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The men's movement is dead; long live the men's movement
We can't escape the past, but we can learn from it. We owe it to ourselves to try.
This piece was inspired by a recent post from the Substack team, which asked us to think about what we’re writing in terms of what you, my dear readers and friends, get from Get Real, Man. A lot of this has been swirling in my head for a while now, and I owe it to you to share.
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So far Get Real, Man has been all my stories. I love writing these stories and analyzing the work of building a real life. But I’m also aware my viewpoint is limited by the boundaries of my world. In the coming months, I’m looking to bring on a few guest posts by others who want to share their stories and offer a different perspective. If this sounds like you, please reach out.
Note: This post was originally a guest post at. It’s just one of many powerful stories on the SubStack run by and . Go check them out and consider subscribing.
It’s never been harder to be a man than it is right now. We’ve never needed real men more than we do right now.
What are my credentials, you may ask, to make such grandiose statements?
Well, for one, I am a man. Not just in the anatomical sense, but in the sense that I’m building my life around my sacred masculinity. I don’t believe that I was fully realized when I turned 21, and my goals are more than having sex and getting a prestigious job. I’m designing this life to know Truth: spiritually, emotionally, creatively, and in community. All of those aspects of my life work together, and I’m growing my whole Self.
Also, I talk to lots of men. I talk to friends and strangers, online and in real life, sharing a coffee or a text message. I love those conversations that cut through the pleasantries of posturing and get vulnerable quickly. I return to my own stories and sit in the discomfort of solitude, thinking about ways to help. So that I can serve others.
Maybe most importantly, I care. A lot. I care about helping others and about helping myself. I care so much that I won’t accept simple answers and sit idly by as others harm my friends and my hopes for the best of us. Destroy us with bullshit stories like this one:
In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports.
Trying to grow as a man is fraught. We’re squeezed between other people’s judgments: media agendas with their bias against anything masculine or older generations’ expectations with their opposing bias and refusal to accept that their story failed long ago. Which leaves most of us confused. The best we can do is choose to walk alone through a wasteland of fear. T.S. Eliot may not have been talking about masculinity when he wrote The Waste Land, but he could not have described modern masculinity better if he tried. There has to be more to masculinity than this.
“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
I’m tired of being told “all men are patriarchal aggressors” or “it’s time for men to move aside and give women the stage before they cause any more harm.”1 If you believe these agendas, men are either psychopathic power schemers or dumb jock stereotypes, standing around a fence drinking beer and reliving the glory days. In that world, the best thing we men can do is step aside to make way for the women in our lives. And while I’m for helping the women in my life (and the young men), I refuse to believe that the only role left for me is to step aside.
On the other side of that spectrum is the wisdom of my parents’ generation. They defined masculinity as getting a good job that provided for the family and then squeezing life around that job. Work, sports on TV, and the evening drink to make it all go down smoothly. That’s the same wisdom that brought about the loneliness epidemic and the same generation that has adopted identity politics as their way of life. We can do better.
These stories do real harm. They stand in the way of realizing we can aspire to more. Instead, we sit, stuck in a morass of our pain. I hear it from a friend who calls and admits he’s struggling. After we share the latest on how our kids are doing and what work is like, his voice hushes as he admits “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I thought I was crushing it but I feel so empty. Lost. Like I was lied to.” I see it in the mentor who, slumped over his second beer while we sit on the patio of his exclusive social club, admits “I don’t know how to have hope for my kids. I barely have hope for myself that things are going to improve, and so how the hell do I tell them that the future will be better? How do I do that with a straight face?” It’s like he’s lost in a dream, trying to escape this world. It’s hard to sit through those conversations when I want to tell them it’s okay or get up and run. Anything but sit there.
This shouldn’t just scare men. It affects everyone.
“The health of the society is only a reflection of the health of the individual. Healthy minds create healthy societies.”
― Abhijit Naskar
Many of us can’t stand aside any longer. We see our friends, colleagues, and loved ones longing for something real. We’re begging in the streets with them after abandoning the old narrative of total work. We see through “self-fulfillment” gurus, companies that want us to live our best lives, and the horsemen of hyper-individualism promising a return to the glory days. Yet we refuse to give up on a deeper purpose. We’re facing more complex problems than our parents' generation ever faced, but we also know we can make things better. If we can figure out how.
We weren’t always alone. Beginning in the 1960s, academics began to study men; masculinity research it was called. It was small, but it grew over 30 years of study. Researchers explored how ancient societies defined masculinism. Then they grew bored with simply studying the past, and research on men expanded to research on gender which became research on social theory. Suddenly the most pressing questions in academic circles were how social class impacts masculinity. I guess that’s important, but doesn’t really help us stand up for the truth.
The 1970s saw the growth of the “men’s movement.” It also saw the movement devolve into political ideologies and reactions against feminism. It wasn’t all wasted, the father’s right movement helped men gain some standing in the courts, especially when it comes to our children and our jobs. But while they were focused on helping men gain legal standing to be in our child’s lives, no one was helping us become the role models our kids need.
Recently men’s studies have landed in the psychology department. Researchers like Jordan Peterson, Rob Henderson, and others are raising the alarm as young men fall behind and drop out at alarming rates. It’s important work for young men. But for those of us who are over 30, without the neuroticisms and social stigmas associated with being a boy who never experienced a rite into manhood, we’re ignored. Or assumed fine.
I’m not fine.
I know too many men who silently debate whether it’s worth alienating their friends and family by speaking up about the world or whether it’s easier to shut up and color as they silence their longing for a more purpose filled life. It doesn’t have to be this way. Too many men shut themselves off from their emotions and their wants. They walk through life wearing masks – masks they inherited from outdated stories because they never learned better. They never move past games like the stock market, status games, and their annual bonus. These same men, with support, would be excited to grapple with their dark side, to learn from it and redeem their story. They want to continue to serve. If that isn’t worth supporting, I don’t know what is.
The closest thing to something we can use was probably the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 80s and 90s. Maybe you’ve read Iron John, or followed the work of Robert Bly. They built on Carl Jung’s archetypes to help men understand our unique myths. They weren’t simply psychological tools; they were trying to integrate our spiritual lives and our masculine identities into a whole being. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep up with a world that was changing rapidly for both men and women. They lost the story. The movement failed. And once again men were alone in the wilderness without a guide.
But like all great myths, we have to descend into the darkness, before we can change. And things will change. I’m here to make sure they do.
…I sit inside the shell of the old Me
I sit for world revolution. – Allen Ginsburg
Today, archetypal myth work has moved underground. More people are tinkering outside of the limelight, trying to understand how our stories can be updated for today’s reality. Shadow work and men’s groups exist – mostly on the fringes. Look at EvryMan, Animas Valley Institute, and Jonny Miller’s Curious Humans. Men are exploring what it means to be a man again, men like my friendsand . They’re updating the old myths: to work with the realities of gender today and the changing natures of our world. This work needs to be easier for fathers and husbands and busy men to fit in with our other commitments. So that those same friends don’t have to choose between their families and their own well-being. Because we all deserve to feel hope again.
Which brings me to this project. I wanted to find a home for the deep work of building my real life. I wanted to explore my relationship to anger, love, fear, and joy. I wanted to be safe feeling the whole range of emotions I’d been trained to suppress. And judging from the growing community and your encouragement, I wasn’t alone. You refuse to settle for what you’re told, and refuse to split yourself into your different roles. You want to talk about work, family, spirituality, and emotion. Because everything is connected, and you want to surround ourselves with others who see that truth. We all do.
Stories – vulnerable honest stories of what it means to live – have to play a part. You come here for these stories, because they inspire us to demand more. Because they help us build models of how we’ll find deeper meaning. Because they let us see how others are becoming whole: integrating work, family, spirituality, and responsibility with the courage to step into the unknown.
“Without faith nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”
― Mary McLeod Bethune
You come here for stories that surface hard questions about life. You come here as we document our search for answers. I also hope you come here for a community of people just like you and me.
We know that change doesn’t happen to us, brought on by some top down imposition, but it happens by us as we see new possibilities together. That’s what a modern men’s movement can be. That’s why Get Real, Man exists.2
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I’ve had both of these exact conversations, both times with men who wanted to show how enlightened they were and had large platforms to spread that message. And I know friends who look up to those men and buy into that.