Last weekend I traveled to Oslo to give a lecture about my work at the launch of Masculinity Movies. Masculinity Movies is a website that inspires men to embark on a path of personal growth, and to explore what it means to be a man. The mission of the site is nicely summed up by the tagline: Where Boys Study Films to Become Men.
Today, I invite Eivind Figenschau Skjellum – the founder of Masculinity Movies – to contribute a guest post on my blog. Whether you agree with what Eivind is saying or not, there can be no mistake that his work is a cry from the heart of a man who wants to inspire other men to change in a constructive way. So check out what Eivind has to say:
As readers of Pelle’s work, you have been exposed to – and seen debunked – many of the popular claims about the myriad negative aspects of men and masculinity. You have seen how men have been herded up and criticized – if not downright attacked – by a whole army of so-called experts, be they historians, sociologists, psychologists, health workers, journalists, politicians, or feminists. The threshold for criticizing men, it seems, has become so low that you can, while raising the banner of women’s rights, say virtually anything demeaning about men and be lauded for your service in love and truth to mankind.
It is vitally important to shine a light on these things and I applaud the great work Pelle is doing in this area. But as Pelle will be the first to agree with, reorienting the external world to be more closely aligned with the truth is only half the battle. All true change begins on the individual level, and if we wait for society to become perfect – for everyone to see us as we truly are – we will be waiting for our freedom for a very long time. Stories of love and freedom from concentration camps in WWII show us that freedom can be found in the unlikeliest places. If we see history overall, we realize that the situation men are faced with in today ‘s anti-male cultural climate is relatively less challenging than much that has come before.
This must be understood lest the extent of our vision be reduced to merely talking about how we are being shafted by society and women, and fantasizing about how we could all start living life for real if only everyone else changed and gave us that chance. This is a pipe-dream and an excuse every man is free to clasp to if he wants to keep pushing his destiny ahead of him. But I don’t wish that on any man.
Finding the courage for Truth and Progress
At this point in our cultural evolution, what we need is not a countermovement – victimized men climbing the barricades to hurl profanity at women. I see this happening in a large scale fashion in the discussion forums of Norwegian newspapers, and I’m not impressed with the level of clarity, truth, love, and ballsiness these guys are bringing to the table. We need proactivity, not reactivity. We need truth – which is what Pelle provides – combined with our own inner growth. The latter part is what I’m interested in.
The focused individual growth process for any man starts with the realization that something isn’t working in his life. Some men realize this as part of their 40-year crisis, but now, thanks to Pelle’s work, men can identify the ways in which they are shackled by cultural context from an early age, and use that realization as leverage for growth. For me, the main gift of this work is that it presents factual data as opposed to mere gut feelings, laying bare the myriad inaccuracies of the gender theories that have been established as foundation stones of the public discourse (e.g. men are more violent, earn more for the same work etc). The negative picture painted of men, we see, is not so much based on truth as on hurt feelings. Feelings, often, of women now long gone.
Now, where does the dishonored, unloved, and ostricized man go from this realization? Does he contribute with his own hurt feelings? Perhaps. But eventually, he finds himself forced to honest self-inquiry. He must ask himself some hard questions, such as «Is my job serving me?», «Are my friends serving me?», «Is my relationship serving me?», «Do I know who I am?», «To what extent am I responsible for my own misery?», «Am I truly satisfied with my life?», «Am I serving the world with my life?». He must do so because only with inner truth can he discover the freedom and happiness which are his main priorities. Only with deep self-inquiry will he free himself from resentment and find in himself resources to penetrate his fear, as well as the fear of the world, with the force of his truth, the weight of his love, and the intensity of his resolve for change.
Masculinity-Movies.com and Initiation
It is the man who is ballsy enough to live his life in the purifying flames of ongoing self-inquiry – always accepting responsibility for his lot in life – that will shape our path ahead. That is the man for whom I created Masculinity-Movies.com. For many years after circumstances forced me to accept the full responsibility for my own pain in life, I observed how prevalent the unwillingness to do so was in guys around me. I understood them well, as I was pretty scared most of the time, contrary to the plain numbness I felt in my years of hiding.
But their attraction to surface living felt painful. I could use these brothers, allies on the road to improvement, but many seemed oblivious to the fact that life was a journey, a journey which required active participation. Then it was the fact that, deep down, I wasn’t ready to meet men who pointed out my bullshit – my ego was way too inflated to be confronted like that.
Still, in my confusion little hints of where my life was headed started surfacing, and while I watched the unlikeliest of movies with my lover one evening – Mrs. Doubtfire and Erin Brockovich – many years of introspection and studies of evolutionary models bloomed in an a-ha moment: I recognized the tremendous influence movies have on our cultural and individual psyche, saw how the learning potential laid dormant, and Masculinity-Movies.com was born.
Through working on Masculinity-Movies.com, I have realized that the source of our problems as modern men boil down to one thing: a lack of initiation. Since our culture has labelled masculinity in men as destructive and wrong (masculinity in women is considered safe and appropriate), we have systematically deconstructed all avenues of growth that can take a boy through ritual process into the vast realms of Manhood. Postmodernism and feminism have formed a dynamic duo in a grand crusade to dismantle hierarchies, even out differences, make everything equal. In evolutionary terms, this was exactly right and good timing, but we are now ready to move on.
Ken Wilber’s work describes how evolution happens in stages, one building on the other. The next stage for our culture’s evolution requires the rocket blasters of masculine penetration – men working tirelessly for change, empowered by the wisdom of self-inquiry and the vitality of proactive action taken in the world. This must happen in the same way that the conception of our current stage required more feminine and collective values. Now, let’s briefly look at the consequences of not taking this step before we finish up by looking briefly at the movie Into the Wild.
Culture Without the Mature Masculine
When we in good faith collapse all growth structures for boys who wish to be men, we fail to understand that every man with a masculine essence has a great force of energy in him that needs to be cared for and channeled in appropriate ways through ritual initiation by an elder. When we don’t provide for such sacred transformation of the boy’s psycho-emotional makeup, this energy has one of two choices: It can go crazy or it can implode. When it goes crazy, we get criminals, sociopaths, hooligans, neo-nazis, terrorists, or – if lucky – just a plain old jerk, a simple-minded cowboy, or an aggressive guy struggling with addictions. When it implodes, the life force is never acted out, sometimes even causing emotional or psychological damage inside the individual, and the result is a man who feels weak, impotent, and vulnerable. He too may be prone to addictions, as addictions are one of the hallmarks of an uninitiated man. Also, he doesn’t stand up for his rights in a responsible way, and his presence in the world is weak and shaky. There are nuances of these broad strokes, many of which I’m yet to discover, so that is for another time.
Our culture has done a good job of severing men’s connection with their own inner power, so for most modern men, the vitality takes the latter route – which is really no route at all. The casualties, in short order, are: integrity, discipline, service, sacrifice, masculine love, loyalty, the power to stand up against the wrongs of the world in a responsible and proactive way. And in the pockets of nothingness left behind after the Masculine has been exiled, the Feminine pours into the man, resulting in soft, gentle, and emasculated men.
This wouldn’t be a big problem if it happened with the occasional dude, but since it’s so pervasive, these emasculated guys end up in positions of power, even as heads of states and corporations – particularly in more progressive nations such as Sweden and Norway. And although these guys generally have a more evolved ethical base than many of the more traditional modernists, they are too reserved or scared to effect real change.
We get – consider these my personal opinions – politicians who feel no sense of responsibility to live up to their promises, as their immature masculine development make them more concerned with feelings than integrity. We get men who are merely cogs in the machine, who are too afraid to stand up when they see injustice being done. We get endless meetings, billions of tax dollars flushed down the drain, because the majority of the participants are too hung up on their own egoic need for recognition or too afraid of confrontation to actually even consider that we could be brothers, serving the world together for a greater good. We get a world where people and politicians who are at the receiving end of an increasingly gloomy survival scenario will rather put their heads in the sand, still holding on for dear life to comfort and security, than proactively penetrate the problem. These are all parts of human nature, and if we don’t recognize these dynamics in us, we must look deeper.
Learning From Christopher McCandless
Into the Wild is one of the first movies I featured on Masculinity-Movies.com, and as it is a true story, it was a humbling and emotional honor to work on finding the learning within. The movie, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch, William Hurt, and Vince Vaughn, has been widely romanticized for the adventurous, free spirit of its protagonist Christopher McCandless. True, there is much to like about Chris – his longing for adventure, his big heart, the good people…nature. But the film is first and foremost about the transformation from boyhood to manhood, which given its five evolutionary steps – birth, adolescence, manhood, family, wisdom – it makes no attempt at hiding.
Christopher McCandless is a free spirit that grows up in bondage. His parents are existentially confused, caught in a violent dependancy relationship. They believe in comfort, security, and recognition above all. Chris, on the other hand, wants total freedom of mind, body, and spirit. So he flees from his parents – an event which is described as his own birth – and hits the road. The parents can be seen to symbolically represent the shadow side of modernity – material things over love, man over nature – and on his walkabout, he discovers many people of softer bent. They are good, caring people, for whom love and relationship are the priority. These people fit better into the postmodern, postfeminist context in which many of us now live.
But relationship is not enough for Chris – he wants total freedom, the taste of which he gets from Wayne. Wayne is described by Chris in a letter as a «wild man», and that wildness – which is of a positive rather than destructive nature – is a primary source of initiation for Chris. But Chris’s initiation is not complete when he enters the wild. And his boyish recklessness and undying faith in his own invulnerability becomes his demise. The boy in him receives his final and complete initiation into manhood with the realization that he will die, at which point he gains the ultimate wisdom that he lives to co-exist with and serve others.
Chris is symbolic for the yearning in each of us for freedom. It is stronger in some, and those are the ones who will sacrifice everything for deeper. But then, when true elders are not around to initiate them, when no avenues of masculine transformation are readily available, it may go wrong.
Our future, not just as men but as a species, now looks uncertain. And if we are to make it through the coming storms, that future clearly needs men of courage, power, and heart. The road ahead must start with the absolute debunking of the prevalent falsitudes concerning the negative impact of men and masculinity on the world. That is a job for Pelle and his peers. Then we must find the balls to accept responsibility for our destiny and find sources of initiation, which is what I will try to point to with Masculinity-Movies.com. These are but two small contributions of a cultural process which requires millions of participants. So, go rally the troops everyone. We are ready for the next step.