Derrick Jensen: The Man Box and the Cult of Masculinity

by Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen

The man box is full of proof. Except that there is no man box, the man box can never be filled, and real men don’t need proof.

Let’s start with Abraham and Isaac. You know the story. God tells Abraham to slit his child’s throat. Abraham ties up his son, raises the knife, and at the last moment God says it was a test. End of story. Lesson? Abraham shows, by his willingness to violate his child, the proof of his worth. And Isaac learns that his father was willing to kill him rather than act against the cult of masculinity, against the rules of the man box.

There are many rules of the man box, even though there is no man box, and there are no rules. Why call it a box when it’s the way things are? And why call it a rule when it’s who you are?

Rule 1: There is no man box.

Rule 2: There is no box but the man box, and thou shalt have no other boxes before it.

Rule 3: That’s the way things are.

Rule 4: That’s who you are.

So I’m in a restaurant, and I overhear one guy say to another that he’s in pain. The other responds, “Suck it up. When are you going to quit being such a woman?”

So yes, I understand that men are taught to not feel. Yes, I understand that the cult of masculinity is all about not feeling. I understand that must be hard. But honestly, I don’t give a shit about understanding the emotional state of members of the cult of masculinity, except insofar as that understanding might help stop them. It’s a bit late in the game to be worried about the feelings of perpetrators.

The ones I care about are their victims, because the man box isn’t about putting men in a box, it’s about putting everyone else in a box, the box of other, of less than, of trophies, the box of the violable, the box of targets, the box of victims, the box of the violated, the box of proof of the men’s own manhood.

Have you ever done the math on how many women who are alive right now have been raped? There are almost seven billion people on the planet, so there are about 3.5 billion women. About one in four women is raped in her lifetime, and another one in five fend off rape attempts. So more than 800 million women living today will be raped in their lifetimes. Let’s say half of those have not yet been raped. So 400 million women living now have been raped.

And another now.

And another now.

This also means, among many other things, that unless a few men are excruciatingly busy, there are a lot of rapists out there, a lot of members of the cult of masculinity, a lot of men who adhere to the rules of the man box.

But you already knew that.

But of course there is no man box, and there can be no man box, because if there were a man box, that would mean there’s something outside the man box, and there’s nothing outside the man box because there can be nothing outside the man box, and there can be nothing outside the man box because there must be nothing outside the man box.

Because if there were, well, there isn’t, and can’t be, and mustn’t be.

Because if there were, that would mean members of the cult of masculinity aren’t as omnipotent—as completely potent—as they must be. And also because if there were, why would any victims put up with this shit?

So there must not be a man box, because everything is part of the man box.

That is, everything is violable. And everything must be violated.

Rule 5, which is actually Rule 1, which is actually the only rule there is: I exist only insofar as I violate you.

But of course rule 5 does not exist. Nor does rule 1.

The other day I saw an astronomer saying why he thought it was important to explore Mars and other planets: “It will,” he said, “answer that most important question of all: Are we all alone?”

I have an even more important question: is he fucking crazy?

No, just a member of the cult of masculinity.

Did you know that 200 years ago there were flocks of passenger pigeons so large they darkened the sky for days at a time? And flocks of Eskimo curlews so thick that ten, fifteen, twenty birds would fall to a single shot? There were so many whales in the North Atlantic they were a hazard to shipping, and there were runs of salmon so thick they would keep you awake all night with the slapping of their tails against the water. And he asks if we are alone?

Only if you’re a member of the cult of masculinity, in which case you are of course alone, with other members of your cult, because you have declared yourself to be the only one who matters, the one who does to as opposed to everyone else, to whom it is done.

Did you know that this culture is driving two hundred species extinct each and every day? Did you know that stolid scientists are saying the oceans could be devoid of fish in fifty years?

And do you know why?

And did you know that the world used to be filled with thousands of vibrant human cultures? And that human cultures are being driven extinct at an even faster relative rate than nonhuman species?

And do you know why?

The man box is full of women. It is full of passenger pigeons. It is full of whales. It is full of indigenous humans. The man box is full of the entire world.

But the man box isn’t full, because the man box—which does not exist—can never be full.

The psychiatrist R.D. Laing famously asked, “How do you plug a void plugging a void?”

That’s the question, isn’t it?

But of course it isn’t the question because men don’t have a void, and if they did have a void they certainly wouldn’t plug it with a void.

Someone once told me that any hatred—or maybe any void—felt long enough no longer feels like hatred, but rather like religion, or economics, or science, or tradition, or just the way things are.

With all the world at stake I need to speak plainly. The problem is that within this patriarchy, identity itself is based on violation. Violation becomes not merely an action but an identity: who you are, and how you and society define who you are. Within this patriarchy men’s masculinity defines itself by identifying others—any and all others—as inferior (which is why those stupid fucking scientists can ask “Are we all alone?” as they destroy the extraordinary life on this planet), and as being therefore violable, and then violating them. For men under this patriarchy, these acts of violating others are how we become who we are. They validate who we are. They then reaffirm who we are, as through these repeated acts of violation we come to perceive each new violation as reinforcement not only of our superiority over this other we violated but as simply the way things are.

So without this identification of others as inferior, without this violation, we are not. We are a void. And so we must fill this void, fill it with validations of our superiority, fill it with violations. Thus the rapes. Thus the violation of every boundary set up by every indigenous culture. Thus the extinctions. Thus the insane belief in an economic system based on infinite growth despite the fact that we live on a finite planet. Thus the refusal to accept any limits on technological progress—more properly termed technological escalation, as it really involves an escalation of the wielders’ ability to control and violate at a distance—or on scientific “knowledge.” Thus the sending of probes to penetrate the deepest folds of the ocean floor. Thus the bombing of the moon.

What makes this problem even worse is that because there are always those who have yet to be violated, and because this violation isn’t really solving the needs it purports to meet—it’s a void plugging a void—this drive to violate is insatiable.

This culture will continue to violate, until there is nothing left to violate, nothing left.

So what is at stake in this whole discussion is life on this planet. This cult of masculinity must not merely be left, and must not merely be exposed. It must be destroyed, or it will continue to violate its way to the end of all that is alive.

But before we can leave this cult we must understand that it is not all that is. That there is a cult of masculinity, and there is a man box, and you can leave them both. Burn this into your heart: this imperative to violate is not natural. It is cultural.

And we must resist every effort by the abusers, by the violators, to “naturalize” this drive to violate. For this is what abusers, violators, must do. They must attempt to convince themselves and everyone else that their way is the only way, that there is no other way. They must convince themselves and everyone else that not only is there nowhere outside the cult of masculinity, nowhere outside the man box, but indeed there exists neither a cult of masculinity nor a man box.

There is only this one way of life, which is not just a way of life because it encompasses all that is or ever was or ever will be. It is everything.

They say.

But they are lying, to themselves and to you. Even if they have an entire culture to back them up, they are still lying.

We must never forget that. There is a cult of masculinity, and there is a man box, and we can leave them. We can not only leave them. We can destroy them. We must. With all the world at stake, we must.

27 thoughts on “Derrick Jensen: The Man Box and the Cult of Masculinity”

  1. I love and admire him for speaking these much-needed truths. Kudos to him and the woman who birthed him, and the men who fathered him and mentored him. Long may he wave!

  2. I blame testosterone.
    Testosterone is a hell of a drug.
    Makes you aggressive and competitive.
    And muscular.
    We should feed the population synthetic estrogen to make them more feminine. (Oh yeah we already do. BPA in plastics). We should feed cops and soldiers steroids (oh yeah we already do). We should manipulate an al volunteer military into signing up by appealing to their “manly” side with keywords like “strong”. Are you army strong? (Army cold) enough to kill children?

    1. All that is required is for men to accept that Matriarchy works, that it does not require men to become subservient but to take their place as the Protectors and Supporters of Life. Support Women and support Mother Earth. That is ALL that is required of males. Nothing else. Use that fabulous energy source of testosterone for this!

  3. No, there is no need to destroy anything. Yes it’s terrible and this “man box” this testosterone is killing everything in site like a space invader. However if we resort to destruction, the continuation of horror will continue. Another way? Yes there is another way! Just agree to make all man-made laws illegitimate and take advice from women. The Iroquois Indians had a womens’ council that decided everything. The women owned everything (except the mens’ clothing). The men could be refused supplies if they went against the womens’ council’s advice. We need something like that, but online.

    1. Thanks for the comment. While it would be nice if a majority of people could “just agree to make all man-made laws illegitimate and take advice from women,” the chances of this actually occurring are none. Those in power would never voluntarily surrender even if it did. It does little good to hope for a magical transformation; a strategy to make it happen is what is needed, and what DGR advocates for: http://deepgreenresistance.org/deep-green-resistance-strategy/decisive-ecological-warfare

  4. Well we really don’t know what has a chance of occurring. We have to think “outside the box” and having a strategy of more violence is not thinking outside the box. Do we want a safer world? Do we want a world that thinks generations ahead? Women carry the next generation and so far women have been shut out of the power houses. However we don’t need to wrest power from anyone. We can simply start new systems, systems that are so good that people want to jump in. The systems will consist of online voting where every voice is equal to every other. White men have decided everything. But the systems they designed are wrong and fortunately, no longer necessary. It may have taken “representatives” to administer order before the internet but now that is moot. The trouble lies with us, “we the people” who seem to be stuck in a habitual frenzy of looking to a master to direct our destiny. However we can do it ourselves and it’s only a matter of time before we realize it. The Womens’ Council has drafted a template Constitution which can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/1549271785327588/Womens'%20Council%20draft%20Constitution%20/1557780301143403/

    We advise changing the calendar to the 13 moon calendar for example. Each year there are 13 moons, not 12. The Gregorian calendar which we use today, is meaningless, a calendar cobbled together by kings engaging in a pissing contest. The 13 moon calendar however is cyclical and will help us align ourselves with nature. We also advocate using another monetary system which is available today. We advocate open information (no patents, no copyrights) and live in a world without force – isn’t that a novel idea! And the system to keep it running smoothly is an online social/voting system where every person of reading and writing age, can make proposals and vote. An approval factor of 80% or more, passes the proposal. As we go deeper into technological advancement, there needs to be a system that keeps a check on it. What could be wiser than the wisdom of the collective?

    1. Thanks again for the thoughtful comment. Probably no one in DGR would disagree with the better, safer world you’re proposing, but what’s lacking in any vision like this is any plan for how the existing power structure goes away, without force or one kind or another. Nazi Germany surely wouldn’t have been stopped by a 13 month calendar. Women’s voting rights in Britain wouldn’t have been won by starting new systems so good that people would want to jump in, because the existing system of male rule doesn’t permit it; it took the hard, aggressive campaign of the Women’s Social and Political Union (also known as the Suffragettes) to do that. Please don’t misunderstand: of course it would be wonderful if a voluntary transformation in consciousness (and thus material conditions) were to take place; but every example we’re aware of in the history of civilized humanity indicates that it simply won’t, because there are too many rewards for those in control of the systems of patriarchy, industrialism, and capitalism to allow it to happen. We encourage everyone who sincerely wants a world “without force”–i.e., without hierarchies that concentrate wealth and power–to consider our analysis, which is covered in great detail in the book Deep Green Resistance and on our main website, http://deepgreenresistance.org/who-we-are/guiding-principles-of-deep-green-resistance

      Note that guiding principle #5 addresses patriarchy: “Deep Green Resistance is a radical feminist organization. Men as a class are waging a war against women. Rape, battering, incest, prostitution, pornography, poverty, and gynocide are both the main weapons in this war and the conditions that create the sex-class women. Gender is not natural, not a choice, and not a feeling: it is the structure of women’s oppression. Attempts to create more ‘choices’ within the sex-caste system only serve to reinforce the brutal realities of male power. As radicals, we intend to dismantle gender and the entire system of patriarchy which it embodies. The freedom of women as a class cannot be separated from the resistance to the dominant culture as a whole.”

      1. I don’t think it wise to “take down” anything. We don’t have to worry about the current power holders to give anything up. We make the new system so good that people would want to join and this system will extinguish. Sure it will try to stay afloat but it will lose all relevance. I’m extreme – I think it’s time to stop listening to men, period, regarding what we should do as humanity. Men need to support women now as we go into a whole new territory. Women will need the confidence boost and men can learn how to love at the same time. I love DGR but it still talks about war. That word needs to extinguish out of the language also. There is no need to pay any attention to the current regime. It will lose its footing by sheer neglect. It will have nothing to hold it up. A world where women lead may not look possible right now – but things are changing and (I believe) there may be some stormy times ahead. Then, disqualifying all man-made law and following the advice of (preferably wise) women, will be the way forward. I am looking ahead and I am looking for something completely different – the opposite of what we have today yet still without force. Our thinking has to change. Everything will be done through the mantle of egalitarianism. And it will be wonderful.

  5. This is eloquent and accurate on the topic of male culture/superstructure/domination ideology, thanks. But I would like to see the analysis expanded. I would like to see an empirical analysis defining and measuring male insatiability, at least some links to scientific studies. The assertion style of writing can never get beyond assertion. It can raise our consciousness to think about something, but it can’t establish anything without evidentiary support. Also, this social construction analysis presumes that there is no biological basis for male insatiable behavior, that void which we’re all familiar with which is expressed as a need to master and control and possess everything and which is the basis of (male) capitalism IMO. The result of cultural critiques like this may be that the material and scientific deeper bases of a topic don’t get explored. DGR of all groups with its emphasis on science could lead in improving radical analysis in this way.

  6. Third wave Feminism is the rise of the Sacred which can neither be ‘defined’ nor ‘explained’. We are re-claiming Who We Are as the Sacred Feminine – beyond politics, beyond science, beyond class, beyond all patriarchal definitions of Who We Are. The box we’ve been put in is no longer relevant. The Mother knows who She is.

  7. Hi DGR and thank you for your good and dangerous work.
    I am a huge fan of environmentalism and had to learn to include humans into that occupation the hard way.
    So here a few suggestions:
    It is not genes or chemicals that make us violators, but strife vs. success scemes that make us vulnerable to young, negative souls/spirits. (I hope you can fathom animism as potentially real, here).
    Yes! Most rapes have their pseudo-logic anchored in male supremacy, or, in this case the need to lead in the dance for sexual fulfillment. If i compare rape to child molestation and take from personal experience that woman can become violators easily too, i have to come to the conclusion that these are spiritual afflictions and not mendable by force alone.
    I want to give the hippie revolution, which, to me initiated feminism and environmentalism and spiritualism in the western world, as an example, when i state that woman although never to be blamed for rape, have accepted only part of the sexual revolution in that they have taken full control over their body and life, but not their equal share in the search for prospective partners.
    I guess female hippies have no different chances, when it comes to being raped, but i can assume that they might initiate relations, if they want to. Which would rob the male part of the compulsion to show dominant or initiatory behaviour in order to have at least a chance for “a successful living”. But instead most western females want equal rights, but zero possibility of hurt or loss and quite a few seem to speculate for material gain, which can be considered very alienating and aggressive, if one has to follow the urge to be liked by these people without appropriate bait. I do not want to put the blame on the female, just want to say that our system is enabled by cooperation and therefore not exactly dependent on male supremacy anymore.
    There are quite a few movements where the male serves the chosen female without becoming ruled, but the effect is the same in systems with inequal distribution of resources. So maybe not only sexual violation, but all behavior towards inequality should be considered insanity. As an anti-authoritan victim of psychiatry myself, i can guarantee you that those labels already used have a great impact on the human environment and therefore on the labeled, too. And the humane treatment of the confused should certainly be a concern of deep ecology, too. But i digress. Thanks again for the hard work and good luck. 🙂

  8. I know women who have insatiable desires for shoes and purses. I know women who’ve stolen. I know women who are abusive manipulators who are only comfortable controlling others.

    Avarice, greed, gluttony, and whatever word describes the need to viciously control and exploit others, these are not solely masculine traits. They are human motives for escaping various voids mentioned above.

    In his books (which I consider to be post-civilized gospel), Jensen talks about this psychological void, this alienation from nature and reality, as if it’s the black hole at the middle of civilization’s galaxy. But it feels that only more recently has Jensen gone on to assign this void a gender, which gives me cause to worry about where he’s going.

    1. We’re all disconnected from nature. That was by design. But women don’t go leveling villages when they get “in a mood”. Where are examples of this by women? Nowhere. What about by men – everywhere, always, throughout history and still today. I’m not saying it’s you as a man, or every man. But everyman condones it by his silence. Very few men acknowledge the fact that men kill, rape, pillage, to a degree women couldn’t hope to meet. And women care and clean to a degree men couldn’t imagine to meet. Men don’t go through nine months of gestating the next generation. So we are NOT equal. But I would settle for 50/50. Why do men not realize no women or too few women are present or even consulted when they make their “laws” for everyone? Which are stupid laws anyway?

      1. I just talked this through with my partner. She and I disagreed, but the conversation was much longer than I’m willing to commit to typing here, so I’ll be brief and leave too many points up to debate.

        It is a fact that men, primarily men, have done humanity’s worst deeds, and continue to commit atrocity after atrocity. That’s not up for debate. What’s debatable are the causes.

        If atrocity were the male tendency, then all men would do it. If the definition of masculinity was to lie to aboriginies about not stealing their land, then I wouldn’t feel guilty that my ancestors did it. You said yourself that it’s not me as a man, nor is it all men. This negates the argument that masculinity is the root cause.

        Jensen’s older works focused on culture as the cause. I agree with that, though I’ll admit that some of it is biological. Men commit atrocities — be it razing a village, subjegating and exploiting workers, or polluting the swamp — because that it what this culture drives them to. All atrocity is a by-product of civilization’s most valued male asset: success. From a very early age, boys are pushed to succeed. The flip side of the coin that teaches us to value opinionless, silent, beautiful girls, teaches boys that they must be the fastest strongest smartest person who can put a ball through a ring better than anyone else, and that all others are stepping stones on the way to their own success. The atrocity that results from this path to succecss depends very heavily on the environmental algorithm that comprises each man’s personality. Unfortunately, I can’t go into as much detail as I’d like to there. But all along the way, men are selected for their success, often, and with unconscious culpability, by women.

        CASE STUDY: If someone had purchased a few of the young artist Hitler’s paintings and afforded him the ability to get laid, would he still have been angry at society for deeming him worthless, and would he have then developed along a more open-minded, less brutal path?

        If women were entirely innocent in this process, their sexualized, idealized heroes would be complacent men, happily living in the forest on meagre income. But the men women desire are the achievers. Mr. Darcy may be celebrated for his romantic inclinations, his honor, and his respect for women, but his massive income was not innocent. It never is. Why didn’t Austen write about a kid like Oliver Twist? Because real-world Oliver Twist got his ass kicked on a daily basis because he was tolerant and sensitive in a brutal world. He was wholly alone until he realized that the only way to gain safety, respect, and eventually a lover, was to engage in thievery and armed robbery. Helloooo Jack Sparrow!

        No, women are not as outwardly brutal as men. When they are, it’s usually attributable to mental illness or poverty. But all along the way, they help form the men who are brutal, teaching those who’ve lost at selection to find other, crueller means toward success to get the attention they need to be valued as existing the right way in this world. This is not a conscious decision that individual women make. It is an algorithm developed by the collective.

        Individually, *some* women are very much guilty of atrocity. The difference, as Carol Gilligan pointed out (in a way), is that men direct it outward, while women internalize the abuse. Jensen’s view, which I wholly subscribe to, is that our culture is violent because we are all living through abuse and PTSD handed down through generations. His father committed atrocities upon his family. In my family, it was my mother and step-mother who delivered the abuse: That I would be a life failure if I wasn’t a millionaire by 25. That I deserved to have my nose broken for not keeping an immaculate room at age 7. That I would one day be as sexually unfulfilling as my father because I was just as lazy as he was.

        Behind every good man is an equally good woman is the old saying. The problem, aside from the assumption of who should be in front, is the value we place on the word “good.” In the contenxt of that adage, it means “successful.”

        None of us is innocent.

        1. If something is true 80% of the time, then we have to take a look at it. If Toyota cars lost their brakes 80% of the time or even 1% of the time, we wouldn’t say we can’t hold Toyota accountable and have to blame it on all car manufacturers. It’s playing with logic to try to wheedle out of it. I know you are defending yourself and good men. So if you want to do that, then bring in the women, support women to come forward and lead till we both put in a new system of complete egalitarianism. Nobody is saying all men. Men are still loved, we just want to get out of this era of Man-tricks!

          1. Agree. I’m not trying to defend or wheedle, just to understand. I don’t believe in good and bad as much as cause and effect. It’s a much longer argument than I’m willing to commit to today. I’d actually have to go do a ton of research to make my points.

            Sorry!

          2. We don’t want a ‘seat at the table’. The whole table needs to be thrown out and replaced. When the ‘founders’ came up with the beautiful words of independence and freedom they based the philosophy on what they learned from the 6 Nations; however the actual final authority in the 6 Nations was the Women. When the amerikans came up with their papers they would not even allow women a ‘vote’ nevermind the authority to decide what would be law. And that has never changed.

      2. And sorry for ignoring your question about men not realizing women aren’t consulted when creating law.

        I don’t know. I consult my partner on every decision beyond what I’m ordering when we go out for dinner. I can’t vouch for the lawmakers. That process is criminal even if not illegal. I can only assume that those men are driven to succeed, and develop laws that the most successful deem valuable to their interests. We should be petitioning Paul Ryan’s wife instead of fruitlessly calling his office 30,000 times, and ask her to be a voice. If she’s willing. Because maybe she thinks women should be subjugated. I just don’t know.

        ***VOTE FOR ELIZABETH WARREN***
        But also vote for Bernie Sanders.

        1. It’s much more pervasive than that. It wouldn’t matter if you asked Paul Ryan’s wife, that is not the angle I am making. I am saying that men make rules for everyone and only seek the input of men. They don’t seek the input of women or children or the elderly. Paul Ryan’s wife and every woman, is stuck in this net of male rule. Who wrote the constitution? Who laid down the events of history, language, science? All just males. Women only came in early 20th century. And even then, minusculely. The entire construct is male-derived and designed. Unfortunately women don’t have a vision of their own. Until now. We now have the Womens’ Council that lays down our vision. Care to check it out? I hope you find it energizing!

          https://www.facebook.com/notes/womens-council/womens-council-draft-constitution/1557780301143403/

          1. Thanks — I’m already on board. This would be a much better place if women had an equal seat at the table. Of course, it would be a better place if there were an ethical prerequisite to running for election, because I’m not convinced that women are innately immune to power’s allures. But it would be a wonderful start simply to have more of them in the decision processes, if only for their own rights and not just a more humane approach to litigation.

        2. Warren and all the “successful” women in this framework, only prove that they are good at working the male system. Women have brought virtually nothing to the table for women themselves. Maternity leave has not improved one iota in the last 30 years and breastfeeding continues to be considered something shameful that needs to be covered up by clothing or a shawl. Though men can strut around in military uniform (killing squad symbols) and they are “honored”. See how the dysfunction works?

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