the Magician is the thinker and philosopher. The Magician can detach himself from events and draw on essential truths and resources from deep within himself. The Magician thinks clearly and rationally in times of crisis, and able to step back and view the bigger picture and act strategically. Able to govern the observing ego, the Magician is the meditator who reveals the truth of the inner and outer universes, he is a shaman who communicates with our ancestors and the stars.
An immature Magician may believe his intelligence to be superior to others, or a manipulator who preys on people weaker than himself and takes advantage accordingly.
The Lover is sensual and a worshipper of beauty. A musician, poet and artist, the Lover appreciates all things, both inner and outer. Supremely passionate, the Lover delights in physical touch. The Lover wants always to be connected; he breaks down boundaries. The Lover experiences the world as an ongoing orgasm and wishes for all hearts to beat as One. As a mystic, the Lover feels everything as himself and is the source of intuition. The Lover’s capacity for feeling, enables him to attune to other people’s energy, he can read them like a book. Deeply empathetic the Lover feels other people and discovering dark intentions is excruciatingly painful for him. The Lover is opposed to anything that causes or maintains separateness; he wants nothing more than for all hearts to be connected. The Lover keeps the other archetypes energetic and humane, and in touch with the feeling of love. The Lover stops them from turning towards darkness.
An immature Lover is a man who brags about his escapades with women, sharing details to impress people. He believes himself superior to women and sees no problem with inappropriate touching or demeaning remarks.
Accessing the Archetypes
Gillette and Moore propose four techniques for us to use to engage with the archetypes. The first is “Active Imagination Dialogue”, where we allow our conscious Ego to enter into conversation with various unconscious entities, other focused consciousnesses, other points of view within us. The second technique is called “Invocation”, the conscious invoking of images of the archetypes in our minds where we “pray” to him and request he bless us with the quality we require from him. The third is “Admiring Men”, this is studying and admiring real men who represent a specific archetype whose qualities we may lack, but appreciate and wish to adopt. Last, is “Acting As If” where we get into the “character” of the archetype, and in our day-to-day lives we act “as if” we are the archetype in question.
Integrating the Archetypes
Finally, here are my suggestions for integrating the qualities of each archetype into our lives.
Be decisive in your decision making and actions, you won’t always get it right, but that matters less than the fact you have taken decisive action. Live with integrity, keep your word and take responsibility for yourself and your actions. Protect the people you care for and your home. Provide order in the chaos of day-to-day life; consider yourself an oak tree in a storm, your branches and leaves will move in the wind, but the roots which reach down far into the earth will keep you firm and resolute. Create and inspire creativity in others. Establish a life plan and live with purpose; build a legacy to leave behind you. Walk tall with your head held high and your shoulders back.
Build up your strength by lifting weights. Channel your aggression by practising a martial art. Make it your mission to accomplish your life purpose. Be mindful, alert and awake at all times; watch, learn, and plan, never allow yourself to become complacent. Be adaptable; life is changing and evolving constantly, you must at all times be on your guard. Live minimally, don’t allow yourself to get weighed down by excess baggage. Develop skills to remain permanently adaptable. Be loyal to your values and inspire loyalty in others. Establish boundaries for yourself and others. Face life’s challenges head-on. Tell the truth. Don’t lie. Learn to command respect by the sheer weight of your bearing.
Find a task you enjoy doing with your hands, whether an artistic pursuit like photography or painting or tending a garden, cooking, or DIY. Learn astronomy. Play an instrument. Study philosophy, psychology or spirituality. Meditate. Take part in a masculine rite of passage ritual. Move the world with your mind.
Develop an appreciation of beauty by exploring nature. Learn to dance. Be romantic, plan surprise dates with your loved one, write her love letters and poetry. Make sex into an art. Cultivate a relationship with the feminine that is one of ease and enjoyment. Listen to music which moves you emotionally and dance and sing like no one is watching. Enjoy the little things in life, always stop to smell the roses, and make an effort to watch the sun rise and fall regularly.
We have covered a lot of ground in this article. From examples of the sociopolitical perpetuation of male adolescence, through the psychological and archetypal sources of immature and mature masculinity, to concrete suggestions for how men might increase their maturity and become more present in the world. Nevertheless, the gender debate is a vast subject, and a lot more can and must be said to challenge proponents of the war on masculinity.
For instance, in future articles, one may choose to discuss how developing healthy and mature masculinity might be beneficial in helping combat male suicide rates, which, at a 15-year high, is now the biggest killer of men aged 20–49; how the cultural tunnel vision on girls’ issues has forced out of view the growing education gap between boys and girls, where boys’ exam results trail far behind girls at school and with regards to the numbers of boys who join university compared to girls; challenge the belittling of men in advertising and entertainment; highlight the huge decline in average testosterone levels in men in the last 40 years; discuss the prescription of drugs in the west to control young boys’ “boisterous” behaviour; or, perhaps, a female-focused equivalent of the present study, to name but a few subjects worthy of consideration.
However, it should be noted, to challenge the dominant narrative in the gender debate is a serious matter, one does so at personal risk. As the Overton Window of moral condemnation expands, so too does the social acceptability of shaming those who extoll the virtues of masculinity and masculine values. “Doxxing”, the publishing of private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent, is an increasingly significant threat to anyone who dares challenge the liberal orthodoxy. To raise your voice on this subject can leave you dismissed and silenced, told now is time to “shut up and listen” to women, that “real men” do not care about the “war on masculinity”. There is a new totalitarian Stasi of ultra “liberals” only too willing to ruin a person’s life for daring to express “wrongthink” on the matter, but we must not allow ourselves to be bullied out of the debate.
The term, “toxic masculinity”, is unhelpful because embedded within it are negative assumptions and connotations which demean and misrepresent men. If we wish to push forward the debate constructively, then “toxic masculinity” should be dropped in favour of another less ideologically and culturally loaded term.
When referring to mischannelled masculine behavioural expressions, I propose those who wish to challenge the liberal narrative do so under the moniker, “immature masculinity”, within the context set by the KWML roadmap to mature masculinity. Not only is it a term free of the cultural baggage that has built up around “toxic masculinity”, but it is also a term more representative of the reality of the situation. Some may say my concern is just an exercise in semantics, but the fact is, words are important. The world creates words but so do words create the world.
Taking the KWML ideas further, I suggest we also introduce into the public discourse another term, “mature masculinity”, the implication embedded in which, is that of men who are making conscious efforts to grow their mature masculine spirits. “Mature masculinity” would not stand above, in conflict with femininity, or considered to be any better or worse, but at an opposite and equal pole.
We must continue the debate about men’s issues. Men more so than ever before in history are living through an acute crisis of identity, repeatedly told by society their very nature is deficient and abhorrent. Generations of men lack an understanding of what it means to be a man in the modern world because so many have not been shown what one is. For the boys growing up without a father figure who has an 8/10 chance of 100% female influence at school, clearly, a lack of healthy and mature masculinity in his life is the problem. Too many men die young, often because they do not talk enough about their issues. Put simply, we as a society, need to have a constructive dialogue about men’s issues, from the sociopolitical level to the level of specific personal experiences.
Personally speaking, as a man with first-hand experience of some of the sociopolitical issues raised, the process of researching and writing this article has made me aware of my own limitations. Where in the maturation process I have become stuck and which spirits to grow. I am now taking steps toward becoming a better, stronger and more mature man; feeling purposeful and on a constructive path. I encourage all men to do the same.
It is now clear to me when men and women disrespect one another, usually, it is a sign of weakness, fear and immaturity. Tribal movements and ideologies which advance the interests of only one gender antagonise and perpetuates the problem. I believe that revitalised masculinity and femininity, sexual polarity, and a celebration of men and women’s complementary differences and similarities can set gender relations back on a path toward one of respect, appreciation and vitality.