Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

R.I.P., Iron John

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

R.I.P., Iron John

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Remembering Iron John" by Jess Row, in Slate, Aug. 8, 2006.

A LACK OF IRONY IS WHAT killed Iron John, poet Robert Bly's call to arms for a men's movement published in 1990. It's been largely reduced to a joke, and that's too bad, says Jess Row, a writer and English professor at the College of New Jersey.

Recent books such as Caitlin Flanagan's To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Your Inner Housewife and Harvey Mansfield's Manliness criticize modern domestic life and argue that our culture's attempts to press for gender equality have produced unhappiness and social breakdown. "Flanagan and Mansfield are united in nostalgia for a kind of Douglas Sirk version of the '50s, without the irony, in which men provided, led, fought, and defended, and women cultivated, nurtured, healed, and willingly acquiesced to men's desires," writes Row. Such books prop up old stereotypes and prejudices, he says, but they aren't being met with better books "that examine contemporary relationships and gender roles without panic, dread, or shame." This dearth is particularly evident in the men's department.

In Iron John: A Book About Men, which is structured on an allegorical interpretation of a German fairytale, Bly argues that contemporary American men are sorely lacking nurturing fathers, meaningful mentors, self-respect, and "most of all," Row says, "the ability to cultivate their inner resources--as Socrates said, to know themselves." Though reviled by many feminists, Row writes, Bly supports the women's movement, as long as both sexes acknowledge that men's and women's inner needs are different. …

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