Redefining Manhood–Book Excerpt

Recently, author Hanna Rosin predicted The End of Men: And the Rise of Women and caused a quite a bit of alarm among guys. Is she right? Is this really the “end of men” or is a new kind of man emerging? Are the old archetypes of manhood really dead or dying? And if so, can men and women navigate relationships in this rapidly changing society in which gender roles appear to be in transition?

In Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them (Findhorn Press, April 2015. $14.99) award-winning journalist and author, Jim Ewing presents a thought-provoking look at what it takes to be a man. It’s a timely book that looks at the theory that men are losing their grip and that patriarchy is crumbling. While Ewing concurs that ‘Iron John’ and ‘Wild Man’, are disappearing, he argues that these old archetypes are being replaced by men who are more able to function in our emerging new world.

Women increasingly have more education and a higher earning capacity than men. They no longer wait for Prince Charming but actively initiate relationships. They are firefighters, warriors, welders and CEOs. The role of men on the other hand is becoming muddled and confused.  Many guys just don’t know “how to be.”

...resorting to the masculine ‘wild man’ nor adopting a feminized version of their roles is the answer for guys.

Ewing demonstrates how our views on manhood have become skewed and examines the kinds of societal forces responsible for those shifts.  He explains how neither resorting to the masculine ‘wild man’ nor adopting a feminized version of their roles is the answer for guys. Women don’t want their men to be women, nor do they want a man who patronizes them.

In Redefining Manhood, Ewing is offering men (and their significant others) a new way of thinking about manhood in a positive way, one that is based on age-old indigenous practices. Ewing shows how new guys are compassionate, rationale, intuitive and judicious in the use of force. They do not traffic in fear and anger as means to a self-serving end, promoting patriarchy and domination, but see the world as a place of competing choices where responsibilities are shared and impacts of behavior are carefully assessed.

Ultimately, the book aims to help individuals define themselves based on spiritual and commonsense principles that have guided humankind in societies around the globe for thousands of years.

Traditional Archetypes Fail to Guide Young Men, by Jim Pathfinder Ewing

Where are the roles that young men today can adopt to meet modern needs and expectations and offer spiritual guidance? The roles assigned by society—that is, the ones that provide Gilgamesh’s paycheck—don’t value self-sacrifice and giving unto others. These essential traits were found in Native America and, indeed, among indigenous people around the globe before modern nation-states emerged based on the Roman dominator model.

We cannot go back to Enkidu. The tassels of his corn hair have been shorn (or genetically modified), and he has succumbed to the comely delights of iTunes and smartphones. Our traditional archetypes are skewed and wrong for today.

By definition, the word “archetype” means the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind derive. In Jungian psychology, the concept of archetype is extended to include the inherited “collective unconscious” idea, a pattern of thought or imagery that is present in all individuals. It’s a pernicious concept. We adhere to an idea or image of something, and by doing so we promote that concept or image. Archetypes are both overt (that is, promoted consciously and held up as examples to be emulated) and covert (that is, guiding our thoughts and behavior subconsciously as guides and prejudices).

An example would be an advertisement in which someone goes to the pharmacy to make a purchase after reading an advertisement for a certain product. The pharmacist sees the purchase and reaffirms the customer’s choice, saying it is a good one based on sound science and praising the customer for buying it with positive phrases such as: “You have good taste” or “You certainly know your products. That’s an excellent choice.”

In this case, the advertiser chooses an actor who looks like the target audience or who that target audience aspires to be (men or women with disposable income between the ages of 18 and 34). The actor displays the behavior the advertiser wants (buy the product), then the message is reinforced by an authority figure who is depicted praising the behavior of the customer. All this in 30 seconds.

That’s how archetypes are built and reinforced in our society. We see and model behavior presented to us as authoritative or worth emulating.

That’s how archetypes are built and reinforced in our society. We see and model behavior presented to us as authoritative or worth emulating. As the saying goes, the tree grows as the tree is bent. Accept certain archetypes while young, and they become laws in our minds that govern our thoughts and actions; eventually, they become part of us.

Where are our major models for behavior found today? Sports is one avenue. For men, sports offers a unique blend of aggression and rules, team cohesion, and individual achievement (heroism). Women in our society often seem baffled by the fanaticism (the origin of the term sports “fan”) among men for team sports. While participation in sports in the lower schools is a common channel for higher levels of team play, as part of the physical education curriculum, relatively few male children achieve high levels of proficiency in team sports. So why the attachment?

Among men generally, even without professional sports teams in their geographic area, affiliation with a team offers a sense of belonging to a group and an avenue for self-identification larger than individual pursuits. This sense of belonging to a community while simultaneously upholding the values of competition, winning, and heroism acts as a bonding mechanism among men. Studies show that this identification is further strengthened by increased geographic mobility in today’s world and the decline of traditional social and community ties. Following professional sports provides a buffer from feelings of alienation and depression, while giving a sense of belonging and self-worth. As an icebreaker in social situations, it offers an avenue for inclusion and the building of social ties, while also within social groups allowing maintenance of standing within the group.

This individual bonding and social identification mechanism, along with cohesive characteristics for a social system as a whole, has been around in various forms around the globe. In Native American societies, for example, ball games created a similar bonding mechanism— and it was taken even more seriously by its players and fans than American football and European soccer today.

In Mesoamerican societies, such as the Maya, it was the winning team on the ball court that had the honor of being sacrificed to live with the gods, and players’ beating hearts were cut out of their chests and held aloft for the crowd to see. In the Southeastern United States, tribes would decide territorial boundaries and other important conflicts through stickball games rather than going to war. The religious significance of sports was represented in virtually all American tribes through the antics of the Thunder Twins or similar gods who played a stickball game with the earth as their ball in a continuing battle between good and evil. This was contextual, not absolute: Neither of the twins was “bad”; they were immortal and beyond the understanding of human beings, but the consequences of their game had profound effects upon the world.


Jim Pathfinder Ewing is an award-winning journalist, workshop leader, inspirational speaker and author in the fields of mind-body medicine, organic farming and eco-spirituality. He has written about, taught and lectured on Reiki, shamanism, spiritual ecology, integrative medicine and Native American spirituality for decades.

Reprinted with permission.

Photo: "Young men in Amsterdam" by Kevin Dooley. Creative Commons.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply