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The Wounded Masculine


Another unrealistic expectation of our men is that they should have all the answers.

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the term “wounded masculine.” A newspaper article yesterday reminded me of it, and it’s a concept that circumstances could well push center stage.

Lena Stevens, cofounder of the School of Shamanism in Santa Fe, used the phrase in her August forecast at www.thepowerpath.com in trying to help readers understand the recent massacre in Aurora, Colorado. In collaboration with her husband, José Stevens, Ph.D., she presents a monthly theme for a world in transformation. The focus of the series is on the opportunities for creativity in the midst of chaos.

The term wounded masculine is not new, I have since learned. Lena provided a shorthand version—the theory that the drive to control and dominate by the masculine has gone to a violent extreme in reaction to our impossible expectations of men. James Holmes is just one of the men who have been responsible for about 20 mass shootings per year since about 1976 (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

The article that caught my eye yesterday was about all the recent killings of American soldiers in Afghanistan by Afghans they were training. There have been 32 such attacks this year, recently evoking an urgent response by General John R. Allen, who is in command there. All soldiers are now required to keep magazines loaded in their weapons at all times.

Those poor guys. Many have had multiple tours over there, and now they are being killed by our supposed allies. To make matters worse, the command doesn’t understand the reason for these attacks because we basically don’t understand that world. All we really know is that hatred and outrage endure there for thousands of years. Our military action in the Middle East has thus probably poisoned the waters of amity for all time.

Still, General Allen expressed the official commitment to the mission there, saying “our resolve is fierce, and our commitment to this fight is total.” The subtext of that commitment is probably that the military has so far failed to figure out how to save face, to find a way to declare a “win”–like the one that is withering in Iraq–before we withdraw.

But back to the poor guys over there. It would be so wonderful if all of them—from this day forward—would come safely home. However, they will immediately confront that world of unrealistic expectations I referred to above.

The first and foremost expectation is that the returning warrior will possess the physical courage and strength of the hero, even though he may be disabled and suffering from PTSD. Another is that he will be romantically appealing, even though he may seem very unfamiliar to a love he left behind. He may also have so many horrific memories he cannot share that it is impossible to achieve real intimacy. He may find the benefits of heroic service deficient and his country ambivalent about the value of the war in which he has fought.

If he leaves the military, he will hope to get a good job and be an excellent provider for a family, as is expected of all men, only to find that employment is very hard to come by and the compensation inadequate. He may end up competing with women who have gotten a leg up on education and training while he was gone. Even worse, he may have to settle for one of those jobs that have traditionally been held by women.

Anger, frustration, bitterness, and some degree of alienation will be inevitable. In considering the ramifications, we should not be naïve about the fact that the brutal realities men in the military face, which have led to an unprecedented epidemic of suicide, will also lead to expert violence.

So how do we respond wisely to the challenge we have created for ourselves? Enormous compassion is in order and consideration by each of us about how we can support these soldiers. Speaking as a woman, I think it is also time for us to commit in perpetuity to expect less of our men and more of ourselves.

And further, it is dumbfounding that after ten years of this nightmarish engagement in the Middle East, we are at this very moment considering escalating conflict with Iran. Duh! Our men have suffered enough. Let’s bring them home, let the chips fall, and start thinking about a new way for the United States to be in the world. And the ladies need to participate. Another unrealistic expectation of our men is that they should have all the answers.

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