All posts by walklikeaman


Lately, circumstances such as the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movements have pushed masculinity issues, appropriately, to my personal back burner.   Instead I have spent increasing time trying to understand the dilemma of how we can achieve greater racial justice in our society.  Extreme views on either end of the spectrum have not enhanced constructive dialogue.  I have written the following essay expressing my sense of what is missing in the racial justice debate. I understand it is not the typical blog post for this site, nevertheless I did want to share it with you.

Middle Class Privilege

Let me clear from the onset. I am not attempting to discount the notion of white privilege which has become a foundational principle of the Black Lives Matter movement. I know it exists but it is far too simplistic to attribute racial and economic inequality solely to white privilege.  The dictionary definition of privilege is, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor .”  Considering the trajectory of my life and that of my older sibling the peculiar benefit or advantage that we had was not about being white but being raised in a home with a value structure that is commonly referred to as middle class values.   

All four of our grandparents and our father were immigrants who arrived in the US with nothing but their ambition and the clothes on their backs.  Our grandparents got by, raised their children but did not pass on any wealth or property to their offspring. Their legacy was middle class values. Those values that were instilled and modeled included a two parent family. We had a mother and a father who were always present in our lives and basically got along with each other.  Mom was a stay at home mom until our teen years and Dad went to work every day trying to earn enough to support his family.  We lived modestly in rented apartments with my sister and I sharing a bedroom until she got married.  The first apartment I lived in until I was seven years old had one bedroom which I shared with my sister while my parents slept on a pull-out in the living room.  Getting a good education was the mantra that we constantly heard.  Despite the fact that neither of our parents attended college, going to college was instilled as a basic requirement to secure our future. We were made keenly aware that education was the springboard to success no matter what career we intended to pursue.  There were books in the house that our parents read and our school grades were carefully monitored.   Mom became active in the PTA and one year was elected  president of our elementary school PTA.  

Structure was an essential value for Mom.  We ate dinner at the same time every evening, often without Dad who worked later than Mom’s definition of when children should have their dinner.  TV time was limited and bedtimes were enforcedDad, who worked six days a week, insisted that Sunday was family day and up to our teen years we did something together as a family almost every Sunday. We were assigned household chores and did them with little complaint. We were expected to save money, a modest allowance and earnings when we were old enough to find jobs in the neighborhood.  When I wanted a new bike my father decided that I should pay for half the cost of the bike from my savings.  Religious studies for both of us was required up to the age of 13 and then it was left to our own choosing.  Discipline was rarely physical and we were permitted to at least plead our case before consequences were determined. I do not want to give the impression that I was a perfect child.  A few times I shoplifted toy soldiers from the local Woolworths, started smoking at 15, and I constantly stretched the boundaries my parents set in my desire for freedom and independence.   However, there was always that little voice that would keep me from doing anything really stupid.  The voice said don’t disappoint your parents or risk your future.  The voice and good luck in not getting caught got me through my adolescent rebellion without any long lasting damage.

Our parents did not have enough income to save for college tuition.  Therefore, the only choice we had was to live at home and attend a branch of the New York City University System where tuition was free.   High school grades combined with SAT scores determined which college you could attend.  If we did not choose to attend college full time we were told we could remain living at home as long as we had a job and attended night school.   

Eventually my sister and I both earned doctorate degrees and achieved some degree of professional success.  I attribute much of our resilience and achievement as a product of middle class values not white privilege.  We were not unique. In addition to friends with similar stories to our own Colin Powell’s story comes to mind.  Colin, an African -American, had an equivalent pathway to success. Powell’s parents were immigrants and he lived in an apartment in the south Bronx and attended public schools graduating from CCNY, my alma mater, before embarking on his military and political  career.  Powell’s upbringing was reflective of middle class values obviously not of white privilege.

Unfortunately, the black pride movement of the 60’s labeled middle class values as white values therefore disparaging some of the fundamental values that regardless of race or socio-economic status are essential to achieve a productive and fulfilling lifestyle.  We hear stories of Black students putting down high academic achieving peers ascribing their behavior  to acting white.  The message that taking education seriously is somehow a betrayal of Black culture.  Maybe if we rename middle class values and call them values for success it would gain less resistance.

It is not difficult to summarize values for success. They include a reasonably stable and supportive family life, an appreciation and reinforcement of the value of education, the ability to defer gratification and work hard toward long range goals, spiritual exploration, financial literacy and a belief in one’s ability to succeed. 

I am not naive.  I understand that poverty and discrimination breeds  hopelessness which kills ambition and the motivation to sacrifice, plan for a future and defer gratification.  Free tuition has gone and hopefully will make a comeback this election cycle, affording availability and success to those that persevere.  I also know that wealth alone is clearly not a unique path to practicing success values.  There are numerous examples of people of means not living success values.  The recent college admission scandal orchestrated by the super rich highlighted how people of considerable means feel they can cheat and model to their children immoral behavior.  However,  those individuals, other than elite athletes and celebrities, who do break the cycle of poverty do so by adopting success values.

The difficult message that needs to emerge from the Black Lives Matter movement is that much needed structural change in eliminating the scourge of racism is not sufficient.  The Black community must also look inward and foster and encourage the success values that will help create the just society that we desperately need.   

Fathers Matter

Father’s day is upon us and once again I feel compelled to remember the importance of fathering for the success and well being of children.  We are facing a crisis in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 25%, (57% for African American children) live without a father in the home. Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the societal ills facing America today. Research shows when a child is raised in a father-absent home, he or she is a­ffected in the following ways:

  • 4 x greater risk of poverty
  • 7 x more likely to become pregnant as a teen
  • 2 x greater risk of infant mortality
  • 2 x more likely to be obese
  • 2 x more likely to drop out of school
  • 60% of felony inmates grew up in homes without a father
  • In general, more behavior problems, more abuse and neglect, more likely to commit crimes and are more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues

In several previous blogs I have gone into detail on what specific factors a father brings to parenting that promote a healthy and successful path to adulthood.   To be fair I must emphasize that a father must do more than just be present.   It is the fathering energy and modeling that a father can bring to raising a child that is important, not merely being around.   We need to do a better job of getting media attention to the fact that fathering does matter and that men are not just sperm donors desperately in need of feminization.     

Snapshots of The Best of Masculinity

I have been thinking about examples of individuals that are not the obvious choices from history and from current prominent men in the media whose behaviors exemplify the best of masculinity. Two come to mind that I came across in my travels.   The first example was a display in the Jewish Museum in Sydney Australia which described the following.

At a time when Aboriginal people were denied citizenship in Australia and other basic human rights, William Cooper an elder in the Yorta Yorta nation was moved to action when he heard news of Kristallnacht.  On December 6, 1938 aged 77 and in ill health he led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German consulate in Melbourne.  They were refused entry but Cooper’s petition on behalf of Aborigines of Australia protesting against “the cruel persecution of the Jewish People by the Nazi government of Germany” was made public that same day.

On several dimensions, Cooper’s actions were the best of masculinity. He used his King to take come up with a value driven  plan of action.  His Warrior non-violently in word and deed confronted the horror of Kristallnacht with the only resources he had at his disposal.  His Lover was profoundly in display in his compassion for a people that had little direct impact on his life and lives of the aboriginal community.  I am cautious about using the word hero or heroic.  It is so often glibly applied to the point that has lost its meaning.  However for me William Cooper is truly a hero.

The second example came from an action that I witnessed when visiting China.  As the aphorism goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I have included the photograph below.

What I witnessed and photographed as you can see is a Russian naval officer leaning on one knee while giving a Chinese street musician/beggar a donation.   What impressed me most was the body language of the officer.   By lowering himself to one knee instead of merely dropping some coins from above he demonstrated respect and compassion for an individual clearly less fortunate then himself.   Given the hyper masculine stereotypes we associate with a military officer his behavior was in sharp contrast to the stereotypes and demonstrated both his Warrior and Lover behavior in the light.   He set an example for his sailors by modeling compassion and leadership in responding to an individual in need.  I don’t believe he expected external validation for what he did.  It was just a spontaneous gesture that reflects the best of masculinity. 

I am certain that there are many examples of men displaying the best of masculinity in their everyday lives and it is extremely important that we recognize these men to counter the notion that our masculinity is an outdated artifact of male privilege. 

Red Pill

I was surprised to learn about a “Red Pill” group that inhabits a corner of  cyberspace with a loose ideology akin to the misogynist ideologies of the manosphere and beliefs consistent with toxic masculinity.  According to Wikipedia, “the red pill and blue pill is a meme representing a choice between taking either a “red pill” that reveals an unpleasant truth, or taking a “blue pill” to remain in blissful ignorance. The terms are directly derived from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix.”

The Red Pill grinds away at the real and imagined confusions about masculinity that younger  men in particular are experiencing.  Red Pillers are responding to what they consider as the unpleasant truth that contemporary women have financial and sexual power over their own lives and bodies.  In addition, they believe another unpleasant truth about female power that was expressed in Briffault’s law.

“The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.” (Robert Briffault, The Mothers. The matriarchal Theory of social origins, p21)

Red Pillers and their fellow travelers are unable to cope with the duel reality of modern feminism and the matriarchal perspective. Unfortunately, they respond in the deep shadows of masculinity.  Their ranting on line about how women have rejected them, ignored them and used them for financial gain is their justification for objectifying women and rationalizing their own failures in life. In addition to their self inflicted misery Red Pillers play into the hands of the extremists in the feminist movement who assume all men are Red Pillers at heart and that only through feminization of men can women truly achieve equality.  

Masculinity in the light, the framework with which most men embrace, accepts and champions those aspects of equality – equal pay, freedom from harassment, eliminating any form of gender discrimination – but maintains a masculine identity that embraces the positive aspects and differences between masculine and feminine energy.  Men do not have to be more like women and women do not have to be more like men in order to achieve a gender equal society. 

Real Men Wear Masks

I have become increasingly disturbed  by the images of crowds, mostly men, protesting against wearing masks and the shutdown rules.  The backlash over masks has even led to several cases of violence being committed by men who were told to put on masks in order to enter a business establishment.  What are the underlying reasons that led this group of men to behaving this way?

I wonder what part of the shadow side of masculinity can help us understand what is going on?  One explanation might be a reaction to fear.  In other words the fear of contracting the virus and the fear of how the pandemic is disrupting lives creates the need for a distorted version of “Man Up.”  In the shadow this becomes a stereotypical macho display of “Warrior” bravado that reinforces the denial of the vulnerability created by the pandemic. 

The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates. 

                        Light (I do)– change agent, protector, disciplined, assertive, leader

                        Shadow (I take) – violent, bully, uses aggression as primary strategy

It seems clear that the demonstrators chose to ignore discipline and protection of themselves and their families, the warrior behaving in the light, and instead chose aggression and bullying tactics to advance their agenda of being mask free and in opposition to the guidelines issued by state governments.  

The protestors overt message is that government can’t tell them what to do and should not impinge upon their freedom.  Given that we follow the many laws and mandates of government every day without too much grumbling it seems that the mask requirement must feel like an even more pronounced attack on personal freedom. We all have the need for freedom and we have a choice on how to meet it.  There is little doubt  that the Co-vid 19 pandemic seriously limits our ability to meet our freedom needs.   Filling this need by choosing not to wear a face mask is a choice that on the surface feels like freedom.  This seems to be especially true for those men who see their gender as giving them the right for unchecked freedom from societal norms that they don’t agree with.  Every choice has consequences.  Choosing to gain freedom by not wearing a face mask puts others in jeopardy. The mask is intended to keep a non-symptomatic individual from spreading the virus to unsuspecting individuals.   The freedom to put others in harm’s way is not truly freedom because it robs innocent people of their freedom to be safe from the thoughtlessness of self centered individuals. 

My message to the anti-maskers is to rethink what freedom means and how they might meet their need for freedom that is not at the expense of others.   Real men meet their needs in a responsible manner with a clear understanding of the consequences of their choices and along with harnessing their warrior in the light they are living the best of masculinity and are defining “Man Up” in the most positive way.

Domestic Violence

I just presented a webinar on the impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic on domestic violence (DV).   I became alarmed when I read a variety of media reports that indicated the rate of DV has increased throughout the country.   In addition, most experts in the DV community feel that the increase in complaints and calls to hotlines is not capturing the true frequency of abuse because during the shutdown many women are unable to call for assistance because the abusive partner is at home monitoring her activity.

The focus of the webinar was to try to gain some understanding of why a man who had no previous history of DV would become a batterer.  Before I began I made clear that understanding does not mean excusing.  DV is abhorrent and reflects badly on masculinity.  My journey started with a review of the literature about the impact of natural disasters on DV.  I found that after every recent natural disaster (hurricane, tsunami, earthquake) the rate of DV rose dramatically.   Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the pandemic would produce similar and potentially even more dramatic results than a natural disaster.   The loss of jobs, the length of the shutdowns and the uncertainty of when life will return to normal exacerbates the stress level beyond that caused by a natural disaster.  The next question for consideration was, “What is it about a disaster that would trigger a man to become violent to his domestic partner?”

 My thoughts turned to a book I had read some time ago.  The book “Stiffed,” by a prominent feminist Susan Faludi, was an attempt by the author to explain which societal changes have led men to become  DV offenders and the increase in the generalized feeling of despair among men.    The section of the book that most resonated with me were her extensive interviews of men who had lost their jobs, both blue and white collar, as a result of the collapse of the defense industry in southern California.  Many of these men became DV offenders and were court ordered to attend Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP).  In her interviews of these men Faludi found a common theme. The loss of their jobs created a sense of  loss of identity and emasculation which ultimately led to violence against their partners.   The loss of control over one’s environment engendered by the loss of a job and the inability to have any influence on the outcome of a disaster results in a diminishing of personal power which often leads to anger.  As we know, when men get angry they can easily become violent while women tend to respond to anger verbally rather than physically.  The loss of perceived control just might be the precipitating factor that has lead to the increase in DV.

In the next phase of the presentation I introduced the archetypes of masculinity illustrating them both in the light and shadow.  It was an attempt to demonstrate how a man can behave in the light of an archetype rather than the shadow and still embrace his masculinity.  This is especially true for the warrior archetype.  Finding ways to empower a man’s warrior that does not lead to physical violence and bullying would help a man who has assaulted his partner or who has come close to a physical response to change his behavior and still feel he is harnessing his warrior energy.

I continued with a brief discussion of communication principles that would foster feeling empowered instead of feeling angry.   Validation and understanding before being understood go a long way to avoid conflict.  I closed the webinar with some recommendations of how BIP and anger management programs could increase their success rates.  Not viewing all offenders as “one size fits all” and seeking new therapeutic approaches like Action and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could help reduce recidivism among offenders and pre-offenders.

Man Up

I find it hard to focus on strictly masculinity issues when we are in the midst of the unprecedented virus pandemic.   However, listening to the many health professionals and politicians I detect a message that sounds like as a society we need not to panic, not to ignore scientific advice and essentially to “man up.”   Have we evolved sufficiently to understand that man up is not short hand for emotional denial nor is it synonymous with toxic masculinity?  

When we man up in the light rather than the shadow following Moore & Gillette’s archetypes we are expressing the best of masculinity.  Although  the archetypes have traditionally focused specifically on masculine behavior they also provide a useful model for understanding what a more gender neutral man up can look like that  also applies to women.  The four archetypes, king, warrior, lover and magician are operational singly or in combination and relate to how we handle ourselves in our daily lives. 

 The King – reasons, plans, focuses, manages, uses logic, seeks vision.

   Light (I am) – empowering leadership, facilitator, generative, value driven

    Shadow (I want)– dictatorial, egotistical, amoral, grandiose

The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates. 

Light (I do)– change agent, protector, disciplined, assertive, leader

  Shadow (I take) – violent, bully, uses aggression as primary strategy,

The Lover – nurtures, sexual, connects, passionate, joyful. 

  Light (I feel) – intimate, sensual, emotionally expressive, compassion

  Shadow (I need) – exploiter, selfish, emotional blackmailer, victimizer

The Magician – creates, solves problems, makes it happen, transforms, intuitive.

Light  (I fix) – win-win, creative, applies acquired wisdom

  Shadow (I con) – manipulator, hustler, cheater, means always justifies ends

Compare the actions and words of our political leaders, the media, government officials  and the scientific community of both genders and ask yourself are they “man upping” in the light or the shadow as we confront the challenges of the coronavius pandemic.   .

Give Me A Break

Protests against a star of  West Side Story that recently opened on Broadway reveal a “MeToo” saga gone amok.  The show has seen protestors wielding signs leveled against a lead actor Amar Ramasar.   One sign in particular, “Keep Predators Off The Stage” really underscores the excesses created by “Me Too”  zealots.  Ramasar, who is also a dancer in the NYC Ballet Company, is facing renewed heat for admittedly exchanging nude images of two women years ago without their consent.  He was suspended by his ballet company and then reinstated after an investigation.   His girlfriend, whose pictures he shared, has accepted his apology and forgiven him for his actions.

Let me be clear.  I am not defending his behavior.  It was dumb, immature and insulting to the women involved.  However, labeling him as a predator is what got my attention.  When we glibly toss out labels we weaken the meaning of the actions that truly deserve to be labeled.   Sexual predation is serious and encompasses crimes such as rape, sexual assault, protracted sexual harassment and child pornography.   Sending nude photos of your girlfriend and another women to a few friends does not rise to the definition of a predator.

Over use of judgmental words like predator and misogynist that do not fit the behavior of the individual being labeled creates the unintended consequence of weakening the meaning of those labels.  Focusing on behavior rather than judgmental categories creates the appropriate atmosphere for a discussion of which  behaviors are inappropriate and how as a society we should respond to them.  Calling any man who does something stupid like sending a few nude photos of his girlfriend a predator obscures the nature of that behavior and creates a defensiveness that avoids exploring and understanding the underlying cause of that very behavior. 

Men Need To Listen?

The answer to gender equality is simple according to Dr. Kimberly Probolus the inspiration for the “Women’s Project.”  According to her we just have to teach men to listen to women.  In a newspaper article in the New York Times she admonishes all men concluding that we are bad listeners, we talk too much and that if we would do a better job of listening to women the world will be a better place.   The fact that the Times chose to publish this piece on their editorial page is frightening.   Not necessarily that the Times specifically agrees with her point of view but that at least the Times  thought it was at least worthy of being fit to print.

I understand that everyone is entitled to have an opinion but if that opinion is to have any credibility – which would merit publication in a quality newspaper –  it should be based on something factual or data driven.  Calling out men as the only gender that needs to be better listeners is as bogus as labeling  all women as man shamers.   Frankly, we all need to be better listeners and follow  Stephen Covey’s habit #5 “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”

The non nuanced rhetoric by Dr. Probolus does little to bring a greater understanding of gender issues and how we can move forward to  having a constructive dialogue on gender equality. 

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.