Who’s Iron John?
All this smacks of ideological tantrums and gimmicks of The West
FREEZE FRAME BY SYEDA AFSHANA
Harvard educated Robert Bly’s best seller ‘Iron John: A book about Men’ is not any coffee-table book. It is innovative in that it has sought to describe the intricacies of the male journey in both psychological and mythological terms. That John is not someone made up of straw, but a person with will or iron is established vehemently on every leaf of the book.
Prior to this treatise, many psychological were conducted on males, whose way of being in the world became the yardstick for measuring the experience of both men and women. Of course, using such a yardstick was detrimental to women whose different experiences thus became invisible. But it was also inappropriate to men because seeing men as the generic sex did not yield the same information as does perceiving them as a specific gender. Until Iron John, there was little attention paid to what distinguished men’s struggles, victories and life cycle from those of women. The publication of Iron John in early nineties not only presented a colourful, dynamic understanding of men as specific gender, but also as per language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist Mark Peters, “ it challenged men to turn inward and find their life energy, their purpose, their feelings, and their hearts”. And many others opined that it “opened the door to the joys of reclaimed masculinity for many thousands of men”
The review carried by Times Magazine (August, 1991), describes the book as “an explication of the tale of a boy who frees a Wild Man, Iron John, whom the boy’s father, the king, has locked in a cage. Iron John takes the boy into the forest and step by step teaches him the secrets of being a man. In the fullness of maturity, he becomes a man and marries his princess. Bly tires of repeating that the men’s movement is not against women. Nor does the Wild Man imply savagery, brutality, aggression, obtuseness, smashing beer cans against the forehead or shooting small animals for the pleasure of watching them die”.
For Mark Peters, Iron John was nonetheless, controversial in that “it encouraged men to separate from the open overweening influence of their mothers and other women and instead, find their essential masculinity through the company of other men”. This garnered images of ‘scoffing rebellion’ from men, which had its impact obviously on women. It marked the birth of what came to stay as The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement. Robert Bly became, incidentally, the harbinger of this movement. And this perhaps was not Robert Bly’s intention. Critics claim that he actually sought to take the spotlight away from the numerous unfair practices against women, and pleaded for changes that put importance of women on the backburner, due to the new attention on the sexism against men. Others, however, contend that he wanted to extend the cultural examination begun by the so-called Women’s Lib in an attempt to create equal treatment for all members of society.
Whatever the arguments, an overview of Robert Bly’s book reveals a desire among men to find their inner strength leading to positive self-esteem, loving relationship with others and productive career focused energy, and contrary to the view held by critics Iron John in no way subscribes to a return to the male dominated cultures of times past; antithetically it advocates constructive co-equal relating between men and women.
The fact is that in contemporary era there is a rethinking of outdated notice of masculinity that at their worst foster abuse, emotional deadness and lack of creativity. In order to set certain meaningful guideposts, many thinkers are turning to the history books, anthropological chronicles, mythological narratives poems and other literature in order to find authentic, positive images of maleness that can help chart a new course of thoughts, behaviour and feeling for men. Accordingly, it seems Robert Bly has utilized the Grimm’s fairy story of Iron John, believing as did prominent psychological thinker Carl Jung, that hidden beneath the seemingly simple story of a boy and a magical woodsman, with hair tangled down to his feet was a basic truth about men and the challenges of maturity. Portraying images and ceremonies bespeaking love of natural beauty of the Earth, Iron John seems to have found a way to shed some of the negative trappings of industrialized definitions of manhood: mad race for material possession, killing competition, moral denigration, etc.
No doubt, Iron John is a brain child of West. He has been crafted on the lines which appease and affirm western re-conceptualization of masculinity. Threatened with the growing social and moral absurdity (ala Gay’s Rights), the man of the West is hurled into a whirlpool of questions of his own. As woman in west began recreating the images of her ‘feminity’, transgressing every limit, dumping the relevance of man in her life as ludicrous—man there, is at his wit’s end. He has to re-assert his masculinity.
Iron John speaks on his behalf in a conscious, loud and cathartic fashion. Ceasing to become the over-controlled, repressed, silent individual or the acting out violent, manipulative man—Iron John depicts the dilemma of the western man in craving out the middle path for himself. The so called carte blanche freedom that he bestowed on woman, is now paying him dividends: the catastrophic ones where even his identity and existence are at stake. What a paradox! The ‘Liberator’ of woman finds himself chained.
All this smacks of ideological tantrums and gimmicks of West when faced with solid but ugly realities. The theories and concepts which float from there, meet the lethal end at their very birth place. But by that time, their contagious ideological rubbish permeates into many minds, across the globe. It wreaks havoc and leaves us ideologically imbecile. We, ironically, don’t recognize the apocalypse that befalls us because borrowers of any ideology are not simply enslaved, they are absolutely over powered. And then, there in no way out. We are trapped, perpetually. No Iron John appears strong enough to salvage us. Better said, certain events are all the same to certain minds. However, no event passes without changing the course of events, sometimes for better or at times for worst. Course, in any case, changes.
(The author teaches at Media Education Research Centre, MERC, Kashmir University.)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Apr 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Apr 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Apr 2011 00:00:00 IST
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