For some time I have considered writing about men’s issues in the modern world. I have not done so simply because I do not want to be drawn into the culture wars, and especially the gender wars. But something has now changed, and I believe that we can all begin to move forward in a positive way. A new wave of mature masculinity beckons, and it is a very, very good thing.
My inspiration for entering the discourse is the arrival of Canadian professor and intellectual Jordan B Peterson into the public sphere. In this post I am going to explain why I think Peterson’s ideas and his success are so important. Secondly, I am going to outline what I believe to be a conscious and mature approach to men’s issues. Much of what I will say is equally applicable to women and feminism, as I shall point out.
I am going to use the word “empowerment” to describe this way of being. Jordan Peterson does not like the term, and I can understand why. It suggests having or wielding power over others. The truth is that any such “power” is transient, and I do not think it is wise to base our sense of self upon that which may rise and fall like night and day.
Thus, when I use the term “empowerment” it is more about an internal state, a wise and loving relationship we have with our minds and bodies. This can shift the way we move in the world and relate to others, including the opposite sex.
Years ago I worked with some very wonderful female spiritual teachers who were well aware that our dominant narrative on male-female power is simplistic. I have been deeply influenced by one of my greatest teachers, Jessica, a very powerful and wise woman with a mind so sharp and intuitive it could cut through you like a razor. A gifted intuitive, at times she could be terrifying, such was the accuracy of her perceptions. Jessica said that it was men, not women, who were being dominated and controlled within modern relationships, and also across certain aspects of society in general. I worked with Jessica and other dedicated healers who had a deep commitment to spiritual well-being. Healing personal issues with the opposite sex was a big part of what we did. As a result of what I saw there, I came to the conclusion that men have taken on so much guilt and shame that many are now simply unable to stand within their own power. They have become child-men. In the two decades since, I have not changed my mind.
This is remarkably similar to the conclusion that Jordan Peterson has come to today, in his role as a clinical psychologist, and now as something of a celebrity.
It is beyond dispute that women currently control much of the public discourse on gender relations, and men who offer dissent from the dominant narrative face severe repercussions, both personally and professionally. That Jordan Peterson has successfully managed to rebel against this power structure and come through the battle relatively unscathed shows that the climate has now shifted. We are at the point where open discussion of related issues is now at least possible. This is something that men (and women) should be grateful to Peterson for. A social fabric and public discourse which is founded upon the open shaming of masculinity is good for nobody – not for men, not for women, and not for LGTB people.
In case you are not aware of who he is, Jordan Peterson has risen from the backrooms of Youtube to become a social media phenomenon, almost overnight. A recent interview of him on British TV, Channel 4, (conducted by Cathy Newman) for example, has generated over five million views within a few days. In the interview we see a relaxed and vibrantly intelligent man, but also one with a ready smile and compassion for his interviewer, despite the fact that she tries to detail him at every opportunity. I encourage you to watch this interview. I believe it represents a seminal moment in the evolution of the culture wars.
When Peterson first emerged on YouTube perhaps three years ago, he was a rather more severe-looking and nervous individual. Undoubtedly, the ad hominem attacks he received (and still regularly receives) as a result his criticisms of Bill C-16 were partly responsible for his awkwardness. That bill enshrined the “misuse” of gender pronouns into the Canadian legal system. Peterson could easily have become a casualty of the political correctness monster and had his academic career ruined.
But Peterson has survived, and indeed thrived. The attacks continue. He is regularly grossly misrepresented by mainstream media and the political left as “alt-right”, a white nationalist or simply a conservative. None of these is true. For example, after the previously mentioned Cathy Newman interview, the host station quickly released an article linking Peterson indirectly to alleged death threats that the interviewer had received. This appeared to be little more than an attempt to to deflect attention away from the fact that Peterson had come across as perfectly reasonable and indeed charming in the interview, and had intelligently addressed every point that the interviewer brought forward. Her inability to formulate adequate responses made her seem less than competent.
The Plight of Young Men
Approximately eighty percent of Peterson’s audience is male, and the Canadian psychologist is deeply concerned about the well-being of men, and especially young men. He regularly tells stories of lost younger males who write to him or approach him after his public talks, to thank him for helping them get their lives together. The passion that he has for them is clearly seen in this video, where he openly weeps when relating such interactions.
I agree with Peterson at we have to begin to address men’s issues. The problem is reaching crisis point.
Activism and the Shadow
Jordan Peterson does not let men off easily, however, and I believe that his ideas about masculinity can help herald a new era of a more responsible, empowered and ultimately loving masculinity. In this sense, there is a potential for the new wave of masculinity to be more genuinely empowered and enlightened than third-wave feminism. The latter, like virtually all social justice discourses, has become so focused on blame and projection at a perceived “evil other,” that it has all but abandoned introspection. There is a dark rage and highly destructive drive in modern feminism which should be being addressed by its leaders. Instead, the feminist movement tends to ostracise those female and male feminists and critics who display any dissent towards its often misandrist doctrines. It has lost its way. It is no longer about equality, but about power and control. It has joined the long list of hegemonic ideologies in human history, more concerned for the perpetuation of its own narratives than for truth or the greater good of society. This is admittedly a harsh judgment, but it is my honest perception of what it has descended into.
The new wave of masculinity must avoid such mistakes if it is to offer any genuine resolution to the current impasse between the sexes, and between the political divides. This is why Peterson offers hope. He is willing to be combative, is willing to stand his ground, but is also willing to assume responsibility for the shadow (the darker, suppressed impulses within the mind that we would prefer not see the light of day). He appears to be aware of how a failure to address the shadow can prevent integration of the trauma and self-limiting beliefs within a person’s psyche, and in doing so become downright destructive. When entire movements, groups and nations abandon introspection, they can quickly become delusional and destructive.
Cultivating a Love of Women
Shadow work is the missing link in today’s social justice movements, and I will include much of the men’s movemnt in this. It is for this reason that these movements inevitably descend into destructive delusion, adopting a victim consciousness, including addiction to blame and projection. The new wave of masculinity will have to include a greater degree of courage and commitment to truth than that displayed in the social justice movements we have witnessed in recent years. It will require a willingness to permit criticism and dissent. It must inculcate a high degree of emotional and social intelligence within men, such that the movement is able to offer dissent and criticism in ways that are respectful and mindful of those with differing perspectives.
It must not make the mistake of seeing women as the enemy. Instead it should have at its heart the goal of cultivating deep love for women; and for relationships between men and women. It must avoid the culture of blaming and shaming that delimited the greater good that feminism could have brought to the world. In making men the enemy, feminism has effectively stultified the healing of the collective male-female wound. It has developed a consciousness not of love, but of shaming and destruction.
Of course, all is not lost for feminism, nor for other social justice narratives. But there needs to be a greater degree of introspection and honesty if they are to move forward.
Peterson has a huge fan base. Judging by the comments sections under his YouTube videos, many of these people appear to be responsible and well-meaning. The trolls and haters are there, but they do not dominate the boards that I have surfed. Peterson himself seems to be bringing out the best in his audience, granting a voice to a segment of society that we have lost compassion for. That the online forums are relatively civilised is an encouraging sign, as the same cannot be said for all activists in the associated men’s rights groups.
For this reason, I hope that Jordan Peterson can begin to address the issue of healing relationships between the male and female collectives. To date, as far as I am aware, he has not said too much on how to develop genuine love for women, both in individual relationships, and in general. Hopefully in time he can begin to do so and cultivate this attitude in the mostly young men in his core audience.
A New Masculinity
As Peterson has stated, the new masculity will not entail the negative traits that today’s education systems and media typically attribute to men. Peterson’s healthy expression of masculinity is not about domination and control, colonisation, suppression and rape. These impulses, he states, must be acknowledged and incorporated within the psyche, such that the man develops the right relationship with them. Instead men can exhibit the noble qualities that truly healthy masculinity is capable of: high levels of personal responsibility, love and compassion, courage, doing soul-affirming work, sharing the wisdom of the father.
I am in complete agreement with this. I believe the new masculinity can be more restive, more embodied, more present. It will be deeply responsible. It will allow a healthy expression, not suppression, of sexuality. It will honour the fundamental impulses of men, but in a positive way. We must begin by encouraging men to believe in themselves, to create positive visions of their futures where they can embody the hero archetype, finding deep purpose and meaningful work. For meaningful work is a big part of what makes life worth living for men.
If this is done the right way, I believe we can create a generation of men who will exhibit a confidence and “charisma” that will be far more attractive, in every sense of the word, than the enfeebled, guilt-driven, virtue-signalling male that is often found today, an end result of generations of the shaming of men.
In order to do this, we need to begin to trust men again. And to trust them, we (especially women) have to allow a certain space for vulnerability. We will have to allow our psychological walls to come down, at least some of the time. All spiritually healthy relationships are founded on firm boundaries, but they must also allow those boundaries to soften, when friendship, love and intimacy beckon.
What this will look like in any given man will depend upon the characteristics of the individual. I see Jordan Peterson as a fine embodiment of such a creature. Like all of us, he is imperfect. But his exceptional courage, intelligence and wisdom mean that he has continued to grow as a man even into his fifties. Both men and women can now be the beneficiaries of this. Peterson is the right man at the right moment in history. His massive popularity is just reward for the courage and tenacity he has displayed in championing men in an age where it has become an effective taboo to say anything good about them.
Empowered, deeply embodied men and women are not a threat to each other. When Cassie Jay came to Australia in 2017 to promote her documentary The Red Pill (about men’s rights groups) she was savagely attacked by the media, feminists and even men. The savaging was merciless. This destructive mentality is what we all have to rise above to move forward. We need to start listening to each other, being present with each other. Learning how to love again.
Now is the right time to begin. Let there be (genuine) empowerment for men. And women.