The Male Feminist – Second Installment

In the first installment I suggested that there was evidence that men who are not the primary bread winners are feeling less masculine because being a provider has been associated with manliness.   One comment in response suggested that a non-primary breadwinner  male husband/partner can take responsibility for certain household tasks  – car maintenance, landscaping, home improvements, etc., – that might be more suited to traditional male roles and that can compensate, to some degree, for his lowered status as the primary financial provider.  Interesting idea and probably helpful for some families where roles can be negotiated with respect for each person’s abilities and interests.   The suggestion reminded me of the scene from the 80’s movie, “Mr. Mom”, when Michael Keaton’s unemployed character tries to assert his manhood to his wife’s boss by picking up a chain saw pretending to remodel the house.   He had no clue what he was doing but thought the symbolism of a chain saw would preserve his manhood when his wife was the sole breadwinner.   Why does wielding a chain saw clearly convey masculinity?

The careers chosen by men and women does reinforce the notion that men gravitate towards tools and physically challenging work far more than women.  The data is startling.  According to 2014 US Dept. of Labor  data women make up 97% of pre-school and kindergarten teachers,  90% of registered nurses, 94% of secretaries and administrative  assistants, 90% of bookkeeping and accounting clerks and 81% of elementary and  middle school teachers.  On the other extreme men make up almost  100% of what can be labeled as the following blue collar occupations – cement masons, crane and tower operators, bus and truck mechanics, brick masons, roofers, HVAC mechanics, tool and die makers, automotive technicians and mechanics, highway maintenance workers.   Does this data merely reflect an artifact of culturally defined stereotypical roles or is there something inherently different about how the male brain operates which leads to career preferences?  Certainly the few women who do enter these male dominated professions would mention the sexism and harassment that they have encountered and this probably accounts to some degree why women do not choose these occupations.   However,  given the progress of the feminist movement and laws against gender discrimination  genetic differences between men and women  have to account for a large measure of occupational choices.  One might conclude that  blue collar men are more willing to identify themselves as completely masculine and at the same time feel increasingly threatened by the increase in gender equality.  White collar men, who are for the most part sharing their work environment with women, are probably less threatened by gender equality but at the same time find it difficult to identify as completely masculine.   If a man can’t validate his masculinity through his career choices how can he express his Y chromosome in our increasingly gender equal society?   The inherent attributes of the Y chromosome will not simply disappear because of cultural changes in gender role expectations.   The challenge remains, how can a man be comfortable as a man while accepting the reality of a gender equal world?

The conversation will continue in the next installment.

The Male Feminist – First Installment

Recently President Obama in an essay for Glamour Magazine shared his perspective on women’s rights and how a man can and should be a feminist.   He wrote. “It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too.  And as spouses and partners and boyfriends we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”

I take no issue with the notion that men should fight sexism but question the idea that creating truly equal relationships is the appropriate or possible pathway.    My objection is equating equal relationship with equal opportunity.   The question is whether or not men can feel comfortable in their masculinity and women comfortable in their femininity without dominance or discrimination on the part of either gender?   The quick answer is, Why not?  However, the details of what masculinity and femininity  would actually look like in a world of equal opportunity is worthy of discussion.

In my blog I have attempted to begin the conversation about expressing gender roles that preserves both masculine and feminine identities while abandoning stereotypical attitudes that fostered patriarchy and marginalization of women.  The subtleties of gender role make this task difficult and at times confusing.   There are no firm distinctions, other than the obvious anatomical ones, between biology and culture to explain how gender is expressed.   Therefore trying to forge a new paradigm for masculinity becomes a difficult proposition.  As gender equality for women in the workplace and in sports has progressed it has clearly allowed women to abandon the stereotypes of femininity that placed limits on their choices and expectations.   A modern women can go to work as an attorney in business attire, go home and change for a benefit gala putting on a designer dress, high heels and do a full make up job and wake up the next morning to run a 10K competitive race.   In this scenario a women assumes the roles of professional,  fashionesta and  jock all while still embracing her female identity.

However, the masculine identity seems so much more confining.   Since many “typical” masculine roles are imbued  with  some degree of subjugation of women how can men move beyond dominance of women and still feel comfortable defining themselves as men?   For example, few things are considered more manly than providing for and protecting your family. So it’s no wonder that so many men in our country are in crisis, with technology cited as the reason for rising populism and discontent.  The way in which society defines masculinity is often tied to work and technology is changing the nature of work as we know it. Smart machines and robots can do tasks that once only humans could do. And in the sectors where this is happening fastest—like manufacturing—many of the job casualties are the kinds of jobs traditionally held by men.  As a result, In a growing number of households,  wives are out earning their husbands and more and more fathers are becoming stay at home Dads with their wives being the primary breadwinners.  One unfortunate consequence is that men who have lost their jobs or have had their income sharply reduced are more likely to commit domestic violence.

How does Mr. Male feminist reconcile his new status as secondary provider with manliness?  Some would suggest that the concept of manliness is simply inconsistent with gender equality.  They would advise men to just stop thinking of themselves as men, abandon the stereotypes of masculinity and shift to being a person even dropping  gender defining pronouns from our vocabulary.

Is this the only path forward for those of us with a Y chromosome?  I hope not.   What do you think?

Why Do Some Men Hate Hillary Clinton?

Hillary’s unpopularity with the non-college white male demographic is way above any other polling segment.   In my opinion this distortion in pattern must be attributable to something other than differences in political ideology.  Non-college and or blue collar white men appear to be uncomfortable with the notion of a female president that has little to do with the individual candidate but more to do with their perception of gender roles.  It is a complex issue and deserves explanation.  The question is, why do non-college white males feel such hostility towards a prominent female politician?

There is no question that non-college educated men in a relatively wealthy country have had difficulty coping with the enormous changes in the labor market and the home over the past half-century. As technology and trade have devalued brawn, less-educated men have struggled to find a role in the workplace. Women, on the other hand, are surging into expanding sectors such as health care, education and the law aided by their advanced and targeted schooling. As education has become more important, boys have also fallen behind girls in school. Men who lose jobs in manufacturing often never work again at jobs with equivalent wages. Men without work may find it hard to attract a permanent mate. The result, for low-skilled men, is a poisonous combination of no job or under employment, no family and few prospects.  The growing equality of the sexes is one of the biggest achievements of the post-war era: people, especially women, have greater opportunities than ever before to achieve their ambitions regardless of their gender. But some men have been unable to cope with this new world.

However there is more going on than economic displacement.  A female host on Fox News said, ” the wussification of America. Men have been emasculated, they have been feminized by the left that has pushed this on a culture. And they do see Donald Trump as somebody who speaks for them.”  Does this quote provide an additional clue?   Men in more traditionally male occupations are more likely to identify as completely masculine with accompanying strong beliefs in stereotypical gender roles.  They work alongside mostly other men and see their understanding of gender being attacked by militant feminists.  Therefore,  an outspoken tough female politician is perceived as being contrary to their belief about a women’s role and her public behavior.  A quote attributed to Donald Trump sheds even more light on the issue.

“OK often, I will tell friends whose wives are constantly nagging them about this or that that they’re better off leaving and cutting their losses, I’m not a great believer in always trying to work things out, because it just doesn’t happen that way. For a man to be successful he needs support at home, just like my father had from my mother, not someone who is always griping and bitching. When a man has to endure a woman who is not supportive and complains constantly about his not being home enough or not being attentive enough, he will not be very successful unless he is able to cut the cord.”

Key words from Trump – support at home, someone who is griping and bitching.   His take away, which seems to resonate with his highly affiliated non- college men, is that women should stay at home to support their man and being outspoken politically is merely griping and bitching.

It becomes apparent that the glass ceiling remains intact among non-college white men and for a female politician to succeed she must find a way to empathize with the economic condition of men whose jobs have been replaced by technology and outsourcing. We need to propose programs that will help these men retrain and recoup a middle class lifestyle.   Hopefully, when these men feel that they are no longer discarded by society they very well might be more accepting of gender equality and a female president.

Violent Men Strike Again

My motivation to blog about masculinity has been severely curbed by the national and world wide tragedies that have dominated the media and deeply affected our collective sense of well being.  At first glance, the problems of men redefining masculinity seems acutely trivial compared to the larger issues of hate crimes, terrorism, racial unrest and a polarized electorate.   However,  one might ask if there is a relationship between these larger issues and masculinity?  Some disturbing facts come to mind.   The Orlando killer was a man.   The terrorists and suicide bombers in Belgium, France, Bangladesh and Iraq were all men.  The Dallas and Baton Rouge cop killers were ex-military  men and the cops who shot suspects in Baton Rouge and St. Paul were also men.

Clearly one can make the case that men are far more prone to violence and martyrdom than women.   This is obviously not a new revelation.   Historically, as feminists are quick to point out, men have been responsible for most of the wars, genocides and overall savagery since recorded time.  Few would argue that the tendency to physical violence is significantly greater for men and this is often coupled with a sense that a cause is worth killing and dying for.   Not that women do not have strong beliefs and a firm moral compass but that they seem to be far less willing to put on a suicide vest to express their outrage.

To answer the earlier question, it appears that the larger issues are related to masculinity.   The warrior archetype or aggressive aspect of masculinity can be expressed by violent acts and a need to achieve goals only through zero sum outcomes.   In addition, martyrdom as an off shoot of heroism, also appears to part of the masculine zeitgeist   Drilling down other factors emerge.  Terrorists tend to be in their 20’s and many have been marginalized by their larger societies.   They tend to be disaffected, under employed and lack a sense of purpose other than the cause they adopt to rationalize their destructive behavior.   When violence and martyrdom combine we are dealing with a truly dangerous force.

Recognizing and understanding a problem are the first steps in finding solutions.   Unfortunately the all too common  tendency to find simple solutions to complex issues is fraught with the consequences of polarizing rhetoric, band aid approaches and wrong answers.  Men will not become less aggressive if we just advocate gender neutrality and shaming.  Aggressiveness modeled as assertive, non-violent and purposeful for the common good by Martin Luther King, and Gandhi  needs to be reinforced by the media and the educational establishment.  Economic opportunity, education and connection with the larger society are essential for young men to give them a sense of purpose and mission that counters the appeal of radicalization.  These are not easy or quick fixes.   Unfortunately, if we do not act deliberately, thoughtfully and with a broad consensus the horrors of violence and terrorism will only get worse.

What’s Wrong With Completely Masculine

A YouGov poll has revealed that young men in Britain are reluctant to identify as “masculine” and think the term has “negative connotations.”   According to the survey, only two per cent of male respondents aged between 18 to 24 described themselves as “completely masculine” compared to 56 per cent of over 65s.

This is startling proof of the hypothesis that young adult men have lost their sense of what it is to be a man.   Obviously, masculinity as a concept has become so negative to this age cohort that its members no longer want to identify themselves as completely masculine.   If men are not comfortable defining themselves as masculine what is the alternative?  Do millennial males need a new gender  to identify with?  Are they the “Q” in LBGTQ parlance?  Or do they need to redefine masculinity in a way that they can, without shame, self identify as masculine without letting the world label them as insensitive cave man like boors?

Given my previous posts it should come as no surprise that my answer is to seek to redefine masculinity in a way that young men can be comfortable with their masculinity without apology and without being considered sexist.   The challenge is how do we reframe manliness as a positive trait while simultaneously supporting gender equality and the abandonment of patriarchy.   The starting point is disabusing ourselves of the notion that gender equality is the same as gender neutrality.  Conceptually, accepting the fact that the Y chromosome  and testosterone have consequences for differences other than the obvious anatomical ones is essential.   There is substantial evidence that the way men behave and think differs from women  and these differences are largely based on distinctions in brain structures and hormones.   Therefore, expecting men and women to relate to each other as if they are fundamentally the same is contrary to our biology.   The key is respecting these differences so that neither gender feels superior to the other.  The outcome would be gender equality without needing to pursue the spurious notion of gender  neutrality.

Appreciating masculinity in the light rather than the shadow offers a pathway for men to develop masculine pride that does not rely on old school stereotypes.   A useful illustration comes from the work of Moore & Gillette in their book describing male archetypes.  As an example, the warrior archetype is that part of masculinity that takes action, commands, confronts and motivates.  It is the locus of male aggression and competiveness.   A warrior in the shadow is violent,  a bully and uses aggression as a primary strategy.   However, a warrior in the light still takes action but is an assertive change agent, a protector and a disciplined leader.  There is a choice for a man to make.   Be a warrior in the light and honor the best of your masculinity without shame or resort to the shadow side feeding the stereotypes of the obnoxious and dominating hyper male.

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Trump: Misogynist or Philogynist?

Donald Trump has been labeled a misogynist by his opponents, mainstream media and a good portion of the general electorate for his comments about the appearance of women and his behavior towards a female reporter.   Misogyny, like so many labels has taken on a wide variety of meanings far beyond its literal dictionary definition.  Dictionaries define misogyny as “hatred of women” and as “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women solely based on their gender.”  Trump’s response to being called a misogynist was his declaration that he loves women.  Therefore, by definition he is a self proclaimed philogynist – defined as a lover of women.  Can one be both?  Confusing and also an obstacle to understanding the reality of gender bias.  Unless one truly hates something, it is a natural defense to deny being called a hater and like trump to react simplistically with the opposite equally untrue label -lover – thereby avoiding taking responsibility for the labeled behavior.

In the earlier stages of the feminist movement Trump would have been called a male chauvinist  rather than a misogynist.    This is a far better descriptor since chauvinism is an attitude or bias.  A male chauvinist has a bias favoring the superiority of men rather than a hatred of women.   This is more than a subtle semantic distinction since most of us are far more willing to change an attitude or bias than a hatred.   Labeling becomes the problem and hinders reasonable discourse and the pathway for change.   Demonstrating that an individual’s behavior is prejudiced against a particular race or gender without categorizing that person as an entrenched hater can lead to self-reflection, dialogue and a change in attitude and behavior.  Ardent feminists have learned that misandry – hatred of men – did not further the feminist movement.  Revealing the history and damage of patriarchy without resorting to undue name calling has had a profound effect on making progress towards gender equality.   Name calling and labeling only fuels the fire of gender warfare and masks the difficult issues that can only be resolved through thought, reflection and respectful dialogue.

The earlier question of can Trump be a misogynist and a philogynist can be answered.   No he can’t but he can be a chauvinist and still love women.

 

 

Shamed Again in the Media

From time to time a particular TV commercial will be offensive enough to my sensibilities to pierce my thick skin.   An Buick car commercial did penetrate.  The commercial showed a couple lounging by a beach obviously on holiday.   She, we assume his wife, turns to him and asks if he has locked the car at the airport parking garage.   Covertly, he whips out his cell phone and with an appropriate “app” he presses a key and we see the doors on their car being locked.   She then asks if he closed the windows in the house before they left.   Obviously there is no cell phone trick to do this and we then see a visual of a home with open windows and pigeons flying in and out.   The voice over then applauds the versatility of the phone service.  The takeaway, men are careless fools and women are the ones who remember details.  It is a women’s a role to  remind men of what we are supposed to do since men are so clearly- oblivious to the details of life.   The thing men are good at is to try to sneakily find easy fixes for their malfeasance.

What disturbs me is the assumption by the advertising agency that created the ad that men and women will find this ad amusing and that it reflects how men and women really see themselves.  Psychologists tell us that we often live the labels or attributes we put on ourselves even when they are not  based in fact.   If men accept the stereotype of being careless about attending to the necessities of daily living then they will live that characterization.   The other label is that women need to remind us of our responsibilities and shame us into behaving according to their standards.  These attributions are especially harmful to men as they try to navigate their way in an our era of gender neutrality.  How can we live the best of masculinity when we are perceived as careless and lazy and then reflect those labels in our actions?  For women, the belief that men need to be nagged and shamed to meet their responsibilities will only hinder their ability to find and maintain healthy and cooperative relationships with the men in their lives.

Let’s remind the advertising industry that extreme stereotypes of any kind – gender, racial, religious – are harmful and foster behaviors that are antithetical to our values of understanding and tolerance.

Bromance – Ugh

A new word, “Bromance”, has crept into our gender behavior lexicon. Defined as a healthy, secure friendship between two heterosexual guys, usually single guys, although many times a bromance continues even when one of the guys in a relationship with a women.  Bromances are also called “man crushes” because of the level of affection the guys feel for each other. As an illustration, a man who may enjoy spending time together with another man more than with a female significant other would be told he has a bromance going on.

My concern is with the notion that we need an alternative to using the word friendship when referring to a close/intimate non-sexual  relationship between men.  I have a close male friend.  We have are both heterosexual and have been friends for 60 years.  We have shared the ups and downs of our respective life’s journeys – marriages, divorces, deaths, career success and failures.  Although geographically separated we speak at least once a week on the telephone and usually see each other in person once a year.   I would label the relationship as intimate in that we admit our vulnerabilities to each other without fear of being judged or shamed.   Yet when asked about my relationship with him I do not need to say anything other than that he is my best friend.  Calling it a bromance is unnecessary and somehow personally offensive.  Is describing close friendships among men as bromances or man crushes a means to avoid the appearance of being gay?  My suspicion is that the need for the new labels underscores the struggle men have with the concept of intimacy.    A confluence of  LBGT political correctness and the difficulty men have in forming intimate relationships in our modern culture have created the need for men to invent the artificial construct of bromance.  Historically, there are numerous examples of men in relationship with one another, even using the word love, that have nothing to do with sexual attraction.   (In a previous post I discuss the issue of male intimacy  in the context of men and gangs).   In a way characterizing relationships as bromances is an inverted form of  homophobia.  If I describe my relationship with another man as a bromance I am attempting to avoid the appearance that I am gay.   The focus on LBGT rights have inadvertently led to the need for hyper labeling our sexual orientation.   True tolerance of differences in our sexual preferences would obviate the need for men having to publically declare and self label that we are straight, gay, bi-sexual, or bromantic.  A closing thought, how come we do not need to create a word like “sismance” for women who have a non-sexual intimate relationship?

Neo Masculinity = Neanderthal Masculinity

I guess I have been a bit naive about how some men have reacted to the many challenges of redefining masculinity in our current society.  Although I have been blogging on the subject for quite some time and am conversant with the mainstream masculinity literature I was frankly unaware of the “neo masculinity” movement with its chief protagonist Roosh Valizadeh’s organization Return of Kings.  A recent article in my local newspaper about the cancellation of a recent Return of Kings rally led me do some research.   What I discovered was incredibly disturbing.   On the Return of Kings website I found these statements:

“Patriarchy does have its flaws in locking in roles for males and females who are outliers, but it was undoubtedly a superior societal system that catered to the innate abilities of the sexes and provided them with roles that not only furthered their own abilities and interests but civilization as a whole.” 

“I personally see little need for a man to work with women, go to school with them, or even maintain asexual relationships with them, especially with women who don’t give him sexual access to her friends. While there are many problems in modern society that are difficult to solve, excising needless social interaction with females outside of sexual relationships is an easy one to fix. Choose to spend your free time with men so your masculinity remains strong and steady.”

These quotes are just a small sample of the content on the Return of Kings website but I believe accurately reflect the thinking of the so called neo masculinity mind set.   I understand that the concept of redefining masculinity is difficult to grasp and that many men are struggling with how to appropriately express their masculinity without being labeled as a misogynist .  Neo masculinity is not the answer.  One might simply dismiss reverting to primitive cave man type stereotypes as purely comical.  However if we do, we miss the harm that this divisive point of view does to helping men come to terms with their masculinity in a more thoughtful and reasonable way.   As I have previously written I do not believe we have to be gender neutral to achieve gender equality.   Simply ignoring gender differences or pretending that they will somehow evaporate over time will not help the majority of men, particularly those in the young adult cohort who are uncertain about their role as men in society.  Neither neo masculinity nor strict gender neutrality are the answers.   Instead we need to stress the best of masculinity and how it can be expressed that is of benefit to both men and women.  The archived posts on this blog  are intended to give concrete examples of what the best of masculinity looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAN UP?

In her new film The Mask You Live In, filmmaker and activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom is turning her focus to boys, and how a very narrow definition of what it means to be a man, is hurting them. The film explores how common phrases like be a man, be tough, don’t be a pussy, a win-at-all-costs sports culture, violent video games, and lack of emotional vocabulary, is encouraging boys to repress their emotions.

On a positive note, I am pleased that Newsom is paying attention to the alarming data about boys.  She reminds us that boys are more likely to be prescribed prescription medications, commit suicide, drop out of school, or commit a violent crime.   In previous blogs I have emphasized the difficulties that men, particularly those labeled millennial, generation X and those approaching adulthood, are facing in defining their masculinity in a world quickly moving to gender neutrality.  However, I do take exception with the notion that she and her supporters advocate that the phrase, “Be A Man” and its variations are at the heart of the problem boys and men are dealing with.   Telling men not to be a man or not to man up does not address the issue and frankly I believe it further exacerbates the problem.   If a man is not to be a man then what is he to be?   Telling men to be more feminine or to find another term for their Y chromosome is a huge turn off to most men and just adds to gender uncertainty and confusion.

The message should be, “Be A Man” in the light not the shadow.  For example a man in the shadow will express his lover archetype by avoiding intimacy, manipulating and emotionally abusing women and avoiding emotional authenticity.  A combination of John Wayne and Bill Cosby.  On the other hand the lover in the light is compassionate, welcomes intimacy, seeks authentic connections and respects gender equality.   The key is in the light he is still being a man.   Telling a young father to “Man Up” and be a parent to his newborn instead of abandoning the child to single motherhood can be an effective way to communicate the best of masculinity. Newsome acknowledged one of the biggest tough guys out there, Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock,  talked how he wants to lead his life for his daughter.   A great example of being a man in the best of masculinity but still being a man.