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Gender Gap

A recent article in the New York Times asked the question, “Why do men and women, even some living under the same roof, have such divergent views on what people are fit to be our leaders?”  According to the article, research findings suggest that women tend to cast votes based on what they perceive as the overall benefit to the nation and their communities and men are more self interested.  Unfortunately, this research  leads to the conclusion that men are selfish and women are more altruistic.  This appears to be valid on the surface but looking closely at the definitions of community interest and self interest there is another way of drawing conclusions from the data.

For example, is a man’s vote being based solely on the state of the stock market acting selfishly?  Or is it because he is focused on how well his 401 K is performing  because his priority is to provide for his children’s education and their inheritance.  His masculine energy to provide and protect his family is a far cry from being merely selfish.   As far as benefit to the community, I would propose that men and women both care about the community but have gender based beliefs about the best ways of achieving the well being of a community.  Women tend to focus on empathy before looking for action to address a societal issue. Men on the other go quickly to fixes with less attention to the feelings of others.  Solutions do benefit the community by providing a pathway to recovery which relieves the stress of an uncertain future.   I know these are broad generalities but when we look as men as a group and women as a group these gender differences do hold up. The obvious conclusion is that instead of throwing men under the bus for being only self interested in their political views we need to look below the surface of the data and understand what is really going on.  In addition,  many men will put aside self-interest when a broader benefit to society is articulated in such a way that resonates with masculine energy.  For example,  if the message about mask wearing was more focused on its value for protecting one’s family and friends rather than simply good practice non-masking men might come more compliant and focus less on the supposed loss of personal freedom.

Protector or Vigilante

It appears that there is a growing imbalance in the validation of our biological gender differences.  It is great that girls are no longer stigmatized for being athletic and for their emerging assertiveness.  In addition, for the most part, women have gained the right to compete in the workplace based on merit. On the other hand, boys have not yet found their way in appreciating their masculinity. The consequences are manifest in the data that I have frequently blogged that demonstrate how we are losing our boys. It seems that boys and many men are either mired in gender role confusion or have adopted the toxic masculinity culture instead of embracing the best of their masculinity.

On point is a recent article in the Washington Post on the armed vigilante groups which have appeared at cities where Black Lives Matter protests are happening. The article attempts to explain the non-political part of the motivation of many of the men who are joining these groups.  Interviews of group members reveal that one of the reason these men are traveling considerable distances to appear at the protest marches wearing armor and brandishing long guns is their desire to protect property.  For them, the need to express their masculine energy to protect has been subverted to vigilantism.  The question is what is so lacking in their everyday personal lives that they need to protect property that is normally protected by local law enforcement?  Has the pandemic, the gender neutrality agenda and the perceived feminization of manhood led some men to act out in hyper masculine fashion?  Certainly the loss of control over one’s environment engendered by the loss of income and the inability to have any influence on the outcome of the pandemic  has resulted in a diminishing of personal power.  The loss of power can lead to anger and an attempt to regain masculinity by protective behavior that has no direct connection to their  personal lives.   

I would suggest that a more productive way to manage the perceived loss of power that men are experiencing is to engage in men’s work.  It is not difficult to find a men’s group in person or virtually in most areas of our country. Being in the company of men in a non-shaming environment where they can share their life’s journey is empowering and helps men live the best of masculinity.

Proud Boys!

It is unusual that a group chose a name that so clearly reflects who they are.   If they called themselves Proud Men they would have missed the mark.  Their behavior and style is definitively that of boys not men.   Dressing up with body armor emblazoned with stickers is something that you would expect pre-adolescent boys to wear when going out to trick or treat.  Boys who want the world to think they are tough guys dress up and adopt aggressive postures to bully and intimidate.   Most boys grow up and abandon external symbols, and power posturing and seek recognition through accomplishment and embracing the best of masculinity – thoughtfulness, compassion and a purposeful life.

Right Goal Wrong Approach

Time magazine (9/21) featured an essay by Kyl Myers, Ph.D. adapted from  her book, “Raising Them: Our Adventure in Gender Creative Parenting.”  The essay states, “the goal of gender-creative parenting is not to eliminate gender – the goal is to eliminate gender-based oppression, disparities and violence.”  No argument with the goal.  However, her (sorry Kyl for using a gender specific pronoun) approach is based on  her confusing gender equality with gender neutrality.  It appears that her concern for gender discrimination can only be eliminated by neutralizing inherent gender differences.  According to her philosophy as a parent she believes that we should wait for children to tell us if they are a boy or a girl.  I can just imagine a five year old boy telling his kindergarten teacher I have a penis but actually I am a girl.  Do I have to remind folks that boys are born with XY chromosomes and girls with XX chromosomes.  Genetics matter.  Besides the obvious anatomical differences men’s and women’s brains are different.   One big reason is that for much of their lifetimes women and men have different fuel additives running through their tanks: the sex-steroid hormones.  In female mammals, the primary additives are a few members of the set of molecules called estrogens, along with another molecule called progesterone; and in males, testosterone and a few look-alikes collectively deemed androgens. Importantly, males developing normally in utero get hit with a big mid-gestation surge of testosterone, permanently shaping not only their body parts and proportions but also their brains. The neuroscience literature shows that the human brain is a sex-typed organ with distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function, says UC-Irvine professor of neurobiology and behavior Larry Cahill, PhD. Cahill who edited the 70-article January/February 2017 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience Research.

There continues to be considerable debate among researchers as to the role that biology has in shaping gender behavior.  The consensus is that social norms and biological factors both operate but the controversy lies in the degree that each factor shapes behavior.  Social norms are subject to change as the women’s rights movement and Title IX have aptly proven.   Biology is not fluid.  Yes, there are a small number of intersex individuals who are born with some degree of gender ambiguity and they should not be discriminated against.  However, the vast majority of children arrive as either distinctly male or female and that is not subject to choice.  

 For one thing, the animal-research findings resonates with sex-based differences ascribed to people. These findings continue to accrue. In a study of 34 rhesus monkeys, for example, males strongly preferred toys with wheels over plush toys, whereas females found plush toys likable. It would be tough to argue that the monkeys’ parents bought them sex-typed toys or that simian society encourages its male offspring to play more with trucks. A much more recent study established that boys and girls 9 to 17 months old — an age when children show few if any signs of recognizing either their own or other children’s sex — nonetheless show marked differences in their preference for stereotypically male versus stereotypically female toys.

Of course we should not tell children they can’t play with a particular toy because we ascribe a gender connotation to that object.  On the other hand I would strongly discourage my son who was born a non-ambiguous boy from wearing a dress to school.  Are we thwarting gender equality by telling a boy that certain types of clothing are gender specific in a particular culture?  The goal of gender equality is achieved when we appreciate the differences between males and females recognizing that both male and female characteristics are needed to ensure a healthy society.  

Are Men Afraid

Here we go again.   Distorting the findings of good research with a non data driven opinion.  A new study, due to be published in the Journal Organizational Dynamics, has found that, following the MeToo movement, men are significantly more reluctant to interact with their female colleagues. A few highlights from the research include:

• 27% of men avoid one-on-one meetings with female co-workers. Yep, that’s right, almost a third of men are terrified to be alone in a room with a woman.

• 21% of men said they would be reluctant to hire women for a job that would require close interaction (such as business travel).

• 19% of men would be reluctant to hire an attractive woman.

The data above was collected in early 2019 from workers across a wide range of industries. Researchers had asked the same questions (albeit to different people and with more of a focus on future expectations) in early 2018, just as MeToo was in full swing, and depressingly, things appear to have got worse. In 2018, for example, 15% of men said they would be more reluctant to hire women for jobs that require close interpersonal interactions with women, compared to 21% in 2019.

A reporter interpreting the research concludes, without any basis other than personal opinion,  “that a lot of men aren’t so much afraid of being accused of anything as they are they are angry that MeToo ever happened. They’re angry that they’ve been made to think about their behavior, made to interrogate power dynamics they always took for granted, and they are punishing women for it by refusing to interact with them.” She goes on to offer her  own opinion on a Harvard Business Review article previewing the study’s 2019 results is headlined The MeToo Backlash.  “You see that phrase a lot and that framing subtly implies that MeToo went too far, that a backlash is only natural. It’s yet another form of victim-blaming; another way to quietly put women back in their place.”

I would speculate that it’s not backlash or a fear of punishment by women but a fear of being accused of misconduct and an uncertainty of how to behave that will not cause them to be fired or labeled as sexists or misogynists.  All it takes to ruin a man’s career and reputation is an allegation that he made an inappropriate remark or gesture.  It is understood that investigating these accusations is difficult because there is often nor corroborating evidence and it boils down to he says vs. she says. However, simply the allegation  of misconduct alone can cost a man his career in the MeToo era.  The fear that a comment or benign physical contact might be either misconstrued or deliberately used against a man, jeopardizing his livelihood, is permeating the work environment.  With so much at stake one shouldn’t be surprised why men in the workplace are proceeding with caution in their interactions with female colleagues and subordinates. 

Instead of using the data from the Journal Organizational Dynamics as confirming a bias against men, it should be used as a springboard for a frank discussion about gender roles and formulating a consensus on appropriate behavior among workers in a particular organization.   One size does not fit all and depending on the industry and size of the company each entity should determine its unique code of conduct that brings sanity to the workplace.

Pervasive Culture

Representative Ayanna Pressley weighing in on the confrontationbetween her colleagues,Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Ted Yoho declared that what happened was an indication of a “pervasive culture of misogyny and sexism.”  Let me be clear, I am not defending Yoho’s calling AOC a “fucking bitch.”  He behaved like a jerk and what he said and where he said it was totally inappropriate.   Unfortunately,  Pressley could not resist the temptation to confirm her bias against men.  As I have blogged in the past, misogyny is now voiced every time a man acts inappropriately to a women.   Misogyny means a hatred of women and glibly labeling someone or something as misogynistic distorts the issue and creates a defensive response rather than understanding and constructive dialogue.   I have no idea whether or not Yoho hates women.   The issue is Pressley saying that hating women is pervasive among the culture of men.  I would have liked to ask her how she came to the conclusion that hating women was pervasive.  According to the dictionary pervasive means, “especially of an unwelcome influence or physical effect spreading widely throughout an area or a group of people.” There is no denying that there are some true male women haters in our society and they do have a presence on the internet.  However, there is little evidence that women haters are anything more than a small minority of men who are psychologically damaged.   Even theexperts in the Domestic Violence community do not automatically brand abusers as misogynists.  They speak of the abuser as a power and control freak not necessarily a hater of the female gender.

Calling sexism pervasive among men might be a tad easier to accept.   Sexism is a broad term which captures a spectrum of behaviors and attitudes that can be labeled as sexist.  It is defined as, “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.”  Several things to consider.   Is calling a women a bitch necessarily sexist and furthermore is sexism pervasive among men in the Me-Too era?  A tough question to answer because of the broad usage of the word bitch.  The literal meaning of bitch is not helpful.   It could mean, “a female dog, “a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman” or “something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant.”  Men call other men bitches.   Are they implying that a man who is acting like a bitch is acting like a women?  Possibly, but frankly unless you know what a person’s frame of mind is and what personal meaning he or she is attaching to a word it is not reasonable to ascribe a label to that utterance.   In other words calling someone a bitch or son of a bitch is not necessarily a sexist expletive.   The more important issue is the pervasiveness of sexism.  It is easy to point out examples of sexism and also to highlight gains for gender equality that have been made over time.  Neither is helpful in coming to terms with whether or not sexism is pervasive.   My final thought is to avoid labels and instead discuss specifics and mining data for understanding .   Labels engender defensiveness, position taking and the political high jacking of an issue.

PRIVILEGE

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.