The masculine identity 
the paradox between the real and ideal

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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The masculine identity  

the paradox between the real and ideal


Master Thesis- Ana João Mexia Sepulveda da Fonseca A identidade masculina segundo Robert Bly: o paradoxo entre o real e o imaginado
Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, November 1998
Ana Sepulveda 


"The masculine identity – the paradox between the real and ideal" is a master thesis about the masculine identity according to Robert Bly’s point of view.

Starting from his famous book "Iron John: a book about men", I cross his arguments with the mythopoetic perspective about what is to be a man. At the same time, it was my intention to expose how the author, the mythopoetic movement and the book, had effected the American society. That is, what were they impacts over that society. In order to do this, I searched in American embassy, in Lisbon, data bases all the magazines and newspaper articles that had "Robert Bly" or "Iron John" as key words.

Because it was a Master in American Studies (cultural studies area) it was my intention to focus on the gender theory and deconstruct Bly’s arguments. In suma, it is a thesis about how Robert Bly, father figure of American mythopoetic men’s movement, understands and defends the masculine identity.

This master thesis has 6 chapters:

Introduction; The Robert Bly’s book Iron John: a book about men: here I presented the book, the brother’s Grimm fairy tale, which is the base for the book, and all the Bly’s steps that all men should take if they want to be considered a real man; The analysis to the collected articles: here I intended to show the articles and cross their contents with Bly’s book, and demonstrate how society understood Bly’s message; Gender theory chapter: where I try to make the history of gender theory, since the 1960s, always focusing on masculine identity; Analysis to "Iron John" book: here I crossed the chapters 3 and 4. I deconstruct Bly’s arguments, show all the implication of the non-feminist male point of view to men and to the society; Conclusion: Robert Bly’s book is the way that the author found out to express and defend his arguments about masculine identity crisis, according to an anti-feminist perspective.

In short words, what he tried to do was to write a politically correct book, inspired in New Age movement, with the purpose of defending the "status quo" of a specific male group – the dominant one: white, middle-class, middle-age and heterosexual.

This thesis was defended at the Universidade Aberta, Lisbon, November 1998.


Robert Bly From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - Among his most famous works is Iron John: A Book About Men, an international bestseller which has been translated into many languages. The book is credited with starting the Mythopoetic men's movement in the United States. Bly frequently conducts workshops for men with James Hillman, Michael J. Meade, and others, as well as workshops for men and women with Marion Woodman. He has taught at the annual "Great Mother Conference" since 1975. He maintains a friendly correspondence with Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.  


Robert Bly was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, to Jacob and Alice Bly, people of Norwegian ancestry.[1] Following graduation from high school in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy, serving two years. After one year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard University, joining the later famous group of writers who were undergraduates at that time, including Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Harold Brodkey, George Plimpton, and John Hawkes. He graduated in 1950 and spent the next few years in New York.


Men Online: Discussing Lived Experiences on the Internet  

Author : Caroline M Bennett

Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.


James Cook University

School of Psychology and Sociology

Townsville, North Queensland, 4811




This research study has been adapted from an Honours thesis written at James Cook University North Queensland, in partial fulfilment of the Degree of Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours).


This thesis examines the complexities of the masculine identity within contemporary society, as it pertains to the individual men who took part in this study. Data were wholly generated via electronic means of communication over a seven-month period of intensive online interaction, as a means of investigating the use of this environment in the generation of intimate data. Six men, ranging in age from 21 to 72, contributed extensive and in-depth data, upon which I have based this study. It is a research project that utilises Van Manen's conceptualisation of hermeneutic- phenomenology as its method of inquiry, and Seidman's process of phenomenological interviewing as a means of generating actual data. Results indicate the significance and importance of life experiences in the formation of the masculine identities of the six participants. In particular, that familial interactions and experiences often formed the basis of these particular individuals male identities, and consequent societal relations. That these individual 'identities' were capable of sustaining change, with each person being aware of it's formation and development, and meaning outcomes in later life. Moreover, results indicate that this form of interaction can potentially provide new avenues within which men can discuss their emotions and feelings, openly, and with confidence. This thesis asks how lived experiences have contributed to the formation and development of these particular men's masculine identities, and how they react to the utilisation of the electronic environment as a means of conveying these experiences


Chapter One: Introduction

Chapter Two: Cyberspace, Conversation, Sex and Gender

Collaborations in Cyberspace: Textual Conversations and Their Worth

Communication and Socialisation

The Electronic Interactive Environ

Gendered Communication Issues: Intent and Perception

The Masculinity Crisis


Chapter Three: Method and Practice

Hermeneutics and Phenomenology

The Study Process: Beginning, Doing and Achieving

The Construction of Themes from the Data

Uncovering the Thematic Statements

Emerging Thematic Statements

Themes Related to the Medium of Communication Used

Themes Generated by Participant Data




Chapter one: Introduction

This research project seeks to understand the complexities and diversities of the lived experiences of the six men who took part in this study. It also seeks, however, to explore the way in which the electronic world may be utilised to provide a positive environment where men can openly discuss emotional issues which they have previously been reluctant to discuss in the 'real' world.

It is a research study that exemplifies a form of 'doing' research by combining an 'established' qualitative methodology with a relatively new and unexplored 'source' of data generation, utilising a hermeneutic-phenomenological form of inquiry (Van Manen 1990), together with the data generation potentials of the Internet. It is a method of conducting research that is both complex and underdeveloped, as the technological innovations that allowed for the growth of electronic interactive mediums have only occurred, in some cases, within the last two years.

All of the data were generated using electronic means of communication, including e-mail facilities, and chat programs such as Icq and PowWow, the latter two allowing for real-time conversations. I chose this form of interaction because previous research (for example, Reid 1991) suggests that this form of communication could engender a high degree of self-disclosure and emotional engagement. The implication of this means of interaction, in terms of increasing our understanding of contemporary masculinity, is that it provides a potential 'forum' within which researchers, and those concerned with the 'crisis' of contemporary masculinity, can further their knowledge of this issue. The degree of participation, and indeed reciprocity, was of fundamental importance in this study, as it is primarily concerned with the individual's feelings, emotions, self-reflections, and, consequently, their willingness to disclose these very personal experiences. These are experiences which would probably remain undisclosed in 'normal' conversation, given that men are reluctant to talk about themselves should they 'break' ' ... the code of masculinity, with all its limitations ... ' (Ochberg 1987, p. 177). It is a factor of inherent significance because the study ultimately sought reflection and discussion of what were often personal and intimate issues. It is often said that men are reluctant to discuss issues and concerns which involve the disclosure of their intimate feelings, and that even if they wish to do so, have no recourse to suitable environments where they can be comfortable in the knowledge that they are not being judged by what they say, as men. This lack of resources for men, poses the question as to whether men do in fact need (and want) to talk about their problems, and whether in fact their reluctance to do so, in real life, is a result of the general absence of forums where they can in fact do so.

Thus the aim of this study is twofold: to provide insights into the lived experiences of the six participants as they affected their adult male identities, and to explore the credibility of this particular form of interaction in generating this form of data.

Summary of Thesis

To achieve understanding of both of these aims, it seems practical and effective here to divide this research study into two parts. Part One, which encompasses Chapters One to Three, deals with the theoretical and structural nature of the research project, detailing the epistemological and ontological assumptions that comprise and provide distinctions concerning the research process.

With this in mind the introductory chapter discusses the value and importance of the research topic. Chapter Two reviews the theoretical literature and practical issues that were critical in the formulation of the research study. Chapter Three discusses the research method that was used as the means of generating data and of developing thematic statements.

Part Two of the study dedicates itself to the actual study experience, and is evocative of the spirit of academic studies as conceptualised and encouraged by Agar (1986, p. 12) and which, in effect, advocates ' ... intense personal involvement ... and an ability to learn from a long series of mistakes'. This is not to say, however, that the problematics of the study outweighed, or overrode, the information and knowledge gained from the experience. Rather these 'problematics' meant instead that my personal involvement and ongoing capacity to 'learn' were fundamental to the success and significance of the study. Chapter Four discusses thematic statements one to three, themes that emerged from the communicative medium. Chapter Five looks at thematic statement four, and Chapter Six, thematic statement five. The last two statements involve the discussion of the actual data as they were generated by the participants.

This is a research project which is interested in gaining new insights into the lives of men, their dilemmas, and their general state of being, but in a way that, hopefully, stirs the mind, the heart, and the soul of the reader. My purpose here is not to obtain generalisable answers or hypotheses, nor to prove or disprove theories; it is an attempt to try to understand the experiences of others and the subsequent meanings that they make of those experiences. This thesis represents a way of trying to promote at least some awareness of the 'masculine' identity by listening to what men have to say; their stories, their reflections, and their ways of 'knowing'. Without the 'narration's' of my co-investigators, and without the employment of unique and specific interview contexts, much of the data which I was seeking would have remained hidden and beyond my 'reach'. Ironically, it would, in all probability, have been cloaked by many of the discourses and convictions that enmesh and constrain our concepts of what it is to 'be' a man and what actually constitutes 'masculinity'.


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