The Myth of the Modern Man

Columnist, James Harkin expressed his view in The Guardian last year that “Our attempts to create a gender-neutral society have had the unfortunate effect of stripping men of their boldness. The values and pursuits we traditionally associated with masculinity are increasingly ridiculed or pathologised”.

It has become popular in our culture to attack men simply for being men, as if maleness is itself ‘politically incorrect’ these days and our energy, talents, strengths, fire, passion, drive, sacrifice, and dedication are things to be ashamed of.

It is not just men who feel this. The feminist writer, Doris Lessing, tells how she visited a class of nine- and 10-year-olds and listened to a young female teacher tell the kids that the reason for wars was the violent nature of men.

“You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit”, she said, “while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives. This kind of thing is happening in schools all over the place and no one says a thing. It has become a kind of religion. The most stupid, ill-educated, and nasty woman can rubbish the nicest, kindest, and most intelligent man and no one protests. Men seem to be so cowed that they can’t fight back, and it is time they did”.

And yet, as feminists point out, the people in positions of power – in the education system just as in our legal and political systems – tend to be men. It is maybe – but only maybe – understandable that a woman would be critical of men and that a female teacher might abuse her power and contort the truth in this way, but it is almost certain that the head of her school, the local education authority, the department for education, the board of governors, and other key decision-makers were men. Why were none of them standing up for these boys? Why did they allow this teacher to corrupt the truth? In fact, just where are the male champions to challenge injustices like these?

In The War Against Boys, another feminist writer, Christina Hoff Sommers remarks that “When boys are discussed at all, it’s in the context of how to modify their antisocial behaviour – i.e. how to make them more like girls… it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children”. Again, look at the figures though and it is evident that men outnumber women in policy-making roles. If boys are being “pathologised”, it is also by their own gender.

But did that teacher have a point? Are men inherently violent? According to several studies (some of which you’ll find at, the reality is that there is as much, if not more, violence by women. One study found that 75% of men were seriously assaulted by their wives at least once a month. 33% were kicked in the genitals; others were burned, had things thrown at them, or were hit with heavy objects.

Despite this, if they reported the attack, 21% of the men were arrested and 47% were threatened with arrest. Of the just 3% of female attackers who were charged with assault, not one was convicted, despite the serious injuries some of the men suffered. Furthermore, if the male victim brought a case to court, he was often denied access to his children as another form of violence by women towards their husbands – and towards the children they deprived of a father. Since their actions were usually upheld by ignorant male judges this is, of course, also another example of discrimination by men against men.

Perhaps this is why men appear more violent – because women get away with it and men, if they report an attack, tend to be arrested themselves – and why so many men lose contact with their children each year (and then get blamed for that: the myth of the ‘absent father’ and ‘uncaring male’).

This study is available at and it is worth looking at what else it says.

Portraying men as violent and women as peace-keepers is a myth which emasculates men, undermines women by perpetuating the idea of ‘weak females’, and leaves all of us living a lie.

It is time for a new “Menaissance”, writes Harkin: “an era in which we will learn again to glorify real [as opposed to ‘mythological’] men” so that a new truth and equality can emerge between the sexes, where no-one has to ‘win’ or ‘lose’, and we respect each other enough to work for a world that is honest and fair to us all.

This Menaissance will herald the rebirth of the Sacred Masculine: men who are proud to be men and who are able – and allowed – to integrate body and mind with emotions and spirit and are not judged for that either as ‘weak men’ or ‘sissies’; men who, despite the challenges, do not betray either sex but understand their unique place in the web of life.

These ‘new men’ will know their truth and stand up for what they believe in, using love and compassion as their guides to action in the knowledge that these are the basic principles of all human beings and no one gender controls them.

Think of the difference it might make to the world if men were allowed to embrace these principles, to be shown how to, and to be respected for doing so instead of “pathologised” and judged in terms of a myth which says they’re incapable.

The first stage in this Menaissance is to restore balance. That might mean questioning our basic assumptions and finding the truths behind our myths and stereotypes – such as the all-pervading myth of the goddess which has become so popular in our culture and which says that women are gentle, caring, frail, defenceless, loving creatures and that men are there to protect them – when they’re not being violent towards them.

Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, for example, is one of the archetypes often used and whose qualities women are encouraged to embrace and men are told to accept. What is rarely taught, however, is the origin of “foam-arisen” Aphrodite, who was born when her father’s penis was cast into the sea and from whose waves Aphrodite arose. In symbolic terms, the sea is the vagina, the waters of life, and the myth of Aphrodite therefore says that men are the creators since the first action was the penis entering the sea. In more prosaic and egalitarian terms we might put it this way: that women are nothing without men (and vice versa). We are equal (or should be!) and we need each other for our species to survive.

The next stage is for men to rediscover their own gods and heroes: people they can look up to, whose qualities they can embrace, and who will not betray them for speaking and living their truths. The mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that there is a hero’s journey in every man, which acts as his initiation into manhood: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”.

The journey has a number of steps to it:

1. A “call to adventure”, which the hero must accept or decline

2. A “road of trials” on which the hero succeeds or fails

3. Achieving the goal or “boon”, which results in new self-awareness and knowledge

4. A “return to the ordinary world”, and finally

5. The “application of the boon” – the gift of insight the hero has gained – to improve the world around him

In plain terms: men must decide to act, to stand up for themselves, to explore their truths, to face the challenges of being a man – and to challenge others who deny them their journey by perpetuating the myths which leave them cowed.

Those who accept the challenge will have trials and tests of their character and determination, but if they pass them they will achieve new powers, strengths, and depths of understanding. They can then return to their lives with a new sense of who they are and the importance they have for the world. And then, to the benefit of us all, they can shine as men who stand for justice, order, balance, and truth.

The battle cry of the Knights Templar was “Be Glorious!” and this is what it means to be a real man: to be all that we can and do all that we can to bring peace to ourselves and to this troubled world. It is also the mark of a hero.