All posts by walklikeaman

I Thought I Was A Feminist

When my daughter was born I remember saying to my wife, “I am now an ardent feminist.”   My intention was to indicate that I would do everything I could to make sure that  my daughter would have every opportunity to achieve whatever she aspired to without being discriminated against because of her gender.  She was encouraged to test her talents and interests without regard to traditional gender roles.  I even prohibited her from being a cheerleader for our local Pop Warner football team because I felt just cheering for boys from the sideline was inherently sexist.    I have supported political platforms that call for equal pay, that prohibit gender bias, that fight for reproductive rights and that seek workplaces free from sexual harassment and bias.  For many years I was a manager in an industry where most of my staff were female.   I was scrupulous in making sure that my behavior was always professional and I never had a complaint filed against me dealing with gender bias or harassment.  Despite what I consider a track record as a supporter of the feminist movement, unfortunately, I am starting to feel increasingly under attack as a man.

Some of the statements made at the Oscar ceremony were the straw that broke my camel’s back.   Several presenters and recipients decried the lack of female directors nominated for Oscars.  What troubled me is that the complaint was based on numbers not on quality.   If there is truly bias against female directors in the academy then provide the evidence  and say so.   No one alluded to this so it sounds like the protestors were arguing for an affirmative action plan for female directors implying that a certain number of nominees must be female regardless of merit. 

Just because females make up 50% of the population it does not necessarily mean that in every instance we should measure participation as 50/50.   It seems that since the Me-Too movement has taken hold there is increased emphasis on an arbitrary numbers gain.  Let me be clear, I am not denying that historically women have been victims of many forms of patriarchal subjugation and disempowerment.    However,  I am convinced that thanks to the feminist movement we have moved substantially forward in achieving gender equality and that reducing equality to a simple numbers game will only lead to alienation and diminished support by men who thought they were philosophically feminists. 

As I have indicated in previous blogs there are a number of metrics that indicate women are surpassing men and scant attention is focused on the implications for our society.   Men die by suicide 3.53x more often than women..   According to the U.S. Department of Education last fall women comprised more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide.  Female enrollment in law schools exceeds male enrollment.   Specifically, in 2018 females made up 52.39% of all students in ABA-approved law schools.  Twice as many boys are suspended from school than girls.  Boys are twice as likely as girls to be labeled as “learning disabled.”  While the gaps in science and math are improving for girls boys’ scores in reading lags behind girls and is showing little improvement.  I could go on with additional data indicating how girls and young women are surpassing the achievements and well being of boys and young men. 

One thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: an overinvestment in gender identity instead of individual personhood.  Men are now experiencing a set of limits — externally enforced as well as self-imposed — strikingly similar to the ones Betty Friedan set out to combat in 1963, when she identified a “feminine mystique” that constrained women’s self-image and options.

Male Brain

There is considerable debate in the cognitive psychology community concerning the origins of gender related behaviors.   There is compelling evidence that the male brain operates differently than the female brain, however, some researchers say these differences are not significant and differences in gender behaviors are shaped more by social norms than biological determinism.   Those who put more stock in our genetic legacy, shaped by millions of years of evolution, point to animal studies – especially among primates – to underscore differences in gender behavior.   After all these animals are not shaped by cultural norms.  In addition, a number of infant studies especially those involving preferences in shapes and emotional response also reinforces the notion that biological gender does shape they way we think and process information.  On the other hand, the feminist movement has pointed out that many limitations traditionally based on women are due to misplaced emphasis on biological differences.   There is certainly truth to this argument but it does not negate the role of biology entirely.  Instead of attempting to review the extensive literature on both sides of the nature vs. nurture debate about gender behavior I will focus on one fairly definitive study that highlights an important difference between men and women.

This particular study found evidence that on average women tend to retain stronger memories for emotional events than men.  The area of the brain which plays a large part in our emotional life is the amygdala.  The right amygdala, which is larger in the male brain, is also linked with taking action as well as being linked to negative emotions which may help explain why males tend to respond to emotionally stressful stimuli physically. The left amygdala which is larger in women allows for the recall of details but it also results in more thought rather than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli which may explain the absence of physical response in women.

The take away is that when a man experiences emotions such as fear and anger the tendency will be to respond physically.   What is significant is how a man utilizes the physical energy released by his amygdala.  The expression of physicality corresponds to the warrior archetype.   In the light, a man uses his physical energy to protect and defend his family, tribe, etc.   In the shadow a man uses his physicality to dominate and commit violent acts.   Instead of teaching our boys to curb their warrior and act more like a female, we should emphasize and help boys and young men understand the positive aspects of physical energy and how to best utilize it.

Little Women

Recently a male movie critic, while reviewing the recent film rendition of “Little Women,” stated that he was almost embarrassed to admit that he had seen the movie and that men in general who purposely avoided the movie or who saw it and liked the movie are hiding in the closet.    His opinion is that men are reluctant or ashamed to see a movie that focuses on compassion, generosity and kindness displayed by women because men see these traits as  not being masculine.  The familiar trope that men are cold, hard hearted and out of touch with emotions other than anger is again tossed out as it is an unquestioned truth.

I did see the movie and am not embarrassed to admit it.   It was well acted and visually attractive.  However what bothered me about the movie, actually the book Little Women, is that insufficient attention is given to the virtue of the men involved with the female characters.   Mr. March, the husband and father of the four sisters makes his appearance towards the end of the movie when he returns from fighting in the Civil War.    Is it possible that the reason his wife and four daughters are fundamentally well adjusted and loyal to him is because he is a good father?  Very little attention is given in the script to the influence this good father and husband had on creating a cohesive and healthy family life.   Another character that seems to be undervalued is Mr. Laurence.  He is the wealthy neighbor who is kind and generous to the March family including allowing one of the daughters access to his home to play his piano and then he gives her the piano. 

Unfortunately, those who champion the movie as an homage to the resiliency and virtue of women forget that male energy also contributed to the characters of the women in the story.  In general the countless examples of men supporting each other and their families is not sufficiently  recognized as compassion, generosity and kindness.   Society benefits when we value the synergism created by the uniqueness of male energy combined with the uniqueness of female energy.  The simplistic notion of gender neutrality negates this synergy with the false narrative that men and women are essentially the same.  Families thrive when both a mother and a father are actively involved in the parenting journey.

Man Shaming

In past blogs I have responded to what I perceived as obvious man shaming in television advertisements.   Lately, I have not been paying much attention to these ads but the other day one just got to me.    The scene opened with a man cleaning up a spill on the kitchen counter and while using a paper towel to clean it up the towel fell apart.   His female partner/spouse walks behind him and smirks and tells him that he got what he deserved -the mess – for buying a discount brand of paper towel instead of the premium Bounty paper towels. 

It was so blatant in portraying a man as inept needing the correction of a women to set him straight through shame that I had to exert considerable self-restraint to keep from throwing the remote at the television screen.   I understand that the commercial was an attempt at humor and in the great scheme of things not that big a deal.   However, since masculinity is currently under such scrutiny and attack, a message that reinforces how men are inept in dealing with everyday tasks becomes significant.

 I wonder:

– Why is it considered normative for modern men to need a female intervention to make sure they are acting appropriately?

– What would be the reaction if the commercial had been opposite in roles where the man was shaming the women and showing her how to do something right?

– How do younger men who are increasingly unsure of what it means to be a man receive the message of a man shaming commercial?

– Does the notion that men are fundamentally inept reinforce the idea that young men should remain as boys until they meet up with a women who will get them focused and shame them when they get out of line?

– Does man shaming in the media reinforce the false message of the hyper-masculine movement that women are attempting to neutralize masculinity?

My sense is that we need to pay more attention to this type of commercial and remind advertisers that a seemingly benign attempt to be humorous might be sending – I’ll  give the copy writer the benefit of the doubt –  an unintended message.

Man Up

Unfortunately the words ” Man Up” have become the focus of what I call the anti-masculinity movement.   These two words have become associated with toxic masculinity, patriarchy and every violent or anti female act perpetuated by men.   The theory is that because boys are taught to Man Up it plants the seeds for the evils of masculinity which will blossom later on in a man’s life.   The logic goes like this.  The message inherent in the phrase Man Up is that boys shouldn’t cry and that a man should repress his emotions in order to be perceived as manly.   The supposed consequence of this stuffing is that a man is in denial of his vulnerabilities and subsequently must act in a destructive hyper masculine way to protect himself from intimacy and his repressed emotions. 

Let me debunk this negative or shadow perception of Man Up.   Although it is not entirely unheard of I have no evidence that there is a consistent message to boys that they should not cry.   We often see male cultural heroes – sports, entertainment –  cry on camera after a loss, victory or testimony about their past struggles.   In my last blog I indicated that a researcher who wrote; “These (men) are human beings with unbelievable emotional and social capacity and we as a culture just completely try to zip it out of them (Dr. Nicole Way.)”  also acknowledged that men throughout their teen and young adult years are able to form intimate friendships where they feel comfortable in sharing their fears and concerns.   In other words despite being allegedly taught to Man Up and not be vulnerable most young men do form close friendships. 

The other side of the Man Up coin that I believe is more compelling than the notion that men are being zipped out of an emotional life is how most men, and many women, interpret Man Up with a positive connotation.   The Man Up message in the light is essentially to take responsibility in life.    There are times when we are experiencing strong emotions but our best choice is to face the event that precipitated the emotion without an open display of that emotion.   This is not stuffing.  It is a choice to control our outward response in order to insure a positive outcome.

We Man Up in the best of masculinity when with compassion we can demonstrate strength, resolve and responsibility for our actions and take care of others while acknowledging our emotional life and at the same time rationally monitor how we express our emotional life. 

Friendship

Coincidence – Last week, the NPR show ” Hidden Brain”  focused on male friendships and the profound loneliness of American men.  Also last week my men’s group completed a three session discussion about making friends and its impact on our lives as men  Let me first discuss where the NPR show and the men in my group are in agreement. 

  • Making friends was a lot easier when we were growing up and these friendships were an essential part of our lives.  As we entered adulthood, moved away from our growing up towns and neighborhoods, many of these friendships were lost.   Family life and work responsibilities have eroded free time needed to maintain old friendships.
  • Our wives have become our best friend and they often arrange our social interactions.
  • The demands of parenting have shifted and men, especially those with younger children, now spend more time on child care and child activities than did their fathers.  This limits the available time for social interactions with other men.
  • Making friends at work can be troublesome.   We need to protect ourselves so that any vulnerabilities that we reveal can be used against us in the workplace.
  • As well documented in the book “Bowling Alone” there are far fewer opportunities for men to spend non work time in traditional male organizations and activities.
  • It appears that women have an easier time in making connections with other women and we are not sure why this the case.    

In attempt to understand the impact of male loneliness which has led to increases in suicide and substance abuse – especially for middle aged men – NPR interviewed a female  psychology professor from NYU, Dr. Niobe Way, who has done research on male friendships among pre-adolescent boys.  Her take on male loneliness is best described in the following quote from her work.

“These (men) are human beings with unbelievable emotional and social capacity and we as a culture just completely try to zip it out of them.”

She blames hyper-masculinity the societal message that tells boys that close friendships and intimacy among males is not manly. The message is that if you have those relationships you are probably gay.   However, she and the moderator contradicted their premise when as previously indicated they acknowledge that many men who are currently not connected did have strong intimate friendships growing up that lasted into young adulthood.   Therefore, the issue is not the notion that boys are somehow taught that close male friendships are to be avoided but that after one loses these relationships it is difficult to attain similar relationships later on in life.

If we truly want to focus on the negative consequences of  male loneliness we need to abandon the tropes that boys don’t cry and that men are taught to avoid intimacy among men.   Instead let’s shift the dialogue to how can we assist adult men who have lost their close relationships in later life make new friendships.   The men’s movement, exemplified by my group and the  many others around the country need to do a better job in getting the word  out of their  existence.   In addition, the mental health community should also be letting men know that  these groups are around  and how they can build and reinforce healthy  connections that will combat the epidemic of male loneliness. 

Angry Young Men

A witness heard the 19 year old El Paso shooter  respond to the question, “Why are you doing this?” with this chilling response, “I’m really angry.”   He fits  the profile of, the rage-induced young men we first encountered through Columbine and later Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, Virginia Beach, the STEM school shooting in Colorado, Charlotte, the Poway synagogue shooting in California, the Louisiana shootings in two parishes, the Sebring shootings in Florida (those last six this year alone), the Mercy Hospital shooting, the Thousand Oaks shooting, the Tallahassee yoga studio shooting, the Jacksonville Landing shooting, the Art All Night shooting in New Jersey, the Santa Fe HS (Texas) shooting, the Nashville Waffle House shooting, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS shooting — and far too many more to mention, but all with one thing in common.

These killers  all have a specific strain of anger — deep, repressed, biblically vengeful.   — felt most commonly by young men, almost always white, who report feeling alienated, dispossessed, misunderstood, victimized and all too often rejected by women.  The obvious questions are why has this happened and consequently what can we do about it?

In education, in popular culture, in the family and the workplace and society at large we need to examine the way we now raise and regard boys and young men.  It’s a culture that defines boys’ natural rambunctiousness as ADHD and medicates it, that offers few truly positive role models — with TV, painting most men, both black and white, as bumbling and not-too-bright.  In addition, many women believe that all men cheat on their wives because their fathers cheated and that men inherently lie and are not loyal.  

Labeling and targeting “toxic masculinity” as if masculinity were a force to be suppressed rather than redefined as a positive aspect in our society further exacerbates the issue.   Many of our boys who are not at the shooter level but are still confused about what it means to be a man in the “Me Too” era are searching for a model of masculinity that is non-patriarchal but still values masculine energy and allows boys to be ok about being a man.

Male Privilege?

There is no question that historically, and to a lesser extent currently, there are numerous examples of patriarchy, and more generally, examples where male privilege has negatively impacted women.   However, it is not quite that simple.   I was reminded of female privilege when I read in my local paper about the criteria for getting a temp job for the upcoming census.   One requirement was that any male applicant between 18 and 25 had to prove that he was registered for the draft.   A stark reminder that if the draft were reinstated only men would be drafted.  Since a male only draft has been the model since its inception in colonial times let’s look at its impact.

In our three modern armed conflicts – WW II, Korea, Vietnam – in which conscription was in place about 500,000 men in uniform were killed compared to about 550 women in uniform.  What a wonderful privilege for men. 

The Me Too movement has highlighted male privilege by  focusing on how women have been sexually harassed and assaulted in the workplace.  No doubt this a real and serious issue.   However, workplace abuse in not limited to women.   There are also many examples, albeit probably not as psychologically damaging, of men who have had to put up with verbal abuse by tyrannical bosses and who were obligated to participate in corporate social events for which they had no interest.  They put up with it  in order to  make sure they are providing income and health benefits for their families.  The privilege of being the primary breadwinner in a family often means a stifling of creativity and positive career changes. 

We often hear about male privilege in sports.   The women’s world cup winning soccer team has rightly championed for equal pay with the men’s soccer program. However, the topic of equal pay in sports is not as clear cut as it is made out to be.    For example, female tennis winners in the major tournaments  are being paid the same as male winners. How can we then explain why the women play one less set than the men?  Women have equal endurance so why do they have to play only two winning sets when the men have to win three?

Male privilege in academic hiring, especially for white males, has been a long standing reality.   In order to correct this inequality affirmative action hiring practices have been instituted overtly and covertly in order to rectify the sins of the past.   Sounds fair on the surface. But the individuals who are currently paying the price for past failures are white men who get passed over by often lesser qualified individuals – particularly non-white women.        

As I have emphasized in numerous blogs achieving gender equality can only happen when we stop taking positions based on over simplifications, labels and name calling and look at complex issues within a thoughtful and nuanced framework.

Man Shaming

Tom Brady is being dad-shamed after jumping  off a cliff with his 6-year-old daughter.  He posted the vacation video of holding his daughter’s hand and together jumping off a cliff into a water fall pool.  Both emerged safely.   Apparently a number of folks, I suspect mostly women, berated Brady on social media for his risking his daughter’s well being and for, as they saw it, pulling her off the cliff.   Frankly watching the video I had the opposite opinion.   To me he was reflecting the best of fatherhood.   His daughter showed no signs of fear or distress before jumping.   She was holding her father’s hand and he was reassuring and appeared to be telling her that they would jump together after counting to three.   At three he jumped slightly ahead of her so it gave the appearance that he yanked her off the cliff – which wasn’t the case.   Once in the water she swam into his arms with a broad smile on her face.

What fathers bring to parenting is showing their children that they can take reasonable risks.   This is especially important in fathering girls who are more likely by cultural norms and biology to be risk aversive.  Dads tend to engage in more horse play with their children than Moms.   This fatherly roughhousing reinforces physical confidence and the ability to take prudent risks.   Moms bring their no less important and unique energy to parenting that also is essential for a child’s healthy development.   What a revolutionary concept –  children thrive when they have a father and mother contributing to the parenting journey. 

On another note.  The Berkley City Council adopted an ordinance to replace gendered language in the city’s municipal code with neutral terms.  A perfect example of confusing gender equality with gender neutrality.  Does anyone really believe that calling a manhole a “maintenance hole” will further the cause for gender equality?  The rest of the  list of gender neutral preferences is almost as silly.   Any title that has the word man in it is due for change.  Another example from the Council ordinance.  Does the word manpower  really mean just men?  According  to the dictionary man power is defined as ” power available from or supplied by the physical effort of human beings 2. usually manpower the total supply of persons available and fitted for service.”  

If we are truly striving for gender equality let’s not waste time on semantics.   All it does is provide material for stand up comics and diverts attention from what is needed to achieve gender equality and mutual respect for our gender differences.    

Got My Attention

It has been some time since voices in the media triggered my masculinity radar.    My attention, like most folks, has been focused on the political chaos generated by the Muller Report, the Democratic primary debates, tariffs, Iran, North Korea, etc.  However, a discussion on NPR featuring E. Jean Carroll the advice columnist for Elle Magazine and  author of “What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal,” and Chavisa Woodsauthor of “100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism got my attention.

I’ll start with the ending comment on the show.  I believe it was Carroll, when asked how we can move forward to gender neutrality glibly stated that “we should move all men to Montana and re-educate them.”  Her clear meaning is that every American adult male is sexist, treats women as inferiors and at any time can turn into a sexual predator.  Obviously there are some who do belong in this basket of deplorable men.  However,  her hyperbole only further accentuates the cultural divide between the sexes and does only harm to a meaningful dialogue on gender neutrality.

Chavisa, in her book, chronicles all of the occasions where she was sexually harassed.  In the interview she mentioned the numerous times that while out and about in her urban neighborhood she was subject to verbal abuse by men.   She attributes this harassment to patriarchy and the cultural bias among men against women.  However, during the interview certain lifestyle descriptors were revealed which I believe distorts her data.  She describes herself as a lesbian with a purple mohawk  hair do who often walks hand in hand with another female.    Let me be clear.  I am not excusing bad behavior because Chavisa is a lesbian but I want to emphasize that what she experienced was not necessarily a product of male sexism.   More likely triggered by homophobia and folks who have a hard time tolerating differences.  In addition, an inappropriate comment by a man does not automatically mean that man is a sexual predator.   He very well might be a good father, husband and generally respectful to women he works with.   I agree that men should cease and desist from what they believe are merely amusing or teasing  unsolicited comments.   Men who do this are just playing into the hands of those seeking evidence to condemn masculinity. 

Nuance is not a dirty word.   It is important to distinguish between true sexual predators and misogynists  who are more driven by power needs than sexual needs and men trying to adjust to contemporary cultural norms about interacting with women.