Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Self, Lois S.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Communication


Bly; Robert Iron John; Men's movement--United States; Rhetoric--Political aspects--United States


This study is a critique of the rhetoric in Robert Bly's 1990 bestseller, Iron John, the primary text of the Mythopoetic men's movement. Bly's rhetorical strategies have significant appeal for critical rhetoricians interested in gender and communication because it redefines contemporary masculinity in response to the discontent of white, middle-class, professional men. Mythopoetic rhetoric defines a fierce, aggressive masculinity based on the essentialist belief in a core masculinity and femininity. Essentialism creates a dichotomy which separates men and women into distinctly masculine and feminine spheres. This division prevents constructive communication between the sexes by focusing on differences. It restricts the freedom of men and women to choose from the wide range of communication modes offered by the constructionist view of communication. Bly's popularity as a poet and storyteller has created a widespread message with strong political implications. His persuasive appeal evolves from his promise to restore weak, powerless males to wholeness. He targets white males with ancient myths and stories of heroic warriors who prove their manhood on the battlefield. Bly's message threatens the progress women have made constructing an assertive image and promotes inequity between the genders. In response to feminism, Mythopoetics promote division between the sexes and construct a masculinity based on aggressive and reactionary communication. One of Bly's primary rhetorical strategies is to initiate white males into a distinctly masculine world. During initiation, men bond with mentors and other men to restore their "deep masculine" identity. Bly's redefined essentialist masculinity offers to free men from responsibility to improve oppressive conditions for women by constructing images of white men as oppressed. The essentialist view, as opposed to the constructionist view, offers simple, fixed solutions in a time of fast-changing social conditions concerning gender and communication. This close reading of Iron John seeks to improve communication between men and women by exposing the barriers constructed in Mythopoetic rhetoric.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [139]-142)


vi, 142 pages




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