Wednesday, September 25, 2013
It’s as close to a Male Manifesto as I have ever seen. And 2014 will mark its 24th anniversary. I am speaking of Robert Bly’s Iron John.
When the book surfaced, I was an undergraduate in college (a callow John with scarcely any Iron), and its mention was everywhere. Not just among academics, either. Talkshow hosts, popular magazines, newspapers, and men (and sometimes, women) from sundry quarters glowed about its heralding message of male liberation. I had no interest in it back then, but, now as a middle aged dad (still just John, still looking for this fabled Iron) in the throes of gender research, I finally read it.
I will leave matters of judgment about merit to the reader; to each his or her own, I say (after all, who do I think I am--Iron John?). All I can do is describe what I read.
The story is about Mr. Wild Man. He has been infantilized and is looking for the Magic Ball (it has apparently been taken and hidden by Wild Man’s Mom) that will restore his Wild Man Manliness. He is also looking for Miss Right. Or, rather, Miss Wild Woman Right. And in the end, if Wild Man and Wild Woman, after a romantic evening of dinner and dancing, are able to see that special Wild something in their eyes, they will hopefully be able to do this:
“. . . the lovers make love with the Wild Man—and Wild Woman—right in the room; and if we are those lovers, we may feel certain body cells turn gold that we thought were made entirely of lead.”
Many men (Wild or otherwise), as I remember, lived for this ideal, back in early '90s. Does the fact that there is no contemporary analogue to Iron John furnish its own commentary about gender these days? That is, there are, I know, guys out there today who see themselves as Iron John; lots of them. The question is, why don't they write about it? Or if they do, why don't they emblazen their ideology as Male Manifesto? In lieu of Iron John, we have UFC fights, perhaps. Not "Wild Man," with his troglodyte forlornness but Violent Dude with his nurtured alienation and rage. Is this my students' Iron John?