Article Thumbnail

The Bewildering Search for a Male Utopia

Guys who dream of a perfectly ‘masculine’ society have just one problem — they already live in a man-made world

On October 4, 1903, in a house in Vienna where Beethoven had died, the philosopher Otto Weininger shot himself in the chest. Mortally wounded, he survived only as far as the city’s general hospital, becoming one of many in a disturbing trend of elaborate suicides among young intellectuals and artists in fin-de-siècle Austria. He was 23 years old — and a failure.

But, as the culture romanticized such grand exits from this mortal plane, Weininger’s death created buzz for his last published work, a volume that attracted little interest while he was alive: Sex and Character: An Investigation of Fundamental Principles. In years to come, this book would find a receptive audience in Ludwig Wittgenstein, James Joyce and even Adolf Hitler. In fact, a biography of Weininger published this year refers to him as “Hitler’s favorite Jew,” in part because some of the philosopher’s beliefs made suitable material for Nazi propaganda. 

Weininger’s treatise wasn’t just anti-Semitic, though. As the title suggests, he had some ideas on the nature of men and women, as well as their relations. Threatened by the movement toward the emancipation and suffrage of women, and viewing femininity as the source of a corrupting sexuality and the dire institution of marriage, he sought to dissolve existing gender roles in a rather strange and extreme fashion, according to a deeply misogynist logic: “If it be the case that womanliness is simply immorality, then woman must cease to be womanly and try to be manly.” By this, he did not mean that women should endeavor to resemble men, but that they would have to overcome their feminine nature, eliminating the category of “woman” (as he understood it) altogether. He proposed an end to procreation and matrimony, a world in which, regardless of sex, everyone would conform to his new, elevated archetype of the absolute male. 

Otto Weininger in 1903. Via Wikimedia Commons

In its anxiety of emergent feminism, its fierce homophobia, its notions of celibacy and its bizarre insistence thatfemale is not a gender but a cosmic energy,” as one critic wryly puts it, Sex and Character anticipated some of the most hostile and unhinged rhetoric we see today in the manosphere — including online forums devoted to the ideologies of the red pill, incel identity, male supremacism and MGTOW, or “Men Going Their Own Way.” This digital mosaic of men’s groups — overlapping in many areas — has produced countless theories of how women wreck the potential harmony of human civilization. 

Professor Susan C. Anderson of the University of Oregon has written that Weininger “ascribed to ‘woman’ all the negative characteristics plaguing the modern age,” and that is indeed the prevailing opinion on these websites. Yet he became a figure of fascination and ridicule for doing something the keyboard warriors rarely attempt: He extended his thinking to an absurdist climax — to the impossible dream of what Anderson calls a “masculine utopia,” an ideal society that has exorcised any female influence once and for all.

* * * * *

I first started wondering about conceptualizations of male utopias when I stumbled across a thread on the since-banned r/MGTOW2 subreddit. The guys were discussing an old newspaper clipping — an unusual obituary for a Greek man named Mihailo Toloto, who died at the age of 82 in 1938. The son of a woman who died in childbirth, and raised in a monastery, he allegedly lived all his years without ever seeing a woman, and received a “special burial” for that reason. 

The MGTOWs were wistful in their speculation about Toloto’s life, describing him as singularly happy for having remained ignorant of the female scourge. A few expressed jealousy. It made sense: If your primary affiliation is with a community that “wants nothing to do with women,” wouldn’t the quiet life of a monk suit you? You can actually read a lot of manosphere debate on the question of going “monk mode,” which means abandoning the pursuit of heterosexual intercourse of any kind. Some dudes swear by the voluntarily celibate, or “vocel” life; others are unsure it will improve their lot.

Still, as they envied a dead man’s cloistered existence, the MGTOWs didn’t seem in a hurry to sell all their possessions and embark on a process that culminates in solemn holy vows. It was just a fantasy. Now and then, some guy will idly propose an independent settlement for men like themselves, but no effort at organization grows out of it. “Saw this a while ago,” wrote a user on Reddit’s original r/MGTOW board in 2018, linking to an Atlas Obscura story headlined “The Vineyard Where Retired French Soldiers Make Wine.” The post continued: “Today, it entered my mind again. Could something like this be a model for MGTOW men? Doesn’t have to be a vineyard or an agrarian commune, but a shared living space in general. I guess some MGTOW men like their independence, but male loneliness is a huge issue in Western nations.”

Via theredarchive.com

The few replies were dismissive or noncommittal. “So, a farm?” read the top reply. For all their condemning of present conditions, the red-pilled man has a remarkably scant imagination for alternatives, even when it’s something as basic as the model of a self-sustaining commune.

According to Sally Kitch, the university and regents professor of women’s and gender studies and founding director of the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University, who has written three books on feminism and utopianism, that lack of vision has a very clear explanation: We already live under masculine norms, so there is no real need to dream of a state controlled by men. That’s where we already are.

First of all, we have to understand why utopian communities existed, how they came to be,” Kitch tells me. “The whole idea of them was to establish something that wasn’t prevalent in mainstream society. Male dominance was prevalent.” She notes that “a number of communities founded by men where male dominance continued even if the philosophy wasn’t explicitly about that,” among them an ill-fated project known as Fruitlands, an agrarian retreat established in 1843, about 25 miles outside of Boston. 

Taking its inspiration from the Transcendentalist movement of the day, it was led by two men: Charles Lane and Amos Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott, who would go on to write Little Women, as well as a short satire of what happened in her seven months on the farm. In that piece, she recounts how her mother, Abby May Alcott, held the entire place together almost single-handedly while the men engaged in philosophical babble. Bronson Alcott “moved his family to this community that was meant to be focused on communing with nature, self-reliance and separation from the worldliness of mainstream society,” Kitch says, “and his wife almost died of overwork.” 

The Fruitlands farmhouse in 1915. Via Wikimedia Commons

This is but one example of how men’s efforts to reconfigure society with utopian ambitions merely replicate the sexism of a world they supposedly wish to leave behind — in both settings, they have the power to impose their will on women. Another failed male utopia Kitch cites is Oneida Community, founded in central New York state in 1848, which lasted until 1881 and boasted more than 300 members at its height. For this reason, it’s frequently described as one of the more “successful” experiments in communal living. 

Kitch, however, sees it somewhat differently. “The women again were expected to do the caretaking,” she says. “They also instituted plural marriage.” Girls, some as young as 13 or 12 years old, “were initiated into this marriage without their consent,” then made sexually available to every adult male living there. “There are diaries left from this community that show us how painful and excruciating it was to be passed around from man to man like a piece of meat,” Kitch adds. Just as in a range of mainstream religious institutions — Oneida was based on the Christian doctrines known as “perfectionism” — many of these dual-sex collectives encouraged women “to be subservient, not to have leadership or authority and often to acquiesce to sexual advances” from ministerial figures, she says. 

The list goes on. Any number of male-founded cults and settlements theoretically founded on utopian principles, from Jonestown in the 1970s to NXIVM in the 21st century, ultimately served the leader’s desire for status and submissive women. Other failed communes established by men were merely doomed business ventures: In 1868, a French immigrant named Ernest Valeton de Boissiere bought a few thousand acres of land in Kansas, hoping to create a town that sustained itself on silk farming, but he couldn’t retain enough of a workforce or compete with the price of Asian silk. Today, “Silkville” is a ghost town. In the 1920s, the industrialist Henry Ford planned an “ideal city” around new rubber factories in the Amazon Rainforest, where his Brazilian employees would live according to strict rules prohibiting women, tobacco or alcohol on the grounds. But the unforgiving tropics foiled the rubber operation, the laborers rebelled against enforced social norms and the project, “Fordlandia,” failed by 1934. 

When I ask if there is an example, perhaps in literature, of a literally all-male world, Kitch pauses for a moment. “Are you familiar with the Catholic Church?” she asks. “Look at the Vatican, look at the cardinals and bishops — a real, all-male world in which women play only subservient, caretaker roles. It’s one of the most extreme examples that still exists in the so-called civilized world. Monasteries took over for abbeys, they control convents, and you still need a male in the convent. I’m just reinforcing that we live in that world and take it for granted. You could look in the Fortune 500 companies, although women play roles there. Certain professions — computer science is horribly sexist toward women. An all-male world is what we consider the norm.” 

Because she’s brought up monks, I mention the story of Mihailo Toloto and the reverence the MGTOWs had for this man who never encountered a woman, apart from his mother. “That’s the Taliban philosophy,” she replies. (Among other books, Kitch is the author of Contested Terrain: Reflections with Afghan Women Leaders.) “The boys are taken from their mothers at age seven.” 

I remark that as Kabul fell to the military group, right-wing men in the U.S. voiced support for a repressive regime that will move to harshly curtail women’s freedoms. She’s not the least bit surprised, of course. “The best way of asserting masculinity is just to keep women out,” she says. 

Via Gab

* * * * *

Kitch had thoroughly convinced me that any “masculine utopia” would, at most, amplify the gender inequality with which we’re all familiar, even if we’ve internalized it as a social baseline. Apart from the church and male-founded communes, she mentioned the military, too. “An ethos of having each other’s backs and living for each other is strongly inculcated in the troops. The real world doesn’t work like that, so maybe they create places” akin to men’s web forums, she’d told me. But even the army has women. 

So I continued to wonder: Where would a man go to abandon women completely? He’d have to separate from society itself. Eventually, my research led me to Nasalam.

Via Nasalam.org

Nasalam is an all-male commune situated on 21 acres of wooded land northeast of Springfield, Missouri, among the Ozark Mountains. The location, according to its official website, is significant, as “the energy of ancient spirits is strong here. This is energy that can be utilized to further our work to create a new paradigm for a new age that transcends humanity’s past.” The group has been there since 1995, when people associated with an ashram dating back to 1969 — established in Seattle, then moved to a farm — found and bought this new property. An “eclectic tantric/spiritual community” for men, Nasalam encourages visitors and is currently open to new members. “Like the ancient Essenes, we are a vegetarian community and strive to grow our own food. And we have a modest ritual practice as part of our lives,” the site reads. 

Since interested men are encouraged to write to the organization in order to learn more, I did. Soon I was in touch with Nasalam’s founder, Uriel Amilius Andros, who will turn 81 this month.

Uriel Amilius Andros. Via Nasalam.org

In an email, Andros tells me that the commune is rather small at the moment, just three men. “Two of us are in an intimate relationship and share a bedroom,” he writes, while the third “sleeps in the main bedroom that also houses the computers. The third small bedroom has been turned into a library where a guest can bed down.” He explains that they’re building additional bedrooms, but the reason there are presently so few at Nasalam is that a fire in 2014 destroyed their main living space. The only replacement they could afford was a mobile home, which they have been slowly expanding upon ever since. In 2019, they finished the addition of a greenhouse to the southern end of the home, to increase their stores of food.

Via Nasalam.org
Via ic.org

The commitment to a vegetarian diet and a desire to live close to nature are hallmarks of projects like this. But I was interested in how Nasalam came to be a strictly male undertaking. Andros says that early on, there were some women in the community. “It was an odd mix typical of hippie communes — a few straight men, a few straight women and mostly bi or gay men. It was in this environment that I fathered my only child.” He adds, “It’s a long story!”

Referencing his numerous spiritual visions, I ask what, if anything, inspired the all-male eventuality of the commune. “[M]y life experience has suggested to me that men and women are both better off living with people of their same sex. I think society would be much more peaceful were this the norm,” he explains. “I think some aspect of that is why traditional spiritual communities have been limited to male or female monks/nuns.” 

We’re back to the monastery example. Andros, however, is no ordinary monk. “I believe that men understand men, and the sexuality of other men, in ways that women cannot,” he writes, adding that this “is obviously true for women as well.” It’s also “particularly true for men who have any sort of sexual dysfunction that requires sympathetic handling; for men who have gender dysphoria that might put them out of the mainstream; for men who might want friendship/intimacy with men whether or not there is sexuality involved. In other words,” he concludes, Nasalam provides “an environment in which men are accepted in all their variety as they are — one of the aspects of genuine tantra.” 

Now we’re closing in on another question I have: What are the sexual practices of Nasalam? In Andros’ biographical statement, he alludes to a training in tantra “that changed forever my own attitude toward sex and using sexual energy. It was also the beginning of a never-ending interest in experimenting with different kinds of sexual arrangements and the universal appeal of phallic worship.” 

That sounded important.

“Because we are an all-male community and there is sexual activity, people assume we are a ‘gay’ community. That really is not true,” he writes. “For one thing, we have never allowed anal sex between men here. There are lots of factors around that, but basically it amounts to the roles involved in anal sex discouraging a sense of equality between men. So, we could be called with some accuracy a ‘g0y’ community.” 

Here, Andros refers to a relatively new subculture of men who identify as attracted to other men, but not as gay or bisexual, rejecting anal intercourse. LGBTQ media criticizes the movement.

Via ic.org

“As to phallic worship, not in the sense of setting up a giant phallus and chanting ‘Hail Cock!’” Andros explains, clearly not without a sense of humor about what outsiders may think. Andros says that he once spent several weeks in California learning erotic body massage. Afterward, this “became a central part of our lives here, and that is a very real kind of phallic worship when a group of men are gathered round one of their comrades and focusing on pleasuring his cock. An advantage [of] this practice is that it gives every man a weekly erotic/sexual release whether or not he’s in an active relationship and most men seemed satisfied with that,” he writes.

The arrangement may not be for everyone, and Andros acknowledges that younger men are hesitant to join a commune now made up of older men. “At some point, that will change and be the way it used to be,” he says. Overall, he reports that the challenges of a single-gender setup are “minimal.” He believes this is “largely because there is very little stress for men here, in part because we have always discouraged men from having jobs outside the community. I think that being free of TV is another thing that makes for less conflict and stress — access to the internet and magazine subscriptions provide quite enough contact with the rest of the world!” 

If the hateful writings of Otto Weininger and red-pilled guys of the 21st century offer no viable solutions to their authors’ angst, and male-planned models of dual-sex systems subjugate women no matter their utopian intent, then Nasalam could represent the rare, slim promise of a community by, for and about men. One that simply exists apart from gender norms, with an idiosyncratic form of masculine camaraderie. 

The thing is, it is hard, continuous labor to maintain a sanctuary of this kind, and it’s been a life’s work for Andros. Somehow, despite their chosen name, I don’t see “Men Going Their Own Way” attempting a similar escape. They won’t surrender the status quo they claim is so unfair to them. Easier to keep the spoils while saying you have nothing.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information