Real Men Wear Masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic Violence

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

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

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

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

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

Man Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Me A Break

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

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

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

Men Need To Listen?

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

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

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

I Thought I Was A Feminist

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

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

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

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

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

Male Brain

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

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

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

Little Women

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

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

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

Man Shaming

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

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

 I wonder:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man Up

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

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

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

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