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.

15 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:

  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:'%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,

      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.

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