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,

Men & Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, referred to as EQ,  is defined as the ability to be aware of one’s emotions, to be able to sense the emotional climate in a situation and to be capable of empathy towards others.  A number of research studies have concluded that being truly successful in one’s personal and career life EQ is as important as IQ.  A good timely example can be found in the eulogies for former President George H.W. Bush.   So many individuals highlighted his decency as a human being and his ability to form positive relationships far more than his smarts.

Recent stories in the media bring additional attention to the question of men and EQ.  Anthony Bourdain, the star of his own CNN show and a well respected celebrity chef took his life in a Paris hotel.  Prince William, who one day will be the King of England, revealed in an interview that,  “The relation between the job and the personal life was what really took me over the edge. And I started feeling things that I’ve never felt before. And I got very sad and very down……,” he said. “You start to take away bits of the job and keep them in your body. And of course, you don’t want to share with your loved ones because you just don’t want to bring that sort of stuff home.”

Admiral Scott Stearney, 58, was found dead of an apparent suicide in his ‘residence’ in Bahrain on Saturday .  The decorated Navy admiral was in charge of the Fifth Fleet in the Middle East.  A family man with a history of achievement takes his own life for no apparent reason.

These stories reveal issues with EQ for these men and also for the alarming increase in suicide rates for middle aged American men.  Prince Harry spoke about the impact of stress in the workplace and how it manifested itself with depression like symptoms.   It might also be safe to assume that stressors, either personal or professional, led to Admiral Stearney and Bourdain taking their lives.   Three highly accomplished men with high intellectual intelligence might have been lacking in EQ.   Did their inability to be sufficiently aware of their emotional lives before the negative feelings became overwhelming contribute to the Prince’s depression and the hopelessness that led to the suicides?

We are all familiar with the cliché that real men don’t cry and the belief that men stuff their feelings which lead to depression and men not seeking mental health treatment.  This might be a simplistic view of EQ but achieving a high EQ means a lot more than being able to cry when you are feeling bad.  The ability to be attuned to one’s emotional health and to understand the meaning and appropriate way to deal with emotions is a core component of EQ.  It’s OK if  a man does not cry or whine when he is feeling bad as long as he acknowledges what he is  feeling is worthy of exploration and, when appropriate, sharing with trusted friends and significant others.

Recognizing the importance of EQ for one’s well being and seeking the relationships which foster self-awareness and empathy will go a long way in enhancing the lives of men. .