The Leadership Splits:
In 1991 the first International Men’s Conference was held in my hometown of Austin, Texas. Austin was also where Bill Moyer’s PBS documentary on Robert Bly, The Gathering of Men, was filmed and shown to huge critical and commercial success two years earlier. Austin was becoming ground zero for the men’s movement.
While there were over 700 men and women in attendance receiving the media’s undivided attention trying to sort out what the men’s movement really meant to society it would also be the hot bed of contention between Bly, Shepherd Bliss and me on one side and Marvin Allen and Allen Maurer on the other side. Allen and Maurer had produced and hosted the tumultuous event. During this conference I became a strong, outspoken advocate for Bly and his feelings about the media’s presence at men’s events, his disfavor of Allen’s co-opting of term “Wildman” and other issues. I spoke to Robert several times during the conference keeping him apprised of the tone and tenor of the event. I also vehemently supported a letter Bly sent to the conference to be read to all attending.
“Apparently Allen has been fighting up to the last minute to keep this missive secret. It turns out that Robert Bly has written a letter meant to be read aloud as his contribution to the conference. After an extraordinarily self-serving introduction (“All us so-called leaders were wounded as boys or we wouldn’t be here… we all have envy, jealousy, and anger, just like the guys in the boardroom of IBM”), Allen cedes the microphone to mythopoetic men’s group leader, Shepherd Bliss, who reads Bly’s letter.
I decided not to come to this conference for two reasons. First, I think it is too early to arrive at a centralized men’s movement. Centralization, or nationalization, usually results in a simplification of ideas until the ideas become a doctrine, invested in some sort of bureaucracy and it results as well in a tendency to stop exploring and start throwing weight around. I think it is time for continued work at a local level, in small groups of men, in prisons, in schools, in hundreds of cities and towns. I believe in many small streams instead of one river.
The second reason is that I dislike Marvin Allen’s tendency to sensationalize the material. I dislike his use of the term Wild Man and Wild Man Weekends because the phrase promises too much, and I have communicated my objection to him several times. He has agreed not to use the term in 1992. I also disapprove of his reckless inviting of cameras to ritual groups. Several years ago, Michael Meade, James Hillman, the Minneapolis group, the Austin group, the Seattle group, agreed that in view of the media’s love of sensation, we would not allow cameras in for any ritual work. Marvin has broken that agreement, and when I called him and asked him why, he said, “I’m ambitious.” Ambition is admirable to some degree, but if it results in footage that damages the dignity of men’s work, or damages the privacy of a man who is in suffering or grief, it is not admirable. It is not right to shut out the media entirely, but we need guidelines… to invite cameras into residential work, into events in which the men expect privacy, into grief rituals, or primitive rituals, is an act based on naiveté that I think is harmful to everyone concerned.
It’s an electrifying moment. Suddenly the future of this men’s community and the future of Marvin Allen are starting to seem like two different things. Allen’s immediate response is to decline the opportunity to be gracious and dignified. “I’ve known Robert Bly for years,” he growls into the microphone, “and I could tell you all kinds of things about him that would interest you. Is it proper to repeat things that were said in private?’” [Excerpt from Village Voice, 1991.]
Smoothing Out The Differences
In the summer of 1992, a conference was convened in Los Angeles at Warren Ferrell’s home. This conference was an attempt to bring the different aspects of men’s work under one roof literally and figuratively. Ferrell, one of the early pioneers in masculine psychology from a pro-feminist point of view, Jed Diamond, Bly, Aaron Kipnis, Shepherd Bliss, I and others spent the weekend attempting the daunting task of trying to come to terms with a hodgepodge point of view as to what the Men’s Movements’ missions or goals were. Marvin Allen and Allen Maurer was not invited and ultimately faded into obscurity. While there was a Second International Men’s Conference also hosted by Marvin Allen and Allen Maurer only a handful of men attended and garnered very little media attention.
Unfortunately though everyone who attended the small leadership conference in Los Angeles left on good terms we didn’t accomplish much except two major things that impacted my life—my second face to face encounter with Robert Bly and a decision reached that the confusing term “mythopoetic” a term used to describe Bly’s original ideas about the men’s movement became “Men’s Expressive Movement” that he and I could both claim to be our own.
Due to a stroke of luck, a trick of fate, Robert and I shared a cabin together. We got to know each other not only as professionals but as two people with a good deal in common and childhood histories that were very similar to say the least.
By this time Meade and Hillman were going their separate ways while still remaining good friends with Bly. It was at this time that we started our friendship and partnership and have along with Dr. Robert Moore, Martine Prechtel, Malidome Some and others have co-led dozens of workshops and conferences all over the country and abroad. Robert and I have stayed in touch routinely for over 19 years. In the process, thanks in part to my relationship with Bly, I have also co-led, co-facilitated and key-noted conferences, become friends with or colleagues with nearly all the key players associated with the men’s movement in the past and present.
If these fine people at Talking About Men’s Health are finding this blog informative and useful I will present Part III: Is There Still A Men’s Movement? In it I will focus on some information and insights on the transformative Mankind Project formerly known as The New Warriors and its huge impact on men and their relationships.