Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sheep or Wolf

Here comes another revenge thriller following in the footsteps of Fight Club, John Wick and the multitude of Liam Neeson revenge movies.  Actor Bob Odenkirk  plays a a meek, middle-aged dad who doesn’t fight back when robbers invade his home. Everyone thinks he is a total wuss: the police, the neighbors, even his own family. But then he does fight back, rampaging through a succession of gleefully violent fight scenes until there’s barely an anonymous Russian mobster left walking.  His character states, “There’s a long-dormant piece of me that’s now awake.” He is living his best life. His family respects him. His wife finds him attractive again. He’s found his real man masculinity.

The implication is often that behind the characters’ meek, civilized exteriors, these men  are mighty warriors who have been tamed into lives of careerist conformity and domestic subservience.  And reverting back to base instinct feels really good. The question is always whether these movies serve as a warning against such impulsive, often fascistic forms of violence, or whether they inspire them. Looking at the current climate of “toxic masculinity” – misogynistic online abuse, sexual misconduct and violence one would hardly surmise that what the world needs now is more old-school manliness.

One rationale for these films is that the artfully orchestrated ultra violence is somehow cathartic. thereby providing a useful function.  One can also argue that exposure to ultra violence and the status that the perpetrators of it receive might actually provoke violent behavior.  Then again, it’s a pretty reductive view of masculinity that says you’re either a castrated loser or a rampaging warrior, a sheep or a wolf.  Rather than this binary distinction, a better way of framing the issue is derived from the warrior archetype of masculinity.  The warrior, that part of our masculinity linked to taking action, can be expressed either in the light or the shadow.  The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates. 

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

                        Shadow (I take) – seeks violence and uses aggression as primary strategy,                                       sadistic, bully

The takeaway is that we can harness our warrior in the light and feel validated as a man without resorting to ultra violence to achieve our goals.   If we go back to the revenge thriller type movies they would not achieve much success at the box office if the heroes used their warrior energy in the light and  sought justice by working with law enforcement to rescue love ones and to arrest the bad guys.  The revenge thrillers will not go away.  However, more emphasis on fictional characters that exhibit their manliness – especially their warrior – in the light would provide better role models for young men to aspire to. 

Fathers Day Redux

Full disclosure –  much of what follows has been blogged my me on numerous occasions.   However, since Father’s Day is upon us I find it necessary and important to once again highlight the importance of a father beyond being a sperm provider.

I will start with a summary of the 10 facts of father engagement::

  1. Fathers and infants can be equally as attached as mothers and infants. When both parents are involved with the child, infants are attached to both parents from the beginning of life.
  2. Father involvement is related to positive child health outcomes in infants, such as improved weight gain in preterm infants and improved breastfeeding rates.
  3. Father involvement using authoritative parenting (loving and with clear boundaries and expectations) leads to better emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children.
  4. Children who feel a closeness to their father are: twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, 80% less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.
  5. Fathers occupy a critical role in child development. Father absence hinders development from early infancy through childhood and into adulthood. The psychological harm of father absence experienced during childhood persists throughout the life course.
  6. The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the specific amount of hours spent together. Non-resident fathers who are involved with their children can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional well-being, as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.
  7. High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence.
  8. Children with actively involved fathers are: 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade than those without engaged dads.
  9. Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys while also decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families. Father engagement reduces psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.

This one  reminded me of the well documented story about teenage male elephants and the destruction they caused when separated from their families.  South African authorities attempted to remove elephants from an overcrowded game reserve to a newly formed reserve.  Mistakenly, they only moved adolescent elephants thereby removing them from their natural social networks. The result was that the male adolescents attacked and killed young rhinos and destroyed nearby farmland in the newly formed preserve. The female adolescents did not exhibit this behavior.  The explanation for the disparity in gender behavior was that the males were experiencing  premature testosterone surges that accounted for their delinquency.  Several adult male elephants were then brought to the new reserve and their presence and intervention quickly calmed the adolescents and restored order.  The takeaway was male adolescents, whether elephant or human, benefit from having an adult male in their lives.  The adult male helps the adolescents better cope with the heightened aggression and risk taking that is characteristic of the adolescent male.

10. Overall, the impact that fathers and father figures can make is substantial. Just as there are many positive aspects to father involvement, the effects of father absence can be detrimental as well.

As more and more children are raised without fathers present, either by choice or circumstance, the loss of father engagement will further exacerbate the difficulties for children growing up without fathers.  Somehow we need to get the message out to our teens and Millennials that as they grow into full adulthood that bringing babies into this world without a father present creates the potential for the negative effects of a lack of father engagement.   

Are Men Asleep in Their Marriage?

As we look for insight on why women are often the ones seeking to dissolve a marriage let’s begin with the data.  Numerous studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women?  – this is according to a 2015 research study conducted by the American Sociological Association (ASA) which suggests two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. Among college-educated women, this number jumps up to 90%.

What are the gender differences in how men and women appraise the health of their marriage? Do women have a higher standard in appraising the health of their marriage?  

My research revealed three possible factors why women initiate divorce:

1 – Women are more likely to feel held back by the marriage.

The fact is that today, women are working more than they ever have and make up a little over half of the workforce in the United States. However, in many marriages women are still seen as primarily responsible for domestic duties. Despite having more on their plates with their careers.

Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and author of the ASA study stated, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare.”

What’s more is that other studies have shown that when both parties in a marriage are employed full-time, the woman in the relationship still does more housework than men in the relationship.

A 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that on an average day in 2018, 20 percent of men did housework—such as cleaning or laundry—compared with 49 percent of women. What this tells us is that there is inequality in the average household when it comes to domestic duties and labor among men and women. For married parties who have at least similar responsibilities from a full-time career, it is still women who are doing more of the work around the home as well.

In addition, women often find that their husbands are not supportive when they are highly successful in their careers. In a 2019 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which included over 6,000 American heterosexual couples over 15 years, many men experienced “psychological distress” if their wives made more than 40% of the household income in a marriage.

So if a woman has high expectations and responsibilities from her career, high expectations and responsibilities at home, and does not have support from her husband on career advancement, she may not find the marriage to be in her best interest anymore.

2 – Women often take on more of the emotional burden.

Communication is key in any marriage, but often an area where many couples struggle. Generally, men are not sufficiently taught how they can communicate and process emotions. As a result, women in marriages find they often will take on more of the emotional responsibilities. In some cases, this may include being the sole emotional support system for the entire family. Over time, this does take a toll on a person – mentally, physically and certainly emotionally. Without emotional support from husbands, wives are often left feeling alone and without a source of support within the marriage.

3 – Women no longer tolerate consistent unacceptable behavior.

At a point in history, women did not work as much as today. Because of this, wives would rely more so on their husbands for financial security. Even at the expense of abusive and negligent behavior. Today, this is not the case as much.  As a result, women are not willing to put up with consistent unacceptable behavior from their husbands for financial security.   This is especially relevant for college educated women with career choices.

Dori Schwartz, a divorce mediator and coach says, “Today’s modern woman is more unlikely to put up with infidelity. Once the honeymoon period is over, some men drastically change their behavior from romantic to controlling and emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, this happens in many marriages, and women don’t want to take it anymore.”

Conclusion

It certainly appears that many men are asleep in their marriages. This would explain why the many disappointments and discontent that women are experiencing in marriage are ignored or trivialized by their husbands.   Is it reasonable to hypothesize that being asleep is really the fact that men accept a mediocre relationship as normal and are men more likely to view a divorce as a failure rather than an ending?  This explanation might let some men off the hook but the reality is that men need to be paying closer attention to the health of their marriages and be willing to take steps to keep a marriage alive and thriving. 

Men and Gray Divorce

It’s  no secret that midlife or “gray” divorce is skyrocketing at the same time the overall divorce rate is declining.  In addition, according to the AARP, 66 percent of these divorces — which have doubled since 1990 — are initiated by women.  But the numbers, without any narrative, are just numbers. They don’t tell us why so many women, seemingly in droves, are making this heartbreakingly difficult decision at this stage in life.  Nor do they explain why women do better socially and emotionally in their post gray divorce lives.  A survey prepared by a prominent psychologist tried  to find out more. Hundreds of women post gray divorce took the survey and told their stories. Over 50% indicated emotional abuse as the main reason for initiating the divorce.  However, the question is, “Is this number higher for gray divorce?”  The findings of the survey are contradicted by a research paper in an established scientific journal which reported that, “older females reported experiencing less emotional abuse than older males. Overall, emotional abuse was more common in younger participants. “

How do we explain the stark differences between the therapist’s survey and the research article.  One possibility is that men feel more shame from emotional abuse and therefore in a survey format would less likely admit to or initiate divorce based on that abuse.  However, if emotional abuse is not the driving factor for the increasing gray divorce rate what  else is going on?  One might reasonably conclude that the pandemic has put additional strain on the gray couple.  For the most part gray couples have been married for a considerable time period and are most likely empty nesters.  Couples experiencing the empty nest have to readjust to the fact that the day to day raising of children is often a diversion from examining their needs and how the relationship is meeting those needs.  Adding to the problem is the issue of how the pandemic isolates couples from the workplace, social activities, recreation pursuits and their extended families.  The isolation forces a gray couple to look to each other, almost exclusively, for fulfillment.  This exclusivity highlights the fault lines in their relationship and can lead to the decision to separate.

The differences between how men and women fare post gray divorce again reveals the social isolation and depression that men, especially in middle age, experience.   One explanation is that in most marriages women usually take care of the social calendar.  Often couple socializing is based more on the women’s friendships rather than the friendship between the men.  Post divorce, the women continue their friendships while the men have less of a connection.  Many women in middle age experience a new sense of freedom when they divorce later in life.  They often feel like their needs and ambitions have been constrained by traditional marital roles – raising kids, household chores, deference to their spouse’s careers – and see post divorce as an opportunity to grow and fully express themselves.  Men in middle age have usually peeked in their careers and look to maintenance and easing of stress which is often incompatible with what their wives are needing.  This probably accounts for the fact that so many men who seek out men’s groups are in the process of divorce or are recently divorced.  The group provides the much needed connections to maintain mental health and provides a forum for forming new friendships.  It is indeed unfortunate that so many men, especially after a break up in marriage or a relationship, are unaware of the power of men’s work and slide into depression, substance abuse and suicide. 

Look to the next blog to explore why women initiate divorce far more often than men.

Rethinking The Marlboro Man

In the early 1950’s the Philip Morris Tobacco Company was attempting to figure out a method of attracting men to smoke filter tip cigarettes because there was a mistaken belief that the filter tip would lower the toxicity of cigarettes and the demand for them would increase. Their leading filter tip brand, Marlboro, was very popular with women.  Therefore, they needed to figure out how they could get men to buy Marlboro’s.  Their adverting agency came up with idea of the “Marlboro Man.”  The images initially featured rugged men portrayed in a variety of roles but later primarily featured a seasoned cowboy or cowboys in picturesque wild terrain.  The campaign was hugely successful and Marlboro sales to men grew exponentially. To further understand the true meaning of the Marlboro man, the following excerpt from a research paper contrasting the Michelangelo sculpture David with the Marlboro man is quite instructive.

“However, the greatest similarity between the David and the Marlboro Man is the philosophical ideas they symbolize. Via the chosen particulars, strong profile, the masculine hands, the man of action (as both inner thought and outer action), the Marlboro Man symbolizes the universal in man: reason, independence, efficacy, and egoism. Like the David, the Marlboro Man controls and is at home in an intelligible universe, comprehending reality and acting in accordance with it. Fronting the essential facts of life, the Marlboro Man purposely exists as his own end, doing what must be done. An imitation and perfection of nature, the completion of the nature of man, the potential as abstraction in form, man as he could be, more handsome than any particular man, more real than the real, the Marlboro Man symbolizes the same meta-ethical, aesthetic and political ideas as the David. The Marlboro Man stands tall on the billboards of the world as the Aristotelian aesthetic ideal, symbolizing reason, independence, efficacy, egoism and explicitly or implicitly, republican liberty (Exhibit 8). In Aristotelian fundamentals, the Marlboro Man is a 20th century David.” In current popular culture the Marlboro Man is often referred to as a  symbol of the “real man” stereotype of hyper masculinity.  The Marlboro type man is seen as a man confined to the man code limiting his emotional life and forced to live a limited masculinity that negatively affects his well being and his attitudes towards women. However, if we examine the traits associated with the Marlboro Man stereotype we see some very positive aspects of masculinity.  Taking action is embedded in the Warrior archetype.  Again, in the light a man of action who does not use his warrior to bully or utilize excessive violence is highly desirable.  Reason -comprehending reality – is the behavior associated with the King archetype and in the light is the thoughtful deliberating aspect of masculinity.  Not sure what the problem with independence is as long as it is not taken to  the extremes of isolation.  An independent man takes responsibility for his actions without blaming others for mistakes and misfortune.  Efficacy, getting things done quickly, can also be seen as a positive trait of masculinity.   Men tend to be result oriented fixers.  As long as a man does not become so hyper focused that he ignores the bigger picture resolving a problem expeditiously is a good thing.   I do agree that egoism is not a positive trait that the real man should endorse and not necessary ingredient for a positive real man role model.

What we need is a new and renamed Marlboro Man that represents the best of masculinity without abandoning the notion that there is much benefit to aspiring to be a “Real Man.”  I welcome blog readers to suggest a new image and name to replace the Marlboro Man. 

Not Really

Another new book or article, by a women, talking about boys and masculinity.  As reported on CNN online,  Emma Brown’s new book, “To Raise A Boy: Classrooms, Locker Rooms, Bedrooms, and the Hidden Struggles of American Boyhood,” reveals that dismantling rigid concepts of masculinity is the next step toward true social progress on gender.

Her main premise is the often repeated trope that  rigid gender norms for boys and men put their own health at risk and that makes it hard for boys and men to ask for physical or mental help.

Brown goes on to state that, “Another problem is isolation. Many boys are forced to disown their desire for emotional intimacy. One of the most memorable conversations I had was with a 50-year-old man who woke up in middle age and realized he didn’t really have any friends — no one he could connect with emotionally.”

She also claims that research has found links between boys who believe they must live up to standards about being “real” boys or men and those at a greater risk for perpetrating sexual violence against women.

Let me begin with debunking her main premise about rigid gender norms.  Yes, there are some men who do not take proper care of themselves for both mental and physical health related issues.  Frankly, I believe that this might be true for a few boomer men and those men who inhabit the fringe hyper masculine world.  The truth is that for the vast majority of men among the younger generations, according to counselors at post secondary schools, they seem not to hesitate in seeking help for depression, anxiety and trauma related issues.  In addition, there is no evidence for the notion that society at large promulgates the message that boys don’t cry.  Again, I’m sure there are a few parents and old school athletic coaches who do deliver this message but certainly it rarely appears in the mainstream media and from the pop culture icons.

Brown’s argument that boys are forced to disown emotional intimacy does not ring true based on my personal experience and the many men I have interacted with in 25 years of facilitating men’s groups.  Men openly talk about the close friendships they had as boys, teens and through young adulthood.  What they miss is the opportunity to continue those types of relationships once they are actively pursuing careers and participating in family life.  The issue of adult male loneliness is not a product of a constrained masculinity but part of a bigger problem of social isolation in our modern society that has affected men more than women.  Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” underscored how the collapse of the American community has had a profound impact on increasing male isolation.

Particularly infuriating was her claim that research links how a “real men” attitude leads to a greater risk for perpetrating sexual violence against women.  When I checked the research she relied on I found the following. “Thus, the men who adhere strongly to these particular hegemonic masculinity (i.e., antifemininity, sexual dominance masculine norms may feel compelled to be sexually aggressive and/or coercive toward an intimate partner in order to maintain their need for dominance within their intimate relationship. ”  In other words the data showed toxic masculinity attitudes which are far different than the vague real men perspective is the link to truly misogynistic behavior.  As I have frequently blogged, being a real man in the light of masculinity is a far cry from the toxic masculine world.

I find it increasing troubling that rehashing the no longer valid  message that we continue to constrain boys and men from being fully actualized is leading to misconceptions about gender roles rather than clarifying the discussion of how to achieve a gender equal not a gender neutral society. 

Men More Like Wome, Women More Like Men?

I have often balked at the notion that a modern liberated man is one who has embraced his feminine side. The feminine side is usually defined as being more in touch with one’s emotional life and a greater empathy towards others.  The notion that a man who feels a sense of pride and comfort in his masculinity needs to more like a women creates dissonance with his masculine identity and might stifle his personal growth.  Can men learn to  acquire a deeper understanding of their emotional lives along with a greater ability to understand the emotions of others – Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?  They certainly can, especially if we do not label the higher EQ as being feminine.  It is essential to not label the male tendency to quickly fix a problem as a negative trait implying that men lack compassion.  Men just need to do a better job of displaying empathy by listening and validating before they seek solutions.  Some might wrongly label a man with a high EQ as being more feminine instead of concluding that he has become a more successful person. 

On the female side, women are being advised to be more masculine when it comes to assertiveness.  The traits and characteristics that we typically associate with effective leadership endorse stereotypically masculine attributes like assertiveness, ambition, and competition.  An Amazon search of books on female assertiveness came up with over 20 titles including the controversial “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. It appears that the message is that women need to be more like men to achieve their career goals and be proprely compensated.  I will assume that most women would be turned off by the idea that they had to behave more like men.  Again, the assumption that honing in on a particular characteristic to be a more successful person is linked to a gender stereotype.

Personal growth should have little to do with gender labels.  Men as a group would do better if they refined their masculine energy to be more aware of their emotional intelligence.  Women as a group would do better if they were more assertive in the workplace and in relationship.  Both genders can be more fulfilled in their life’s journey without resorting to the concept that they need to be either more masculine or more feminine. 

Confusion

A recent quote from a female journalist, “Today’s boys are being raised in the middle of the biggest redefinition of male gender roles in recent history. ” She continued,  “Should I (a boy) be kind and sensitive or distant and aloof when trying to win a partner over?”   When I started to read the quote I was pleased to see the acknowledgement that boys are being raised in the middle of the biggest redefinition of male gender roles.  However, after reading the second part I started to laugh. The dilemma of whether women prefer the nice guy to the bad boy has been grappled with men of all ages for decades.  Nice guys who respected women and were good listeners were often bewildered when a women they were courting told them they were great friends but then sought romance from the charming scoundrel. Some women seem to outgrow their attraction to the so called “bad boy” after being burned and then look for the nice guy who has been waiting patiently in the wings. 

The additional dilemma for today’s boys is far more confusing than the nice guy vs. the bad boy scenario.  The role models that help shape gender identity for boys has become extremely disparate.  About 40% of boys are being raised in homes without a father limiting their ability to experience male role models on a daily basis. LGBTQ advocates have garnered considerable publicity for gender non-conformity as a socially acceptable lifestyle.  On the other extreme social media has provided forums for men on the toxic masculinity spectrum who advocate patriarchy and a mythological man code.  In addition, there are  parents who are pushing gender neutrality to the point of not identifying the gender of their child in order to allow the child to pick a gender.  No wonder boys are increasing confused about their masculinity.

Educators and parents need to pay more attention to the struggle that boys are facing.  As I have blogged on numerous occasions, boys and young men are falling behind girls and young women in every measure of emotional, vocational and academic achievement.  Schools should provide curriculum and instruction for boys on the societal value of the best of masculinity while altering teaching methods that are more suited to male energy.   Some years ago, with sponsorship from my men’s group,  I was able to conduct workshops with teachers on how they can better tailor their teaching styles for boys.   They were well received.  

It appears that the “metoo” movement and the focus on diversity, albeit important, have put the issues of losing our boys to the back burner.  Can we really afford to neglect 50% of our population.  We are capable of advancing both agendas.

Role Model

In my review of the articles concerning caregiving it was mentioned that there are insufficient examples in the media of men fulfilling a caregiving role.  The problem might be in the narrow definition of male caregiving rather than a lack of examples.   While broadcasting  the end of Super Bowl celebrations the camera turned to the behavior shown in the following image of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ lineman, Ryan Jensen and his son.   

As a football player the 6’4″,  320 lb. center is known as a fierce competitor and is the highest paid center in the league.  He plays the game utilizing his physical skills in a game that epitomizes controlled violence.   For those of you who do not like football because of the violent nature of the game, at least accept the fact that the violence is governed by rules and all of the participants are there by choice. 

What has Ryan modeled for his son?   On one hand his son saw his father, the warrior,  throughout the course of the game physically attempt to overpower his opponents according to the rules.   On the other hand, at the end of the game Ryan allowed his young son to push him over and to engage in a loving physical interaction.  Ryan’s uniquely male fathering behavior demonstrates his compassion for his son while empowering his son’s confidence and sense of physical intimacy.  In addition the interaction was on display for millions of the TV audience to see.  Imagery that exemplifies  masculine caregiving affirming the best of masculinity. 

Caregiving Men

Is this title an oxymoron?  Some writers, always women, conclude that the facts bear out that men who take on caregiving are in the minority and that the main reason is cultural norms and a lack of models of men who choose to take on a major portion of childcare, housework and related activities.  One writer points to the “creaky old idea that caregiving — for a spouse, parent or child — just doesn’t come naturally to men.”  Is it really a creaky old idea?  Partially so, but other data suggests that it is not that simple.  Over three-quarters of American fathers are back to work two weeks after their baby arrives, and only seven percent of all stay-at-home parents are men.  We know some of this is because paternity leave is shorter for men but studies show that in Scandinavian countries with generous paternity leave men tend to want to come back to work much sooner than their female partners.  A somewhat tongue in cheek comment from former CNN host, Piers Morgan, when questioned on the subject of men and caregiving said, “most dads don’t want to do paid paternity leave because it isn’t the most exciting gig in town.”

The issue then becomes whether or not women take on the lion’s share of caregiving because of  reasons beyond the “creaky old ideas.”  The fact is that women generally are more nurturing than men and the reason is for that goes far deeper than patriarchy and historical male dominance.   Women read verbal and non-verbal emotional cues better than men and this leads to having greater empathy than men.  Nurturing, the essence of childcare for infants and toddlers, is the byproduct of empathy and the bonding hormone oxytocin which is released for women during childbirth and breast feeding.  For most women nurturing young children can be quite fulfilling despite the more tedious demands of childcare.  For most men they feel enormously loving and protective of their infant children and feel the pressure of what it means to provide for their new family. The most thoughtful men will help with diaper changing but frankly do not find the day to day maintenance of an infant as satisfying as their female partner.  Therefore, unless there is a significant economic advantage for the family, women will choose the primary caregiving role and not resent that choice.  Obviously, their male partner’s willingness to help out as much as possible is certainly welcome and ultimately will lead to a more satisfying family experience for all parties, including the child.