All posts by walklikeaman

Man Shaming

In past blogs I have responded to what I perceived as obvious man shaming in television advertisements.   Lately, I have not been paying much attention to these ads but the other day one just got to me.    The scene opened with a man cleaning up a spill on the kitchen counter and while using a paper towel to clean it up the towel fell apart.   His female partner/spouse walks behind him and smirks and tells him that he got what he deserved -the mess – for buying a discount brand of paper towel instead of the premium Bounty paper towels. 

It was so blatant in portraying a man as inept needing the correction of a women to set him straight through shame that I had to exert considerable self-restraint to keep from throwing the remote at the television screen.   I understand that the commercial was an attempt at humor and in the great scheme of things not that big a deal.   However, since masculinity is currently under such scrutiny and attack, a message that reinforces how men are inept in dealing with everyday tasks becomes significant.

 I wonder:

– Why is it considered normative for modern men to need a female intervention to make sure they are acting appropriately?

– What would be the reaction if the commercial had been opposite in roles where the man was shaming the women and showing her how to do something right?

– How do younger men who are increasingly unsure of what it means to be a man receive the message of a man shaming commercial?

– Does the notion that men are fundamentally inept reinforce the idea that young men should remain as boys until they meet up with a women who will get them focused and shame them when they get out of line?

– Does man shaming in the media reinforce the false message of the hyper-masculine movement that women are attempting to neutralize masculinity?

My sense is that we need to pay more attention to this type of commercial and remind advertisers that a seemingly benign attempt to be humorous might be sending – I’ll  give the copy writer the benefit of the doubt –  an unintended message.

Man Up

Unfortunately the words ” Man Up” have become the focus of what I call the anti-masculinity movement.   These two words have become associated with toxic masculinity, patriarchy and every violent or anti female act perpetuated by men.   The theory is that because boys are taught to Man Up it plants the seeds for the evils of masculinity which will blossom later on in a man’s life.   The logic goes like this.  The message inherent in the phrase Man Up is that boys shouldn’t cry and that a man should repress his emotions in order to be perceived as manly.   The supposed consequence of this stuffing is that a man is in denial of his vulnerabilities and subsequently must act in a destructive hyper masculine way to protect himself from intimacy and his repressed emotions. 

Let me debunk this negative or shadow perception of Man Up.   Although it is not entirely unheard of I have no evidence that there is a consistent message to boys that they should not cry.   We often see male cultural heroes – sports, entertainment –  cry on camera after a loss, victory or testimony about their past struggles.   In my last blog I indicated that a researcher who wrote; “These (men) are human beings with unbelievable emotional and social capacity and we as a culture just completely try to zip it out of them (Dr. Nicole Way.)”  also acknowledged that men throughout their teen and young adult years are able to form intimate friendships where they feel comfortable in sharing their fears and concerns.   In other words despite being allegedly taught to Man Up and not be vulnerable most young men do form close friendships. 

The other side of the Man Up coin that I believe is more compelling than the notion that men are being zipped out of an emotional life is how most men, and many women, interpret Man Up with a positive connotation.   The Man Up message in the light is essentially to take responsibility in life.    There are times when we are experiencing strong emotions but our best choice is to face the event that precipitated the emotion without an open display of that emotion.   This is not stuffing.  It is a choice to control our outward response in order to insure a positive outcome.

We Man Up in the best of masculinity when with compassion we can demonstrate strength, resolve and responsibility for our actions and take care of others while acknowledging our emotional life and at the same time rationally monitor how we express our emotional life. 

Friendship

Coincidence – Last week, the NPR show ” Hidden Brain”  focused on male friendships and the profound loneliness of American men.  Also last week my men’s group completed a three session discussion about making friends and its impact on our lives as men  Let me first discuss where the NPR show and the men in my group are in agreement. 

  • Making friends was a lot easier when we were growing up and these friendships were an essential part of our lives.  As we entered adulthood, moved away from our growing up towns and neighborhoods, many of these friendships were lost.   Family life and work responsibilities have eroded free time needed to maintain old friendships.
  • Our wives have become our best friend and they often arrange our social interactions.
  • The demands of parenting have shifted and men, especially those with younger children, now spend more time on child care and child activities than did their fathers.  This limits the available time for social interactions with other men.
  • Making friends at work can be troublesome.   We need to protect ourselves so that any vulnerabilities that we reveal can be used against us in the workplace.
  • As well documented in the book “Bowling Alone” there are far fewer opportunities for men to spend non work time in traditional male organizations and activities.
  • It appears that women have an easier time in making connections with other women and we are not sure why this the case.    

In attempt to understand the impact of male loneliness which has led to increases in suicide and substance abuse – especially for middle aged men – NPR interviewed a female  psychology professor from NYU, Dr. Niobe Way, who has done research on male friendships among pre-adolescent boys.  Her take on male loneliness is best described in the following quote from her work.

“These (men) are human beings with unbelievable emotional and social capacity and we as a culture just completely try to zip it out of them.”

She blames hyper-masculinity the societal message that tells boys that close friendships and intimacy among males is not manly. The message is that if you have those relationships you are probably gay.   However, she and the moderator contradicted their premise when as previously indicated they acknowledge that many men who are currently not connected did have strong intimate friendships growing up that lasted into young adulthood.   Therefore, the issue is not the notion that boys are somehow taught that close male friendships are to be avoided but that after one loses these relationships it is difficult to attain similar relationships later on in life.

If we truly want to focus on the negative consequences of  male loneliness we need to abandon the tropes that boys don’t cry and that men are taught to avoid intimacy among men.   Instead let’s shift the dialogue to how can we assist adult men who have lost their close relationships in later life make new friendships.   The men’s movement, exemplified by my group and the  many others around the country need to do a better job in getting the word  out of their  existence.   In addition, the mental health community should also be letting men know that  these groups are around  and how they can build and reinforce healthy  connections that will combat the epidemic of male loneliness. 

Angry Young Men

A witness heard the 19 year old El Paso shooter  respond to the question, “Why are you doing this?” with this chilling response, “I’m really angry.”   He fits  the profile of, the rage-induced young men we first encountered through Columbine and later Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, Virginia Beach, the STEM school shooting in Colorado, Charlotte, the Poway synagogue shooting in California, the Louisiana shootings in two parishes, the Sebring shootings in Florida (those last six this year alone), the Mercy Hospital shooting, the Thousand Oaks shooting, the Tallahassee yoga studio shooting, the Jacksonville Landing shooting, the Art All Night shooting in New Jersey, the Santa Fe HS (Texas) shooting, the Nashville Waffle House shooting, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS shooting — and far too many more to mention, but all with one thing in common.

These killers  all have a specific strain of anger — deep, repressed, biblically vengeful.   — felt most commonly by young men, almost always white, who report feeling alienated, dispossessed, misunderstood, victimized and all too often rejected by women.  The obvious questions are why has this happened and consequently what can we do about it?

In education, in popular culture, in the family and the workplace and society at large we need to examine the way we now raise and regard boys and young men.  It’s a culture that defines boys’ natural rambunctiousness as ADHD and medicates it, that offers few truly positive role models — with TV, painting most men, both black and white, as bumbling and not-too-bright.  In addition, many women believe that all men cheat on their wives because their fathers cheated and that men inherently lie and are not loyal.  

Labeling and targeting “toxic masculinity” as if masculinity were a force to be suppressed rather than redefined as a positive aspect in our society further exacerbates the issue.   Many of our boys who are not at the shooter level but are still confused about what it means to be a man in the “Me Too” era are searching for a model of masculinity that is non-patriarchal but still values masculine energy and allows boys to be ok about being a man.

Male Privilege?

There is no question that historically, and to a lesser extent currently, there are numerous examples of patriarchy, and more generally, examples where male privilege has negatively impacted women.   However, it is not quite that simple.   I was reminded of female privilege when I read in my local paper about the criteria for getting a temp job for the upcoming census.   One requirement was that any male applicant between 18 and 25 had to prove that he was registered for the draft.   A stark reminder that if the draft were reinstated only men would be drafted.  Since a male only draft has been the model since its inception in colonial times let’s look at its impact.

In our three modern armed conflicts – WW II, Korea, Vietnam – in which conscription was in place about 500,000 men in uniform were killed compared to about 550 women in uniform.  What a wonderful privilege for men. 

The Me Too movement has highlighted male privilege by  focusing on how women have been sexually harassed and assaulted in the workplace.  No doubt this a real and serious issue.   However, workplace abuse in not limited to women.   There are also many examples, albeit probably not as psychologically damaging, of men who have had to put up with verbal abuse by tyrannical bosses and who were obligated to participate in corporate social events for which they had no interest.  They put up with it  in order to  make sure they are providing income and health benefits for their families.  The privilege of being the primary breadwinner in a family often means a stifling of creativity and positive career changes. 

We often hear about male privilege in sports.   The women’s world cup winning soccer team has rightly championed for equal pay with the men’s soccer program. However, the topic of equal pay in sports is not as clear cut as it is made out to be.    For example, female tennis winners in the major tournaments  are being paid the same as male winners. How can we then explain why the women play one less set than the men?  Women have equal endurance so why do they have to play only two winning sets when the men have to win three?

Male privilege in academic hiring, especially for white males, has been a long standing reality.   In order to correct this inequality affirmative action hiring practices have been instituted overtly and covertly in order to rectify the sins of the past.   Sounds fair on the surface. But the individuals who are currently paying the price for past failures are white men who get passed over by often lesser qualified individuals – particularly non-white women.        

As I have emphasized in numerous blogs achieving gender equality can only happen when we stop taking positions based on over simplifications, labels and name calling and look at complex issues within a thoughtful and nuanced framework.

Man Shaming

Tom Brady is being dad-shamed after jumping  off a cliff with his 6-year-old daughter.  He posted the vacation video of holding his daughter’s hand and together jumping off a cliff into a water fall pool.  Both emerged safely.   Apparently a number of folks, I suspect mostly women, berated Brady on social media for his risking his daughter’s well being and for, as they saw it, pulling her off the cliff.   Frankly watching the video I had the opposite opinion.   To me he was reflecting the best of fatherhood.   His daughter showed no signs of fear or distress before jumping.   She was holding her father’s hand and he was reassuring and appeared to be telling her that they would jump together after counting to three.   At three he jumped slightly ahead of her so it gave the appearance that he yanked her off the cliff – which wasn’t the case.   Once in the water she swam into his arms with a broad smile on her face.

What fathers bring to parenting is showing their children that they can take reasonable risks.   This is especially important in fathering girls who are more likely by cultural norms and biology to be risk aversive.  Dads tend to engage in more horse play with their children than Moms.   This fatherly roughhousing reinforces physical confidence and the ability to take prudent risks.   Moms bring their no less important and unique energy to parenting that also is essential for a child’s healthy development.   What a revolutionary concept –  children thrive when they have a father and mother contributing to the parenting journey. 

On another note.  The Berkley City Council adopted an ordinance to replace gendered language in the city’s municipal code with neutral terms.  A perfect example of confusing gender equality with gender neutrality.  Does anyone really believe that calling a manhole a “maintenance hole” will further the cause for gender equality?  The rest of the  list of gender neutral preferences is almost as silly.   Any title that has the word man in it is due for change.  Another example from the Council ordinance.  Does the word manpower  really mean just men?  According  to the dictionary man power is defined as ” power available from or supplied by the physical effort of human beings 2. usually manpower the total supply of persons available and fitted for service.”  

If we are truly striving for gender equality let’s not waste time on semantics.   All it does is provide material for stand up comics and diverts attention from what is needed to achieve gender equality and mutual respect for our gender differences.    

Got My Attention

It has been some time since voices in the media triggered my masculinity radar.    My attention, like most folks, has been focused on the political chaos generated by the Muller Report, the Democratic primary debates, tariffs, Iran, North Korea, etc.  However, a discussion on NPR featuring E. Jean Carroll the advice columnist for Elle Magazine and  author of “What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal,” and Chavisa Woodsauthor of “100 Times: A Memoir of Sexism got my attention.

I’ll start with the ending comment on the show.  I believe it was Carroll, when asked how we can move forward to gender neutrality glibly stated that “we should move all men to Montana and re-educate them.”  Her clear meaning is that every American adult male is sexist, treats women as inferiors and at any time can turn into a sexual predator.  Obviously there are some who do belong in this basket of deplorable men.  However,  her hyperbole only further accentuates the cultural divide between the sexes and does only harm to a meaningful dialogue on gender neutrality.

Chavisa, in her book, chronicles all of the occasions where she was sexually harassed.  In the interview she mentioned the numerous times that while out and about in her urban neighborhood she was subject to verbal abuse by men.   She attributes this harassment to patriarchy and the cultural bias among men against women.  However, during the interview certain lifestyle descriptors were revealed which I believe distorts her data.  She describes herself as a lesbian with a purple mohawk  hair do who often walks hand in hand with another female.    Let me be clear.  I am not excusing bad behavior because Chavisa is a lesbian but I want to emphasize that what she experienced was not necessarily a product of male sexism.   More likely triggered by homophobia and folks who have a hard time tolerating differences.  In addition, an inappropriate comment by a man does not automatically mean that man is a sexual predator.   He very well might be a good father, husband and generally respectful to women he works with.   I agree that men should cease and desist from what they believe are merely amusing or teasing  unsolicited comments.   Men who do this are just playing into the hands of those seeking evidence to condemn masculinity. 

Nuance is not a dirty word.   It is important to distinguish between true sexual predators and misogynists  who are more driven by power needs than sexual needs and men trying to adjust to contemporary cultural norms about interacting with women. 

Masculinity: Light or Shadow

Frankly, my attempt to be non-political has diverted me from blogging.  The issues raised by the Muller report and the extreme political polarization in our citizenry has pushed gender and masculinity issues to the back burner.   However, I can no longer avoid the elephant in the room. How does President Trump’s behavior reflect the light or shadow of masculinity?   A framework for analysis based on Moore & Gillete’s writing on masculinity should prove useful. I will leave the judgment to the readers.

Moore & Gillette described four archetypes of masculinity: King, Warrior, Lover, Magician.  An archetype, according to Webster’s, is an original pattern or model from which other things of the same kind are made. According to Jungian psychologists, in individual people, the archetypes are derived from the experience of the human race and are present in the unconscious of the individual.

Each archetype plays a role in a man’s life.  At times a particular archetype may be  suppressed or dormant.  Furthermore, each archetype when expressed has a light or positive side and a shadow or negative side.  When the result of our behavioral choices is negative (anger, depression, poor outcomes) or we experience an inability to act we need to ask of ourselves how each archetype can be better harnessed to live a life which is more fulfilling and productive. The mature male is one who has integrated the four archetypes and continues to acknowledge and confront the destructive shadow side of each.

The King – reasons, plans, focuses, manages, uses logic, seeks vision

Light (I am) – empowering leadership, facilitator, generative, value driven
Shadow (I want) – dictatorial, egotistical, amoral, grandiose

The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates

Light ( I do) – change agent, protector, disciplined, assertive, leader
Shadow (I take) – violent, bully, uses aggression as primary strategy, sadistic

The Lover – nurtures, sexual, connects, passionate, joyful

Light (I feel) – intimate, sensual, affiliated, emotionally expressive, compassionate
Shadow (I need) – exploiter, selfish, emotional blackmailer, victimizer

The Magician – creates, solves problems, makes it happen, transforms, intuitive

Light (I fix) – win-win, creative, applies acquired wisdom
Shadow (I con) – manipulator, hustler, cheater, means always justifies ends

Gender Gap or Gender Reality

An article in the New York Times dealing with work and family quoted a recent study that indicated a gender gap on the concrete question of whether a given parent would prefer to stay home, with few fathers saying they would rather work part time and a large majority of mothers saying they would rather work part time or not at all.  The division -of-labor advantages of having one breadwinner and one caregiver apply regardless of which parent stays home so from a purely economic perspective there should be no difference between the preferences of fathers and mothers within a family unit of two opposite gender parents and one or more children. 

The knee jerk takeaway is that men are culturally programmed to focus on work and view child care and daily parenting responsibilities as not being masculine.   No doubt there is a cultural component but I think there is ample evidence to support the premise that the cultural norm is secondary to the evolutionary fueled biological imperative for women to favor child rearing to professional attainment during their children’s early childhood years.  

More evidence to support this point of view comes from drilling down into gender wage gap research.  In many situations, the purported gender wage gap isn’t actually a measure of the often-touted “equal pay for equal work, but to a large extent, the manifestation of women prioritizing family over the workplace and fields they find more meaningful beyond just a heftier paycheck.

When controlling for these relevant factors, multiple academic studies show this pay gap shrinks to almost nothing. It’s just $0.98 for women compared to a $1.00 for men, according to PayScale Inc.’s The State of the Gender-Pay Gap in 2019. One recent Harvard working paper analyzing Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority data found there was no gender pay gap at all, once all factors are controlled for.

One of Harvard’s renowned labor economists, Claudia Goldin, examines the gender wage gap and finds that differences in cumulative career hours worked accounts for the remaining gender pay gap beyond the lower-paying professions women tend to choose — e.g., social work versus computer programming.

The wage gap and the preferences of women to prioritize child rearing over career, at least during child bearing years, is only partially fueled by culturally imposed norms .  In general, a majority of women feel a higher priority and sense of purpose by focusing on raising their kids.  The fact that men, again in general,  find more meaning in family life by providing than in the daily routine of child care is not a product of sexism or patriarchy.    Certainly in past generations this was sometimes carried to an extreme when men did little to assist in childcare.   However, today’s Dads do change diapers and help with night feedings but still prefer for their wives to handle the bulk of the child chores and defer the burden of bread winning for themselves.   

Unfortunately, the need for two incomes to maintain a middle class lifestyle has created conflict with gender preferences that makes family life more complicated and has led to a decline in marriages and birth rates.   Affordable childcare and paid family leave would certainly help and give women more freedom in managing the desire to raise their kids with the need to earn and find fulfilling careers.   My guess, even with these needed programs, men would still choose work over childcare.   This is supported by data from countries with generous family leave and affordable day care indicates that men take far less family leave time than their female partners.  

How To Raise Boys

On the  March 20th  NPR show “1A” the entire hour was devoted to the topic of how to raise boys.   The now infamous Gillette commercial and the controversies it precipitated was the impetus for the show’s topic.   A common theme from the invited guests was how boys are taught to suppress their feelings and how destructive this is to the boy.   The conclusion reached was that if a boy cries in the presence of other boys he will be bullied and ridiculed.   A young man who was a guest on the show told of falling in gym class scraping his knee and holding back tears because he didn’t want to embarrass himself.   The thrust of his story was that  boys are taught not to cry.   My problem with the example is that if a girl fell in gym class I believe she would have also felt the pressure not to cry.   At least for handling physical discomfort not crying is a shared norm by both genders.   The notion that boys get the message that “boys/men don’t cry” is a culturally imposed norm that leads men to emotional denial and stuffed feelings that get expressed through self harm and violence is far from accurate.  Whining and crying is far from the best strategy in dealing with a strong emotional feeling.  Yes, it is probably true for some men but the reality is that not overtly expressing a strong emotion is not equivalent to not experiencing that emotion and not dealing with it in a healthy manner.   Being self aware of one’s emotional state and using rational thought to understand the emotion and taking action, when indicated, to figure out the best way to respond to that feeling is manly.   Instead of telling boys to just let it out and not be afraid to cry we should be teaching emotional intelligence and utilizing our thoughtfulness to understand what our emotions are telling us.

The show guests also talked about empathy and how men are allegedly taught that being manly means that when men perceive vulnerability in another man  they will automatically dominate and shame the weaker or overtly suffering man.  Again, I believe this to be a misinterpretation of how men express empathy.   Men are highly empathetic but handle it differently than women.  For example, men who have experienced combat often state that their motivation to fight and to protect their fellow soldiers is not about loyalty to country or a higher cause but the attachment and fellowship with their comrades.   Male empathy is often expressed in acts of protection.   One protects when they sense the need in others to be protected.   Isn’t that empathy?

One of the guests stated that, “gender norms are getting in the way of boys being good human beings.”  This speaks to the question I raised in my last blog.  Is there a difference between what constitutes a good man or good woman as compared to being  a good human?    To begin to answer this difficult question I offered my take on how a man acts responsibly that is different from how a women acts responsibly.   Another trait of being a good human being is being supportive.   Men are often supportive as mentors and fixers.   Teaching and modeling to other men, particularly to younger men, is an example of men supporting other men.   Women tend to support by listening and expressing sympathy with less of an emphasis on problem solving and fixing.  As we strive to be good human beings understanding that achieving this personal goal will look differently for men and women.