Men, masculinity, myths and archetypes guarantee to get people all stirred up. Especially feminists. Either in sheer enthusiasm because the ‘untouchables’ get touched by something other than the usual stuff men get excited about (ie cars, chicks and chips); or otherwise in anger, disbelief and even disgust for it’s for some not ‘politically correct’ enough (‘politically correct’ meaning: not within their clearly defined ideological boundaries.

With this last I mean that within the still explosive theme of the relationships between men and women, many a feminist has trouble with the new stories that do the rounds amongst certain men and certain men’s movements about contemporary roles for males.

The successive waves of feminism of the last century have successfully made cracks and dents in concepts of patriarchy and have forced a couple of fundamental renewals in the way society treats women, and men. Sure, lots need still improving. Glass ceilings still rule the workplace; and women still take on the major burden of household tasks and child rearing. Things have started moving, but it will take a few more generations to undo what has become ingrained in the collective and individual minds in the course of centuries.

Confronted with the changes demanded and initiated by women, men too have had to adjust their perceptions of relationships, of themselves, of their roles. For those guys who have taken an open attitude towards the changing times, a great deal of new liberties and privileges have become available. No longer limited to the money-making machine they were supposed to be, these men have found new ways of relating to everything, themselves included.

It is in this last aspect where I believe the true transformation lies. It is in the concepts of self where the key is found to unlock the chains. Not in the brain.

And this is where many a contemporary feminist (or the male version: the pro-feminist man) starts feeling uncomfortable. The theories and analyses many of them adhere to are fundamentally constructs of reason. The result of hard-core analytical thinking, and the application of tools and instruments of social science, which then leads to conclusions that are supposed to be beyond reasonable doubt because of the form of the research done. The scientific titles and methods and forms are often used to create some kind of authority.

In this approach, power lies at the core of how men and women relate (not love or commitment or any other of the ‘fluffy’ stuffs), and how societies keep women in check. Expose that power, or so the thinking goes, and the wicked ways can be undone. And the way to expose that power? Through the sledgehammer of Social Scientific Analysis.

I am a Political Scientist. With a degree. And I think my title means bugger all. At best, it indicates an ability to argue and reason. But does he or she who tells the best story in ways accepted amongst peers also have a monopoly on ‘truth’, or greater access to it? Or is he/she just a better story teller? Social Sciences are a marvelous way of peeking into all aspects of humanity, but it over-estimates itself when it thinks it can come up with anything as solid as the law of gravity, for example.

No scholar (not even Macchiavelli) has ever been able to convince me that ‘power’ is the end all and be all of everything we humans do, or of every human being as such.

Power has no property by itself. No one can achieve anything with power alone. Sure, if you’ve got a taste for it you get to beat people up, steal their money, rape their wives, and write history (or, if you’re on the side of the goodies: you get to stop all of that and write history too). But that’s the thing: power needs to be used (or abused), for only through its use does lead to something else.

What that ‘else’ is, is way more interesting (but also way more complicated) than simply exposing the whealings and dealings of those having or seeking power. There’s always a psychological aspect to power; and I think it’s way more helpful to expose these dynamics when trying to understand a thing like misogynism than the mere, superficial workings of it. What exactly feeds the misogynist? The macho? The rapist? The wife-beater?

Don’t get me wrong here. I too agree that the only way to liberate the ‘disempowered’ is by breaking the controls of the ‘empowered’, and with whatever means possible. I just don’t think that such change comes from writing new laws, let alone from writing dissertations of hundreds of pages on the power networks, conspiracies or other supposed forces at play in societies.

In comes the soul
Empowerment is the product of a particular mind set, of an outlook to life, love and pain. Empowerment has its roots in this unclassifiable thing called ‘soul’, or if you prefer: concepts and perceptions of self. By the nature of soul, nothing that refers to it should ever be taken (too) literally. The soul is too wide, too deep, too divers to be trapped by words, let alone by the limited abilities of scientific reasoning. Any kind of literalism by anyone leads to fundamentalism, which in essence is a fear-driven reliance on the powers of the brain and of ‘reason’, a tool to gain or maintain control over something one has no control over.

And that’s where feminism and pro-feminism and the so-called mytho-poetic men’s movement will never find agreement on.

This mytho-poetic way of looking at life uses imagery, stories, poetry, myths to improve one’s understanding of the stories we tend to tell ourselves while alive. And it tends to make many a feminist livid, for many men have used this particular approach to desperately regain ‘lost ground’ in the battle between the sexes, and glorify old-fashioned and outdated ways of ‘being a man.’ This time they do so with the alleged authority of old myths, which of curse get twisted, turned and abused for their own purposes.

The thing is: any tendency to take any story literally leads, by definition, to a fundamentalism of sorts. That applies to the results of science (and especially the social sciences) as much as it does to myths.

Using myths, stories, imagery can only be done individually and subtly, for my meaning of an image will most definitely differ from yours. Even in a real science like neurology most seem to agree by now that what we see with our eyes and what’s really out there is largely a matter of perception. Our brains fill in the gaps of what our eyes see and don’t see through relying on prior experience. Therefore, Using the tools of the mytho-poetic movement can only be true to its own nature, if its done in a non-fundamentalist way.

Anyone choosing a mytho-poetic approach to find rock hard, literal foundations for his own ‘choices-as-a-man’ will be disappointed, for such are not the rules of the game. A mytho-poetic approach or one relying on archetypal psychology dares anyone to go inside, as deep as you can; inspired and guided by stories and/or imagery that appeal to your soul, your heart and find what has validity for you; to find the calling of your soul, free of outside interference. I’m sorry to say, but in this stormy ocean you’ll have to swim on your own.

This route, though arduous and complicated, leads to human beings – male and female – who are finding ways to be truthful and faithful to their deepest being. This journey, if undertaken sincerely and mercilessly, leads to the ultimate dagger into the heart of both patriarchy and matriarchy.

Author's Bio: 

Aernout Zevenbergen is a journalist, author and public speaker, based in Cape Town, South Africa. His main field of interest are men, masculinity and spirituality. His fifth book is "Spots of a Leopard - on being a man"