The Way Men Think

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the earliest stages, all human fetuses follow the same developmental path. at a particular juncture, however, they diverge. a flood of testosterone starts the development of male physical characteristics; if this does not happen the fetus goes on to develop female characteristics. in a similar fashion, early in childhood, the male separates psychologically. This critical moment, the authors argue, introduces a permanent element of dislocation into the lives of men for which there is no equivalent in the lives of women.

The male wound is actually a two-stage developmental process: a disidentification from the mother and then a counteridentification with the father or some other male figure. Successful accomplishment of this process has major positive consequences for the male: First, the child has learned a fundamental lesson of agency, the freedom to act on the world in light of his own needs and intentions. Second, the experience itself provides a constantly replenishing lifetime source of psychic energy. Finally—and what is of most interest to the authors—the male child has developed “what, in evolutionary terms, is our species’ most conspicuous characteristic: our capacity for abstract passion.” This ability to care with passionate intensity about abstract ideas, the authors say, accounts for male achievements ranging from science and technology to the arts.

While the male wound makes men adept at mechanical and abstract reasoning—“the inclination to see people as things, and things as people”—it also makes them vulnerable to personal insensitivity, misogyny, promiscuity, and sexual perversion. The authors vividly illustrate the benefits and costs of the male wound using the lives of a wide range of well-known historical and contemporary men.