Tuesday, 2 August 2011

In the Sweet Bly and Bly

As a sidenote to the Bly blather, I was once employed by a company that decided to hold/partake of a 'retreat' for its staff. I missed it because I'd lock-booked off for vacation before management had this bright idea, but everyone else was dutifully packed off to have their productivity improved. Or so it was touted beforehand.

I was treated to an official debriefing when I returned so I would benefit anyway. I nearly choked on my drink when I heard the deathly phrase 'Iron John' drop, but managed to keep a polite face. I was well acquainted with the psycho-pop quackery and its fellow travellers since its start a decade before, but it was obvious it was all new to the men fresh from its throes. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad as I'd read. It had been allegedly co-ed.

By the time the debriefing got to psycho-babble archetypes for men that should be used as integral role models for the gender, I snapped like a dry twig. The retreat had to use film examples so most of the audience would have some context of the concepts. Two were Wizard and King, so it was Merlin from "Excalibur" and King David (ala Richard Gere's performance). The persons tagged to get me up to speed repeated pretty much rote to me about the astrology-like positive aspect manly man memes that had been appropriated for the archetypes. I felt like I was back in adolescence listening to the Bible college Friday night teen outreach group proselytizing to their captive audience.

I started pointing out, among other things, that...

a/ Merlin in "Excalibur" was a character that used literal magic that worked and the character was presented as someone that used magic to enable a King(who just couldn't restrain himself) rape a woman and then the magician made off with the subsequent child as his price, all the while being comedy relief *and* the Voice of Spiritual Authority.

b/ the biblical David was a character brought to a throne by literal magic that worked and thought nothing of commanding a man to certain death so David the King could bed the man's wife(because David just couldn't restrain himself).

Being stunned garrulous, that wasn't the only fisking I did, but those examples of positive male icons are what stuck in my head, lo, these many years. I also mentioned Joseph Campbell's book on mythic archetyping "Hero with a Thousand Faces", as a better source to reference than Bly's version of Iron John, but you'd be surprised how hard it is for people to crack a magazine, let alone a book. Maybe you wouldn't.

Longtime geek, short fuse diplomat, that's me.

For-some-reason, my less than praiseful observations made the men that had attended uncomfortable. Part of it was them not wishing to speak against the company whose idea this was. Part of it was me questioning a Great IdeaTM that only incidentally ignored any workers that weren't male while insulting those that were. Part of it was I was younger than all of them, smaller than all of them and I'd already worked around being less physically strong by Making a strapping pack to handle the cargo I needed to shlep up stairs, although they all liked to complain about the strain on their backs. So, outlier was being outlier.

All I could think was how lucky I'd been to dodge a 'kill me now' bullet. I might have harmed someone at the retreat; likely myself, bashing my head against a tree.

I am biased. I didn't survive rural evangelical efforts (including 'talking in tongues' events) to have a great fondness for companies that decree Large Group Awareness 'training' (LGAT) for employees. I think most LGATs are psychologically risky if not harmful, because they seem to focus on variations of the "Secret" (ie: if you don't get what you want/need, you didn't try hard enough *Loser*) They're often genderized (Bly's stuff being some of the most blatant to go bigtime), expensive, authoritarianly 'religious' and often sold by groups masking other intents.

The internets abound with information sites such as Rick Ross's and the SkepDic that go into depth on the usual suspects, comparison of the core methods and the dangers. Vulnerable psyches can be stripped of defenses, privacy invaded, guilt burdens increased and bank accounts emptied. Women, by their socialization, are among the more vulnerable to such manipulative blaming.

Yet somehow, still, decades later, companies, both with and without HR departments, get sold on the idea that LGAT programs increase bottom lines or they check off a 'wellness' benefit (sometimes execs that attended one are responsible). Monies certainly increase for the-orgs-selling-the-'training', because the orgs, 'concern troll' style, go after attendees for more 'training'. Employees, having been softened up by the trust factor (however misplaced. Google: Efficiency WISE) that their employer wouldn't engage them in something harmful, and wanting to please and get ahead at work, are even easier marks.

Adding insult to injury in all this, we have the many 'sage advice' articles in big media about women *needing* to act in more socially masculine behaviours to reach the upper echelons of the workplace. So, women dutifully attend training on how to be more aggressive to succeed at corporate warfare and not be feminine losers...

even while...

... there are trainings like Bly's, also put on by professional organizations, that demand not only that men aggressively 'take' their daily environments without compromise, but that women as a whole should never get an even break, because that would emasculate all the men around them by destroying the gender caste system...sorry, Natural Law.

Women who 'act like men' are castigated in every corner of the same big media that offer the sage advice, told to their faces no matter how hard they might try to act like a man, they will-never-be-one so they're wasting their time and looking (stupid/bitchy/unbeddable/yourchoice). Better yet, the men engaging with women get to interpret what 'acting like a man' means because they are men and being aggressive is apparently not gender neutral.

Anecdotally, I know women (especially of colour) around me right now trying to express their internalized fear of asking for promotions and raises, well-meaning men unaware of their own privilege saying 'just do it it's no biggie', and women in senior positions expressing their own frustrations dealing with senior men in meetings while trying to explain there are good reasons for studies saying women prefer keeping their heads down because it's proven a greater survival strategy to keep a job rather than 'act like a man' and lose everything in harder economic times.

How much harder is it for individual women when trying to reason with company seniors or elected officials who have Iron John style machismo bonding on repeat in the back of their heads reinforcing an already pervasive privilege? And yet the cry for unions and women's movements are declared to be so last century...by the same privileged forces.

Interesting, that.

Update: August 05 11:33mst

I was searching for something else and came across a critique of the sources 'informing' that long gone retreat. This is chapter 6 of "The Masculinity Conspiracy" by James Gelfer. It's somewhat reassuring that my memory hung on to this with accuracy (or not, depending on your pov) but also interesting that my sputtering echoes a more informed opinion (or it's confirmation bias) His main blog seems interesting as well.


Dr.Dawg said...

An excellent essay, Niles! Pleasure to read.

Pseudz said...

What a gas it would be if some large corp could be induced to compel it's entire staff to cross-dress for a couple of days as a bonding and discovery LGAT event.

Niles said...

Thanks, Dr.D, My biggest concern in blogging is ambling about until I've gotten lost in the maze rather than circling to an actual point.

Psuedz, I'm not sure cross dressing would do it, only because genderized costume is so fluid and doesn't get to the core socializing. I'd be down with a gender variation on the program used by Ms Jane Elliott.

Ms Elliott was/is a teacher, whose seminal psychological confrontation experiment on racism, "Blue Eyes Brown Eyes", was adapted from Black/White American situations to a Canadian EuroSettler/Indigenous situation a few years back in Regina.

There's a documentary on the Canadian experience by Michael Snook, called "Indecently Exposed".

Having observed the shrieking manhood furore over the recent internets when an uppity woman publically commented on her encounter with "Elevator Guy", there's a steaming gross poche de merde of male anxiety out there fanned into 'the privileged are victims' by Bly and crew. It's not helping anyone.

deBeauxOs said...

Here a link to the "Elevator Guy" debacle Niles mentioned.

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