The recent siege and violence at the Capitol Building, perpetrated by mostly men, has again created a media storm about male dominance and the tough guy stereotype. The question to consider: Is acting like a tough guy always a negative behavior? It is a fact that a mob of male outlaws acted violently and made verbal threats against government officials and were encouraged to “be strong and get tough” by certain mostly male elected political figures and their media recognized supporters. I suppose that these perpetrators think of themselves as “tough guys” and are reinforced in that perception by their compatriots who cheered from home while watching the assault of the Capitol on their tv screens. My concern is that the descriptor “tough guy” should not by itself be viewed as a negative aspect of masculinity.
The dictionary definition of tough is a good starting point – “strong enough to withstand adverse conditions” and “able to endure hardship or pain.” Other descriptors of tough include resiliency and having grit which focus on bouncing back and learning from adversity. It appears that the word tough is not associated with negative behavior. What makes a tough guy a thug is not that he is tough but how he utilizes his toughness to achieve a particular goal. Utilizing the framework of the four archetypes of masculinity the question to be asked is whether one’s warrior is acting in the light or the shadow as directed by the goals and plans of his king? A warrior using his toughness in the shadow is a violent man or bully while a warrior acting in the light is often a hero.
We often associate toughness with firefighters, soldiers in combat and high performing athletes. However, we should not fail to recognize the toughness of health care workers who have been in the front lines dealing with the pandemic. Many have worked extra shifts, been exposed to highly contagious environments and still show up for work each day. How about the toughness of wounded veterans and others with a physical disability who despite their prosthetics compete in Paralympics and go to work every day. Think of the toughness of Dr. Ugur Sahin. He co-founded BioNTech and worked day and night alongside his wife in developing a vaccine in record time utilizing research findings of their earlier work on RNA.
My point is that you don’t need a bulletproof vest, camouflage clothing and a loud mouth to be a tough guy. In fact this type of seemingly tough behavior is in the shadow of masculinity and only tarnishes the really tough guys who we admire and depend on in our everyday lives.
The changes in family life that have resulted from the pandemic have led to a renewed attack on Dad’s not doing their fair share of childcare, domestic work and emotional labor at home.
According to a recent media story, the pandemic has certainly made things much harder for working moms, but according to the reporter this is hardly a new problem. When American women who have male partners work outside the home, they also do 65% of the child care, while men take on 35% — and these numbers haven’t changed in 20 years, clinical psychologist Darcy Lockman notes in her 2019 book “All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers and the Myth of Equal Partnership.” In addition, it was also reported that, “Women also tend to take on the largely invisible burden of what freelance journalist Gemma Hartley calls the emotional labor in our homes in her 2018 book “Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward.” Emotional labor is defined as tasks like arranging child care, scheduling doctors’ appointments and play dates, buying presents, upending our own schedules when things go wrong, and reminding our male partners what they’ve promised to do..
Are men really that selfish and indifferent to the efforts of our female partners when it comes to domestic responsibilities? I am certain that we can find some men who truly are deaf to their partners needs and view a women’s role, regardless of whether or not she is working outside the home, as totally responsible for managing the kids and the needs of the household. However, my life experiences and my many years facilitating men’s groups leads me to believe that chauvinistic behavior is more the exception rather than the rule especially for the current generation of males who are becoming fathers. For example, during my years as a school principal in a middle class suburban community, there were just as many fathers as mothers who attended back to school night and teacher/parent conferences.
The other issue that is avoided by the quoted female journalists is choice. As I have often blogged, gender roles are not shaped solely by current societal norms. Females tend to have more nurturing energy than males which leads to the need to be intimately involved with young children. I don’t think even the most liberated father has been able to breast feed his young child. In my community, which has tons of organized youth sports there is no shortage of fathers attending games, practices and coaching. Do the accusers of male neglect count these efforts from fathers? In addition, does the data on doing domestic chores include the time men mow the lawn, do home repairs and maintain the family cars?
I certainly realize that gender roles -especially for women – have changed substantially and this requires both men and women to better communicate with each other in negotiating the responsibilities of family life. However, this must be done with respect for gender strengths and without the presumption that men are inherently indifferent to the needs of their partners and families.