As they say, “There is always a flip side to every coin.” I have already written about how it is the elite, within any culture, that forms, frames, and defines that culture. The Patriarchy defined woman, but also defined man in that process. It goes, without saying, that it is a hard act to follow.
Seeing as all of these posts are aimed at a discussion of a series of “Feminine” myths, I thought it appropriate to write about the main male myth, here. It is called the Mono-myth, because it is Universal, known, in one form or another, world-wide, and some version of it may be found in most cultures. The Mono-myth is the story of the Hero’s Journey. It isn’t just one story, but comes in many different shapes, formed by the traditions of whatever society created it.
Joseph Campbell, the leading Mythologist of the past century, broke down the Hero’s Journey into 18 stages, or parts. Each stage requires some sort of challenge or test that must be completed before the next stage is entered. Can you see where this is going?
I am not about to outline those entire 18 stages, but will give you a brief synopsis, only.
It all begins in a Common World, where the would be Hero lives an everyday existence. But, there is some sort of problem in that World, a problem that needs to be healed. The young, would be Hero, is called upon, or shanghaied, into going in search of the magic elixir that will help his world. He meets all kinds of people, some are friends, companions on his quest, others are guides or mentors, and of course there are those who will be his sworn enemies. He enters a whole new realm of existence, where he must learn new rules, and earn his own place within that new world. He must face and overcome ordeals, but eventually gets the opportunity to gain possession of the elixir he seeks. To do that, he must fight to acknowledge, accept, and heal his own flawed character. He is, after all, only human, which means he is imperfect. After all of that, having obtained whatever elixir he seeks, he must decide to either continue his questing, or return to his Common World. If he continues the quest, he will meet and must overcome even more obstacles. If he returns home, he must learn that because he has been altered by his experience, home can never really be the same as it once was.
That’s my nutshell version of the Mono-myth. But, you get the idea. Life is a constant battle that must be faced and the individual must pass all these tests, or never become a Hero. Think of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Percival, and the search for the Grail. These were the tales handed down from one generation to the next, that defined what a real man should, or could become.
But, again, we must look at the fact that the elite within any society comprises less than one third of that society. And very few of that small number, ever attain that hallowed definition. Most simply rely on the past, the blood, or name, of some long distant descendant who somehow managed to gain a foothold into those upper echelons. The fact that blood, and fame, is thinned over time, doesn’t seem to enter that reality. Most often, the upper class sees its position as one of privilege, rather than responsibility.
What then, of the common man, the head of the household? That one who will never be a part of that ‘higher’ class? He is still held to that same definition. He never really gets to rest, does he? He must go out and work to provide for his family, but then come home and still be in a constant leadership position. Yes, he may have a wife, but he has also discovered that she might have a mind of her own. He works under the authority of others the majority of the time, but then must take on the mantle of authority in the one place he should be able to find rest. His “partner”, as defined by society, is just another responsibility. How does he find peace, let alone the time and energy it takes to explore his own identity, find his soul, and let that soul speak to him? How does he find worth in his own person? He has been put in a no-win situation. Should it really be a surprise that there is so much anger, violence, and abuse occurring on a daily basis? Constantly needing to prove oneself has its own high level of frustration. Talk about being fitted with an iron belt that has no key.
The problem becomes huge when men are taught to see women as less than, weaker, needing to be taught their place, and to be somehow ‘controlled’ (think of the word submissive). What actually happens here is a constant battle for some sort of control. Some semblance of value and viability. Two partners who have never been taught equal partnership, involved in a constant undefined struggle, underneath the ongoing, sometimes all consuming desire to just find meaning.
Here’s another quote to fuel this discussion:
A most interesting debate, Elizabeth. Should we really feel sorry for the male creature who has demanded to be the head of the family when perhaps this role should fall to the woman so that he does have peace in his home? Is this constant struggle not one that men have brought upon their own heads? It is hard to feel pity for those that have created their own nightmare.
Hi Robbie, and please understand that I’m not asking anyone to feel one way or another. What I would prefer is that we strive to understand one another more fully. Yes, when the Patriarchy chose to define women as the less than, weaker sex, it did a disservice to both genders. It never allowed either to discover the true meaning of the word “help-mate”. A help-mate is an equal partner in life, not just at home. A help-mate is an equal companion through life. Someone who is there through both good and bad times, is both a defender, lover, and mate. A mate is a friend, no matter the circumstances. Someone who stands beside one, to offer both comradeship and defense. A partnership of the help-mate variety is one that says, “We are in this together, thick or thin, until the end. Neither one is more important than the other, they are simply in it together.” And much of that only begins with mutual respect and understanding.
There is a phrase, which I find incomprehensible. When people say, “What can you expect? It’s always been that way…”, what are they really saying? That when something is tradition, a clearly accepted occurrence, it can’t be changed? That is not acceptable to me. We can and must change. However, if we do that without respect for one another, what have we accomplished? I do not mean to infer that replacing the patriarchy with a matriarchal system would be the answer. I don’t think that for a minute. I would much prefer to see a more humane and egalitarian structure, where skills and abilities are explored by both genders, to the betterment of the whole culture. Where women are truly seen and treated with equality and respect, simply because that is what any human being should be entitled to receive. If we view patriarchy as an experiment, we would have to admit that it failed, both genders. Armed with that new knowledge, one can only hope that we choose to move forward and find a better solution for all of us.
I resonate with the hero finding, when she returns home, that it can never be the same again. Tofino has been mythical to me for twenty years. But returning there, i find myself, not it, changed. I am now at the final lap of my journey, not the middle. And that is okay.
Sherry, isn’t it wonderful to know that we women, because we are alive, are on that Heroic Journey? And yes, I know what it means to return, changed by that other time and place where I once lived. I find that I am far more the me I want to be, and can accept far more what used to make me run or cringe. I’ve found that being me is far more important than someone else’s idea of what I “should” or “could” be. It’s also much easier.
I agree that the model of male ascendancy is a burden for the man as well as the woman. I remember early feminism talking about how freeing relationships between equals would be.
Yes, now we are at that quote. Do you also remember the swift and nasty backlash “feminism” received after saying such things? The women who spoke of them were defined as “unnatural”, strident, ugly and viciously angry, with the intention of fully emasculating any man who stepped inside their space. Most men saw the movement as an attempt to destroy their chosen hierarchy. To oppress their “god-given”, natural superiority. And many women, scurried away from that ugly definition.
I remember sitting at a kitchen table with my sisters and several females cousins. My older sister was regaling us with an experience she’d recently had while on a trip to Africa. I was enjoying the tale as much as all of the rest, when she suddenly turned, looked straight at me, and said, “And I don’t want to hear any of your damned feminist bullshit, either.” Suddenly, all eyes were on me, full of questions, curiosity, and a certain level of sudden mistrust. I felt that I had suddenly sprouted horns and a huge red letter A on my shirt. I went home and didn’t return for a long time, afterward.
It took a long time for me to realize that it was just my sister voicing her own insecurity. I was in college, at the time, newly divorced, a single parent, and totally engrossed in just keeping my nose above the water line. Yes, I was definitely interested in “Women’s Issues”, because of my personal situation, but had never been interested in politics. Who had the time? And I simply couldn’t wrap my head around what her story had to do with what I might, or might not, think or say. And in the end, I realized that it was an important experience for me as an individual. It really made me think about all those issues, and then knowingly choose the path that would ultimately allow me to be me. It really helped me to find my own definitions and not get lost in the heat of the moment.
There is a big difference between that early Feminist movement and the #Metoo movement that is rocking our world. That earlier movement was trying to cover too much ground, perhaps in the hopes of gaining lost centuries of indoctrination. I don’t know. But, what I see now is a concerted effort to raise awareness of the most hideous aspects of seeing women as “less than”, weaker, and in need of being controlled. The stories, now being told, are, for the most part, terribly similar across the board. They deal with the same thing over and over again. A male population that believes that their privilege assures them of a certain level of irresponsibility. And their response is to say, these women are telling lies, seeking attention, or even some form of profit. It doesn’t hold water. Not when the leader of this nation is actively trying to suppress those accounts.