06: Archetypes completed

with 24 comments

I believe the simplest way to usefully mobilize archetypes is to think of them not as models for (in our case) masculinity, rather as elements of self (which may or may not be gendered). For example, I’ll list some elements that first spring to mind when I describe myself (in no specific order): writer, thinker, father, husband, loner, son, neurotic, visionary, polemicist, contrarian. All these words describe elements that go towards the construction of my complete sense of self, but no single one gets anywhere near that complete sense of self. Indeed, to pick any single word almost immediately suggests a narrow perception of self that borders on pathological.

Thinking archetypically in a useful way would therefore involve identifying a range of individual elements and fashioning from them a sufficiently nuanced sense of self. Some of these elements (such as father, husband, or son) may have a clear connection with biological sex; most will not. Any archetypal element that is not based in biological sex is socially constructed and therefore available to all people, male or female. The conspiracy works by reducing the number of elements available to a person to a very low number (say, one to four elements), and then—in practice—assigning those elements exclusively to either men or women. To counter the conspiracy we make any number of elements available to the individual and allow them to be assigned to any individual, in any way the individual sees fit (this is not about prescribing values, after all, rather enabling possibilities, which may not always be pleasant).

The result is an “elemental suite” or an “archetypal suite” that is bound by nothing other than the individual’s values, characteristics and desires. It is unlikely that a sufficiently nuanced suite could be described as either masculine or feminine. But, importantly, this does not reduce the suite to being “gender neutral” (as Mansfield would have argued in the History chapter). Instead, the suite is “gender unique,” each one bearing witness to the specific way the individual navigates their complex journey between biological sex, the expectations of a prescriptive conspiratorial model of gender, and aspirations for freedom from that conspiratorial model.

Importantly, some of those suites may look identical to a conspiratorial understanding of gender, as genuine freedom must allow for any particular combination. The big difference is that in the model I am suggesting, the suite that resembles the conspiracy is achieved via a proactive choice to construct that suite, not because it is “natural” or “appropriate.” This is the fundamental difference between my message and the message you will read in most popular books about masculinity. When I critique conspiratorial models of masculinity, I am not denying those models (although I am showing how they are problematic); rather, I am denying the conspiratorial claim about what masculinity should be, and offering not a specific alternative but the freedom to choose.


Written by Joseph Gelfer

July 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

24 Responses

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  1. Love the Archetypal Suite, brilliant phrase, and goes perfectly with the reptilian suit.

    Wondering if you are familiar with Caroline Myss and her emphasis on archetypes. She’s been mentioning new archetypes coming into being when the era required them, and has specifically spoken of The Hacker very much the way you did. I wonder if you influenced her?

    I consider archetypes to be the 8th Chakra, the stage hands, the gods on olympus toying with and testing us, informing and scripting, giving us our motivations and then leaving us to ad lib on the world’s stage.

    I also would like to dig up under archetypes, or should I say over-arch them. Animal Totems seem to cut to the chase without as much conspiracy.


    July 12, 2013 at 10:04 am

    • Never read Myss, no: the ever-expanding list of books I should read… 😉


      July 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

  2. Really love the idea of a “Hacker” archetype! Nice. 🙂


    September 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

  3. I’ve been interested in Jungian psychology from a very young age, and gender differences as well. Seeing them brought together in such a critically analytical and challenging way was fascinating. I continue to find this book incredibly interesting and will definitely keep reading.

    Erica Chan

    July 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    • Thanks. The Spirituality chapter isn’t too far off, after which there’s only the conclusion: the dramatic reveal 😉


      July 17, 2011 at 8:18 am

  4. As always, a wonderful read. Thank you.


    July 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

  5. This makes so much sense! Thanks for writing it.

    Apel Mjausson

    July 9, 2011 at 9:38 am

    • Thanks: that’s a relief, because I’m not always sure what does make sense! Earlier in the year I blogged the abstract of a new academic article I’ve written that unpacks the themes on this page, and noted that it’s either the most useful article I’ve ever written, or complete twaddle–neither of which suggest an easy journey through the peer review process:

      Will the Real Joseph Gelfer Please Stand Up: Multiple Masculinities and the Self
      A discourse of multiplicity in the study of masculinities has identified and given voice to an ever-increasing spectrum of both men’s and women’s experiences. This article extends the concept of multiple masculinities not by continuing to identify the experiences of diverse constituencies whose masculine performances have yet to be heard, but by identifying multiple masculinities/identities within the individual self. Singular masculine identities such as “gay man”, “pro-feminist” or “men’s rights advocate” rarely communicate the subtlety of a person’s genuine beliefs: they are more of a caricature than a representation of the truth. Rather than seeking “balance” between aspects of the gendered self or a “middle ground” between different approaches to the study of masculinities, via an autoethnographic analysis of the themes of sexuality and style, this article views the masculine self and the study of masculinities in a more rhizomatic fashion, noting that there are multiple positions with multiple connections to one another that comprise the greater whole.

      If this article repeatedly fails at peer review (which I suspect it might), I’ll just blog the whole thing: will probably get more readers than in an academic journal that way!


      July 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

  6. testing testing…who am i signed in as? we seem to have lost “saraphine”…and wordpress has taken over. there used to be a link for going back to original log-in name….they just have to keep farken tweaking and justifying their employment..


    July 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    • Yes, they do seem to be chopping the settings around…


      July 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm

  7. gylanysaphine

    July 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    • I think it depends how you spin what he says about these things. That article talks about him promoting a cave man diet, but if you look at this similar one:
      the tips are “Eat more wild greens”, “Forage for wild mushrooms”, “Do not overcook food” and “Try to eat fish and game rather than reared meat”, which is not quite the macho thing usually envisaged with popular renditions of the paleo diet.


      July 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      • Mears’ masculinity pops in in today’s press too, “Yet, despite his undoubted survival skills, I worry about Bear Grylls. I worry about him in a way that I don’t about, say, Ray Mears, because I think Ray Mears couldn’t give a camel’s carcass about being an alpha male:


        July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm

        • oh..okay…but comparing mears to grylls…is..a bit weird..after reading the above “age” article. not that i’ve ever heard of grylls nor am i interested in any survival shows. for this obsession with survival shows, itself, gives a very limiting range, in my view, of any expression or experience of all things masculine…or feminine for that matter. sigh…different strokes i guess..but there is a dominance still of these kinds of archetypal representations…of all humans.


          July 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm

  8. ray mears? isn’t he the “caveman diet” fella?….yikes..


    July 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    • Nah, he’s a “survival” expert, but very chilled out and respectful: nothing macho. I’ve enjoyed his shows for years.


      July 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

  9. Thanks Joseph for this useful chapter. I will be sharing it with some hairy men I know- although whether they will appreciate it is another matter! “Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it. Tell people something new and they will hate you for it”- George Monbiot.

    Have read the work of Walter Wink, in particular ‘Engaging The Powers’? Totally masterful stuff. It struck me when you were mentioning conditioning for violence how much this parallels with Wink’s treatment of what he calls the ‘domination system’. In fact, I think what you call the masculinity conspiracy is almost exactly what Wink calls the domination system. Check him out if you haven’t.

    Will you be writing a chapter on initiation? I think there is real benefit from liminal experiences in wilderness, with substantial evidence to support it in the emerging field of ecopsychology. But how it’s enacted and framed is often tied in with some of these problematic archetypes, and a positively Baconian anthropcentric approach to nature. How to frame and enact initiation outside the masculinity conspiracy is a burning question of mine.

    Just bought a copy of ‘Trickster, Magician and Grieving Man’ for £0.01 on Amazon, thanks for the tipoff 🙂

    Luke Devlin

    July 6, 2011 at 2:48 am

    • Thanks Luke. I haven’t read Wink, but will do so. Certainly, the essence of the masculinity conspiracy is nothing new: the aim here is to try and frame it in a way that captures the imagination. What’s new is perhaps the synthesis of existing streams of thought.

      I don’t plan on doing a chapter on initiation. You’re right, though: liminal wilderness experiences are certainly useful, and it is only the way they are mobilized in the conspiracy that is problematic. I know he’s a bit simplistic and on TV and all, but I find Ray Mears a great model for masculinity in the wilderness.


      July 6, 2011 at 10:26 am

      • Yep I do think your presentation of the ‘conspiracy’ is innovative and useful- would love to see a hard copy of this with a reptilian in a business suit in the Icke section of the bookshop! I think Wink’s book offers a compelling psychospiritual ‘why’ the domination system came about, you offer a really useful synthesis of ‘how’ it is enacted.

        Luke Devlin

        July 6, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    • I’m just reading Wink. You’re right, he’s useful: I’ll mobilize him in the concluding chapter.


      July 18, 2011 at 6:05 pm

  10. falling in love again…what am i to do..never wanted to…can’t help it.
    i think i’ve said it before in relation to joseph gelfer’s writings…but it just happened all over again (i know i am a dramatic romantic).

    but..the above chapter on archetypes reminded me of how i found dr.gelfer and his enlightened academic (my opinion) critique of ARCHETYPES. then i just couldn’t leave his blog alone…with links to so many inner-resting topics. originally though it was ARCHETYPES i was googling. now here he is, back on me favourite subject concerning all things gender.

    thanks doc…i specifically resonate with and am inspired by your reference to “archetypal psychology” hillman, david tacey….and the “archetypal suite”. my faves when studying for me social ecology degree.

    and finally…it’s very personal and subjective…my emotional response to this chapter…for i have always felt i am “the very model of a modern major androgynous”…physically, psychologically and archetypically. (is this a word?)

    thanks for your investigation of the “masculine conspiracy”.


    July 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    • Well, it’s always nice to know someone’s finding it interesting!

      You’re right, I’m not sure how accurate “archetypically” is: I think I meant “archetypally”. Feck it, you know what I mean 🙂


      July 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

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