Male Essentialism

Ever since I objected to the essentialism in Aphrodite’s Daughters, the subject keeps popping up. For example… in comments Joseph Gelfer made in “Both Remedy and Poison: Religious Men and the Future of Peace,” a speech to the Parliament of the World’s Religions on 6 December 2009 in Melbourne, Australia.

Gelfer sees the groups which have claimed the label of “men’s movement” as promoting “a type of masculinity that is at best oppressive, and at worst pathological and violent.” From conservative Christian to alternative forms of men’s spirituality, he says, it’s “the same old story: power, control, strength, the [attitude that] got us in the hole we are in today.”

In contrast, Gelfer, a straight man, finds hope in the spiritual principles of the gay men’s movement, which call for attitudes “Not aggressive, not competitive, [and] harmonious with nature.”

Underlying these positive attitudes, Gelfer feels…

“The key issue is multiple masculinities. All the other forms of masculine spirituality assume masculinity to be a certain, fixed type of thing: specifically, a married, rather conservative man who should provide for, protect, and lead his family. Gay spirituality assumes there can be any number of ways of being a man: maybe married, maybe not, maybe tough, soft, competitive, whatever. These different types of masculinity offer complements to traditional masculinity.”

Gelfer sees this flexibility as vital to the spiritual work of creating peace. But, he warns, “we cannot achieve this while masculine spirituality is defined by a patriarchal nature and restrictive treatment of gender.”

Then he adds, “I would go so far as to say we should reject masculine spirituality as a term because it does not seem capable of shaking these critical issues.”

He’s rejecting essentialism.

His speech was taken, he says, “largely from the book Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy (Equinox Publishing, 2009) and the article ‘Pray Like a Man‘ (The Guardian, 24 March 2009).” I’m looking forward to reading the book.

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