Fierce & Tender Men: Sociological Aspects of the Men's Movement

By Greene, David | Transformations, March 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

Fierce & Tender Men: Sociological Aspects of the Men's Movement


Greene, David, Transformations


Fierce & Tender Men: Sociological Aspects of the Men's Movement.

Clinton Jesser describes this book as a journey, and in many ways it is. The book begins with Jesser the sociologist offering us a social scientific introduction to men's studies and the men's movement (Chs. 1-2). While exploring the concepts of social movements, "masculinism," "genderology," paradigms, ideology, and socialization, he also rejects the pro-feminist wing of the men's movement in favor of the mythopoetic orientation. Jesser then takes us through an honest and rich autobiographical sketch of his life -- his tragedies and triumphs as a son, a brother, a husband and a man (Ch. 3). In this account of his life, he clearly demonstrates the value that mythopoetic men's work has had for him. Jesser, whom we have now gotten to know much better, then examines the developmental issues and theories that form the bases of mythopoeticism -- the struggles for separation from mother and identification with father which result in deep-seated "wounds" from which most men never recover (Ch. 4). He next takes us through sociological and, especially, personal analyses of some important topics in men's lives -- sex, fatherhood and work (Chs. 5-7). In discussing these topics, Jesser begins to reveal the ways in which he believes mythopoetic men's work can promote "recovery" and "healing" -- can frame, address and rectify the difficulties that many men often endure in pain and silence. Toward the end of our journey, Jesser presents a more complete and formal introduction to mythopoetic men's studies (Ch.8). He skillfully summarizes the work of Robert Bly, familiarizes us with the archetypes said to inhabit our deep selves (the king, the clown, the magician, the warrior, the lover and the wildman), and makes an impassioned case for the importance of spirituality and ritual in men's lives. The final stop in the journey is inside mythopoetic men's work (Ch.9). Jesser shows us the nuts-and-bolts of how to establish a men's group. He takes us through the use of exercises, projects and play. He shows us how to work on emotions and what to do if a men's group "goes flat." The final words come from Jesser the sociologist who leaves us with the question of how to perform a social scientific evaluation of mythopoetic men's work.

This is an honest, personal and caring book. Throughout the text, Jesser uses personal examples to illustrate points and concepts; he doesn't hide himself behind social scientific abstractions. I admire his honesty and courage. In this short book we see Clinton Jesser, the sociologist, openly struggling to present concepts that hold great personal meaning for Clinton Jesser, the man. I found this dialogue to be one of the major strengths of this book; both the sociologist and the man have important things to say to us and, especially, to each other. However, Jesser is uncomfortable with the gap between "objective" social science and many of the mythopoetic concepts that he is discussing. He adopts the device of ending each chapter with an "Evaluation" section where the sociologist reflects upon the ideas that have been presented. However, most of the chapters and the Evaluation sections seem to me to represent a free intertwining of sociological and personal material -- I found it best to ignore this device and read each chapter as a whole.

A related strength of this book is the way that Jesser uses his experience as a teacher. He makes numerous references to ways in which students have given him insights -- both spontaneously and as a result of questions he has posed informally, or as part of classroom questionnaires and small research projects. He clearly not only teaches, but listens to and learns from his students; there is a message here that should be heard by other teachers and students who read this book.

As far as the substance of the journey is concerned, my reactions are mixed. Part I of the book -- "Background" (Chs. …

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