The poet Robert Bly — who died on Nov. 21, at the age of 94 — was best-known for his controversial work of archetypal psychology, Iron John: A Book About Men.
In the 1990s, Americans weren’t nearly as polarized on gender as we are now; Bly’s work had broad crossover appeal. It spent 62 weeks on the bestseller list. I can still remember my father passing a worn hardcover edition to my older brother. The book became a cultural phenomenon, launching a “mythopoetic men’s movement.”
Bly and his colleagues were advocating for a men’s movement that would complement, not oppose, second wave feminism. Nonetheless, he was widely criticized by folks who recognized the movement’s latent misogyny. They were correct. A good argument can be made that Bly’s work laid the foundation for incels, the manosphere, and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life.
According to the New York Times obituary, Bly’s work “drew on myths, legends, poetry and science of a sort to make the case that American men had grown soft and feminized and needed to rediscover their primitive virtues of ferocity and audacity and thus regain the self-confidence to be nurturing fathers and mentors.” Hence, nobody who is well acquainted with Iron John should’ve been surprised last month when Sen. Josh Hawley complained about “the deconstruction of American men” and called for “a revival of strong and healthy manhood” at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando. This perspective is part of long tradition: men whining about how emasculated they feel while living a culture that’s progressing — at an appallingly sluggish pace — toward gender parity.
Nobody who is well acquainted with IRON JOHN should’ve been surprised last month when Sen. Josh Hawley complained at about “the deconstruction of American men.”
Hawley doubled-down on his politically-divisive iteration of Bly’s original message in a follow-up interview with Axios on HBO. He complained that “the Left” devalues masculinity and drives young men to…