Why Men Are So Hard To Get Along With...and...What You Can Do About It, by Jim Sellner, Ph.D., The Relationship Press; $29.95
The Phallic Imperative is aimed at women who want to understand men better, and at men who want to improve their relationships with women and other men. Key issues addressed in this book, which is written in a direct, colloquial, pungent (one would almost say "masculine") style, include why so many men feel emotionally isolated, guilty about their sexuality, driven to succeed in everything but love and relationships. It also examines why women withdraw from men sexually, or leave them.
"The book is designed to help men and women understand why the average man behaves the way he does," Sellner stresses, "written form a specifically masculine point of view. My hope is that this exploration of masculine identity, behavior and meaning - male psychology - will lead to more understanding, acceptance and love between the sexes."
That's a tall order, but Sellner is more than up to the challenge. His book provides a detailed, wide-ranging guide to the host of complex issues facing today's men - and the women in their lives - anchored in his many years of clinical experience, enhanced by thoughtful reference to the research and writings of luminaries ranging from Freud and Jung to Robert Bly and Leonard Cohen.
Chapter 1 - Male Dinosaurs: A View From The Swamp - sets the tone immediately. "In the social fabric of the '90s, many men are like dinosaurs," Sellner writes. "They are in deep trouble psychologically, physically and spiritually... Most men are afraid, defensive and confused when it comes to intimate relationships. Most men project onto their wives and their children those hidden, destructive, fearful parts of themselves...The price men pay is that they feel emotionally isolated, guilty, impotent and sad, even while they protest that they don't have such feelings."
Through 14 provocatively titled chapters - each developed in a series of short essays, with equally evocative titles - e.g., Men Lie When They Feel Concerned ("Sex, Lies and Grade 10," "The Pinocchio Syndrome," "A Woman Scorned"); Achievement-Oriented Men Have A Self-Perception Of Brutal Omnipotence ("Bambi Meets Godzilla," "Grieving Back to Life") - Sellner explains how and why men are often - as he puts it - so hard to get along with. This is particularly true when they are operating from the fearful "shadow side" of their personalities.
"Most men don't even know they're afraid," Sellner observes. "That fear needs to be exhumed. Only by examining their fear will men be freed to change the behavior and attitudes that are killing them, and many of the people closest to them."
There is much that is quotable in this book, which is brimming with insights and memorable observations. And it is not, by any means, a "downer," or pessimistic about the issues, and men's potential to move toward a better, healthier place. Sellner shows the way forward for men who wish to experience the "beauty, love and joy of living by truly masculine values."
"I want to make it very clear that I don']t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with the phallic imperative," Sellner says. "On the contrary, this aspect of our false self is often exciting, adventurous, outrageous and arrogant. It can be an asset in mixing with the world. It's also useful as a protective shield in a world that can be hostile and cruel. It is a dimension of a man that many women seem to find attractive. Only the foolish, naive and boring man would attempt to go through life without respecting creatively expressing his phallic self. This is the problem with the 'New Age' man who, in an attempt to get the new woman to like him, has trashed completely and unthinkingly those attributes of his masculine identity that he thinks might be unacceptable.
"Old ways die hard, however. Men are having difficulty learning how to love or work with women. It seems men learn to adapt or cooperate only through trauma or economic necessity. Yet the rewards for us are tremendous. A relationship between two equals is far friendlier, much more satisfying and is crucial to a man's long-term mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
Male dinosaurs are unaware of how they're restricted by the phallic imperative and how it governs their behavior. They're stuck in the swampy confines of their phallic roles. This book is for men who are aware that they are out of step, but feel trapped and are looking for ways to break out."
For any men who fit this description -- and for those men and women who would enjoy a detailed review of contemporary masculine psychology -- The Phallic Imperative represents an excellent and much-needed entry into this relatively new field. "Men are people too!" Sellner writes. And as he makes abundantly clear, they are struggling as perhaps never before to establish a new identity in today's chaotic and uncertain society.
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