The ManKind Project and Robert Bly
Right now, filmmaker Haydn Reiss is working on a documentary film about Bly’s life and career called “News of the Universe.” In the film, one of the things Reiss will do is look at some of the myths about Bly and the ‘men’s movement.’ He also has a great interview with John Densmore, the well known drummer from the 1960’s band The Doors, to talk about an oft misaligned ‘tool’ of men’s gatherings, the drum. Reiss has created a special appeal for the men of the ManKind Project – and also a special offer for MKP fans supporting the production of the film. Contributions are tax deductible.
Learn more by viewing the appeal video at the “News of the Universe” IndieGoGo promotion page.
And now a bit of history about MKP and Robert Bly.
It must have been in the air. Western culture in the early 1980’s was hearing the call of the Wild Man.
For decades, many men in the ManKind Project and around the world have taken inspiration from the story of Iron John (aka Iron Hans or Der Eisenhans). The story is one of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s often interpreted as a young man’s coming of age story. Bly published a book by the same name in 1990 which was a combination of story-telling and cultural critique. Bly’s “Iron John” stayed on the New York Times best seller list for 62 weeks.
Bly holds an honored place in what is referred to as the ‘mythopoetic men’s movement’ that began in the late 1970’s and continued into the 1990’s. For many, Bly saw into the heart of western culture, both masculine and feminine, and pointed a direction to healing and reconciliation. For many others, Bly came to represent a throw-back call to a kind of masculinity stuck in the past – a rehash of patriarchal thinking in soft woven vests.
Stereotypical treatments … ‘naked men drumming in the woods’ … along with a number of other labels about the ‘sensitive new age guy’ (the pony-tail wearing, soft talking spiritual seeker) and the ‘angry white man’ (the disgruntled growling critic of feminism) became staples in the reporting about Bly and the ‘men’s movement’ in general. These iconic images are so easy to grasp … and perpetuate … that even though men have certainly evolved, the reporting has had trouble catching up. Stereotypes about the ‘mythopoetic men’ are still frequently tossed about, and they have been used with a very broad brush across nearly all men’s personal growth organizations.
Though the ManKind Project often gets tied to this imagery and context, as Rich Tosi (one of the creators of the New Warrior Training Adventure) said, “We weren’t mythopoetic. We weren’t doing the same stuff they did in the big gatherings,” with men like Michael Meade and Robert Bly.
Tosi, Bill Kauth, and Ron Hering, the co-creators of ‘Wild Man Weekend,’ which soon became the New Warrior Training Adventure, knew what was happening with the ‘mythopoets’ and spent some brief time with Bly, but were never deeply connected. What can be said with certainty is that the ‘mythopoetic’ men’s movement and the ‘men’s movement’ in general cannot be pigeonholed into a single set of ideas, attitudes, or goals. Within the ManKind Project there is a broad spectrum of men’s culture, and growing broader by the year. It is not a single ‘masculinity’ that is aimed at, it is the healthy expression of myriad masculinities. Men come to work on their own personal development, each with unique needs and desires, and while the work of the New Warrior Training is geared for men, its outcomes are tied to developing healthy, integrated, and mature human beings.
Tosi, Hering, and Kauth integrated parts of the Iron John story into the New Warrior Training Adventure six years before Bly published the book that would become an international best seller. The inspiration for the processes and flow of the NWTA came from many sources, like the ‘Understanding Yourself and Others’ workshop that was being held in the early 1980’s in Milwaukee, WI among several other personal growth workshops. The New Warrior Training Adventure also evolved quickly over the first couple of years, integrating processes and frameworks that participants and trainers found effective. Many of the words now used to describe the New Warrior Training Adventure; hero’s journey, initiation, archetypal, Jungian … all of these came later. Tosi described the surprise the founders experienced when they first stumbled onto the realization;
‘HEY! What we’re doing is an initiation!’
A common misperception about the ManKind Project is that it was part of a backlash against the women’s empowerment movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. While the women’s movement certainly influenced early work in MKP, it wasn’t as a reaction against it. As Kauth speaks about it, he didn’t look at the women’s movement and see men being ‘oppressed,’ he saw an opportunity for men’s liberation from outdated social norms. As a feminist therapist attending conferences where he was one of only a few men, he recognized something valuable in the intimacy he saw women creating in groups and workshops. He wanted that kind of connection for men, vastly different than typical ideas about ‘real men.’ After resisting the call for some time, he eventually got together with Tosi and Hering and designed the ‘Wild Man’ weekend, to help men become conscious, accountable, emotionally aware, and integrated enough to meet these empowered women as partners.
Three decades later, here’s what Kauth sees,
“For 27 years I have seen us – MKP – growing adults! Like some folks grow tomatoes, we grow adults! And because we do it well, we have a legacy around the world of emotionally and spiritually mature men, who in turn, nurture their children and develop more authentic intimate relationships with women.”
Even with all these distinctions in place … Robert Bly’s work: in poetry, in “Iron John,” and in books like “A Little Book on the Human Shadow,” and “The Sibling Society” still resonate with many men on a journey of personal growth. And in the rich realm of the practice of manhood, Bly’s words stir the souls of men in a way that most of us believe are good for everyone.
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.