Male Privilege?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man Shaming

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

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

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

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

Got My Attention

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

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

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

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

Masculinity: Light or Shadow

Frankly, my attempt to be non-political has diverted me from blogging.  The issues raised by the Muller report and the extreme political polarization in our citizenry has pushed gender and masculinity issues to the back burner.   However, I can no longer avoid the elephant in the room. How does President Trump’s behavior reflect the light or shadow of masculinity?   A framework for analysis based on Moore & Gillete’s writing on masculinity should prove useful. I will leave the judgment to the readers.

Moore & Gillette described four archetypes of masculinity: King, Warrior, Lover, Magician.  An archetype, according to Webster’s, is an original pattern or model from which other things of the same kind are made. According to Jungian psychologists, in individual people, the archetypes are derived from the experience of the human race and are present in the unconscious of the individual.

Each archetype plays a role in a man’s life.  At times a particular archetype may be  suppressed or dormant.  Furthermore, each archetype when expressed has a light or positive side and a shadow or negative side.  When the result of our behavioral choices is negative (anger, depression, poor outcomes) or we experience an inability to act we need to ask of ourselves how each archetype can be better harnessed to live a life which is more fulfilling and productive. The mature male is one who has integrated the four archetypes and continues to acknowledge and confront the destructive shadow side of each.

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, sadistic

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

Light (I feel) – intimate, sensual, affiliated, emotionally expressive, compassionate
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

Gender Gap or Gender Reality

An article in the New York Times dealing with work and family quoted a recent study that indicated a gender gap on the concrete question of whether a given parent would prefer to stay home, with few fathers saying they would rather work part time and a large majority of mothers saying they would rather work part time or not at all.  The division -of-labor advantages of having one breadwinner and one caregiver apply regardless of which parent stays home so from a purely economic perspective there should be no difference between the preferences of fathers and mothers within a family unit of two opposite gender parents and one or more children. 

The knee jerk takeaway is that men are culturally programmed to focus on work and view child care and daily parenting responsibilities as not being masculine.   No doubt there is a cultural component but I think there is ample evidence to support the premise that the cultural norm is secondary to the evolutionary fueled biological imperative for women to favor child rearing to professional attainment during their children’s early childhood years.  

More evidence to support this point of view comes from drilling down into gender wage gap research.  In many situations, the purported gender wage gap isn’t actually a measure of the often-touted “equal pay for equal work, but to a large extent, the manifestation of women prioritizing family over the workplace and fields they find more meaningful beyond just a heftier paycheck.

When controlling for these relevant factors, multiple academic studies show this pay gap shrinks to almost nothing. It’s just $0.98 for women compared to a $1.00 for men, according to PayScale Inc.’s The State of the Gender-Pay Gap in 2019. One recent Harvard working paper analyzing Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority data found there was no gender pay gap at all, once all factors are controlled for.

One of Harvard’s renowned labor economists, Claudia Goldin, examines the gender wage gap and finds that differences in cumulative career hours worked accounts for the remaining gender pay gap beyond the lower-paying professions women tend to choose — e.g., social work versus computer programming.

The wage gap and the preferences of women to prioritize child rearing over career, at least during child bearing years, is only partially fueled by culturally imposed norms .  In general, a majority of women feel a higher priority and sense of purpose by focusing on raising their kids.  The fact that men, again in general,  find more meaning in family life by providing than in the daily routine of child care is not a product of sexism or patriarchy.    Certainly in past generations this was sometimes carried to an extreme when men did little to assist in childcare.   However, today’s Dads do change diapers and help with night feedings but still prefer for their wives to handle the bulk of the child chores and defer the burden of bread winning for themselves.   

Unfortunately, the need for two incomes to maintain a middle class lifestyle has created conflict with gender preferences that makes family life more complicated and has led to a decline in marriages and birth rates.   Affordable childcare and paid family leave would certainly help and give women more freedom in managing the desire to raise their kids with the need to earn and find fulfilling careers.   My guess, even with these needed programs, men would still choose work over childcare.   This is supported by data from countries with generous family leave and affordable day care indicates that men take far less family leave time than their female partners.  

How To Raise Boys

On the  March 20th  NPR show “1A” the entire hour was devoted to the topic of how to raise boys.   The now infamous Gillette commercial and the controversies it precipitated was the impetus for the show’s topic.   A common theme from the invited guests was how boys are taught to suppress their feelings and how destructive this is to the boy.   The conclusion reached was that if a boy cries in the presence of other boys he will be bullied and ridiculed.   A young man who was a guest on the show told of falling in gym class scraping his knee and holding back tears because he didn’t want to embarrass himself.   The thrust of his story was that  boys are taught not to cry.   My problem with the example is that if a girl fell in gym class I believe she would have also felt the pressure not to cry.   At least for handling physical discomfort not crying is a shared norm by both genders.   The notion that boys get the message that “boys/men don’t cry” is a culturally imposed norm that leads men to emotional denial and stuffed feelings that get expressed through self harm and violence is far from accurate.  Whining and crying is far from the best strategy in dealing with a strong emotional feeling.  Yes, it is probably true for some men but the reality is that not overtly expressing a strong emotion is not equivalent to not experiencing that emotion and not dealing with it in a healthy manner.   Being self aware of one’s emotional state and using rational thought to understand the emotion and taking action, when indicated, to figure out the best way to respond to that feeling is manly.   Instead of telling boys to just let it out and not be afraid to cry we should be teaching emotional intelligence and utilizing our thoughtfulness to understand what our emotions are telling us.

The show guests also talked about empathy and how men are allegedly taught that being manly means that when men perceive vulnerability in another man  they will automatically dominate and shame the weaker or overtly suffering man.  Again, I believe this to be a misinterpretation of how men express empathy.   Men are highly empathetic but handle it differently than women.  For example, men who have experienced combat often state that their motivation to fight and to protect their fellow soldiers is not about loyalty to country or a higher cause but the attachment and fellowship with their comrades.   Male empathy is often expressed in acts of protection.   One protects when they sense the need in others to be protected.   Isn’t that empathy?

One of the guests stated that, “gender norms are getting in the way of boys being good human beings.”  This speaks to the question I raised in my last blog.  Is there a difference between what constitutes a good man or good woman as compared to being  a good human?    To begin to answer this difficult question I offered my take on how a man acts responsibly that is different from how a women acts responsibly.   Another trait of being a good human being is being supportive.   Men are often supportive as mentors and fixers.   Teaching and modeling to other men, particularly to younger men, is an example of men supporting other men.   Women tend to support by listening and expressing sympathy with less of an emphasis on problem solving and fixing.  As we strive to be good human beings understanding that achieving this personal goal will look differently for men and women.

Good Man, Good Women, Good Human

Dr. Morgan T. Sammons, a psychologist responding to the recent American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines on masculinity wrote, ” Let’s face it. When men are compared with women on a variety of psychological and physical health parameters, men pretty much lose across the board. Women outlive men, indeed, in every age group, death rates for men exceed those for women. In 2018, women in the US lived on average a whopping five years longer than men (81 vs. 76 years). Nor is the difference limited to humans. In practically every mammalian and avian species, females live longer than males. In comparison to women, men engage in more risk-taking behavior, consume more alcohol, are more likely to use more tobacco and other substances, and get diagnosed with ADHD more frequently.  Men also experience more behavioral disorders in childhood and adolescence, where we develop a pattern of externalizing behaviors that not only bring us to the attention of the wrong type of people but also lead us to ignore internal cues that modulate psychological health. As a sex, we are, in a word, a mess.”

Nothing particularly new in what Dr. Sammons wrote just succinctly highlights some of the challenges faced by men today.   An additional challenge for modern masculinity, that Sammons did not mention,  are the issues brought to the forefront by the “Me To” movement and the subsequent confusion for men about their relationships with women both personally and in the work place. 

In a response to the mess painted by Sammons, former President Obama in a recent interview was asked what is being a man today.   His answer started with the premise that a good man is a good human.  He then elaborated offering the following characteristics of a good man or human – responsible, reliable, hard working, kind , respectful, supportive, compassionate. 

Unfortunately Obama’s response does not bring any clarity to the big questions.   Is there a difference between what defines a good man or good woman as compared to being  a good human?    Do good men demonstrate the characteristics of being a good human differently than women but still meet the standard of being a good human?  My take is that men do exhibit and demonstrate the good human characteristics differently than women and this understanding might be helpful for mitigating the mess and confusion that men are facing.

Since defining the characteristics of a good man – good women – good human appear quite subjective I propose taking one trait as an example and ask my readers for their input on what they believe, on average, differentiates a good man from a good woman while both qualify as good humans for a particular characteristic.  I’ll begin with the first trait mentioned by Obama – responsible.   As an illustration, suppose a family is faced with a decision about whether or not to move to a new city so that the husband can start a new job at a substantial pay increase.   However, his wife is deeply concerned about moving the family at a critical time in the schooling and  social life of their two children.   The husband is acting responsibly in attempting to secure the best financial situation for the family’s future while his wife is acting responsibly by protecting the welfare of the children.    Both alternatives demonstrate being a good human but differentiate in priorities based on gender roles.   My conclusion is that in a close call a responsible women might more likely choose the short term  well being of the children while a responsible man might more likely choose the long term financial benefit of moving for a new job. 

What do you think?

Men In The Media

Several recent references to masculinity in the media are worthy of comment.   An article on girl boy friendship stated that, ” Children have an often overlooked conservative streak, one that’s most easily identifiable in their attitudes toward gender. Even as more grown-ups come around to the idea that gender is a spectrum, children continue to draw a bold line between “boy” and “girl” and police these categories with a great fervor.”  The author clearly believes that the gender spectrum perspective should outweigh the conservative streak among children.   However, what about the notion that the children are acting more closely to a degree of biological determinism and that gender fluidity is more of a socially ascribed construct.  How revolutionary, beyond anatomy boys and girls are not the same.   In the same article the author does make a case against same sex schools.   Her point is that boys and girls need to learn how to get along and work together in order to prepare them for the world of work where men and women should be treated equally.   No disagreement but a reminder that we do not have to be gender neutral to be gender equal.

Laura Ingraham on Fox News started an interview with Dr. Ed Adams, a psychologist who was there to explain the new American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines on masculinity, by commenting on his clothing and what message his choice of clothes signified.   Not only was the comment inane but illustrated a double standard.   If a male commentator had started a conversation with a female professional by discussing her outfit the cyber universe would have erupted with a call for the interviewer to be fired for obvious sexism.    Did not hear a peep resulting from Ingraham’s behavior.

I have tried to pay attention to how men are portrayed in television commercials since the vast majority of ads make men out to be simpletons needing help and correction from their female companions.    Some of the latest examples.  In a Turbo Tax ad a man is sitting in an office talking to the tax person and pretending to be on a yacht.  His intention was to show the tax person that he was actually wealthy and this year’s income was not representative of his true financial status.   A female office mate then tells him that the tax person can’t really see his pretend yacht props and that he was being foolish.   The take away, it takes a women to shame a man with his reality.  An H& R commercial showed a man and his wife leaving their tax consultation with the knowledge that they didn’t have to wait for their anticipated tax refund.  The guy joyously says they can use the money to buy a pool table for the family room.   His wife then reminds him that the only room in the house for the table is the dining room and how ridiculous his idea is.  The message is that men make grandiose plans and need a women to ground them in reality.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge at least one advertisement that portrayed men in a positive light.   A commercial for the Amazon Echo Share device showed a young women who just ruined a recipe while preparing a meal for a boyfriend remotely getting advice from her father on what she could prepare quickly to serve her guest.   The interaction between father and daughter was respectful, natural and illustrated a strong positive relationship between a father and adult daughter.  Fathering is a life long journey and Dad’s can continue to be important in the lives of their grown kids. 

The most effective way to push back on the media which tends to put men into either the toxic or inept basket is for those of us who represent the vast majority of men who live a life of positive masculinity to be outspoken about who we are and what we do every day to lower the temperature of the gender war. 

Gender Debate on Fire

The release of the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines on masculinity and coincidentally an internet advertisement by Gillette that has gone viral has kindled a much needed debate on modern masculinity.    I will not attempt to regurgitate the main issues raised in these two missives but simply give my feedback on several key issues that are in the forefront of the debate.   I do, however, suggest going to the article in the NY Times for the full discourse. (Right click on the below picture.)

NY Times – The Fight Over Men

Nature or Nurture -The scientific community is in disagreement of how much gender identity is innate and how much is culturally driven.   There is clear evidence that there are differences between the male brain and the female brain but the issue is how these differences, coupled with hormonal variation between  the sexes, translates into behavior.   Further complicating the issue is the evidence that  the social environment can trigger the expression of genes/hormones that impact gender differences.  My take is that we should leave this debate to the research community and focus instead on the value of gender differences regardless of their origin. 

Men & Emotion – Much of the discussion about traditional masculinity is how men deal with their emotions.   The APA guidelines strongly stresses the point of view that the emotional handcuffs men place on themselves because of cultural  stereotypes about masculinity has led to a series of destructive outcomes for men.   However, I believe the guidelines misses the distinction between emotional awareness and expression of emotions.   The guidelines suggest that male stoicism is at the root of  self-destructive emotional denial.  Stoicism does not mean a lack of acknowledgement of one’s emotions.   The ancient Stoics are often misunderstood because the terms they used pertained to different concepts in the past than they do today. The word “stoic” has come to mean unemotional or indifferent to pain because Stoic ethics taught freedom from passion by following reason. The Stoics did not seek to extinguish emotions; rather, they sought to transform them by a resolute that enables a person to develop clear judgment and inner calm.  Logic, reflection, and concentration were the methods of such self-discipline.  In addition, Stoic philosophy is founded on four principles which are at the heart of the best of masculinity – wisdom, courage, justice, temperance.

A man’s emotional health, which is his barometer of making good choices and decisions, is not based on how a man publicly expresses those emotions but how he uses wisdom to understand and choose the appropriate courageous, and just way to act.   Simply put, real men can choose when to cry and not cry.  Withholding tears  does not mean not feeling.

Both the  APA guidelines and the Gillette advertisement offer prescriptions for young men and boys on their emotional health that miss the mark when they measure emotional health by how a man outwardly expresses his emotions.    A man can have intense feelings, understand those feelings with wisdom and choose to appear calm and controlled without being accused of emotional insensitivity

Toxic Masculinity – An overly applied label used whenever a man acts inappropriately.   Yes, there are a small minority of toxic men who believe that being a man imbues them with the right to overpower and dominate women.   However, most men seek to express their masculinity in the light not the shadow and are willing to examine their own biases and behaviors towards women.   The Gillette advertisement in particular heavy handedly illustrates men acting badly and closes with how men should have acted in those situations as a lesson to men and boys on how they should behave.   This non nuanced approach and the guidelines by the APA on how men should behave to avoid being toxic fuels controversy not the subtlety needed for a constructive dialogue on gender roles.

Tyranny of Labels

I am once again reminded how merely using labels to express a point of view or compilation of attributes inhibits dialogue and understanding.   While the labels -liberal, progressive, conservative – have distorted and abridged political discussion similarly toxic masculinity and misogyny name calling have distorted and abridged dialogue about gender issues.

I have previously attempted to highlight the misuse of misogyny by going to its literal definition which is a hatred of women.   Too often, a boorish or insensitive  remark to a women results in some guy being called a misogynist.  The misapplication of the label forestalls an exploration of the misbehavior and puts the alleged offender in the same basket as sexual predator.   The accused will react defensively and a analysis of what behavior caused someone’s distress will often be ignored.

Toxic masculinity describes an extreme form of patriarchy which places men as superior beings entitled to a position of power over women.   The Harvey Weinstein’s of the world are clearly participants in the practice of toxic masculinity.   However,  using toxic masculinity too liberally puts men on the defensive and impedes meaningful dialogue.

A recent article in a New Jersey newspaper highlights the problem with these labels.  The Princeton University all male a capella singing group was vilified in the campus newspaper for the way they performed the song “Kiss The Girl.”   Apparently in previous performances of the song a female member of the audience was invited onto the stage and given the choice to give a peck on the cheek or lips to a male member of the audience.  The Princeton newspaper columnist stated that the practice promotes toxic masculinity.  In addition, the article further labeled the message of the song as misogynistic.  In order to further her perspective the columnist ignored the fact that a woman could easily refuse to participate and that this song routine has been going on for years with no blowback until she wrote her column.  There is no question that misogyny and toxic masculinity exists and examples of these behaviors and attitudes should be exposed and confronted.  The problem is that the liberal and extreme uses of these labels inhibits a rational discussion about acceptable societal norms around gender issues.   A revisionist examination of song lyrics highlighting formerly acceptable but now viewed as sexist stereotyping adds little value to understanding changing gender roles.   In fact, it makes the issue of studying song lyrics for examples of misogynistic references as comical and diverts us from the dialogue needed to explore the gender narrative,