The Souls of Men


“Men’s lives are as much governed by role expectations as are the lives of women. And the corollary is that those roles do not support, confirm, or resonate to the needs of men’s souls.”

James Hollis, Jungian analyst.

To be absolutely clear from the outset: Men are the perpetrators of patriarchal oppression. The problem resides in us. We enact the violence. And we are the danger. We are the beneficiaries. We hold power. And we shape this crumbling world in accordance with our patriarchal perspective. I am and have been part of the problem.

I say this first because it seems to be the only way that we can actually look at the way patriarchy harms men. James Hollis is a Jungian analyst. His statement is grounded in an understanding of shadow, the archetypal realms and the ways these influence how we show up in the world. 

bell hooks is even more clear:

The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.

The most consistent statement that I’m hearing in my interviews for the Better Men Project is that men lack access to the full range of human emotion. This lack of access leaves us baffled in light of the deeply vulnerable experience of being human. We don’t know what to do. We do know what we are expected to do. And so we ignore the longings of our souls and move single mindedly in the direction that is clear, and that we understand - even it takes us nowhere.

This is clearly an oversimplification. Masculinity serves us, and it is redeemable. But the quote above lays bare an important truth, a liberating one. 

The fact that you have been taught to do things a certain way does not make it right.

But when these are an attribute of culture, when they come to you through the words and modeling of your father, your grandfather, the older boys, movies, songs, television, and yes, even many of the women around you - then it can be devastating to question their truth. It becomes a major crack in the structure of belonging. And human beings want to belong.

If I’ve been taught to derive value, status and belonging from how much sex I can get and  how much dominance I can wield, then it will make sense to let my soul’s longing recede.

But if I’m taught to listen to my soul, if I can learn to take my masculine drive and place it at the service of something that is truly good, something much bigger than just me or you, then freedom becomes possible. It is from here that a conscious masculinity can be born, that the work of atonement can flow, that we will cease to be a danger and remember what is good.