My take on “A Manifesto for Conscious Men”

posted by Eivind on October 30, 2010, at 10:23 pm

Thanks to Pelle Billing, I became aware of Gay Hendricks's and Arjuna Ardagh's Manifesto for conscious men today. Reading it made me feel queasy, disrespected, shamed and under attack. It is impossible for me to recommend this document as a path to consciousness for men. It has enormous problems and looks to me more like a path of ignorantly taking on a shame that isn't ours to bear, just because it seems like a noble thing to do. But no man should ever pick up shame. Its energy eats men's souls for breakfast.

What are the problems of this manifesto? First, it gives an extremely one-sided view of history. It buys into the myth that men are perpetrators and women are victims. Women's rights movements have been hiding behind this myth for the last several decades and used it as alibi to launch extremely hurtful attacks against men and the masculine psyche. Men as a result are now hiding en-masse from their inner essence – seeking themselves in the world of the Feminine – feeling disempowered and depressed as a result.

History is indeed a place of suffering, but not just for women. And history is also a place of world-building and generativity, and not just by women. Discrediting masculine pain by focusing one-sidedly on feminine pain and discrediting masculine generativity by focusing one-sidedly on feminine generativity is misguided at best, hurtful at worst. I can't see how it will contribute to anything but further herd the hurting men of today's world into shame and disempowerment, from which place they will have no potency left to aspire to the worship of the Feminine which Ardagh and Hendricks encourage.

Further, it propagates as healthy the concept that I should accept the responsibility for all the pain that has been caused the Feminine by the men of the past. I see as a subtext that a woman should accept victimhood on behalf of the Feminine for all the attacks on her that were carried out by the men of the past (many of which, especially in the Abrahamic religions, are undeniable). This understanding is extremely one-sided and partial and totally erases from the equation the enormous positive efforts the Masculine has contributed in service and protection of the Feminine throughout history. Does it count for nothing? The millions of men who freely gave their lives to protect their families and build civilization as we know it – so that the supposedly suppressed women of today can enjoy all the trappings of comfortable living, blissfully ignorant of the masculine infrastructure that runs like clockwork in the twilight hours to make it all possible? All of this so readily discarded by the so-called conscious man of today in favour of wallowing only in the misery of having burned women at the stake? I think not! We must see the complete picture!

This worldview fails to recognize that the pain which has been caused the World and the Feminine by the Masculine has been caused by boys (not men) perpetrating their own inner confusion due to a lack of initiation into the mature Masculine. I'm reminded of the story that Robert Bly tells of the man and the woman fighting one evening. The woman is hurt, driven by the energy of a thousand years of pain. The man feels helpless faced with her feminine rage and the having to stand responsible for the suffering of millions of women that he never met. And his woman wants it all resolved by midnight. What is a man to do? Turn numb from the neck down probably.

Perhaps the biggest problem of the manifesto, however, is that the authors fail to recognize that the biggest challenge most men have today is that they are totally mired in the Feminine. The role of the old initiators was to bring us as boys from the feminine world into the masculine world. But since the initiators abdicated or died, boys grow up never knowing the masculine world. So we remain boys. And from the perspective of boys, we are supposed to worship the Feminine as the path to masculinity? This advice is exceedingly ignorant with regards to the nature of the masculine psyche. What men need to serve the Feminine – and we do need to do just that – is initiation into manhood. True initiation into the mysteries of the Masculine can never be given by women. Any such attempts will arise and crumble in an oedipal territory of shame and confusion. The old initiators knew that. And the women who lived with them knew that. I recently talked with an aboriginal elder about this very issue and he confirms my perspective. (I will release an interview with him soon).

And while I agree that we lack respect and admiration for the ever-mysterious feminine forces of our world, this approach is likely to bring us no closer to the intended destination of honoring Her more. My recommendation is to let this one pass you by and to wait for a truly generative manifesto – that honors both men and women, both the Masculine and the Feminine. As I see it, this manifesto fails to deliver the nourishment of the masculine soul that we all need to serve as stewards of the Feminine.

We are men. Personally, I think that is a beautiful thing. Our authentic presence is the truest gift the Feminine will ever know. Don't buy into the shame.

  • Marianne

    To Sten; THANK YOU and AMEN. FINALLY some truth. Now I feel peace.

  • I’ve been following this discussion since the beginning, and nothing I’ve seen so far has taken me one micron off my original position that the assignment of collective, retroactive guilt to every member of a demographic group based on the misdeeds, past and present, of some (or even most) of the individuals in that group is wrong, wrong, wrong. It is dehumanizing, primitive, dishonest, misleading, and dangerous. This ought to be completely obvious to anyone with a reasonably well-developed sense of justice and fairness. I will never assume responsibility and culpability for things that I did not do, would never do, and had nothing to do with, and it is unreasonable for anyone to expect me to do so. Period.

    I can acknowledge, and it does not disturb me in the least to do so, that many men have harmed many women in many ways throughout recorded history. I can also acknowledge that, in many places and in many ways, this cycle of harm continues. I want it to stop. I don’t want anyone harming anyone else. But this manifesto, through its constant use of the word “we”, purports to speak for me, projects centuries of harm done by others onto me, and then requires that I own all of it if I am to consider myself a conscious man (am I to be considered unconscious if I don’t?), which I will not do.

    Had the language used been different (e.g., “men have” as opposed to “we have”), I would not have had the same adverse reaction and I would have felt far more open to both the message and the process.

    If all of this makes me, as Marianne put it, “an embarressment to the human race” then so be it. Mature, conscious people know who they are and who they aren’t. They know what they are, and are not, capable of doing. They have appropriate boundaries and know what they are, and are not, responsible for. I will gladly accept responsibility without reservation and apologize for my own mistakes and whatever harm and hurt I’ve caused the individual women (and men) in my life, but I will never take responsibility for someone else’s harmful behavior simply because we’re of the same gender.

    As Marla put it, “yes, women have been hurt AND men have been hurt too … I think the key to healing is empathy for each other’s pain.” As Marla and others have also said in prior comments, an offering of active empathy and engaged compassion is a wonderful path to genuine healing and heart opening for both parties. To me, that is the true path of conscious relationship with self and others, and the only approach that will get us anywhere.

  • In my previous comment, I said:

    Had the language used been different (e.g., “men have” as opposed to “we have”), I would not have had the same adverse reaction and I would have felt far more open to both the message and the process.

    Some might see this as contradicting an earlier statement in the same comment in which I said:

    … nothing I’ve seen so far has taken me one micron off my original position that the assignment of collective, retroactive guilt to every member of a demographic group based on the misdeeds, past and present, of some (or even most) of the individuals in that group is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    For me, there is a critical distinction between saying, as the manifesto does, “we have raped and abused you” (implying that I and all other men have raped and abused all women) and saying “men have raped and abused women” (implying that some men, but not all, have raped and abused some women, but not all). This is not an insignificant point, not a matter of splitting hairs about semantics or being juvenile. Words matter. The words used by the authors were chosen, I must assume, intentionally, and they express a point of view and a belief system that I find to be misguided, disingenuous, and detrimental to girls and women as well as to men and boys.

    Again, I am not disputing the fact that men and women have a backlog of history and a long list of ongoing issues to deal with (culturally, systemically, and individually), but the words and language used to frame and define the terms of the discussion determine the direction as well as the content of that discussion, and should not be ignored for the sake of convenience or cast aside as if they have no significance.

  • As the Stanford Prison Experiment clearly indicates, we are all capable of doing terrible harm. Not acknowledging that in us can make us the equivalent of a loose canon. 
    If we choose to take the manifesto as a load of shame and guilt, then this is our choice.

  • Sten, I am well aware of the Stanford experiment and its implications. I’ve also been actively working for over 20 years now to know and take responsibility for my own shadow. My shadow is my responsibility. I’m not responsible for everyone else’s.

    As I see it, the manifesto is structured as a load of shame and guilt and my only choice is to accept that shame and guilt or not, in which case I am, by definition, not a conscious man. (I see a little subtle psychological coercion at work here, i.e., if you want to be a conscious man, you’ll agree with what we’re saying in this document.) There is a world of difference between saying to a woman “I’m sorry I raped you” and saying “I’m sorry you were raped.” Or saying “I’m sorry I’ve done (fill in the blank with some terrible thing) to you” and saying “I’m sorry a man or men have done (fill in the blank with some terrible thing) to you.” That’s my point. I’m fully comfortable with saying the latter, and meaning it, and being with the process that follows, but I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone who isn’t a rapist, abuser, etc would apologize for being one. To me that’s simply dishonest, and as someone with a history of being abused, I would find it insulting, confusing, and downright condescending if someone who didn’t abuse me tried to apologize for it as if he or she did.

    Personally, I think this whole manifesto is a quagmire of badly chosen language (at best) and an unfortunate step in the wrong direction, regardless of the intent of the authors, and some of the more vitriolic comments on this blog demonstrate that more clearly and effectively than anything I could possibly say.

  • Reading your comments, Sten, I realize that you never really understood my perspective – the very core of the issue. We can deal with that in private one day.

    I take notice of the fact that your teacher and a psychotherapist/workshop facilitator we both know (who I know must have meant quite a lot for your masculine development), see things differently to you and I therefore encourage you to take your reasoning to them. I notice the ease with which you talk down on me subtly based on interpretations of my actions and words, so it would be good I think if you took your thoughts to someone you respect a little more than me.

    That said, I have developed a profound unwillingness to engage further in confict on this thread.

    I’m weary.

    I have gone through an intense process this evening to heal these fields of pain as best I can. I have called on tremendous blessings and prayed in the presence of Buddhist relics of great power for the healing of the wounds that have surfaced here.

    I will write more about this later, after I lock this thread tomorrow morning. I will let you know. What I have to share with you is very significant.

  • Marianne

    Sten; THANK YOU again.

    To the others; the fact that you don’t understand the difference between you as an individual and the collective actions of men throughout history (collective NOT individual) and the fact that the manifesto speaks of a a designated group/gender and NOT you as individuals is what is so mindboggling. And in fact shows how little you both care or understand the plight of sexism towards women.
    Let me gove an example since you cannot grapple this; if my gender, nationality or ethnicity, as a group had anytime in history committe grave acts and kept another group oppressed. Not given them any rights to vote, to hold office, to preach, etc etc etc. I would have NO problem whatsoever standing up saying “we” in a manifesto. NONE. Would that help to heal I’d be happy to do it, AND be conscious of everything I say and do in order to understand this group of people. What you are doing is insult to injury, and it’s not only juvenile it’s false pride.

  • Marianne:
    You said:

    I would have NO problem whatsoever standing up saying “we” in a manifesto.

    If you’re comfortable saying that, be my guest. I don’t understand it because, again, no matter how you slice it, I don’t understand the logic or the validity of apologizing for something someone else did as if you did it yourself just because you’re a member of the same demographic. But I don’t see you as a bad person for saying it and I’m not going to sling insults at you for it. I don’t even know who you are.

    But I’m not comfortable with saying it and I even suggested a possible rewording that I would feel more congruent for me. Yet in your eyes, my discomfort is “mindboggling” and “shows how little (I) both care or understand the plight of sexism towards women.” This despite the fact that I expressed my agreement that, yes, mistreatment of women by men has occurred and does occur, and that I want it to stop. I also want men that have no say in the matter to stop dying in wars that benefit the few at the expense of the many. We are all living in a system that hurts both genders in specific ways for the benefit of a chosen few, some of whom are men and some of whom are women. Saying so does not invalidate or diminish the suffering of all those men and women at the bottom of the pyramid, or elevate one above the other. You are not my enemy and I am not yours.

    As Bec said, “We all hurt each other in ways we’ll never know, no matter how hard we try not to.” This is the human dilemma, or part of it anyway, and ultimately it transcends gender, race, politics, etc. But the only way I know to make any progress through the inevitable hurting and being hurt that comes with being human is for me to own my own shit and for everyone else to own theirs. That is the beginning of the clarity we all need to make sense of our own experience, in my view.

    I can’t blame you for feeling exhausted with this thread. I think you’ve done a nice job of keeping it open for as long as you have and trying to keep it civil and focused on useful dialogue. It’s been a tough one, but I do think there’s been some growth as a result. It’s certainly forced me to clarify some of my own thinking. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Bret

    Just heard about all this today, I’ve digested much here and elsewhere on this.  I would like to sit with it more to discern more clearly, but I am also moved to contribute before the thread is closed.

    Thank you all.   Brothers and Sisters, clearly we have much work remaining to heal ourselves and each other as best we can.  I pray we will all continue together in this transformation.

    I was surprised when healing showed up in this way for me, but I have been healed of wounds by a woman speaking for her gender.   I am ever more deeply grateful the more I understand the level of sincerity required to successfully deliver this type of third party healing.   I honor that generosity in the woman who offered her gift to me and many others, she made the world a better place.  Even has I have reservations about several parts of the world view they appear to express, I honor the intentions of  Arjuna and Gay that I see, and respect their positive impact on so many women.   Yes, I also have concerns that in the processes of revaluing the best parts of femininity, many are losing sight of the best parts of the masculine.   If none value my gifts, where then my place?  Imagine how many others of all genders have felt this over the centuries.  Nonetheless, I have a rational optimists faith both in the capacity of human compassion and in the continued growth of that capacity.  The stock market is not the only noisy graph where stepping way back is necessary to see the larger trends.  The trends of human compassion and creativity are in a good direction.

    In the meanwhile, my dear siblings on this blue boat home, let us remember that together, we can make miracles, and lets break as few eggs as possible on the path.

  • Marianne

     this response is to Rick Belden; I am gonna explain one more time. if you don’t get it this time it’s not because you can’t understand it’s because you don’t want to understand.

    You trash that Manifesto video which is profoundly healing to women. What does that say about you? You not only say you would never do it, you oppose to them doing it. you’re actively angry they did it, along with Eivind and others. It’s a GIVEN that those men who did the video are NOT personally responsible. They speak on BEHALF of other men who won’t and can’t and are dead, BECAUSE they too are men. The same GENDER, because it is about SEXSISM,  millennias of legalized oppression against women. The looong belief that women have LESS worth than men. Its not about wars. That one you gotta take up with other men.

    Let me tell you how that looks and what it says about you; say a group of white men did a video standing up against racism. Apologizing for it, and for it being the law, what they had to go through when it happened, and the racism they are STILL fighting because of it.  How do you think it would look and be interprested if some white men then came out and trashed that video saying; oh… we didn’t do that and I have btw been oppressed too, etc etc? I tell you how it would look. It would look like you’re a deep-seated racist. And being white would you even begin to try to pretend what it meant to be black in a racist society? You could try and understand and do your best to fight it, but if you went around minimizing it and saying you’ve been through worse, you’d be a racist asshole. Sure, you can have had YOUR struggles, as everyone does, but THAT would be a DIFFERENT subject. 

    When I said to Eivind and whoever else it was that pulled up the Titanic thing, that they were an embarressemt to the human race it’s because in some twisted warped way they compared that incident to MEN being oppressed because women and CHILDREN were sent out to be rescued first. That was the lowest or low, hands down, I have ever heard. If you can so entirely lack decency and moral, so you can say something like that, yeah, you ARE an embarressment to the human race. I think God just shuddered in heaven. 

    You wanna go on and trash the manifesto that HELPS women instead of listening to how WOMEN feel about it, and why it helps THEM, then frankly, you don’t give a damn about women, and what they have and still experience because of sexism. Women LIKE men who take an ACTIVE stand against anyone who would hurt them in any way. We have been waiting for that forever.  THAT is what the Manifesto is about.  And THOSE are the men who will help women heal. NOT you.  

  • Marianne

    PS. sorry for my misspellings, wrote and didn’t check. hope its interpretable.

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  • I override the comment lock here to inform you that I’ve completed the message that I told you about in post number 102.

    My last words on the Manifesto for Conscious Men


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  • AnnieBelleBrammer

    Fucking awesome thread! So passionate, so dramatic! Especially I loved the comments of Marianne, Eivind, Sten, Bec.

    I liked the video. I am a privileged white woman who hasn’t experienced the level of trauma of some of my sisters, so it didn’t touch me on the same level, but I was moved by the intention of healing. I have a deep respect for Gay & Arjuna’s work.

    I haven’t seen the act of apologizing for other’s people’s cruelty be inherently diminishing; especially if we realize that the OTHER is WITHIN. I can stand tall & say that I apologize for the behavior of my white forebears towards folks of color. I do not feel shame; I do feel grief, love, hope for healing. I think we might all in fact find some healing if we could apologize from the oppressive side of ourselves to the suffering part of ourselves too. Men, as well as women, have been deeply hurt by PATRIARCHY. It hurts when a man feels the need to suppress his masculinity; alternately, it hurts when he feels the need to suppress his more “feminine” side too. I have seen the pain of both. Suppression hurts, period. The real revolution will be when we can freely express our true nature, however that wants to flow in the moment. So if a man needs to cry, he will not be shamed; alternately, so that if he feels the depth of his sexual self, he will not feel ashamed. If a woman wants to become president or bear half a dozen kids, she can do that & not be treated with disrespect … or made to be a slave.

    My husband expresses his regret over the acts of former male generations. He is absolutely not diminished in doing this. He is the epitome of masculinity, in my eyes. I delight in his masculine energy that pulses strongly thruout everything he touches; likewise, I honor the qualities that some might shame him for as feminine: his gentleness, his deep romance, his artistic nature. I hear that some men are DEEPLY OFFENDED that other men would apologize on behalf of men thruout history. However, the men that I know who have done this of their own free will are some of the strongest, deepest, most grounded, balanced, sparkling-with-masculine-energy men I have known. So, in my experience, I have not seen it hurt or diminish them in any way. I have instead seen them flourishing & at peace within & without.

    Thank you for all the conversation.

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