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Iron John, by Robert Bly

- Abstract

Robert Bly, the award-winning poet who lives in Minnesota, is one of the leaders of the “men’s movement,” the latest in self-help fashions. Imitating the Mother Goddess rituals practiced by outré feminists, gangs of male lawyers, professors, and others from the genteel classes meet in groups or, preferably, head for the woods. There they mimic but do not exactly recapitulate primeval hunting rituals. Most men in the movement, including Bly himself, consider the act of personally killing one’s dinner to be distasteful, and some are undoubtedly vegetarians. So instead of shooting, there is dancing, whooping, beating of drums, chanting to deities from a variety of creeds, hugging of trees, and just plain hugging. There is also much weeping, as men unveil psychic blows dealt them during their childhoods by their fathers and their mothers and the problems they currently endure in their “relationships” with the tough-husked liberated women of the late 20th century.

Although their rites seem laughable, Bly and the others—as the huge sales of this best-selling book suggest—are actually onto something important. The men’s movement is a reaction to a systematic denigration of male society and masculine virtue that has accompanied the rise of feminism over the past two-and-a-half decades. Indeed, most feminists are as suspicious of men’s groups as they are of all other men-only institutions, though Bly goes out of his way to appease them, emphasizing over and over that his book, which attempts to instruct men on their manhood, “does not constitute a challenge to the women’s movement.”

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