Beyond Patriarchy toward a Healthy Masculinity

Recently I had the privilege to co-conduct a conference with Teilhardian scholar and Franciscan Ilya Delio in the Orlando area and during our exchanges she often alluded to Patriarchy and its sins.  At the end of the conference, which was well attended and enthusiastically received, a man came up to me, maybe about 41 years old, who was furious.  He was ranting so angrily—we were alone in the auditorium at the time—that I had to shout back to him to “stop and listen!”  Sort of reptilian brain to reptilian brain.  Mano to mano, macho to macho.  Not my favorite thing to do.

What was he so outraged about?  He said: “I am a good husband and a good father and I work hard to support my family and I really resent being dumped on because I am male–all this criticism of Patriarchy I heard from that woman.  I feel you and that woman are diminishing me, not expanding me.” 

I pointed out that Patriarchy is a philosophy, an attitude toward life, a matrix in which we find ourselves and that we are free to choose to step out of that bubble.  That criticizing Patriarchy is not criticizing him unless he chooses to live its values and profit from it. That it is a world view based on control, power-over, “I win/you lose,” and “being # 1,” namely the reptilian brain. And that because it dominates our souls, it dominates our institutions and our worlds.  And that Yes, that world view is killing the planet and the mother principle, our powers for relationship and compassion, in all of us if we let it.  That it wants to dominate.  And I referred him to my book on the healthy masculine and its ten archetypes that can get us to the Sacred Masculine.

“Walking Man” sculpture by Mico Kaufman
Private collection at Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center, North Andover, MA

He calmed down and walked away reflecting and, I hope, transforming.

I tell this story because Patriarchy is for real.  We live in a patriarchal bubble that has been dominating history for so many centuries that, like the frog in boiling water, we don’t even know that it is cooking us slowly while it cooks and destroys the planet.  We can choose to jump out of the pot into a world we choose to co-create that is both aware and welcoming of the Divine Feminine and the healthy masculine. 

We will be exploring what the healthy or sacred masculine is in the meditations that follow this one.  One sign is that healthy men acknowledge and celebrate the return of the goddess or Divine Feminine in themselves as well as in women.

Today’s video is the first of two parts, providing the introduction to M.C. Richards’ poem “I Am Dying,” contemplating her death through first a patriarchal then a feminist lens. Matthew Fox reads the poem — which is reprinted in his memoir, Confessions — in tomorrow’s post.

Queries for Contemplation

When have you encountered Patriarchy in your life? How have you learned to let it go?

Recommended Reading

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.

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12 thoughts on “Beyond Patriarchy toward a Healthy Masculinity”

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Diane,
      Your question is an interesting one. Linguistically, the contrasting term for Patriarchy would be Matriarchy -a culture predominantly based upon feminine principles. We don’t seem to have a word to contrast with feminism – ie. no masculinism. It’s the “archy” at the end of the word that signifies dominance. So then, “ism” indicates a value that struggles within a dominant culture. What we are working for is a balance between the two so that our culture can draw upon the traits of both masculine and feminine. Right now, we have too much of one, and not enough of the other and the imbalance is very harmful.

  1. Avatar

    Please provide link to, or source for, M.C. Richard’s poem about death and patriarchy/matriarchy that Fox promised but failed to read in the video. Or did I miss something here? Thanks.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Ron,
      Thanks for contacting us about this. You can find a written version of M.C. Richards’ poem elsewhere in today’s comments that was posted just for you. Much appreciated, because several have asked for it. Matthew’s video about MC is in two parts. Tomorrow’s video gives us MC’s poem in Matthew’s voice. Since they were friends and colleagues, there is something special about experiencing this. I hope you enjoy reading the poem today and then return tomorrow to experience Matt’s reading of it as well.

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    I, too, watched Mathew’s intro to MC’s poem but the video seems end before Mathew has a chance to read it.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Mark, Thanks for contacting us. You can find a written version of M.C. Richards’ poem put onto this site by another reader, so you can read it today. However, tomorrow’s meditation will include Matthew reading the poem on video, full of his friendship and appreciation of Richards. I hope you are able to return to experience that version, too.

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    I love the metaphor of a frog in boiling water to describe patriarchy. Lately it seems that many men/frogs have been boiled to death and end up taking their own lives in a mood of despair. Like War, patriarchy is not good for women, children, men, and other living things—like plants & animals. I love the many different archetypes of healthy masculinity Matthew presents in his book—so enlightening!

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you, Mary, for pointing this out. These healthy masculine archetypes are necessary to give us, men and women, alternatives to the system that is drowning us. These archetypes can become the rungs of a ladder for us to climb out of the boiling pot of water before its too late!

  4. Avatar

    For Ron:
    I Am Dying
    by M.C. Richards
    “Four children are singing “ring around the rosy” here where I am drinking my morning coffee with hot milk.
    I was an English major in school —
    so many famous lines about death:
    “Death be not proud”!
    Such a masculine presence —
    part of our paternalistic culture — and religion.
    I relax into someone’s arms. I feel a softness as of sleep, a gentleness that is friendly.
    The children are riding their bicycles through my room, they do not see me or the walls.
    I think of Eliot’s Hollow Men “Is it like this,” they ask
    “In death’s other kingdom — walking alone when we are trembling with tenderness,
    lips that would kiss, form prayers to broken stone.”
    Those lines brim with selfpity and accusation –
    Like Thomas Hardy’s “The terrible antilogy of making figments feel.”
    Oh no, now is not then.
    I do not feel betrayed or bereft,
    it’s more like the Chattanooga Choo choo: the great traffic of evolution
    and I am carrying my bit of being free of agenda –
    open to a future
    Ready to experiment, be creative, serve be beautiful, be real,
    be nowhere
    be no one I already know be birthing myself
    waves and particles
    backpacking in the hereafter.”

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you for adding in M.C. Richards’ poem, I Am Dying. It is good to be able to read it. Another way to experience the poem is through the voice of someone who knew her, admired her, and shared her world view. I invite you to return to this site tomorrow to hear Matthew read this same poem in person in the second part of his M.C. Richards video.

  5. Avatar

    Hi Matthew,

    I’ve read your books and listened to your presentations for decades. One of my favorite Matthew moments was that memorable evening when you returned to the podium for the first time after you were silenced for a year. Your first words, “….as I was saying,” ignited hundreds of us sitting out in the conference room; we stood with tears of joy and clapped for a long time. Great memory.

    Russell and Asher Paul, thanks to Wayne Teasdale who was a close friend, became our companions as well.

    You have transformed many refining dark suffering days into wisdom and compassion, and your life has become a message of enlightenment and encouragement. No one in our generation has influenced the realization of our originial goodness, born from eternal love into eternal love. As an Octogenarian , in the words of Helen Luke, I choose to “grow as I grow older,” and I thank you for your fierce love of life and persistent authenticity. While I stand among a great cloud of witnesses who could say the same, I speak for myself and say, “The greatest gift you continue to give us is the authenticity and courage to be true to your Spirit of the Depths.”

    -Hal Edwards

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