In the Company of Men

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although Marvin Allen emphasizes that his awareness of male emotional problems comes from his own experience with an abusive father, a controlling mother, and a loveless marriage, the most immediate impetus for his therapy program comes from Robert Bly’s so-called “Wildman” approach to recovering the primitive male psyche. Allen is the founder of the Texas Wildman Gatherings and the leader of the first and second International Men’s Conferences.

The first half of this quite ordinary self-help book describes what Allen sees as the most common and debilitating male emotional problems—the inability to feel with women, the drive to excel at work, and the reluctance to express emotion. It also analyzes, informally and anecdotally, the causes of these problems in father/son and mother/son relationships as well as in the gender-conditioning instilled in men by the media and the culture at large. The second half of the book narrates Allen’s own struggles with therapy and promotes what he calls the “healing power” of a men’s group. Here he describes techniques he has developed for helping men release their emotions, heal their love relationships, and make peace with their parents.

The men’s movement delineated in this book is not the same as that of the last decade, when male emotional openness was described primarily in terms of men becoming more like women. Instead, the Wildman movement is directed toward releasing what might be characterized as primal male emotions of aggression and anger. Allen’s most important contribution to male therapy is the baseball bat, which he urges his clients to use to pound on a pillow to release their feelings—a technique that may be the most telling indication of the depth, or lack of depth, of his treatment program. For what some may call the expression of honest emotion, others may see as violent, and sometimes dangerous, self-indulgence.