Sam Keen is an American author, philosopher and professor born in the year 1931 whose writings and teachings have explored areas such as religion, philosophy and psychology. Sam Keen's writings have been focused on the countless questions of love, life, religion, and being a man in a modern society; which he discusses in his book 'Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man' (1991). From the book 'Fire in the Belly' the essay 'Man and Woman' was extracted.
Along with these literary pieces, popular books such as Apology of Wonder (1969), Faces of the Enemy (1986), and Learning to Fly: Trapeze- Reflections on Fear, Trust, and the Joy of Letting Go (1999) are all products of Keen's literary works of art. After Keen's academic pursuit of graduating from Ursinus College in 1953 with his undergraduate degree. Keen obtained obtained his graduate degrees from Harvard University and Princeton University. Keen was then a professor of the philosophy of religion at a seminary known as the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for six years.
Keen later became an editor for Psychology Today magazine and thereafter ventured in to the field of writing. The focus of this essay will be on the extract 'Man and Woman'. Man and Woman as was mentioned before, was extracted from Keen's book 'Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man' that is based on the examination of the stereotypical perceptions and myths surrounding the idealistic concepts of man and Woman, and the roles both sexes play. This essay will discuss what is required of a man to attain true manhood as they examine their trinomial views of Woman as Goddess and Creatrix, Woman as Mother and Matrix, and Woman as Erotic-Spiritual Power.
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The concept of 'manhood' has been falsely identified for several generations now. The qualities believed to be possessed by a male in order to be considered a 'man' are commonly those that are contrary to the characteristics actually possessed by a true man. In past generations and even more so today, being manly involves being 'macho' - in full control of any and everything, being Mr. Know It All, being strong and mighty, fierce, and a cocky braggart. However, these traits in no way contribute to manhood. In Man and Woman, Keen expresses that 'men' in fact are those responsible for their struggles in reaching the state of true manhood.
Keen mentions that "one of the major tasks of manhood is to explore the unconscious feelings that surround our (men's) various images of Woman, to dispel false mystification, to dissolve the vague sense of threat and fear, and finally to learn to respect and love the strangeness of womankind" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 332 ). However, without a doubt, more than half the males in society that regard themselves as 'men' are no way near even sharing the same opinion or train of thought as Keen's in regards to evaluating one's self and validating and embracing the being of a woman to reach the destination of true manhood.
In fact, their efforts of becoming a man is focused solely on themselves. The input or significance of woman in the opinions of males today have no relevance whatsoever throughout the course of them becoming true men. In Keen's essay, he opposes the idea of males solely becoming men. Keen argues that in order for a child; who later becomes a man-child, to evolve into that of being a man, he must first purge his mind of the misconceptions of a Woman, and the "unconscious feelings" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 32 ) that surround those misconceptions. The first of the three views on Woman males must address in the journey of becoming a man is Woman as Goddess and Creatrix. As the title Woman as Goddess and Creatrix would imply, it is referring to the fact that women are the sex that brings about creation. Only females possess the ability to bring forth a child, which males often times feel threatens their significance and importance as 'men'- the sex believed to be the dominantly essential.
However, what 'men' fail to realize as what Keen expresses as the challenge 'Woman as Creatrix' presents to a man to "justify his existence" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 334), is that both sexes are equally important. It is impossible for a female to impregnate herself without the sperm of a man. Women are actually knowledgeable of the impossibility of self-conception as well, and would readily accept that the participation of man is equally important in procreating.
Though, the 'macho' aspect of males that drive them to desire preferable superiority over women wouldn't allow males to freely accept equal importance to females. The reason the conscience of males constantly haunts them is that, hands down, child bearing is dumbfounding and an honorable thing which males cannot deny nor carry out. Thus, males constantly feel inferior to females in regards to creation and continue to believe that the males' participation in procreating is still inadequate.
Therefore, males resort to trying to find every possible justification of their existence which is not the manliest thing to do. Keen expresses the males justification efforts in the essay as he stated "much of the meaning men attribute to their work is a response to the question posed to us by Woman's capacity to give life" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 334 ). Instead of competing with the importance of women's existence, men should not only become aware of the significance of women as child bearers but rather wholeheartedly embrace the divine capability of women and accept, and respect the worth of both women and men.
Secondly, in regards to Woman as Mother and Matrix, Keen describes the roles of a Woman as the mirror through which a child starts seeing themselves, as the initial teacher that molds the child's eventual thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, as nurturer, and as an information system through which the child begins to view and understand the world, the surroundings, and last but not least themselves. Woman as Mother and Matrix is the first influential person encountered by a child with whom a strong bond is established; if not the strongest.
Keen's support of how critical the relationship between mother and child is was established as he made the statements "She exists; therefore I am. Within the warp of her womb our bodies are woven- flesh of her flesh" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 335). The child delivered after nine months of pregnancy is literally a part of the mother, a part of her being, was developed and nurtured within her body. Thus, there is an immediate bond that comes into existence even before the child is delivered. Hence, the instant attachment between a mother and child is inevitable.
However, it is the extent to which the attachment prevails that becomes a concern. Keen's focus on the attachment issue between mother and child was based on the parental situation involving a son. Because of the very important and fundamental role a mother plays in raring her son; there comes a point in her son's life that he falls in love with his mother and disregards the role and significance of a father (Freud, 1899, pg. 296). However, according to Keen the son eventually "renounces his desire to be his mother's lover and makes common cause with his enemy- the father" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 336).
Reestablishing a relationship with the father then provides the opportunity for the son to become exposed and grasp the qualities and values of being a man. The fact of today's family oriented reality however, lacks that of a father figure in the household. Numerous homes in today's society are composed of single mothers and their child/children. In order to emphasize on the imagery of lacking a father in modern families, Keen went on to say "where once there was a father, there is now a vacuum" (Verburg, 2000, pg336). A vacuum is defined as the "absence of a normal or previous content of a place, environment, etc. (Oxford, 1982, pg. 1185). Thus, Keen could not have compared the lack of a dad to anything better that that of a vacuum. The emptiness left in a family as a result of lacking a father is in fact like that of a vacuum. The empty space is the absence of a father figure (the previous content) that had formerly played a role in the family. As a result, Keen argues that lacking a dad leads the son to become and remain a mama's boy, and that the son therefore becomes disconnected from an exemplary person who would guide him to manhood. Keen stated "The powerful father has been all but replaced by the powerful mother.
Dad is no longer present to teach his sons how to be men. " (Verburg, 2000, pg. 336). Mothers have boldly taken on the challenge of working, maintaining a household, raring their children, and paying the bills. Women are no longer dependent on a male partner as bread winner and provider in a home. And the strength and courage mothers display by being both mother and father in the homes is what results in sons becoming more attached to their mothers. The sons admire and greatly appreciate the efforts and responsibilities taken on by the mother to meet their needs.
Therefore sons begin to live their lives with the ultimate purpose of pleasing mom and being the ideal son. Though, growing up in a single-parent home with only a mother and greatly respecting and honoring her is no excuse for a son not to be able to develop into a fully fledged man. A father figure might be absent in the home, but there are uncles, grandfathers, older male cousins, and even exemplary male figures in society that the sons can look up to for guidance to achieve manhood. Achieving manhood in such a modern family might in fact make the task even more challenging, but in no way it makes reaching manhood impossible.
Lastly, men's view of Woman as Erotic-Spiritual Power is focused on the argument that ultimately, a woman is the "prime mover" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 338) in the sexual aspect of life. Based on Eastern mythology "the female principle is seen as active and the male as responsive" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 338). Whether the woman out rightly suggests sexual intercourse or seduces a man into the act by her attire, the woman is considered the sexual initiator. Even in extreme situations such as rape, the rapist would justify his act with the defense that the woman was the initiator of the act.
The rapist would make claims such as the woman tempted him, and that "she wanted it" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 338). However, in a consensual situation or an unfortunate one such as rape; no one individual is responsible for the actions taken by the other person but of themselves. Hence, the Woman as Erotic-Spiritual Power is free of any connection whatsoever to the train of thought or moral decision a man would make in regards to his sexual perception of the Woman'S behavior or intention. Manhood entails taking responsibility for your own actions, each and every one of them. A true man dominates his thoughts and opinions.
A man knows what he wants, and knows exactly why he does what he does. A woman, regardless of how provocative she might dress, or how appealing she might be, has no responsibility or dominating sexual influence on a male who's achieved manhood. In essence, Keen's opinion on achieving true manhood involved exorcizing the numerous "archetypical creatures" (Verburg, 2000. pg. 332) men have of women in their heads, understanding and embracing the existence and being of womankind, and evaluating themselves as men and the unconscious feelings attached to their many imageries of women.
Unlike what many would believe, manhood is not obtained by nature but is rather nurtured (Denee, 2005). Keen concluded his essay with frank statements such as "As 'men' we need to recollect our experience, reown our repressed knowledge of the power of WOMAN, and cease to establishing our manhood in reactionary ways. So long as we define ourselves by our reactions to unconscious images of Woman we remain in exile from the true mystery and power of manhood" (Verburg, 2000, pg. 339).
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