According to anew study from King’s College London’s Policy Institute and Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, in partnership with Ipsos U.K., which has uncovered that older men actually have more progressive views of the equality of the sexes than the next generation of men. Perhaps surprisingly, Gen Z men are more likely than older baby boomers to believe that feminism has done more harm than good. Similarly, Gallup’s data shows then young men around the world are becoming increasingly conservative, while women are becoming more progressive.

One explanation for the study’s findings is that young men today are entering the workplace at a time when women are holding senior positions for the first time in some companies’ history.  I believe this is a factor but does not sufficiently explain the findings.  Older men seem less interested in redefining masculinity because they are secure in their masculine roles and find the subject of masculinity more of an intellectual exercise rather than one that affects their daily lives.  However, Gen Z and younger men are faced with either an old school man code which leans to patriarchy, and in the extreme toxic masculinity, or a new man code which is driven by the gains made for women’s equality by the feminist movement. 

The problem is that the new man code is ill defined and filled with ambiguity about what it means to be a man that supports gender equality while still embracing the best of masculinity. The notion that the only way to achieve gender equality is to embrace gender neutrality has become the mantra for many feminists and totally devalues masculinity.   In addition, the focus on gender fluidity with its pronouns and identity labels makes it even more difficult for younger men and boys to define their masculinity in a positive way.  The result is either confusion or regression to hostility to the gains women have made in their pursuit of gender equality.

The irony is that there is a new man code which embraces the best of masculinity while supporting gender equality.  Unfortunately it has not gained sufficient attention to benefit younger men and boys. We need a masculinity movement that highlights positive images of men in the media and as mentioned in previous blogs a masculinity curriculum in our schools.  The educational community is largely female which makes it even more important to teach a new man code in our schools.

The King’s College study highlights the necessity of embracing a new man code to counter the growing confusion about gender identify for young men and hostility to gender equality.

Masculinity Gone Wrong

Men In The Media

On a number of occasions I have blogged about how man are portrayed in TV commercials. The latest that got my attention was a Verizon commercial where a rather odd looking guy is examining his cell phone bill and is almost in tears over the cost.  The camera then turns to his wife and two children holding bags apparently from grocery shopping.  His wife then, while still holding her bag, reveals how they can save by switching to Verizon. This idea is reinforced by his teenage daughter and he becomes ecstatic with the idea.  Another example of a man needing his wife to figure out what to do.

I believe that showing men as inept and needing rescue from their female partners might be somewhat amusing to older adult men who are secure in their masculinity but what about how boys and young adult men who are struggling with the issue of what being a man looks like.  They are witness to inept men being rescued by their female companions or by stories of predatory masculinity by Hollywood moguls and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

As a society we must take this issue more seriously.  There is a plethora of data about how men and boys are not thriving.  We can and should do more and it starts in school.  As previously discussed we can teach positive masculinity in schools, starting in the elementary grades.  In addition, there are classroom practices that the predominantly female teaching profession can modify to increase a boy’s academic achievement.  An example would be how a teacher organizes small work groups. Keeping in mind that boy’s tend to be a bit more hierarchical than girls it is important to assign children to work groups that will not lead to having two dominant boys in the same work group which inhibit participation by girls and lower status boys.

Men’s Health

Lloyd Austin is in jeopardy of losing his job for an issue that has little  to do with his performance as Secretary of Defense.  His embarrassment over his treatment for prostate cancer kept his from properly notifying his boss, the President, about his treatment and hospitalization.  I find it revealing that an accomplished man who is a West Point graduate, holder of two Master’s Degrees and rose through the Army ranks from second lieutenant to four star general while winning  a silver star and other awards for his command leadership was so reluctant to reveal his medical issues.  The American Cancer Society estimates that about 288,500 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2023 and about 34,300 died from it.  This compares with 300,600 women diagnosed with breast cancer and about 43,190 women dying from the disease.  The differences between  prostate cancer rates and breast cancer rates is not that great but considering how well women are dealing with breast cancer in their public discussions and fund raising efforts compared to how men are dealing with prostate cancer one would think that prostate cancer is a minor issue.  Lloyd’s attempt to put his cancer as a back burner issue not only failed but underscores how men go to great lengths – often self destructive – in not admitting to medical vulnerability.  It is not the best of masculinity nor the right message to send to younger men that open discussion about serious issues regarding men’s health is not what real men do.

What About Men?

What About Men is the title of a new book by a noted feminist Caitlin Moran who was interviewed in a recent Time Magazine Q&A about her book. My first reaction was, why do we need another book by a women discussing masculinity?  I am not opposed to women writing about the broader issues of masculinity but I wish they would not try to walk in a man’s shoes. 

The first question Moran responded to is, “Is it true that it’s easier to be women than a man now?”  Great question but her answer, “…is that we women are able to talk about problems of gender and men still seem not to have invented that technology in a way that isn’t damaging, angry, and women blaming.”  is absurd.  Did she read my blog?  Has she read any of the recent books on masculinity like Richard Reeve’s book “Of Boys and Men Why the Modern Male is Struggling ”  The correct answer is that, Title IX, #MeToo, and the many glass ceilings broken and freedoms created by the feminist movement have made it easier for a women, especially a young women, than a young man.  Younger men are confused about what it is to be a man that is non-toxic and patriarchic and still be considered manly.

Caitlin wrote that, “the patriarchy is screwing over men as much as women.”  She followed with, “I think all men presume they’re in patriarchy and they’re winning.”  I’m not sure what country she is talking about. The data about American men that I have frequently highlighted clearly indicates that men are not winning. They are more likely to commit suicide, overdose on drugs and are falling behind in almost every academic category.  Caitlin, please tell me which men and what are they winning?  She concludes this response with the familiar antiquated trope that boys are told not to cry.  How many examples of high status men – athletes, celebrities –  showing public emotion has to take place before we abandon the notion that boys are told not to show emotion. 

She does make sense when she advises young men to make sure that sex takes place in a committed relationship.  Her reasoning is that this is the way young men can protect themselves from false accusations of sexual assault.  Unfortunately, she does not offer the same advice to young women. Why shouldn’t both sexes be careful about choosing a partner who is truthful and can be trusted?  Gender equality should mean that both males and females make good sober choices about who they want to sleep with.

I certainly appreciate the attention being paid to gender issues and the struggles that both men and women face in sorting out gender roles in our modern society.  However, I caution both male and female authors on the subject to stick to the data and avoid over generalizations based on their own particular biases and experiences.

Man Pourri – III

The following was a headline from a tiktok post that went viral. The post was made by a father of four kids who identified himself in his video as a driver for UPS. 

“I Don’t Help My Wife Cook, Clean, Do Laundry, Or Take Care Of The Kids”

His message is that he is not a helper but a partner in accomplishing these tasks and that men should view taking care of family demands as an equal with his wife not merely helping her with her responsibilities. I have no problem with this message except for the fact that he omits the responsibility many men have providing for the family. Should his wife be a partner in providing financial support at an equal level to his paycheck?  If they make a decision as a couple that she will be a stay at home mom how can he be an equal partner in meeting every day household and family while working full time?  I believe that the author of the post was equating someone taking the lead in a set of tasks with being a boss rather than a partner.  If his wife is a stay at home mom a man can share household responsibilities under his wife’s direction without the attitude that he is doing his wife a favor. Conversely, If both parties are working full time than the partnership should include household responsibilities as well as financial responsibilities.  Partnership is a worthy goal in a marriage but it does not mean that either party should not take the lead when they are in the best position to do so.

Men In The Media

I have periodically blogged about how man are portrayed in the media. There are many examples of men made out to be inept who need to be rescued by a female partner and I comment only when an ad particularly offends my sensibilities as a man. 

A recent commercial for auto insurance depicted a man and a women in the front seat of a car.  She is in the driver’s seat – a clear message that she is in control – and her male partner in the passenger seat indicates that his seat his wet. She also states that her seat is wet and shows him that the sun roof was left open.  She asks him if he left the sun roof open and he denies that he was responsible for it being open.  She states that he is the sun roof guy and then signals with a red rag tossed out of the car window – the professional football practice used by coaches to challenge a referee’s decision – and instantly an individual with a laptop appears to show them a video replay indicating who actually left the sun roof open. Of course it shows that he was lying and did leave the sun roof open. She responds with a smug smile. The man has a sheepish expression while hers reflects an air of superiority. The overall theme is that men are careless, avoid taking responsibility and need a women to correct their mistakes and show them the right way to do something.

I wonder who writes the copy for the ads that perpetuate the negative stereotypes of male behavior. Are they women taking revenge for their perception of  male dominance?  Or are they men who either believe the stereotypes or just don’t see how damaging their message is to redefining masculinity?  In either case we need to push back and let the clients of the ad agencies know how offensive these type of commercials are to the majority of men. 

The Fathering Dilemma

The following is taken from a recent online article about male loneliness:

“We need to recreate institutions that not only encourage fathers to take on the mental load of parenting but also support them to do so. The expectation of fatherhood should not be based on a paycheck and how many hours we work. Financial care giving is certainly important, but so is the bond that we have with our children, our family and our community.

It can be hard to make friends as a man, but we need to step away from our isolated lives and step back into our community. We can do it through volunteering for a local organization, joining a hobby with regular meetups or simply joining a men’s community.. We have to put ourselves out there on a personal level and actively work to make friends.

Men’s lives literally depend on making that connection. This is the truth of the male loneliness epidemic. Right now, it’s the bonds with others that we need more.”

I have no disagreement with the overall issues mentioned. However, as usual, the devil is in the details. Agreed that the expectation of fatherhood should not be solely based on a paycheck. The problem is that many men, especially those with young children and stay at home spouses, feel enormous pressure to earn sufficient income to maintain a decent life style and save for college tuition. Trying to be a supportive father while being dedicated to providing leaves little time for activities in the community or for maintaining old friendships and seeking new ones. If providing is eased by a dual income household it increases the demands on being a supportive father sharing in the necessities of child rearing. 

The articles suggests recreating institutions that encourage and support male friendships.  How can your recreate something that never existed or no longer exists?  The institutions that in previous generations helped men make friends are not congruent with current fathering demands.  Going out with work friends for a beer after a day in the office or on the factory floor used to be a fairly common practice for a man to unwind from work and be in the company of other men. Unfortunately, seeking male companionship after work means missing after school activities and neglecting household chores thereby putting extra burdens on a partner.  Similarly, the traditional male organizations – Elks, VFW, American Legion, etc. – are disappearing because of the changing roles of today’s fathers. In addition, many volunteer fire companies and rescue squads are switching to professionals which diminishes the opportunity for a man to serve his community in that role.  The other suggestion to volunteer for a local organization faces the same problem with time.  Volunteering that is not a family activity means taking time away from supportive fatherhood.  That leaves joining a men’s group that doesn’t take much time from fathering as the only alternative.  Local men’s groups are a great outlet for men to bond and share their life’s journey in the company of other like minded men.  Most men’s groups meet in the evening two or three times a month and the benefits of men’s work is so appreciated by their partners that it  mitigates the loss of time from the family.

Unfortunately there are many communities that do not have men’s groups. All it takes is one individual willing to take on the role of organizer and post the group on meetup  Many churches offer rental space for a non-denomination group to meet for a reasonable fee easing the location obstacle.  The last hurdle, which I have encountered over the many years I have participated in men’s work is to get isolated or busy men to take the initiative to join a group.  Despite the need, many men are trapped in their routines and miss out on the benefits of joining a group.  I believe that increased media coverage on the issues of male loneliness that promotes and highlights men’s groups as an alternative would be extremely helpful in letting men know that there is an answer.

Modeling Matters

I wrote this a number of years ago as an adult to help me understand my relationship with my father and how it impacted my fathering. It was my eulogy at my father’s funeral.

My Father’s Store

            At the time it seemed that I hated every minute I spent there.  But I really hand no choice.   It was either being there or rarely seeing him.  I yearned for his presence and approval and, unlike my father and son fantasy relationship, I was not able to bond with him on the ball fields, the family farm or on backwoods trails.   He simply couldn’t fathom the preadolescent American male obsessions with sports, automobiles, and outdoor adventure.

            This was alien to a man who had spent his youth in a tiny eastern European village in constant fear of starvation and oppression.  His flight to the so-called land of opportunity brought him only temporary respite from the harsh struggle of basic existence.  As he reached his manhood he found his dreams blunted by the responsibility of being the eldest child trying to help his family survive the Great Depression.

            Bearing his scars he married and raised two children to succeed where he had failed.  I, his second born and only son, had a difficult time reconciling this melancholy man working 70 hours a week, his martyrdom in constant view, with the image of the ideal father emerging from the mass media of the fifties.  He wore a tie only on Sundays, never mowed a lawn, couldn’t change the oil in the family car and didn’t know the difference between a defensive end and a quarterback.  His battlefields were not the corporate high rises, the ivy walls of academia or the client filled offices of the struggling professional.  Instead, his south Bronx grocery store became the arena to prove his self worth.

            A thirteen-year-old boy finds nothing heroic in the sight of his father, an apron around his waist, slicing cheese for a demanding housefrau.   But he took enormous pride in his ability to accurately add a column of figures on a brown paper bag faster than an adding machine, or guess the weight of a mound of tub butter before he put it on his scale.  Quoting Talmud or offering a Latin aphorism, remnants of his intense but curtailed parochial school education, he held forth to his customers on politics, current events and religion.  The multi-ethnic working class clientele looked upon him as the neighborhood intellectual – the eccentric and passionate king of his shabby emporium.  This was the world to which I came every Saturday morning.

            His pre-dawn departure for the store was too early for me, so my solo journey became my adventure of the week.  After leaving our apartment building, I would stop at the candy store near the elevated subway station to pick up the latest war comic.  With a “GI Joe” tucked in my back pocket and a long pretzel in my hand, I began the 45 minute trip trying to remember to change trains without losing the continuity of my hero lobbing a grenade into an enemy foxhole.  The reality of where I was would begin to sink in as I walked down the last block before arriving at the store.  My spirits would dampen as I visualized the coming day.

            I suppose that he either ignored my sullen face or simply didn’t notice as I greeted him with the usual query, “How’s business dad?”  As the day progressed, my mood would gradually improve as the rhythm of the store’s activities took hold.  His efforts at intimacy were genuine but tightly constrained by the environment.  He never asked about school or my interests; he expected and got good grades and I suppose he found my passions trivial.  It was understood that schoolwork would always be completed without questions or complaints and that any concern other than making a living or contemplating the meaning of God was self-indulgent and childish.  My successful attempts to master the skills of his work were the stuff that brought his approval.  He loved to show me off to his customers.  “Watch him make change in head.” and “See how he handles the slicing machine.”  were his expressions of parental pride served up to his customers along with their farmer cheese.   I knew it was a form of validation, yet, I was also mortified by his remarks and by the fact that I was indeed trying to perform in order to please him and win his respect.

            I now realize that I missed a great deal.  I was unable to appreciate or fully understand his humanity.  He never uttered a racial slur, refused someone in need who was unable to pay his bill, nor failed to extend a second chance to anyone who had wronged him.  Even the alley dwelling beggar, who played his violin to the taunts of the neighborhood children, was treated with equality when he entered the store to buy his daily meal of saltines, sardines and an orange soda.  Stinking of dried urine, counting out his pennies one at a time from his torn change purse, my father would engage him in conversation and serve him like his most valued customer.

            This Saturday ritual, except for summer reprieves, lasted for several years.  I finally found the courage to break away and stop going.  Simultaneously, the neighborhood deteriorated, supermarkets blossomed and the store was sold.

            My eldest son is now thirteen.  I answer his homework questions, relate to his interests, and acknowledge his athletic accomplishments.  We go to “Giants Stadium” and I play one-on-one with him in our driveway basketball court.  I am a well-educated and successful professional who leaves for work each day in a suit and tie, briefcase in hand; yet I doubt if I do any better, or even as good a job as did my father of setting an example of self-reliance, decency and respect for human dignity.

Richard C. Horowitz, – 1/90 (edited, 10/08)

Man Troubles

Three stories in the media highlight some of the struggles facing the male gender.  One story talked about teenage male apathy. The authors reported that a good number of  teenage boys were adopting stereotypical and somewhat toxic beliefs while the remainder, for the most part, were displaying apathy about their futures and life in general. Neither bodes well for growing into men who navigate life in the best of masculinity. Young men as they mature desperately need guidance in their forming a definition of themselves as men. My suggestion in response is to teach boys about the best of masculinity and how they can be manly while respecting female autonomy.  A curriculum can be developed that should be taught at least in middle school and in high school that speaks to being a man in the positive aspects of masculinity.  I piloted a course based on the archetypes of masculinity with troubled teenage  boys in foster care and the concepts of being a man in the light clearly resonated with them. 

Another recent headline, “Top 16 Reasons Why Older Men Don’t Feel The Need to Socialize As Much As When They Were Younger,” for a story indicating the loss of friendship and socialization among men as they age. The authors highlighted data from a survey that showed a marked decrease in men reporting close friendships over time.  The reasons articulated by survey participants was that the demands of work and family left little time for socializing with friends. My guess is this is particularly true for younger men who are more likely to participate in the nit and gritty of everyday parenting than their fathers who might have felt more comfortable going out for a beer after work because their wives took on the brunt of childcare.  The consequences for men is loneliness and the inability to participate in the unique camaraderie of men sharing their journeys with other men. Men who participate in men’s groups find this a way to connect with other men to build new friendships and receive support and advice from a male perspective.  Female partners of men who participate in these groups often comment that the time their men spent in groups was worth it because of the benefits to their relationship and family life. 

The last story is particularly disheartening because it speaks to the worst of male behavior and feeds the stereotypes of toxic masculinity. The videos of the brawl at a boat dock in Montgomery Alabama went viral and clearly revealed men attempting to seek power by defying several legitimate requests to move their pontoon boat a few feet forward to allow a large tourist boat to dock at its reserved dock space. When a dock worker attempted to move their boat so that the tourist trip passengers could disembark he was attacked by the guys on the pontoon boat. My assumption is that the brawlers were probably uninhibited by excessive alcohol consumption.  Drunkenness seems to fuel a distorted image of boldness leading to defying legitimate authority coupled with physical aggression.  The best of masculinity is rarely displayed when men are drunk.  The self-control that helps a man seek out the best way to solve a problem, and in this case acknowledge a mistake, and behave with dignity, goes out the window with heavy drinking.  The possible silver lining of the video going viral is that men can decry the worst of masculinity and resolve to behave differently.

The message that links these three stories together is that men are in trouble and they face real challenges in their defining their masculinity. 

Cinematic Castration

Frankly, I did not intend to see the Barbie movie nor was I particularly interested in reading about it.  However, my wife sent me several articles criticizing the movie’s portrayal of men. Since this blog is devoted to issues surrounding modern masculinity I felt compelled to see the movie.  I do not intend to review the movie itself.  It is a well made film with decent acting and a high production value but that is not my issue. I want to focus on the hypocrisy of the writers in their double standard relating to stereotypical behaviors of both men and women. 

The women in Barbie Land, to some extent, do exhibit attitudes and beliefs that put women in non-liberated boxes but at the same time the women in Barbie Land hold positions of power – supreme court justices, president, noble prize winner, physicist – contradicting the Barbie vibe that women are vain air heads.  As one film critic writes, “However politically sharp, the gag is an unpleasant reminder of all the profoundly unfunny ways in which this world, with its visible and invisible hands, tries to control women, putting them into little boxes.”

The problem is that the men in the movie are only put in little boxes. In Barbie Land the leading man Ken and his cronies are useless and inept and have zero power or influence. The movie then shifts to the “real world” where women are powerless and the prevailing zeitgeist is patriarchy. The irony is that in this world the men hold all positions of power but they are still portrayed comically – especially in the depiction of the Mattel management team. Along with an insightful new female friend and her daughter Barbie returns to Barbie Land and finds it now taken over by a re-energized Ken and his minions. This is the part of the movie that I found most disturbing.  The takeover is defined entirely with toxic male stereotypes including over the top man caves and Ken’s outlandish outfit. Then there is a ridiculous scene of men fighting each other on the beach for no particular reason other than the trope that men need to be in some form of combat in order to self actualize. 

Of course the newly empowered Barbie returns and overcomes the Kens and forms a new Barbie Land replete with fully formed powerful women. However, the Kens remain in the shadow of male stereotypes with their only motivation being to unleash their sexual desires on the Barbies. Generally speaking I do enjoy good satire. This movie attempts that but in the process uses antiquated stereotypes to deliver its message. Yes, there is still progress to be made in order to achieve gender equality but women have achieved far more gains than the need to overcome Barbiehood.  Furthermore, satirizing old school male stereotypes might make good comedy for female audiences but at the same time it makes masculinity appear to be a negative force that must be tamed in order for women to succeed.  Neutering men is not the best way to achieve gender equality.

Dad For The First Time

The birth of one’s child ranks as one of the most significant events in our lives.  Despite the obvious joys of bringing a new life into the world of your family, the powerful emotions leading to and surrounding the arrival of your child, especially the first one, have the potential of wreaking havoc on a relationship and one’s sense of well being. One particular concern has been expressed to me by a number of men when their wives have become pregnant for the first time.  I have often heard a prospective father say that, “My wife is really into the whole baby thing yet even though I am excited my enthusiasm doesn’t come close to hers.  I am feeling guilty and wonder if there is something wrong with me?”

This question raises some key issues that are foundational for the change in identity from simply husband and wife to husband – father, wife – mother.  To begin with, we need to understand that a woman begins the transition to motherhood before a man.  Once she knows she is pregnant and her body begins to change, her sense of herself also changes.  The baby is totally dependent upon her for its very survival.  She must take good care of herself physically and as the baby grows there is a direct connection between the child and herself as the baby shifts position in her blossoming womb.  She has a number of months before the actual birth to help prepare her and process what is happening to her both physically and emotionally.

Men, on the other hand, are merely observers during the period of pregnancy.  They have no direct childcare responsibilities and are largely relegated to the role of bystander.  No matter how sensitive and responsive a husband is, he still cannot possibly completely empathize with his wife.  Unlike his partner, a man’s emotional transition to the role of father doesn’t really fully begin till the birth of his child.  When a man sees his child being born and holds his baby for the first time the flood of feelings brings an abrupt change in his identity.  Instantaneously he begins to assume the roles of protector and provider often overwhelmed by the sudden change.  Clearly, there is a huge disconnect about becoming a parent before the birth that if not paid attention to can lead to discord and distress. 

To make sure this does not happen with the resultant damage of misunderstandings, hurt feelings and unmet expectations particular attention must be paid to effective communication practices between husband and wife.  The ability to express oneself, be listened to, be validated and to reach consensus on issues requiring planning is basic to good relationships as a couple and as parents. 

In the case of a man’s confusion over his lack of synchronicity with his expectant wife, his ability to express to his wife about what he is experiencing without being stifled by guilt is directly related to his partner’s ability to hear him and acknowledge that what he is feeling is real and difficult for him.  Of course, good communication is a two way street.  A man must also be able to validate the very powerful feelings about motherhood that his wife is going through even though he is not able to share them during the pregnancy. Successful communication before the birth of your child will lay the necessary groundwork for a harmonious resolution to the many challenges of parenting that await you in the future.

Masculinity Gone Too Far

I often blog about the virtues of masculinity but it would be disingenuous of me to avoid instances where certain positive aspects of masculinity can lead to bad outcomes.  I am not speaking about the dark side of masculinity but to masculinity behavior that appears to be more normalized rather than toxic.  The prompt for this blog was a newspaper headline, “Ex-NFL player among 11 deaths caused by FLA., ALA. rip currents.”  Reading further I learned that in addition to the former quarterback, a firefighter and two fathers trying to save their children all drowned. 

It is certainly the best of masculinity that two fathers tried to save their children.  This desire to protect one’s family is worthy of praise.  However, when one reads more of the article we learn that all those who drowned ignored red flag warnings at the beaches indicating unsafe swimming conditions.  What is it that propels a man to defy a clear warning of danger and risk his life and the lives of his children?  Boldness and independence are traits of masculinity yet they can easily lead to excessive risk taking behaviors.  It is one of the essential ironies of masculine behavior that an apparent positive trait can easily prove to be so self-destructive.  The men who drowned drew the conclusion that the warnings were for the timid and that as a bold and independent man they could defy the red flags and hit the surf regardless of the warnings.  Boldness in the face of danger is a feature of  the Warrior archetype of  masculinity which can manifest itself as taking action even in the face of adversity.  However, in order to avoid a tragic mistake the Warrior  needs to be constrained by the King archetype which speaks to thoughtful planning and risk assessment.  I hope men heed the warning that their desire for adventure and risk needs to be modulated by thoughtful planning  in order to avoid unnecessary risk.

It's OK to be a man.