If you were born, as I was, sometime in the mid-1980s you may remember that from time to time there would be jokes on TV or perhaps among the mothers at the school gate about men who had gone into the forest to drum and get in touch with their feminine side. This evoked bemusement: the cause was Robert Bly, an American poet who authored a book called Iron John—itself a title sure to induce titters from the back row—about masculinity. Iron John was a modern myth, a textbook for Bly’s “mythopoeic men’s movement”—a response to the crisis in masculinity caused by feminism in the 1970s. Bly advocated that men retreat into the woods to drum in a circle, talk about emotions, and explore myths.
Despite its mythic pretensions, Bly’s movement has vanished; if it aimed to pass traditions from father to son, this has not happened—not on a mass scale. A generation later, Jordan Peterson emerged as a figure with as much clout as Bly; the jokes turned from arboreal drums to lobsters. As with Peterson, Bly was a Norwegian from the prairie—from Minnesota, to be exact—perhaps when Norwegian blood is landlocked in North America it longs for the deep sea, and the longing manifests as mythical proselytism.
Bly thought men needed to talk to their fathers with feminine emotion: “Dad, I appreciate all the support over the years and everything you sacrificed for me to go to college. I love you.” Silence, then: “You drunk, son?” This interest in the feminine came from Bly’s studies in Jung and Joseph Campbell, the latter thought that Abrahamic religion had repressed the feminine for 2,000 years: European man was matriarchal and feminism was an attempt to restore the golden age. Bly concluded men needed to speak to their fathers as they spoke to their mothers—emotionally, not practically. For Bly, John Wayne was a poor role model; yet men relate best to each other laconically: we prefer action, not words. The quickest way to appear feminine is excessive talk. The silence is a mystery: to be silent is a religious attitude—women are profane because they cannot be quiet and listen to the mystery.
Bly’s audience was, unlike Peterson’s younger demographic, mainly shell-shocked men who had been divorced or castigated during the upsurge in 1970s feminism. These decent men—beta males, we say today—wanted to know what the hell happened. What had they done wrong, why did their women hate them—especially when all they had done was solidly support them? Bly’s answer was that they had lost touch with the feminine: American men needed to weep over the fate of the Indians. But the problem was not that patriarchy was too strict, rather it had loosened too much. Divorce and abortion laws had changed, and women acted rationally in this new environment: woman always seeks the stronger mate, and unless compelled by the state and religion to remain married she will, more often than not, detonate the marriage to find him.
Bly dealt with the feminist upsurge with concession; it was a call for men to be more like women, and he developed his mythology on that basis—unfortunately he poisoned Jung for more practical men; he made Jung seem wet, and this was rebarbative for harder men. He attempted to develop new myths, a pointless strategy: myths are powerful because they have survived for generations—to invent a myth from scratch defeats the point.
The periodic resurgence represented by men like Peterson and Bly points to a force that wishes to express itself but has not found a sustainable vehicle as yet; certainly, European masculinity is in crisis—and has been for sometime. We need to balance Bly and Peterson’s emotional approach with the harder practicality found among “red pill” analysts. What is needed is a bridge between the mythological side—which easily becomes too feminist and soft—and the harder PUAers who often degenerate into nihilistic hedonism.