Proud Boys!

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

Right Goal Wrong Approach

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

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

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

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

Are Men Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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