I have a thing for penguins. I have no idea why, but they appeal to me. It all started 20 odd years ago when I saw the ‘Bloom County’ cartoon strip that featured Opus the penguin (he who features wherever I need an avatar online). Quite why penguins appeal to me I have no idea. I think part of the reason is that it’s really difficult to be a pompous twit if your online persona is a fat, big-nosed, a non-flying sea bird.
I found myself thinking about Opus this morning when I read this article from the Mail on Sunday about yet another one of these courses designed to put men (lower case ‘m’) in touch with their masculinity and become Men (upper case ‘M’). the chap who wrote the article ended up adopting the name ‘Relaxed Penguin’ as his ‘Warrior Name’ on the course. This, along with the tone of the article and the photographs illustrating the piece indicated to me that perhaps his take on the topic of the article wasn’t as serious as it might have been; which is a shame, as taking the piss out of tehse weekends is pretty easy, which can make it easy to miss the more important problem with this sort of short cut to being a man confident in his masculinity – however he chooses to define it – in the 21st century.
I’ve read some books from the so called ‘Men’s Movement’ over the years; I have to say that I’ve not been terribly impressed with most of them, or the philosophies espoused. The most famous book that gave rise to a lot of what is known as ‘Menswork’ and particular the sort of experience that Mitchelson goes through in the article above was ‘Iron John’ by Robert Bly. In it Bly examines a Grimm’s fairy tale from a ‘masculine’ perspective. It did bugger all for me, but seemed to give rise to the stereotypical view of men discovering themselves by sitting around forest clearings, half naked, playing drums – the so-called ‘mythopoetic’ approach.
Part of my problem with this approach – both back 20 years ago and today – is that, like the more ‘out there’ aspects of ‘wimmin’s work’ , I believe that it is irrelevant to most men. Self awareness, a spriritual underpinning, a moral and ethical compass, a sense of fair-play, and a sense of purpose are what I regard as essential for anyone – man or woman – in the world today. Whilst it’s obvious that there are differences between men and women – which is just as well! – there is very little difference between the genders when it comes down to behaving like a civilised human being.
There are obvious psychological, social and cultural differences between men and women, and whilst it’s true in our society that we lack the rites of passage in to manhood that many cultures have, that doesn’t mean that by creating them artificially on courses like this we somehow make men into Men just by their participation. My own attitude is to simply be a decent human being, take your responsibilities and duties seriously and be there for familyand friends. Respect yourself, those around you, and the world in which we live.
These sorts of things seem to be sadly missing form these sessions in the woods, and I’m afraid I don’t believe that you can be a real Man without them.