Gender Politics

I am dismayed but not surprised that masculinity has become so politicized.   On the right, Tucker Carlson and others have decried the “snowflake” man and found positive role models in authoritarian leaders and our former president’s tough talking approach.  A recent article in a local newspaper did a great job in illustrating how the theme of weakened masculinity has considerable historic precedence. 

“In the early years of the 20th century, Europe experienced something of a masculinity crisis. Popular writers….began to fret that many young Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans had become soft after so many uninterrupted years of peace.  …..Margaret MacMillan traced the currents that coursed through European society in the years before the Great War.  Francis Coppee, a French nationalist, worried that “Frenchmen are degenerating…too absorbed in the race for enjoyment and luxury.  In Great Britain, General Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts in part because he feared the emasculation of England’s youth.”

Today we have Vladimir Putin attempting to showcase his masculinity by launching an invasion of a sovereign nation and China banning “effeminate men” from TV.  Is hyper masculinity the only response to the changes in women’s status?  Men and boys who have seen the rise in girl and women power often feel left behind.  However, calling out men as sissies and looking for ways for men to engage in  old school macho behaviors is not the way we can help boys and men meet the challenges of a gender equal world.  Pride in practicing the best of masculinity is what needs to be taught and reinforced.

I found some personally alarming statistics in a Sunday New York Times article about the new LGBT culture war.  Almost 21% of Generation Z identifies as LGBT compared to 3% of baby boomers.   Some would applaud this as a sign of acceptance of LGBT folks, and there is probably some truth to this.   However, with the rise in anxiety, depression and suicide among adolescents and young adults I wonder if gender confusion has contributed to this phenomenon.  Coping with so called gender fluidity and the myriad non-binary labels now in use is a frightening prospect for youth trying to establish an identity separate from their parents.  Parents choosing to have their children choose their gender and the practice of administering puberty delaying hormones represent the extreme in fostering gender confusion that is more based on social engineering than science.  As I articulated in an earlier blog, except for a very small number of truly intersex babies, boys are born with a penis and girls are born with a vagina and the hormones that produced these body parts.  A girl can be aggressive and enjoy playing in the mud without being labeled anything different than a girl.  Boys can hate sports and prefer creative arts and still be boys.   Why do we need more labels to add to the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood?  Again I am not talking about sexual orientation which is different from gender roles. 

Unfortunately, gender identification has also become politicized.   The left seems to be endorsing gender issues that are not supported by many otherwise liberal folks while the right is passing legislation in many states that can easily be interpreted as an attack on the LBGT community.  Let’s have a common sense dialogue without undue labeling and use science and history as guidelines for rational discussion and the formulation of public policy which promotes gender equality not gender neutrality.        

Will Smith – Real Man?

I wasn’t eager to discuss the Will Smith Chris Rock altercation because of all of the media attention it has received during a time when there are far more important issues facing us – Ukraine, Pandemic, inflation, etc.  In addition, there is a fine line between disapproval and understanding and any attempt to explain Smith’s behavior might be wrongly interpreted as an excuse.

Let me be clear, Smith’s behavior was wrong.  Resorting to violence as a response to anger is not the best of masculinity.  Furthermore, his behavior was public and disrupted an event that was of importance to many of the participants and to the audience at large.  Subsequently, after all of the negative press, Smith has apologized and has resigned from the Academy.  Further consequences are coming and there is speculation that the Will Smith brand has been seriously tarnished.

Got it.  He made a serious error in judgment.  But why?  I think there is a teachable moment about masculinity that can be explored.  Protection is an important component of masculinity and when expressed appropriately we admire men for this trait.  My sense is that Smith on a gut level experienced Rock’s comments as an attack on his wife.  There is a context for this since Rock has made negative comments about Jada Pinkett-Smith on previous occasions.  Some have written that she didn’t need his protection since she is an intelligent capable woman.  True, but that misses the point that a man will, on a visceral level, attempt to protect his wife no matter how capable she is.  In fact a recent poll quoted on a news show indicated that 56% of women felt that Rock was more wrong than Smith.

I do not believe that Chris Rock acted any better than Will Smith in the context of the best of masculinity.   He used his position of power as a presenter and a comedian to deliberately disrespect Jada with full knowledge that this was a sensitive subject for her and her husband.   He essentially baited Will to act.  Interestingly, Smith did not punch Rock but chose to slap him instead.  I find this a significant choice that expresses a sentiment beyond just blind violence.  Rock essentially challenged Smith’s manhood and Smith responded with a “bitch slap” – which the  Urban Dictionary defines as, “to open handedley slap someone.  Denotes disrespect for the person being bitch slapped as they are not worthy of a man sized punch.” There remains no question that Will Smith could have made a better choice.  If he confronted Chris Rock privately and let him know how he felt about he and his wife being disrespected that would have been the most rational choice.  However, we know that when anger boils up we often to not make rational choices.  This is especially true when a man’s protective instinct is challenged.  The fact that Smith slapped Rock instead of punching him demonstrates that on some level a choice was made to disrespect Rock not physically harm him.   Therefore, when all is said I choose to give Will somewhat of a pass and acknowledge that although flawed he acted like a real man.