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Men's movement

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Warren Farrell (left), leading a protest in 1972
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Not to be confused with the far more dangerous men's rights movement: men trying to reclaim their masculinity by going online and banging their keyboards.
Men have feelings too... Can I share mine with you?
—David Van Driessen, Beavis and Butthead

The men's movement was a fad in the early 1990s. In the popular imagination, it involved men going out into the woods to beat drums, read poetry, emote, share, and otherwise get in touch with their inner machismo in a nurturing and supportive environment.

The media described this movement as grown up men "playing caveman", but for the truly hardcore check out instead the more recent urban caveman movement.

Its origins run back to the 1970s with groups such as National Coalition for MenWikipedia (formerly the National Coalition for Free Men), which drew on the Civil Rights movement and second-wave feminism to argue that men were the true oppressed class. The men's movement didn't always hate women, but it did seek to promote stereotypically male virtues such as outdoorsmanship, warrior spirit, and strong leadership, over other, "feminine" qualities. Part of its influence has been positive, such as trying to tackle men's mental health issues by encouraging men to speak and express their feelings, and to encourage men to be more involved with their children (at least the boys), but a tendency to denigrate the feminine and blame women for stuff has also fed into the hatred and trollery of the 21st-century manosphere.[1]

The what now?[edit]

It was also known as the 'mythopoetic men's movement', for its focus on masculine archetypes and rediscovering (or making up) a mythical idea of what men are. Bill Moyers' 1990 PBS documentary "A Gathering of Men" is credited with popularizing it.[2][3] Iron John by Robert Bly is the best known book to come out of this thankfully short-lived movement. Other popular books were King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette and Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen. These books were all heavy on Jungian archetypes and New Age fluff, attempting to recover masculine role models from (mostly medieval and Eurocentric) mythology, and lacking anything resembling modern science, empirical evidence or common sense.

Boys will be boys[edit]

Activities of these groups ranged from the benign (going into the woods to hear Robert Bly drum and read his poetry) to the pointless and stupid (going into the woods to hear Robert Bly drum and read his poetry) but as could be expected, at least one truly noxious large group awareness training attached itself to the movement, the ManKind Project and its "New Warrior Training Adventure."[4]

The now-defunct Portland, Oregon brewer Blitz-Weinhard ran a beer ad (c. 1992-1993) spoofing the men's movement. Men were beating on drums chanting about how manly their T-shirts were, when one of them hit their thumb on the drum, eliciting a round of wimpy complaining from the drummer and nurturing emotional support from the others in the drum circle. It's worthy to note that despite the various absurdities the Men's movement endorsed, the advertisers selected emotional support as a Bad Thing worthy of getting mocked.

Prominent figures[edit]

Robert Bly[edit]

Bly in 2009

Bly (1926–2021) was an acclaimed poet and an activist who opposed the Vietnam War and later the Iraq War; he grew up in rugged, Scandinavian-influenced Minnesota and was a prominent translator and editor of Scandinavian poetry such as Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer. This leads to the supposition that he really liked Vikings. His place as a pioneer of the Men's Movement was established by his non-fiction book Iron John: A Book About Men (1990). Iron John was based on folk tales, notably the titular Brothers Grimm story about a prince who rescues a wild man and performs a bunch of tests, before being in turn helped by the wild man; its meaning is less clear than Bly suggests, but Bly's skill was as a poet and story-teller not an anthropologist.[5] Bly focused on a crisis in relationships between fathers and sons, and called for a revival of old practices of initiation via nature, mixing survivalism and outdoors living with a call for expressing emotions and establishing deeper connections between men.[3] Bly attributed the crisis in masculinity to men being exclusively raised by their mothers with little contact with their fathers.[5]

Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette[edit]

Their King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (1990) was the first of a series of books by the duo; heavily influenced by Carl Jung, it sought to explain the importance of male archetypes in the psyche. In some ways it mirrors the attention some feminists have paid to past figures such as witches and warrior queens. KWML identified four models for a masculinity that was supposedly creative and empowering rather than domineering and abusive, while criticising most modern males as boys pretending to be men.[6]

Robert L. Moore (1942–2016) was a prominent Jungian psychoanalyst in Chicago, who taught at the Chicago Theological Seminary as well as private practice. In 2016 whilst suffering from the later stages of vascular dementia he murdered his wife (also a prominent Jungian analyst) and then killed himself, as this occured whilst suffering from a severe degenerative cerebral disorder this should not be used as a reflection of his professional skills.[7]

Douglas Gillette was another Jungian analyst and educator.[8]

Sam Keen[edit]

Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man (1991) was another important book in the movement. Keen (1931–) is a philosopher (and former consulting editor on Psychology Today) who has written on love, wonder, spirituality, and masculinity. Fire was inspired by a Psychology Today survey which recommended Jesus and Gandhi as top male role models.[9] (What is distinctively male about them is unclear - nonviolence is antithetical to many conceptions of masculinity.) Keen's work is interested in man as a spiritual being on a journey of self-growth and self-discovery, who has a role growing things and caring for the environment, and is motivated by his moral sense and a sense of wonder. But Keen also believes men must escape the dominating influence of women, particularly mother figures.[10][11] Kirkus Reviews noted that it "comes with chapter titles such as 'Men's Unconscious Bondage to WOMAN' that look taken from a 100-year-old copy of Phrenology Today."[9]

Warren Farrell[edit]

Warren Farrell

In contrast to Bly's work, which puts blame on men for not being good fathers or good friends, Farrell (1943–) firmly pins the blame on women. He is less high-minded or spiritual, a social scientist not a poet, but his books came out around the same time as Bly's and the others mentioned, helped define the debate at the time, and had a lasting impact on the wider men's rights movement. He claims that men are the real victims in society: he attributes issues such as poor treatment of military veterans and high suicide rates among men to a society that supposedly hates men.[1]

His work has been protested as rape apologism and seen as an influence on extreme elements in manosphere and Gamergate; Farrell has conditionally defended such activists as helping to promote the men's movement even if he doesn't personally agree with the tactics used: Mother Jones quoted him as comparing the actions of Gamergaters harassing women to the Black Panthers and himself to Martin Luther King: "I've seen how Martin Luther King alone was dismissed. It took Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver to say things that were pretty ridiculous in some ways, but that brought the attention that led to Martin Luther King being seen as the nice, centered, balanced person."[1]

Farrell actually started out as a feminist and became noted at the time for his book, The Liberated Man (1973), where he claimed men were "success objects" parallel to women as sex objects, and his role-reversing exercises which were about putting men in women's shoes, in which among others M*A*S*H actor Alan Alda often participated. Later in the 1970s, he did a research project into incest, which was seen as defending the crime, although he insisted that while he collected people's disturbing claims that incest could be a loving act in a family, he was not personally supporting it.[1] Of course not.

In 1988, his place in the men's movement was achieved with the publication of Why Men Are the Way They Are (1988). This claimed female executives were emasculating men, while also calling for an end to practices such as men paying for dates. This was followed by The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex in 1993, which argued that men were enslaved by women's short skirts and notions of politeness that required them to give up their seats - he did genuinely compare this to slavery in the USA and the treatment of black people.[1]


There is a wide range of thought, with varying flaws, but this section summarises the problems already mentioned:

  • Based on a narrow concept of masculinity: heteronormative, white, western, and specific to recent historical times. It's not clear if this was ever typical of men or just belonged to a few heroes.[5] Anthony Quinton also notes that Bly ignores the different family structures of non-white families (which to some extent persist among immigrants to the UK or US).[5]
  • One point of view is of an often patronising view of tribal people and other non-western groups who are seen as having a better conception of masculinity, often based on limited knowledge. However, this viewpoint disregards the extensive work that Bly and the Men's movement did with Dagara tribal elder Malidoma Somé and First Nations member and shaman Martín Prechtel. Bly was a poet not an anthropologist whose main expertise was in folk tales rather than scientific fact - however, the cultural importance of the former should not be disregarded. [12]
  • Assumes a gender binary, not accepting that people can be non-binary or move between gender identities.
  • Assumes relationships between men are fundamentally different to those between men and women (even in the unlikely case that men are only interested in women to fuck, this ignores the existence of homosexual men).
  • Excludes women, particularly men's relationships with their daughters, who may enjoy camping, drum circles, and other stereotypically masculine activity.
  • Often rooted in dubious psychological theories such as Jungianism (Moore and Gillette) or Freudianism (arguably Keen).
  • Linked to various dubious religious or spiritual theories, such as the New Age movement.
  • Tendency to blame women, whether it's blaming mothers as in Keen and Bly, or women in general for oppressing men.
  • Emphasis on violence: even if men are told to show wisdom and react judiciously, there is a lot of celebration of warriors. While there is often a focus on environmentalism, there is also often a keenness for killing animals.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Mad Men: Inside the Men’s Rights Movement—and the Army of Misogynists and Trolls It Spawned, Mariah Blake, Mother Jones, Jan 2015
  2. Drums, Sweat, and Tears, Newsweek, June 23, 1991
  3. 3.0 3.1 Obituary: Robert Bly, The Guardian, Nov 23, 2021
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Fumbling towards our manhood", Anthony Quinton, The Times (London), Saturday, Nov. 16, 1991, via Gale
  6. Archetypal images of the king and warrior, Zen Moments, accessed June 17, 2022
  7. Colleagues shocked as noted psychologists die in murder-suicide, Chicago Sun-Times, June 23, 2016
  8. How To Properly Initiate Into Manhood | Douglas Gillette | Ep #049, Mankind Project, accessed June 17, 2022
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fire in the Belly, Kirkus Reviews, 1991
  10. Fire in the Belly: review, Publishers Weekly, 03/04/1991
  11. Fire in the Belly, Spirituality and Practice
  12. "Paperbacks: Iron John", Saturday, Sept. 5, 1992, The Times (London), via Gale
  13. Our Hunter-Gatherer-Warrior Heritage, Good Men Project, Nov 10, 2018